pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Right Now

Reading: Matthew 4:18-23

Verses 21-22: “Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat… and followed him.”

“Hurry up and wait.” Ever heard that expression? It usually comes when the last thing we want to do is wait. Now, that is most of the time, right? In general, we are not patient. Our culture teaches us the “right now” attitude. Yet when I think of Jesus’ life and ministry he was never in a rush. He took his time – often too much for those around him. He always had time for the one he encountered. Maybe this is partly why he calls Andrew and Simon, James and John. They too worked at an occupation that required and developed patience.

In our story today, though, when Jesus calls them to “Come, follow me,” they are anything but patient. Both pairs of brothers followed Jesus “immediately.” Do you ever wonder why? Yes, there must’ve been something about Jesus that led them to this radical decision – an aura, a charisma, a divinity? And maybe there’s another reason. Like all other Jews they’ve been waiting hundreds and hundreds of years for the promised Messiah. Jump at the chance that this might be the one!

And then there’s maybe this other, more practical reason. Today, in my life, when the Spirit of Christ invites me to action, be it in word or deed, I’ve found that a delayed response usually becomes a non-response. The “I’ll do that later, tomorrow…” never happens. Maybe a “right now” attitude is what’s needed. It mirrors Jesus’ approach: the person before me matters right now. Let ministry begin! May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, create in me a spirit of “yes!” Pre-dispose me to action. Ready my hands and feet for whatever or whomever you place in my life. Amen.


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Come and See

Reading: John 1:35-42

Verse 41: “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah.'”

As we turn again to John’s gospel today we see that two of John the Baptist’s disciples leave him to follow Jesus. After hearing John declare Jesus “the Lamb of God,” Andrew and another disciple follow Jesus down the road. Noticing someone is tailing him, Jesus asks them what they want. They ask where he is heading – this is a polite way to ask if they can join him. Jesus responds by saying, “Come and you will see.” Jesus invites them to join him – and not just for the day.

Andrew then exhibits a practice that we all should emulate. Knowing in his heart that Jesus is the Messiah, he goes and finds his brother. Simon comes and sees Jesus too. Without introduction, Jesus identifies Simon by name and informs him that he will be called Cephas (or Peter in Greek).

A few questions come to my heart as I reflect on this passage. First, how regularly do I come and see Jesus? This can be going to church, reading the Bible, praying, fasting… Second, who is our Simon? Who is our brother or sister, our neighbor or friend, stranger, or relative that needs to come and see Jesus too? And, third, how will we connect the two? We can pick them up and bring them to church or Bible study. We can take them to coffee or to lunch…

In our hearts we know that Jesus is the Messiah. May we invite and help others to come and see the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all, my rock and my redeemer, my Savior and my friend. This day use me so that others may come and see the Christ. Amen.


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The Lamb of God

Reading: John 1:29-34

Verse 29: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

Turning to John’s gospel today and tomorrow, we begin with Jesus coming toward John the Baptist. As he approaches John says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” These are unique words to apply at this time in Jesus’ ministry. Usually we call Jesus the Good Shepherd when referring to sheep and shepherds. For most of his ministry, Jesus is not the lamb. At the end, yes, Jesus goes to the cross as our perfect sacrifice. We get the lamb references then.

Yet in today’s passage, as Jesus’ ministry is about to begin, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God. Since the days of Passover a perfect and spotless lamb (or goat) was the offering made to God as the people of God remembered how they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Each and every year the rescue story is celebrated and remembered. To see Jesus in this role immediately identifies him as the one who rescues, redeems, restores, and saves. It is a powerful image to be placed in the minds of the Jews.

Continuing on, John the Baptist offers proof that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the one who comes to save. John recounts the Spirit coming down and remaining on Jesus after he was baptized. This fulfills what God said would happen. Jesus is the son of God. Not only will he take away the sins of the world, one day the Christ will defeat all evil, claiming final victory as he establishes the new heaven and earth. For the salvation Christ offers and for the final victory yet to come, we say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, today we are reminded of such great news. You came in the flesh to take away our sins, to rescue us from captivity to self. One day you will come again to banish all evil as you create heaven here on earth. Day by day, lead and guide us to make this vision more and more of a reality here and now as we await your final return in victory. Amen.


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Blessed with an Epiphany

Reading: Matthew 2:9-12

Verse 9: “They went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them.”

Today, on Epiphany, we return to the story of the Magi. In this time and space we will focus on the revelations of God and why we see them at times and miss them at other times. In the passage the Magi see the star that is the sign of a newborn king of the Jews. Herod cannot see the star. Yes, he claims to want to go and “worship” this new king. In reality he wants to go and eliminate a potential competitor.

