pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Power

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 21: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Shortly after Mary Magdalene announces that she has seen the risen Lord, Jesus appears to the disciples. They are gathered together, hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. For three years they have lived together almost 24-7. In the blur of less than 24 hours their leader and Lord has been arrested and crucified. As the disciples ponder all this and the news of Mary Magdalene, Jesus appears and offers them his peace. Jesus offers his hands and side as proof – “the disciples are overjoyed”. What a beautiful end to a tragic story!

Next, Jesus does not offer to cash in their healthy 401-3-k. He does not wish them well and send them off into the sunset with a very generous severance package. No, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. In reality he is saying, ‘Men who were hiding in fear, be bold and go out to those Jews you fear and proclaim the good news’. Jesus wants them to get back out there, to continue to share the message of God’s love and grace. He has the same expectation of you and me, brother or sister of Christ. Jesus calls us to be witnesses to the good news, fellow beloved children of God almighty.

“With that” commission given Jesus empowers them for the task ahead. Jesus breathes new life into the disciples as he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. The same indwelling holy presence that guided Jesus is now shared with these disciples. The Spirit that led Jesus for three years is now breathed into the disciples so that they can continue the work of building the kingdom of God. When we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, when we ask him to the the Lord of our life, we are empowered by the same Holy Spirit. Through the sharing of our faith and the witness of our lives we are sent out into the world to build the kingdom of God. Inviting and guiding others into relationship with Jesus Christ we offer the opportunity to new life – a life without enslavement to sin and death.

My friends, we too have the power over sin that the disciples exercised. Jesus’ unconditional love and undeserved grace is available to one and all. Each time the Holy Spirit nudges or leads us to share our faith with a lost or broken soul, we hold the power of forgiveness in our hands. How will we exercise this power, this access to love and grace? As we are given opportunity, may we live as resurrection people, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all we meet. May this be the power that we choose.

Prayer: Lord of life, may your peace reign in my heart and mind. May that peace propel me out into the world to share your love and grace, your good news, with all I meet. May it ever be so. Amen.


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Filled with Zeal

Reading: John 2: 13-17

Verse 17: “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me'”.

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

The story of Jesus clearing the temple can be found in all four gospels. It is different than almost all the other stories. The story takes place in the days leading up to the celebration of the Passover. The city is already getting crowded. The Roman authorities are probably getting more nervous by the day as the Jews prepare to celebrate how God freed them from slavery in Egypt long ago. The religious leaders, who are also the Jews’ political leaders, are well aware of the growing tensions.

The temple will be the place where all will gather to remember God’s saving acts, to worship their God, and to offer sacrifices. As Jesus arrives at the temple it is being made ready for the crowds that will soon come. Vendors are beginning to fill every nook and cranny of the temple courts, looking to sell their animals. The money changers are setting up tables, eager to exchange Roman coins for the necessary temple coins. Jesus takes all this in and then makes a whip and begins to drive the people and animals out of this make-shift market. Watching this unusual behavior from Jesus, the disciples recall a verse from Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me”. In the other gospels Jesus speaks of the temple being a house of prayer, not a den of thieves and robbers. The vendors and money changers have corrupted a place that is holy. It is this fact that so upsets Jesus. With Zeal he restores his father’s house to what it should be – a holy and sacred place.

As ones seeking to follow Jesus 2,000 years later, we are called to follow this Jesus too. All that God created is good. Much has been corrupted just as the temple courts were in today’s passage. We do not need to look far to see corruption, oppression, injustice, poverty, marginalization… These evils have no place in the kingdom of God. As we live out our daily lives we will encounter places where these evils exist and we will meet people suffering from these evils. When we do, may we be filled with zeal for God’s creation, drawing the kingdom of God near as we bear his light and love into these places and lives. In the presence of light, darkness flees. May we be the light.

Prayer: God of light and love, as I encounter the evils of this world, fill me with zeal and compassion for those affected. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit; use me as a light in that darkness. Through me may the light and love of Jesus shine, driving out the evil. Amen.


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Questionable

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”.

Photo credit: Taylor Smith

Paul is writing in today’s passage to a church that needs some words of wisdom concerning the idea of a crucified Messiah. These last two words just don’t make sense, they just do not fit together in many people’s minds. For Paul this is the overall message of the cross: Jesus died for you and for me. To those who believe that Jesus loved us enough to die for us, the cross offers the power of salvation and of eternal life. But if you cannot wrap your head around that gift and what it means and gives to the believer, then placing one’s trust and life in Jesus’ hands makes no sense.

