pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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When You See…

Reading: Mark 13: 24-29

Verse 29: “When you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door”.

In Mark 13, verses 1-23, Jesus forewarns the disciples about the difficult times ahead. The temple will be destroyed; wars and natural disasters will come. There will be persecution and many false teachers. Families will be split over the faith and “the abomination that causes desolation” will come. The false Christ will use miracles to deceive many. Jesus warns his disciples to be on guard. As bad as it sounds in these opening verses, though, it gets worse in our passage for today. For generations we have looked at the world and the horrible events happening around us and have wondered if this is the time.

Beginning today in verse 24, things get catastrophic. The sun and moon will go dark and the stars will fall from the sky. All natural light will be gone. The earth will be as dark as it has been since the day God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The evil, the dread, the fear will be at their climax. Then the heavens will shake – Christ is breaking forth in power and might. Those alive will look up and see Christ coming on the clouds in “great power and glory“. He will send out his angels to gather all believers “from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens”. What a great cloud of witness that will be!

Then Jesus pauses and draws their attention to the fig tree. It too gives signs concerning the times. Even this little tree is a part of God’s grand plan. Year after year the branches get tender as the leaves form and come out. This is a sign that summer is near. It is simply how God designed the tree. Jesus then parallels this thought to the end times – they too will occur and unfold just as God designed them. In verse 29 Jesus says, “When you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door”. At just the right time, God will send Jesus into the world. At just the right time, he will come again. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, we do not know the exact timing, but we know the signs. They will be unmistakable – darkness and evil will be at their greatest. These days will pale in comparison. As I wait, keep my eyes open, Lord. As I wait, keep my faith strong. Amen.


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Whose Are You?

Reading: Matthew 21: 23-27

Verse 23: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority”?

Today’s passage is about identity. It is about who we are and whose we are. So often our identity comes from what we do. When asked who we are, we often respond with words like pastor, doctor, student, teacher… We allow what we do to define who we are. Too often our work also defines whose we are. Many are beholding to their job. Some of the time we will describe who we are using other parameters – grandparent, oldest child, widow, free spirit… Perhaps, if feeling particularly brave or if in a comfortable crowd, we might say something like “child of God”.

Who we are in society’s eyes often is the basis of our authority or of how we see our authority. For many, their position or title at work grants them some measure of authority. The manager, for example, is in charge of the employees. Within that group a more veteran employee feels that they have a degree of authority over a new hire. When a person tries to take authority or when someone has better natural leadership… then the organizational structure begins to feel strain and unease. This is what leads to today’s two questions: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority”? The religious leaders were feeling threatened by Jesus, just as they had been by John the Baptist. The religious leaders were the ones with the years of training and with the titles: Pharisee, Sadducee, scribe. Who was this carpenter from a small town? What did he think he was doing? What right did he have? Who does he think he is?

Instead of answering, Jesus asks a parallel question. Instead of asking what they thought about Jesus’ authority, he asks them about John the Baptist’s authority. In many ways, John and Jesus fit into the same box: untrained in the normal sense, clearly being empowered by God, speaking truth that drew crowds to them, changing lives. The leaders cannot “win”. To say John, and therefore Jesus, is from God would imply the hierarchy has shifted. That threatens their identity, who they are. To say John (or Jesus) is from men also threatens their place. Too large a crowd believes John was a prophet and that Jesus is from God. How else do you explain the miracles? The religious leaders place in society rests upon their answer. It is a hard question to answer truthfully while holding on to who you are.

Before we think too little of the religious leaders, let us consider how we would answer the question if someone questioned our faith or our place in God’s family. If we were asked whose we were, would we answer the same way at church as we would out in the public square?

Prayer: God of all, lead and guide me today to live under your authority and rule. May all I do and all I am be grounded in you. May my purpose and my identity come from you alone. Amen.


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Pressing On

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

In today’s passage Jesus is preparing his disciples for a radical change – his death, followed by him being “raised to life”. The time the twelve have spent with Jesus must have been the best time of their lives. They have witnessed all kinds of miracles and have been a part of a few. They have been side by side with love lived out to the full. They have been blessed with the wisdom of God. If I could just have dinner with anyone in the world, far and away my choice would be Jesus.

