pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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In All of Life

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verse 5: “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters'”.

Photo credit: Gian D.

After Peter has a few moments to collect himself and to become aware of the significance of Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus he says, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters”. Realizing how special this time is, Peter’s first reaction is to try and preserve the moment. He wants to make it last so he proposes building a place for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to stay. And then, “suddenly”, a voice from heaven speaks and Moses and Elijah are gone. It is just Peter, James, and John that descend the mountain with Jesus.

Peter, James, and John must have felt much like we feel when our “mountaintop” experience ends and we return to our ordinary lives. There are times or even short seasons when we find ourselves in the very presence of God. Often I am like Peter, not wanting it to end, doing what I can think of to prolong it. But that special time in worship, that mission trip, that sacred moment in the hospital room… – their time comes to a close. The blessing will be given, the bus will bring us home, the circumstance in the room will be resolved – and we return to our regular life. Yet we do not return the same. Peter, James, and John will never see Jesus or their faith in him the same again. They have been changed by their experience.

Coming down the mountain, we too know God better, our faith has grown. Will we allow that to influence or affect how we live in the ordinary? God is present everywhere, not just on the mountaintop (or in the valley). God is ever present in all places and in all circumstances. In the regular of life it takes a little more effort to see God all the time. But if we get accustomed to looking for God, if that becomes our habit, then we will be amazed at how God is present in all of life. May that blessing be yours today and every day.

Prayer: Living God, be present to me today – in the big and in the small. Reveal yourself in worship in mighty and powerful ways; be the still, small voice in all the other moments too, continuing to reveal yourself in all of my moments. 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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Step by Step

Reading: Matthew 16: 17-20

Verse 20: “Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ”.

In response to the question that we were pondering yesterday Peter had declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. As we continue today in Matthew 16, Jesus praises both God and Peter for this revelation. Jesus is elated that God has blessed Peter with this understanding. Jesus tells Peter that he will be the foundation of the church. Jesus will use Peter to lead the church as the Holy Spirit moves out in mission. Peter and the disciples will be given the “keys” – the wisdom, courage, faith, trust, words, actions… to loose Christianity upon the world, binding hearts to God. It is quite the statement that Jesus makes. It is one of the most effusive and encouraging statements from Jesus that we find in the Gospels.

And then Jesus warns the disciples “not to tell anyone that he was the Christ”. What?! Wait a minute. Hold on! Without digging a little deeper, this warning seems out of place. Just as Jesus’ words to Peter are a future thing, so too is sharing that he is the Messiah. To go out and to start proclaiming this would be like reading the last few pages of the book first. It would alter how you read the story. It would be like us sharing “Jesus’ blood will wash away your sins” as our opening line to a non-believer. In their minds they would think, “Blood? Sins?” and our conversation would be over. Yes, we might keep talking.

While the statement is true, it is not a good starting point for sharing our faith with a non-believer. We can get there, but first we must share how Jesus makes a difference in our lives. We can get to salvation and atonement and justification… but we must start with how Jesus changed our life. Our relatively simple but deeply personal faith stories have the power to change lives.

Through Jesus’ life and teachings and through the disciples and apostles, people came to know Jesus as the Messiah, as the Lord of their lives. It is a journey, not a destination. Faith grows one step at a time. Today may we help another move one step closer to Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to say, the level at which to share, in each encounter today. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to help draw others closer to you. Amen.


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Walk on in Faith

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14

Verse 8: “Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering'”.

Our passage from Genesis 22 is one of those stories of faith that we read and wonder if we could do what that Biblical hero did. For me, this passage is right up there with David facing Goliath, Daniel facing the lions’ den, Esther facing the king, and Peter taking that step out onto the water. When our faith feels strong, these are actions we too could take for God.

Abraham has had a long story with God. As a young man he was asked to trust God and, as he left his father’s homeland, it began a long walk with God. After many years the promise of a son came true when Abraham was 100 years old. And now, just over 110, God asks for Isaac as a sacrifice. It is not to occur then and there. No, Abraham must make a three day journey first. This in itself would test many of us and would push us to the brink – walking for three days with nothing to pray and think about other than offering your only child. Abraham walks on in faith.

As they begin to head up the mountain, Isaac has put the pieces together – wood, fire, knife… He asks Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering”? That question might have been enough for me to turn and head back down the mountain. But in an awesome testament to his faith Abraham says, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”. Again, Abraham walks on in faith.

Today, as we consider this story, what step of faith is God calling you to take? Reflecting on how God has been with you as you have stepped out before, how will you begin to walk forward in faith today?

Prayer: Lord God, as a new chapter opens, grant me the courage to step forward in faith and trust. Help me to lean on you in moments of fear or doubt. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Walking as Witnesses

Reading: Acts 2: 14a and 22-33

Verse 24: “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him”.

As Acts begins, the early church is starting to take shape and to grow. In today’s passage we read part of one of the first sermons given about Jesus Christ. Peter uses Old Testament scripture to connect his audience to Jesus. In verses 17-21 he quotes from Joel 2 and in our passage today he quotes from Psalm 16. In preaching to a mostly Jewish crowd Peter is using their prior knowledge to build new understanding.

In today’s passage Peter recounts the basics of the crucifixion before turning to the reality of the resurrection. In verse 24 he writes, “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him”. Impossible. As Peter links into all the Old Testament scripture that speaks of and prophesies about Jesus, he believes that the plan, God’s plan, was perfect. All the dots connect. Therefore it is impossible for death to interrupt God’s perfect plan. Peter then uses the quote from Psalm 16 as his proof text. He reads these words of David as words about Christ – David’s promised heir upon the throne forever.