In verse 23 Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”. The Jews, for the most part, saw Jesus as a good teacher, as one that inspired many people to a better life, as one who even did some amazing things (miracles). But Jesus was not the Messiah that they envisioned. A real Messiah would never allow himself to be crucified. A real king would not eat with sinners, heal on the Sabbath, regularly engage the outcasts and unclean… All of these things were stumbling blocks to most of the Jews. The Gentiles (read ‘Romans’ or ‘pagans’ here) worshiped many gods and saw the cross as the place of punishment for the worst criminals. To cast one’s life in with the lot of a mere human, one that died with such shame and so powerless – foolishness!

As Christians living in today’s world, sometimes we should be stumbling blocks to some, foolishness to others. For our Lenten series this year, we are calling this “living highly questionable lives”. Last week I read a story about a high school basketball player. During a game he noticed that a player on the other team was wearing shoes that were not suitable for basketball. After the game he took off his shoes and have them to this other player. To some this appeared as foolish. To others it may have been a stumbling block. But to those also touched by Jesus Christ that night, it was the love of God being lived out in a real way.

As we encounter those who see our faith as foolish or as a stumbling block to their preferred way of life, may the Spirit give us the words or actions that preaches the cross in a way that reveals the courage and strength of our faith in the Messiah.

Prayer: Loving God, use me today to reveal my faith in ways that draw others into conversation. Let me love so completely that the other is willing to look past what at first seems foolish or to step over what may initially feel like a stumbling block. May the power of the cross draw them in. May it be so. Amen.


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Learning to Walk

Reading: Matthew 22: 1-12

Verse 12: “Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes”?

This week’s gospel lesson is the second in a row from Jesus that focuses in on how he is rejected. They are stories of greed and arrogance and selfishness. These two parables are aimed at the religious leaders in their original context, but they certainly have application for us today.

As our passage opens, Jesus is clear that this parable compares the kingdom of God to a wedding banquet. Jesus begins by explaining that those originally invited refuse to come. A second invite is rejected as well. This time those invited mistreat and kill the servants. A voice had called out in the desert. Some came and heard the call to repentance. They were baptized as a symbol of readiness for the coming kingdom. But John’s call fell on many deaf ears as he ministered in the wilderness. Jesus himself came with a second invite, calling the Jews to really love as God commanded. Jesus’ message centered on the two great commandments: love God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The religious leaders refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah, so the call or invite extended past the Jews. Anyone that can be found will be invited to the wedding banquet.

The religious leaders went out and heard John’s call. They hung around and heard Jesus’ words, saw the miracles. Showing up is something about anyone can do. There are folks that show up on Sunday mornings. Simply sitting in a worship service does not make one into a practicing Christian. In our parable today, a man comes to the banquet, but he is not prepared. He chose to hear the call, but failed to ready himself. In Jesus’ day, to attend a wedding, one must dress in the required wedding clothes. These clothes were special and required effort and preparation. But this man just showed up. He was simply there to consume and indulge, not to really be a part of things, not to celebrate with the bride and groom. The Jews and the religious leaders in particular had received the invitations. They still showed up for the Sabbath, thinking they were honoring God simply be being there. They went about their lofty rituals and wore their fancy clothes. They loved these things, not God. They were arrogant and selfish, loving only self and not the many neighbors who needed both physical and spiritual care. They lived inside their self-constructed walls.

We too do this. We do it on Sundays when we show up and go through the motions instead of being open to and looking for God’s Spirit to change us on a Sunday morning. We do it each day when we rush off into our day without first connecting to God in word and prayer. We do it each time we think ourselves a Christian and then ignore the poverty, oppression, and injustices of our communities and our world. Simply put, it is easy to talk the talk. It is much harder to always walk the walk. May we all better learn to walk the walk as we seek to follow Jesus Christ, loving as he first loved each of us.

Prayer: God of all, help me to more fully love you and all people. Turn me from selfishness and self-righteousness, becoming more and more willing to give myself away, becoming more and more willing to risk for the gospel. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Speaking and Hearing

Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Verse 11: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”.

