pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Spirit Touch

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 20: “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a holy and righteous man”.

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Herod Antipas became king after his father died. Herod “the great” was the ruler when Jesus was born, the one who had all the baby boys killed in a fear-driven attempt to remove potential competition. His son, Herod Antipas is not so violent, not so decisive. Today’s passage begins with this Herod hearing about Jesus. As he was with John the Baptist, he is intrigued with Jesus. And as rumors begin to fly about Jesus, Herod wonders if John the Baptist has returned to haunt him.

The bulk of the passage recounts the beheading of John. Herod had John arrested for speaking out against his marriage to Herodias. This greatly angered her. Given the choice, she would have killed John immediately. But Herod “feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a holy and righteous man”. Herod sensed something in John. In the same way he sensed something about Jesus that night that Jesus was on trial. There too he failed to stand for what he knew was right. There too he allowed the crowd and the opinions of others to lead him to make a decision that he knew was wrong.

When we are intrigued by Jesus instead of sure of our faith, we too can easily be led astray. When we become more concerned with the things of this world than with God’s ways, we too can be drawn away from the things of God. We can be just like Herod. Yet in these moments the Holy Spirit whispers to us, nudges us in the right way, in the holy way. Unlike Herod, we have an ally, a guide, a friend. When put to the test may we open our hearts and minds to the direction of the Holy Spirit, bringing glory to God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when the voices of the world howl loudly, when the pressure of peers pushes in, help me to hear the quiet whisper, to feel the gentle nudge. Day by day may there be more of you and less of me. Amen.


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Hosanna!

Reading: Mark 11:1-11 and 15-18

Verse 10: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest”!

Photo credit: Valentin Salja

After having two disciples fetch a colt, Jesus rides into Jerusalem. People spread their cloaks on the ground, along with branches that they had cut. It is an ancient version of the red carpet. The crowd cheers for Jesus as he enters. They offer praise mixed with hopeful expectations. They express both as they shout, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest”!

The people expect a Messiah that is a great king, much as King David was. He brought peace to Israel – through his great military exploits that were blessed by God. Israel was the big dog in their small corner of the world during David’s reign. To be rid of the Romans, to again be the big kid on the block – that was the peoples’ hope. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to be king – just not their type of king.

The second section of our reading today reveals how different Jesus’ kingdom will be. Driving the action towards its culmination on Maundy Thursday, Jesus goes to the temple and begins to announce the new kingdom. It is not a kingdom of power and privilege and gain. The sellers and money changers are driven out. The religious leaders get the message that such is not the proper use of God’s house. The line is drawn in the sand. The religious leaders begin to look for a way to kill Jesus. It has begun. As we enter Holy Week, we too begin the journey to the cross.

Prayer: Lord God, we too welcome Jesus with great hope and expectation. He is worthy of our praise. But how will we react when he overturns the tables in our hearts? Will we look within and see how we’ve wandered or will we seek to maintain the status quo? Guide and bless our journey through Holy Week, draw us deeper into Jesus’ kingdom of love and grace. Amen.


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Work in Progress

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Our passage for today begins with Jesus telling his disciples that he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed by the religious leaders. All is not to be lost, though. After three days he will rise again. These words must have been hard for the disciples to hear. But they are not totally shocking either. Jesus was often at odds with the religious leaders. Peter is the one to try and correct Jesus. He tries to tell Jesus that these things will never happen. He has to stay with them, he has to keep ministering to the people. It makes perfect sense that Peter is among those who will soon see Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

Jesus turns to Peter and says perhaps the harshest words to ever come from his lips: “Get behind me, Satan”! I imagine Peter fell back a step or two. This was the disciple who walked on water, who will pledge to die with Jesus, who will draw his sword to defend Jesus. Satan? This is also the disciple who chased the little children away, who will fall asleep in the garden, who will deny even knowing Jesus three times in the courtyard. Oh how I see myself in Peter. Do you?

In verse 33 Jesus lays this charge on Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”. It is so easy to become focused on what I think matters, on what I want to do (or not do), on what I feel like in that moment, on what I think is right. Jesus is speaking to me too. Yes, too often I am not thinking first of the things of God. I am thankful that just as Jesus did with Peter, he does with me. The Holy Spirit convicts me, yes, but then leads me deeper into relationship, deeper into my commitment to following Jesus, as I seek to ever walk in the light. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress. We are all growing closer to our Lord and Savior. Jesus never gives up on us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever at work in me. You are a loving but refining teacher. I so need both. Thank you for your patience and love, for your commitment and steadfastness. Amen.