The news Jesus delivers is hard to fathom. How could this even happen to the Messiah? How could that be the end of the story? There had to have been a personal side to the emotions the twelve felt too. Peter says, “Never, Lord”! This is the same Peter who was proclaimed the “rock” upon which Jesus would “build my church”. Following these new words from Peter, Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan”. Imagine how that must have stung Peter. The Lord has a way of keeping us humble. Peter is not thinking of the “things of God” – of the plan laid out for Jesus and for humankind. He is not thinking of the Messiah of love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Peter is thinking of what Peter wants – to just continue as it has been. We never want to lose someone or something we love.

Jesus then turns to all of the disciples and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. For Peter and probably for all of the disciples, the initial denial will be the desire for Jesus to stay with them. The death and resurrection are critical pieces of the plan. They will also be asked to deny self in many more ways as they follow the risen Lord. They will each take up the cross and sacrifice many things along the journey. Such is the cost of discipleship. It is a sobering thought.

Like the twelve, we prefer life to be good, to move along smoothly. It is well with our souls when we are surrounded by those we love, enjoying life, feeling closely connected to the Lord. But the storms of life come, we are drawn to crossroads, we too face death and loss. And at times we too must take up our faith, stand with or for Jesus, and count the cost. This is how we carry our cross. With God, it is always one we can bear, always a path we can tread. It is so because we do not walk alone. As we long for our reward, may we each press on toward the goal of heaven, trusting in God each step of the way.

Prayer: Redeeming and saving God, strengthen me for the journey ahead. Grant me the power to walk the path you place before me. Fill me with your love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Each day may I offer all that I am in service to you, my Lord and King. Amen.


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Anyone Who Has Faith…

Reading: John 14: 5-14

Verse 12: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”.

The opening verses of our passage center around the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus’ statement that “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” is very clear to us but is outside the understanding of the disciples at this point. From our vantage point, we do not get how the disciples don’t get it. Jesus explains how the amazing words that he speaks are from God living inside if him and he reminds them that the “evidence of the miracles” offers proof of the divine within Jesus. By way of the Bible we too are privy to the words and works of Jesus.

In this moment in time, Jesus wants the disciples to understand that he is God. This is essential because part of Jesus’ mission was to better reveal the heart of God to humanity. For three years, the disciples see what that looks like. It involves healing brokenness and bringing restoration. It involves including the outcasts and the sinners. It includes being a humble servant and a compassionate listener. It entails putting God’s and others’ needs ahead of your own. It encompasses the offer of love and forgiveness without conditions or limitations. We do know that the disciples finally do get all this. We know this because they become the church as they practice being the heart of God as they follow Jesus.

In verse twelve, this is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”. If you’re really a follower, a real disciple, Jesus says we will do what he did as he revealed the heart of God. Take a second and look back over that very limited list in the last paragraph – the one that lists a few ways how Jesus revealed the heart of God. How are you and your church doing with the “will do what I have been doing”?

We scratch our heads and maybe even snicker at how the disciples did not “get it” in our passage. Added to the words and works of Jesus that we find in the Bible, we have almost 2,000 years worth of faithful witnesses that have done what Jesus did – life after life that models the heart of God. What is one practical thing that you can do today to better do what Jesus did? May we all find at least one way to be like the real Jesus today.

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, which can I do today? How will you use me today to reveal your heart to another? Surprise me today, Lord. Place me where you will, use me as you will. Amen.


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Believers in Fellowship

Reading: Acts 2: 42-47

Verse 44: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”.

The book of Acts records the early history of the church. In our passage today Luke writes about what makes the church the church. It remains true today. The early Christians learned about Jesus and God. They spent time together in fellowship meals (that included what we call communion) and in times of prayer. The Holy Spirit was present, filling them with awe and empowering the apostles to offer signs and miracles. Generosity abounded. No one was in need as they cared for one another. They were a community. Verse 44 summarizes this: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”. Over all of this was their faith in Jesus Christ, revealed in their love for one another. Non-Christians, who were primarily Jews with a few Romans mixed in, noticed. In some cases, they were drawn to the love and became followers of Jesus Christ.