Today and for the next two days we will focus on Pentecost – the day largely accepted as the birthday of the church. A small group of Jesus’ followers were gathered together for worship. A loud and powerful wind announced the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Represented by what appeared to be “tongues of fire” that lit on each one, the followers were filled by the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, Jews from all around the city were drawn by the sound of the wind. These Jews were from all over the known world – come to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three yearly Jewish festivals. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus’ followers begin to each speak in languages native to these Jews. The Jews from around the world are bewildered because “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”. How could these simple Galileans be speaking in so many different languages? Clearly something amazing is going on here!

The followers speaking in tongues is only part of the miracle though. The Holy Spirit was not just at work among the followers of Jesus. Just because words are spoken, it does not mean they are heard. Many of the Jews there that day had open ears and receptive hearts. It will still take a little Holy Spirit fueled preaching by Peter to really help bring them to Christ, but with the Spirit’s continued work the church will grow that day.

Each of us is a follower who could do what was done in today’s passage. Our gifted language may not be Egyptian or Arabic or any other foreign language. But it is addiction or divorce or grief or abuse or justice or single parenthood… Each of us has stories about the “wonders of God” in our own lives. If we are sensitive to and pay attention to the Holy Spirit living inside each of us, we will have opportunities to speak new life into someone else’s ear. Will your words be the miracle of healing or recovery or restoration or belonging that someone needs to hear? Are you ready to speak?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, my journey to this point has been long and filled with many Holy Spirit experiences. Help me to see each as a step in my journey, as a possible step in another’s journey of faith. May the Holy Spirit be at work in me, leading and guiding me to tell the story of faith as I have opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Suffering with Jesus

Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

Verse 10: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”.

Peter is writing to encourage the followers of Jesus Christ who are in trials and sufferings. As foreign as this sounds to us, suffering for their faith was a regular event. For much of the first 300 years of the church, it was dangerous to be a Christian. The Jews and the Romans were both openly hostile towards Jesus’ disciples and followers. Yet the church thrived and grew. Today we see this same thing happening in places where there is a potential cost to following Jesus. The willingness to risk and to pay the cost refines and bolsters the faith.

Peter encourages the early church to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ”. The disciples in the early church were grateful to suffer for Christ because they understood that they were suffering with Christ. They were literally doing what Jesus did. I once read or heard a quote that roughly said: “If you are not suffering a little for your faith perhaps your faith is too little”. In essence the author was getting at the idea that if no one notices you are a Christian, are you really a Christian? There is a lot of truth to that. Too often we like to fly our faith below the radar.

Peter identifies and warns his disciples about the cause of their suffering. We fly low for the same reason. In verse eight he reminds them that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. Imagine the power of that verse as the Roman practice of throwing Christians to the lions ramped up. The devil continues to prowl today. His favorite weapons are still fear, doubt, anxiety, worry… Peter encourages the early church and us today to “resist him, standing firm in the faith”. Trust that God is really in control. Remain in Jesus Christ just as he seeks to remain in you.

Peter closes with this promise: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”. Yes, we will suffer at times if we are really living out the gospel faith that Jesus modeled. Yes, we will. God is not only with us in the sufferings, but he will always bring us through stronger and with a deeper faith. May we trust in our Lord and Savior, stepping where he leads us today.

Prayer: Lord God, no one likes to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. Yet at times you call me to do just that. I can rejoice and even thank you for my times of suffering. They have been fruitful and have led to growth in me and in my faith. May your Holy Spirit help me to be willing to do whatever you call me to today. Amen.


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Certainties

Reading: John 10: 22-26

Verse 24: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

The Jews had a clear idea in their minds of who and what the Messiah would be. They were certain that the Messiah would restore Israel to its full glory. Jesus did not match the vision that they were certain of in their heads. But they were so certain of it that they could not see Jesus for who He was – the Messiah. In today’s passage they say to Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

I too struggle with certainty. At times I have been certain of how God should answer this prayer or open that door or close this one. At times I have been certain of the plan I have made or of the direction I think we should go. At times I have been certain that this action or that thought or those words were justified. In almost all of these cases, my certainty has gotten me in trouble and has melted away before the power of God.