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The Harvest

Reading: Matthew 21: 33-41

Verse 38: “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance”.

Today’s reading comes as part of a quick succession of stories. Chapter 21 begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem followed by Jesus clearing the temple, which had been turned into a marketplace, a “den of robbers”. This is a challenge to the religious leaders’ authority. After Jesus curses the fig tree for not producing fruit, the chief priests and elders question Jesus’ authority. He does not answer their question directly. Instead he tells two parables. In the first one son agrees to work in the field but does not. The other son says “no” but ends up working in the field. The religious leaders identify the one who does the will of the father as the son who obeyed. Jesus then points out that the tax collectors and prostitutes, those who originally said no to God, are entering the kingdom of God ahead of the chief priests and elders because they listened and repented. To further illustrate God’s displeasure with their hard hearts Jesus tells the parable we read today.

In the parable of the tenants, the tenants harvest a vineyard they did not plant. At harvest, a share is due to the owner of the vineyard. Twice the tenants abuse, kill, and stone those sent to collect the owner’s share. Then the owner sends his son. As the tenants see him approaching they say, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance”. Indeed they do kill him. Jesus then asks the religious leaders how the owner will respond. They say that the owner will bring those wicked “wretches to a wretched end”. In our reading for tomorrow, Jesus quotes from Psalm 118. These verses would have triggered a connection for the religious leaders. Verses 19-21 speak of a triumphal entry and the Lord bringing salvation to those who believe. The religious leaders would not have missed what Jesus, the capstone being rejected, was implying. We will explore this further tomorrow.

The religious leaders and Jews often rejected the ones sent by the one who establisheded them in the Promised Land – a place they did not plant or build. Some of the prophets were rejected, beaten, even killed by leaders who did not want to hear God’s truths. These leaders would continue the pattern, this time crucifying the one who had come to save. Our question to consider is this: what do we do when the Lord gives us opportunity to produce a harvest? Do we hold tightly to all we have, refusing to let some go to build up the kingdom of God?

When the owner comes looking for us to contribute to the harvest, may we be a part of a fruitful harvest. May we be faithful tenants, giving unto the Lord, as we are led, to build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Lord of all, as you give me opportunity to plant seeds or to nourish growth, lead me to be faithful and obedient. Guide me to step forward into those opportunities as I seek to be a part of building your kingdom in this time and place. Amen.


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God’s Way

Reading: Exodus 1: 8-22

Verse 17: “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do”.

As followers of the most high God, we must place the reign of God above or ahead of the reign of man. At times there may be a cost for this choice. We may lose a friend or a job. It may even cost us a bit more – a family member or significant other. In our lives, though, the cost does not usually rise to the cost faced by Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives.

As the years have passed since the arrival of Joseph’s family, the Hebrews grew in great numbers. Their large population was seen as a threat by the new Pharaoh, so he enslaved them. In spite of harsh treatment and hard labor the number of Hebrews continued to grow. God was blessing his people. In another attempt to slow population growth, Pharaoh ordered Shiphrah and Puah to kill all the male babies born to Hebrew women. In verse seventeen we read, “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do”. They could not kill the boy babies – they were God’s children. When summoned before Pharaoh to explain, God provides the words that guide them away from death. Shiphrah and Puah are also blessed for their faithfulness with their own families.

Early on in life I was faced with a dilemma. The person I worked with wanted to make a little extra money on the side on many jobs. It was dishonest to the customers and was displeasing to God. After a short time I objected to this practice. I enjoyed the job and we were making good money. This person was a good friend. It was a risk to say something. God led my choice of words and I believe he worked in my friend’s heart. We began to run an ethical business. God blessed it for many years.

For many people, it is a daily struggle to choose the ways of God over the ways of the world. For some, the struggle is less often. Maturity of faith has a lot to do with where we fall along this spectrum. For all, though, there is only one right way. It is God’s way. Shiphrah and Puah made the right choice. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to discern when I am being pulled in a way that is less than your way. Fill me with Holy Spirit wisdom and guidance and courage to always choose your will and way over all else. Amen.