There are many times when the church today reminds us and the larger world of the picture painted by Luke today. That picture continues to attract people to the church. In times of trial, the body surrounds someone or a family or group of people. In times of need people step up both financially and physically. At gatherings there is joy and love present. This is the common “scene” in many churches. But the scene outside most all of our churches is much different than the scene outside the early church in Jerusalem.

Although “the Lord added daily to their number”, the city was not particularly welcoming or friendly to this new group. The church was a very small minority in a very Jewish and Roman world. Neither the Jews nor the Romans liked these Christians. At this stage they were sort of tolerated. As the church stuck and started to grow the persecution and worse would grow too. The reality of this fellowship of believers would change soon. Yet it would grow and grow and grow. God remained at work in and through the church. The same remains true today. Faith and love still guide the way. The Lord still draws us closer and closer while inviting others in. Praise God!

Prayer: Lord God, I am so thankful for the church. Although not a building, it is a “place” filled with loving and faithful people. I am blessed to be a part of your church. Continue to be present to us, to lead and guide us in fellowship with you, with one another, and with the world. Amen.


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 77: 1-2 & 11-20

Psalm 77 begins with, “I cried out to God for help; I cried out for God to hear me”.  In this opening line we can feel connection.  Whether recent, long ago, or present, we have all had occasions to cry out to God and to lay out great need at His feet.  When we find ourselves at the end of our hope, we desperately reach out to God and beg Him to hear our prayer.

Then the psalmist goes on remind himself of all that God has done.  In this way we too can recall times we have been in God’s presence in our past and can again rejoice in the blessings we have and are currently experiencing.  Then he goes on to recount God’s goodness and the many miracles God has worked in the past.  In the midst of a difficult time it is important to think on God’s love, goodness, and power.

As the Psalm concludes, the writer recalls God’s leading of the people.  God still desires to lead us each day of our lives as well.  God seeks to be an active and engaged participant in our lives.  In times of stress or trial it can be easy to forget God’s role in our lives.  Even in those times that He seems to be absent, He is always ad near as our next prayer.

God’s desire is to heal and save the world.  The master plan is to make all things new again.  There is hope in our faith.  We do go through dark moments in our lives, but we also dance in God’s light and love.  May today be a day of dancing.  And even if the dance is slow and mournful, may it also be bathed in God’s presence.


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Follow

Reading: John 10: 22-30

The Jews in the temple ask Jesus a question I think we ask often.  We may not always ask it verbally but I think we certainly do with our decisions and actions.  They ask Jesus if he is the Messiah.  Is he the one coming to redeem Israel, to restore them to their rightful place amongst the great nations?  They are looking for Jesus to do something grand.

His response perplexes: “You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep”.  Believe that you are the Messiah?  I’m sure they are thinking something along these lines: ‘Rid us of these Romans and make Israel great and then we will believe and then we will follow.  For now though, we’ll just do our own thing.  Yes it is nice that that guy can now walk and that that guy can see and that you fed all those people.  Really neat stuff (for them), but when will you really start leading, doing really important stuff (for us)?’

We are sometimes a lot like them.  Yes Jesus, I love you and believe in you and want to dedicate my life to you, but first I need to…  Yes Jesus, I will serve and follow you, but first would you…  We like Jesus, but too often on our terms and conditions.  Like the Jews in the temple that day, we expect or maybe even demand something grand from Jesus.  Then we will be all in.  Then…

And Jesus says to us: my sheep follow me.  It is not about what I can do for you.  It’s about what I do to you, about what I do in you.  The miracles, they just show that I am who I say I am: the Son of God, the Word made flesh.  Follow me, be my sheep, do what I did: love, serve, sacrifice, forgive.  The you will be my sheep.  Then you will know a peace that passes understanding.  Then you will begin to live eternal life.  Follow me.


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His Love

Reading: Acts 9: 36-43

As human beings one of our greatest non-physical needs is to belong. As social creatures, we need to feel like we are a part of the group and that we matter to others.  In turn we feel a need to have others feel that they  matter to us, that they are important parts of our life.