What allowed the Magi to see the sign? And what kept it ever before then? The Magi were attuned to the prophecies and to what they meant for humankind. They were not Jewish but they did understand that the Messiah was not a king in the earthly sense. If it were so, they would not have come that far to worship a future king of a tiny, insignificant nation. They came to worship one who would transform the world. The Magi brought gifts of great wealth. The Magi were focused upward. At the opposite end was Herod. He was focused only on self and on earthly power and control. The star bright enough to follow for hundreds of miles was well outside of Herod’s vision.

I’ve experienced what Herod did. I’ve been around people with a vision, with a God-driven purpose in sight but have failed to see what they could see. My doubts or selfish concerns kept me from seeing the signs of God’s hand at work. Maybe you’ve been there too. Maybe you too have been inwardly focused or prideful or unsure. Only when our heart is tuned to God will we be blessed with an epiphany of what God is doing or wants to do in our lives or community or world. So may we choose to live with a heart turned toward God. Then we will be in a place to see and experience the power and glory of God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the times that you’ve opened my eyes and heart to your presence, plan, and purpose. When I start to turn inward, when I begin to get selfish, pry open my faith and trust in you. Remind me again that you are the God who moves mountains, who heals the hurting, who rescues the lost, who mends the broken, and who redeems the wayward. Amen.


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Jesus as the Answer

Reading: Matthew 11:2-6

Photo credit: Fredrik Ohlander

Verse 2: “Are you the one who wa to come, or should be expect someone else?”

In our gospel text John the Baptist has been imprisoned. He is locked up for condemning King Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. John hears about Jesus and what he is doing. John sends some of his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who wa to come, or should be expect someone else?” Before we turn to Jesus’ answer, though, let us consider why John asks this question. It is a question that others ask today. I think there are two possibilities as to why John asks this question. One is that he genuinely wants to know if Jesus is the Messiah. The other is that he is in prison and is reminding Jesus about that fact. John surely feels unjustly imprisoned and wouldn’t mind if Jesus did something about that.

Jesus responds by telling John of the fruit of his ministry. People are being healed and the god news is being preached. If you were one who received your sight back or were cured of a disease, you certainly heard the good news of Jesus Christ. But if you were unjustly incarcerated maybe you don’t hear Jesus’ words as good news. If you’re trapped in depression or grief or are enveloped in an addiction, you probably don’t see or feel much of this good news. If you are struggling to feed the kids, good news likely seems pretty distant. The suffering and other difficult situations that many are enduring can be a challenge to receiving the good news of Jesus Christ.

Most of us know and live in the good news. Most of us are comfortable, secure, provided for. Jesus calls us to walk with those on the margins, with those imprisoned, with those in need. Maybe the question for us today then is this: How do we live in ways that help others to know Jesus as the answer to John the Baptist’s question?

Prayer: Lord God, show me the way to live and love in ways that bring the good news into the places of suffering and want. But first, guide me to lead with practical help so that one day this new relationship has space to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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World-Changing Great News!

Reading: Luke 1:68-75

Verse 68: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.”

Photo credit: Shane Rounce

Today and tomorrow we will work from Zechariah’s Song, found in Luke 1. Zechariah is a priest and is the father of John the Baptist. Both he and wife Elizabeth are “well along in years” when an angel visits Zechariah and tells him that they will have a son. He questions the angel Gabriel and, as a result, is struck silent until the baby is born and named eight days later. This song is Zechariah’s joyous response to all that God has done and will do.

In verse 68 we read, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.” Zechariah is a priest who serves in the temple so he knows the scriptures, which at this time was the Law and the prophets – the Old Testament. He knows the prophecies both concerning the Messiah and the one who will come to prepare the way. The angel Gabriel tells him that his son will be the one to prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah clearly understands what is happening.

In his song Zechariah praises God for raising up a “horn of salvation.” Mary has come and visited, revealing the good news in her womb to Elizabeth and Zechariah. The “horn” he speaks of is Jesus Christ, told of long ago “through God’s holy prophets.” Then, in verses 71-75, Zechariah shares what this news means to him, to Israel, and to us today. Jesus the Savior will bring salvation and will show mercy. He will rescue us from our enemies and “enable us to serve him without fear.” A world-changing event is under way. Zechariah celebrates joyfully in a song of praise to God. May our lives echo his joy as we too seek to serve the Lord “in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Prayer: Lord God, what great news Zechariah shares! What joy there is at the coming of your prophet John and your son Jesus. What gifts of mercy and forgiveness, love and grace we receive in Christ. Fill us with joy and trust as we seek to share this great news with others this day and every day. Amen.


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Rebuking Jesus

Reading: Mark 8: 27-33

Verse 32: “Jesus spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

As our time in Mark 8 begins today we walk along with Jesus. Along the way he asks the disciples who people say he is. They respond with Moses, Elijah, some other prophet. The general population sees Jesus as one sent by God. That much is revealed in the wisdom of his teachings and in the miracles he offers. Turning next to those who know him best Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” It is Peter who answers, “You are the Christ.” For those of us who know Jesus well, how would we respond to this question? Like Peter we too might name Jesus the Christ or the Messiah. Or we might say he is Lord, redeemer, Savior.