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God with Us

Reading: Genesis 37: 1-4 and 12-25

Verse 20: “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him”.

This week we turn to the story of Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt. This is a foreshadowing of what will happen to the entire nation of Israel. Their path is different than Joseph’s but God’s chosen people will end up in Egypt, finally living as slaves. Without a little background to Joseph’s experience in today’s passage, what we read today seems hard to believe.

Joseph was the baby of the family. He was clearly Israel’s favorite child. Joseph was spoiled and bratty – and he was a tattle tail to boot. He had wild dreams that revealed him ruling over his brothers and even over his parents. And he boastfully shared these dreams with his family. Joseph would have been easy to dislike if you were Reuben or Judah or any of the other brothers. So when the spoiled child who never had to help tend the flocks was observed approaching in the special coat that daddy have him, it was not surprising to hear them say, “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him”. Out there in the middle of nowhere, Joseph could easily be taken care of by his ten brothers.

We do not hear anything from Joseph in this life changing experience. His character is silent during this whole interaction with his brothers and then as he is sold off to the Ishmaelites. Perhaps he sensed that it was best to keep quiet once he realized what was going on. It is not ever good to provoke those considering doing ill to your person. Allowing the brothers time to think results in being sold instead of killed. Perhaps Joseph thought a life was better than no life. Or maybe he trusted that God would work things out. God may have been speaking into his future when the dreams were given to him.

As the story unfolds we come to learn that God was with Joseph when he approached his jealous brothers and God was with him in the bottom of that dry cistern. God goes with Joseph to Egypt and continues to guide his life through many ups and downs. As our story unfolds, God’s presence remains a part of our lives. Looking back we can see how God has guided our story in the highs and lows and in the day to day of life. May we lean into that each day, trusting in God to always be with us.

Prayer: Lord God, looking back I can rejoice as I see your hand at work in my life over and over again. In each event, in each trial, in all moments you have always been present, have always guided, have always led in love. Thank you, God. Thank you. Amen.


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Do Not Be Afraid

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verse 28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”.

In our passage for today and tomorrow, Jesus is about to send out the twelve disciples. He reminds them in our section for today that a servant and master should be more alike one another than different. Yes, one might be in charge, but both should treat the other with respect, honor, … There should also be a similarity in their character. In the context of this passage, Jesus is saying that the disciples will go forth and do what Jesus did – teach and heal. These practices remain the core habits of disciples.

Jesus sends them out with eyes wide open. He tells the disciples not to be afraid but to “proclaim from the roofs” the things he has taught and the things “whispered in your ear” by the Holy Spirit. Both of these will lead and guide them. They do not go alone. Nor do we. In verse 28 he reminds them of the higher purpose of the mission and of the ultimate outcome for the faithful. Here Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”. This life is only a mist in comparison to eternity. That is what matters most for the lost. In his words, Jesus assures and empowers, strengthens and builds up the disciples as they prepare to go out to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need. Not all will hear the good news; some will reject and even heap abuse on the twelve. This too can be our experience. When this happens we too must remember our call and we must be assured that they cannot kill the soul. That belongs to the Lord. Forever. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, in times of trial and testing, you stood firm. Teach me to do the same, trusting in the Holy Spirit and in your word. This day and every day, may I serve you well. Amen.


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Called to Respond

Reading: Matthew 2: 13-23

Verse 13: “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”.

Jesus is born in a humble setting and receives some humble visitors – the shepherds who had been visited by the angel. Some time passes and the Magi arrive. They are well-educated men from the east, coming to worship the newborn. Along their journey Herod becomes aware of the new ruler. Power and authority have entered the story. Herod pretends to want to worship the one born in Bethlehem.

The Magi are warned in a dream and avoid Herod on their return trip. Our passage today begins with Joseph having another dream. The angel tells him, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”. God is acting to get Joseph and family out ahead of the coming storm. Right then, during the night, Joseph wakes his family and they flee to Egypt. In a fury over being tricked by the Magi, Herod has all the boys two and under living in and around Bethlehem killed. He does not want this newborn king to disrupt his reign. In the aftermath, there is the “weeping and mourning” of mothers refusing to be comforted.