In today’s reading this is shown as a dear friend, Tabitha, passes away.  She seems to be the glue that held this small community together, so the grief is especially deep.  She not only shared her presence and love with her friends, she also showed it in her actions and in how she gave physical gifts to them as well.  Her friends and the two disciples who are present decide to send for Peter, who is in a nearby town.  The depth of love in this small community is amazing.

The depth of this love has power.  The level of caring is evident.  Peter comes and cares for Tabitha’s friends by restoring their dear friend to life.  By the power of this miracle many outside the group of friends come to believe in the Lord.

We too use the love of Jesus to form bonds of friendship among fellow believers.  Through study and fellowship we can find deep, caring relationships that meet our need to belong and to matter to others.  In turn we care for and love one another in acts of presence and in acts of service and in sharing together the love we find in Jesus.

This same love and actions that emulate His love and example can be brought out into the world.  Just as Tabitha’s resuscitation brought new believers to faith in Christ, our words and acts of service to others can help them to come to know Christ.  Our words and deeds may not be miracles in and of themselves like the miracle in today’s story, but they are the seeds that one day can lead to another coming to know Christ.  It is all about planting seeds and sharing His love.  May we plant well today!


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Faith and Mystery

The book of Job has a happy ending.  Job’s suffering ends and God restored him beyond all he had before.  Job is blessed with large herds, many sons, and beautiful daughters.  He lives for 140 years as a very blessed and dies full of life.  One could say all ends well but our questions are left unanswered.  We do not know why Job had to endure this trial.  We do not know Job’s take on what happened either.  In the end we see that God remains mysterious.  For our faith, this mystery is essential.

Try as we might, mankind cannot explain all that is in the world.  There is much that has been figured out but we only seem to be able to go so far.  Great minds have studied and observed and analyzed and calculated to learn much.  We can split atoms and see far into space.  We can trace the evolution and extinction of many species.  We can replace hearts and we can restart hearts.  Yet there is much that cannot be explained by scientists, doctors, mathematicians…  Events and things that happened and happen remain a mystery.  In our world miracles still occur and a shrug of the shoulders is the best explanation that can be offered in intelligent response.

There is still mystery to God as well.  There are may questions that cannot be answered.  The ‘why’ questions of life and death and illness remain as do the ‘how’ of miracles that occur.  There is much we do not know of God.  But there is also much we do know.  God is love, compassion, peace, comfort, understanding, forgiveness, mercy, grace.  He has plans for each of us and those plans are good.  Yet there is still much mystery and this is also good.  Faith and hope are still required of us in our relationship with God.  Faith draws upon trust and experience.  As we live out this life in relationship with God, our faith grows.  In faith and hope, we live with the mystery of God because above all else, we know that God is love.

Scripture reference: Job 42: 10-17


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Head to Heart

Faith rests upon the bedrock of Christ crucified and risen.  It is only through His sacrifice that we are made right with God and only through His resurrection that we have the promise of eternal life.  We ourselves can do nothing to earn forgiveness or to earn our way into heaven.  It is only by His grace and with the power of the Holy Spirit that we walk daily as a child of God.

For many today, this seems foolishness and is very hard to accept.  Like the Jews and Greeks in today’s reading, people today still want amazing signs or miracles or they want to be able to reason out faith.  Many in Jesus’ day saw miracles but failed to believe.  Many today believe that Jesus exists but fails to follow Him.  They observe the rules and diligently check off the boxes.  They know the stories in the Bible.  They practice religion but do not have a living faith.

But until Jesus makes that journey from head to heart, religion is all one has.  Once Jesus starts to live in our hearts, our lives change radically.  Instead of thinking how nice it was that Jesus did all those wonderful things for people, we want to go and do in His name.  Once Jesus lives in our hearts, our faith grows hands and feet.  The Spirit comes to dwell within us and life is never the same.  It is then that we can see with Jesus’ eyes, love with His heart, and serve others in the saving name of Jesus Christ!

Scripture reference: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25