And sometimes we, like Peter, can demonstrate a clear lack of understanding or have a failure of faith just moments after proclaiming Jesus is Lord, Savior, Messiah… Jesus explains to the disciples that he will suffer and be rejected, that he will die, and that he will rise after three days. In verse 32 we read, “Jesus spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Well, the end of Jesus’ ministry did not match Peter’s vision for what the Messiah should be.

All of what Jesus explained was necessary for Jesus to be the kind of Messiah we need and not just the kind we want. Who or what I want Jesus to be does not always align with who and what Jesus really is. When I’m in just the right mood, I too can begin to rebuke Jesus for not doing what I want or for letting me experience this thing I don’t want to. We have all gone down that road. We’ve all done what Peter did.

In those moments we too are guilty of having in mind “the things of the world” and not “the things of God”. In those moments we want our way, not God’s way. As we heard yesterday in James’ words, “this should not be.” As we continue in Mark 8 tomorrow, Jesus offers guidance in how it should be. As we go with Jesus today, may our walk be faithful and true.

Prayer: Lord God, you gave us the example of how to walk faithfully within God’s will and ways. When the voice of the world rises up, send your Holy Spirit to remind me of my call to follow you. Draw me into faithful discipleship. Amen.


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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: Luke 24: 44-48

Verse 47: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”.

In today’s passage Jesus begins by unpacking the overarching theme of the Bible. All of the Bible is about God’s love for all of creation. The centerpiece of God’s love is Jesus Christ, the one who fully revealed what God’s love looks like when truly lived out. Jesus reminds the disciples that he has already told them about his fingerprints in the Law, the prophets’ words, and in the Psalms. All that was written about the Messiah has been fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus “opened their minds” so that they could understand all that he was saying. What joy that must have brought the disciples!

There was now joy in the painful reality that they have just lived. “The Christ will suffer”, yes, but “he will rise from the dead on the third day”. The disciples are now part of living out this reality. The memories and experiences of the past three years are not just fond things that will make them smile as they recall them. They are empowering and encouraging memories that will go with the disciples as they take on the mission. In verse 47 Jesus speaks into the lives of the disciples, saying, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”. It will be preached. These and all disciples who follow Jesus will preach this good news. Jesus tells them, “You are witnesses of these things”. Yes, they were. The woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, the blind, lame, and mute, Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, Peter himself. They saw repentance and forgiveness lived out. They witnessed the power of Jesus Christ to heal and bring wholeness. Now Jesus is preparing the disciples to go forth to continue his work.

This is our charge as well – to bring healing and wholeness to a broken world. In our very lives we have experienced forgiveness and restoration. We have walked the road of repentance and have been made new creations in Christ. Jesus has transformed you and me. We too are witnesses to these things. So may we, like the disciples, go forth to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all nations, bringing healing and wholeness to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I am a sinner saved by grace. I have felt and experienced your love and the new life found in walking with you. I have seen and been touched by your healing power. Help me to witness to these things so that others may experience them too. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: John 20: 25-31

Verse 29: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

Earlier this week we read about Jesus appearing to ten of the eleven disciples. Thomas was not there. As we begin today’s passage, the other disciples tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord”! Thomas questions this, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks…”. He wants tangible proof that it really was Jesus. Because of this passage, Thomas is sometimes referred to as “Doubting Thomas”.

The reality, though, is the faith involves doubt. On our journey of faith, we will have seasons when we doubt, when we wrestle for answers, when we question God, our faith, ourselves… These are the struggles that often produce growth. It is when we dive deep and wrestle with the things of God that we are refined and encouraged. During a very difficult time in ministry, for example, I questioned deeply and often at first. This led to doubt. Much time was spent in prayer and scripture study. The end result was a better grasp of God’s love and mercy as well as a more solid understanding of the depth and breadth of his love and grace.

Jesus returns to the disciples a week later. Thomas is there. After greeting them, Jesus turns to Thomas and invites him to see and touch the proof. As always, Jesus offers what is needed to draw another closer to God. Seeing the scars, Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God”! It is a heartfelt profession of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

Coming out of that difficult season of ministry, knowing that the living Christ had walked with me and has guided me through, I emerged with a stronger faith and with deeper convictions. God still has a way of meeting us where we are and offering us what we need to continue the journey of faith.

As you continue to seek God and to grow in your faith, may you who have not seen and yet believed be ever moving deeper in your relationship with Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, great is your faithfulness! How vast is your love! Thank you for walking through the hard times, ever reminding me of your presence and guidance. You are so good to me. Thank you. 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.