Jesus’ response is sure and is straight forward. Jesus reminds them that He did tell them who He is. His claims of divinity brought anger and words like blasphemy. Jesus also reminds them of the miracles that they have witnessed. It is between two certainties that the Jews are caught. They are certain that God would not come in the flesh like this and they are certain that the miracles reveal divine power. Jesus then connects back to what He was talking about recently. We find this conversation at the beginning of John 10. It is about the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus explained the loving and caring relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. Jesus speaks of being the gate – both into the pen and into eternal life. He also reminds them that He will lay down His life for His sheep. Jesus returns to these ideas in today’s passage. He bluntly tells them “you are not my sheep”. This is why they do not believe even though they have seen the miracles. Their certainty is the barrier that prevents faith in Christ.

My certainty has done this too. Whenever I place my will and my wants before God’s will and His plan, I am trying to live by the ways of man. Over and over I have found that this is not the best path. I find the best path when I listen to the voice of the Shepherd, when I follow the voice I know. I plainly see that Jesus is the Christ. It is by faith alone that I must follow. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the only sure thing. In you alone can I truly trust, in you alone do I find hope and meaning and purpose. Step by step may I walk in faith, trusting you with all that I am. Strengthen me to follow closely. Amen.


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It Is Finished

Reading: John 19: 16-30

Verse 30: “Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”.

In John’s gospel we move quickly from Pilate handing Jesus over to Jesus being on the cross. In the other gospels there is not much attention paid to the painful and torturous process that Jesus actually went through. The focus is on the fact that Jesus went to the cross for us. Once there, John focuses on a few details.

First, the sign. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. The religious leaders protest but Pilate does not budge. The truth remains atop the cross. Second, the four soldiers divide His clothing and cast lots for the 5th item – the perfect one. This fulfills a passage from Psalm 22. Third – the human side of Jesus emerges. He is near the end and looks down and sees His mother. Also present is John, “the disciple whom He loved”. In an act of care and compassion, Jesus arranges for His mother’s care.

A bit later the time comes. After a sip of wine vinegar, “Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”. The sins of the world had been heaped upon Jesus. He was ready to depart. Jesus was not at the point of death by crucifixion. He was not suffocating. The task had been completed and it was time for Jesus to end the earthly pain. His last breath was on His terms.

The body that God has inhabited hung on the cross, naked, bloodied and beaten, lifeless. It showed how God’s love had entered the world and lived among us. It showed how God endured much pain and suffering for our benefit. The scars are the scars of our sin. The marks represent what Jesus bore for you and for me. Jesus was wounded for and by our transgressions. It would be a tragic end to a really good three years of ministry and teaching if it all ended here on the cross.

The body will be laid in the tomb. Two brave men go and get the body of Jesus, prepare the body, and leave it in the tomb. The Sabbath is near. The Jewish day of preparation is drawing to a close. God was preparing for much more. We await it upon Easter Sunday. God bless.

Prayer: Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.


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King

Reading: Mark 15: 1-15

Verse Five: “But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed”.

In our passage today, Jesus stands trial before Pilate. The religious leaders bind Jesus and bring Him to Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus a simple question: “Are you the king of the Jews”? Jesus gives a simple answer: “Yes, it is as you say”. Then the chief priests pile on the charges against Jesus. He remains silent in the face of all the accusations. They do not matter. Who and what He is has been established. What He came to do clearly lies ahead. All is going according to plan. So Jesus just stands there. Verse five reports, “But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed”.

In the same situation I think we would defend ourselves right up to the moment the nails we’re driven in. But not Jesus. The work is done. If one looks back over the course of His ministry, this fits the pattern. In all of His teachings, Jesus said what He wanted to say and left His hearers to make their own decision. Sometimes His words were encouraging, sometimes they were challenging. Sometimes they were loving, sometimes they were hard words of truth. But they were said and the rest was left up to the hearer. Jesus did not ever chase after someone who chose to walk away. He did not ever try to reword a parable so someone could understand it better.

So when Jesus stands before His accusers and Pilate, He is silent. The past three years give plenty of evidence as to who Jesus is. In the miracles we see divine power. In the teachings we see incomparable wisdom. In the parables we see the path to living for God. In the words of forgiveness we see what grace and mercy look like. Over all of this we see love. In the silence after we encounter Jesus each time, we too are left to decide. Do we follow closer or do we choose to remain where we are at? Do we engage and become a greater part of Jesus or do we remain on the edge of the crowd? Do we commit or do we wait and see what happens?

Over the cross on which Jesus died Pilate wrote these words: “King of the Jews”. It was one more silent testimony to who Jesus is. He desires to be our king as well. But there is no forcing or coersion. The choice is fully ours. Will we each choose to let Jesus be our King today?