After Herod dies the family slips back into Israel, settling in small and out of the way Nazareth. Joseph still fears what the new ruler, Herod’s son, might do. Archelaus is part of the same institution that Herod was part of. The same tendency to look out for oneself is probably still quite strong. Sadly, this remains true of many institutions and of the people of power within these institutions. We see it alive and well in businesses, in government, and often in churches. People with power continue to exert their will because they believe their way is the right way or the only way. Those hurt, like the mothers weeping in Ramah, are not of their concern. Greed and pride and arrogance drive these types of decisions in business and government. In churches, to these we add confused religious certainty to the mix. Toxic environments are created for all but the holders of power. They were already there.

In the story of Jesus’ life, the escape to Egypt and the accompanying slaughter of innocents is one of the sadder and violent chapters. Jesus will go on to challenge some in power – particularly those in the religious institution – showing that power is not always right. This too is our call. We are called to respond to the injustices and wrongs that we see, shining God’s light and love into the darkness. In the light, injustices and wrongs and abuses of power will be revealed for what they are. May it ever be so as we work our way through building God’s kingdom here on earth!

Prayer: God of light, shine into the dark and broken parts of my life and my world. Lead me to stand for you and for what is right, regardless of the price. Strengthen me for the road ahead. Amen.


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Enemy? Love them!

Reading: 2 Samuel 23: 6-7

Verse 6: “But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns…”.

King David had accumulated a few enemies. He ruled in a time and place where conflict with the tribes and kingdoms around you seemed constant. He also had some enemies within his kingdom and even within his own family at times. In a way, each of these were “evil” – trying to take land or goods or slaves or power from the one who God anointed to rule Israel.

King David’s take on what to do with evil men fits right in with the rest of the Old Testament. Evil is to be destroyed like thorns – cut down with the sword and/or burned in the fire. When we move to the New Testament we get a different approach. Yes, in the end, Jesus did recognize the fact that some will be condemned to the eternal fires and to torment. But for Jesus this seemed like a far-off event.

Jesus also had many people who opposed Him. But I don’t think Jesus would have called them “evil” or would’ve thought they should die by the sword or by fire. Jesus’ first reaction to those who opposed or attacked or threatened Him was to love them. He did not see them as evil to dispose of but as sinners in need of saving. They may have evil intents or may have even done evil, but they were not evil themselves. Some did not agree with Jesus’ teachings or with who He chose to hang out with. His response was to love these too. Jesus tried to show them the better way, the way that God called Him to love God and neighbor. It is not a wonder that Jesus instructed us to love our enemy, to pray for our enemy. It is what Jesus did. May we follow His example well.

Prayer: Lord, help me to do what can be hard – to love those who seek to harm or hurt me. Lead me to love them and to pray for them – not to change them but to change me. May it be so. Amen.


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God at Work

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “Mordecai wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food”.

Our passage today begins with Mordecai recording the recent events and sending this out in a letter to “all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerses, near and far”. Mordecai is writing to all the Jews for two purposes. In Esther 3 an edict had been sent out to all the provinces that on the 13th day of the month of Adar, all the Jews were to be killed. Imagine the horror and fear that must have swept through the Jewish communities spread “near and far”. The date would have felt like a ticking bomb. So the first purpose of Mordecai’s letter was to let the Jews know that they had been spared.

As important as this information was, the bigger purpose of the letter was to tell the story of how God had acted to save His people. Yes, being spared is super important, but the “how” is much more important. The letter must have detailed Mordecai’s faith and trust in God to act. It must have spoken of Esther’s course and trust in God. In both cases, it speaks of people willing to step up and stand up for God and for their faith. Thus, it encourages to do the same should necessity or opportunity arise. The letter also tells, more importantly, of how God was faithful too – guiding and orchestrating the events to rescue His chosen people from sure death. The letter ultimately reminds the Jews of God’s love and care.

In his letter, Mordecai declares the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be “days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food” as the people celebrate God at work. These are the days immediately after the former date of their destruction. Mordecai directs the people to give gifts of food not only to each other but also to the poor. Just as God had cared for His people in a time of need, so too will they care for those in need among them. This act is also one more way to tell the story of God’s saving hand.

This story reminds us of times when God has been at work in our lives. These times are part of our story of faith. Like Mordecai, may we also share the story.

Lord, I recognize and give thanks for the many times that you have guided and cared for and even rescued me. May I use each opportunity today to tell the story of your love and care and faithfulness. Amen.