Peter closes his case with an eyewitness claim. Not only do the scriptures speak of Jesus’ resurrection, but Peter and his fellow disciples are eyewitness – they have seen the risen Lord. Peter is so sure that he states that they are “witnesses of the fact”. Peter is as sure of what he has seen as he is of the Old Testament passages that speak of the Messiah. All of this leads Peter to the place David found too – to “live in hope”. Jesus Christ is our hope too. He is our promise of God’s love. As we begin to walk anew as Easter people, may we too walk as witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Father God, may I bear witness to the truth of the resurrection today. May all I do and say and think point to the risen Lord, my Savior. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring you all the glory today. Amen.


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Filled to Love

Reading: Matthew 17: 1-9

Verse 5: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him”!

Leading into chapter seventeen Jesus has just finished speaking about his impending death. Peter speaks quick words once again, saying, “This will never happen to you”. Jesus rebuked him, explaining that one must deny self and take up the cross. This chapter draws near to a close as Jesus says, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul”? In humility and obedience to God, Jesus will do just the opposite on the cross.

Six days later Jesus takes Peter, along with James and John, up the mountain and is transfigured before them. The light that surrounds Jesus is a peak at resurrection light. There will be no sun or moon in the new creation – the light will shine forth from the one who sits on the throne. This moment affirms what dying to self and finding true life looks like. God also offers affirmation of Jesus and the path ahead, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him”! Love. Humility, obedience, dying to self, losing one’s life – all require love. Love of God and love of one another lead and guide these actions. Ultimately love leads us to listen to Jesus and to do what he says and does. When we love as Jesus first loved us, the light of God shines within us too.

When we are filled with the light and love of God, that love flows out of us and into the lives of one another. When we love as Jesus loved, we offer forgiveness, care, comfort, presence, support, understanding… In doing so we experience a little bit more of heaven here on earth as we seek to build the kingdom here. When we choose to live a life of love and self-sacrifice we choose to be used by God. In doing so we are also pleasing in God’s sight. This day and every day, may we listen well to Jesus, filling ourselves with his light and love, being prepared to go forth to share these with the world.

Prayer: Father God, Jesus touched the disciples and said, “Do not be afraid”. Touch me too Lord and whisper those words to me. Send me out with courage to love and live boldly for you. Fill me with your light and love, then empty me, pour me out into the world. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Eyewitnesses

Reading: 2 Peter 1: 16-21

Verse 16: “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty”.

Peter writes of his experience seeing Jesus Christ transfigured before his eyes that day atop the mountain. Just as Moses had stepped into God’s presence on Mount Sinai long ago, Peter, James, and John are present in the Holy One’s presence. Peter writes, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty”. They saw with their own eyes. The divinity or majesty of Christ was revealed to their very eyes. And not only that – God also spoke from the cloud, affirming Jesus as his Son, the Beloved. Peter saw and heard that Jesus is the Messiah.

As we have journeyed with Christ, we too have experiences where we have seen and heard the Lord. Jesus Christ continues to be active and present in the world and in our lives. The Holy Spirit continues to whisper into our hearts and to nudge our hands and feet into action. God continues to send people into our lives that make known the love and mercy of God. Peter had an experience that would have been impossible to ignore. Unfortunately, we can be pretty adept at ignoring or avoiding or procrastinating away the continuing efforts of the Lord in our lives and in the world around us. Too often we either limit what we think God can do or we refuse to see the possibilities before us.

We are creatures of habit and we love certainty. We rarely venture into the unknown. These tendencies lead us to just see what we expect to see, to just do what we normally do. Yet God is all around us. God is present in so many moments of each day. If we would just see with eyes of faith, if we would just let our eyes be in our heart instead of in our minds, then we would see God in so many ways. Then we would see God in the beauty of the sunrise or in the eyes of the elderly couple. Then we would recognize the love of Christ in the unexpected words of kindness from a stranger. Then we would maybe be brave and courageous enough to be the light of Jesus to someone who is broken or hurting.

This is the reason we experience God’s presence and work in our lives: so that we can share it with others. These experiences of faith are vehicles to use to tell the story of how Jesus works in our lives. We too can be “men and women carried along by the Holy Spirit”. May it be so!

Prayer: Loving Lord, you are present in so many ways in our world and in my life. Thank you for each moment that you touch my life. Help me to always have eyes to see you and a heart to feel you. Fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit so that all may see and experience you in me. Amen.


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Push Us

Reading: Acts 10: 34-43

Verses 34-35: “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”.

In our passage today, Peter reveals a heart that has witnessed the widening of God’s circle. Early on in his days following Jesus he was more focused on the chosen people, the Jews. Even though Peter was present when many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus after he spoke to the women at the well, his circle was still small. In Acts 10, Peter has a vision and a powerful moment that leads him to say, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”. In this experience God will even challenge Peter’s notion of what is right. (In the reminder of chapter ten the Holy Spirit comes upon the Gentiles before they are baptized – not the “normal” order!)

Peter’s mind and, more importantly, his heart were changed when he allowed himself to be open to God’s voice in the visions and when he followed where God led. Once in a position to do so, Peter shared the good news with his Gentile audience. As God opened up Peter’s circle he came to understand what Jesus really meant by “go and make disciples of all people”. This would not have been possible if Peter was not willing to consider that God might just be doing a new thing in and through him. If Peter stayed stuck in his old understanding of God’s love, he would never have encountered Cornelius and family.

This leads me to wonder: when have I tried to stay in my comfort zone, avoiding the new thing that God is trying to do? When have I been hesitant to see how God is moving and opening up the path to faith to someone I do not think is worthy or ready or acceptable? Sometimes what I have understood previously has been the thing that kept me within my own little circle. At other times my stereotypes and preconceived ideas have been my barrier.

God pushed Peter to new people and to a new understanding of just how big God’s love is. It happened because Peter allowed himself to be pushed. May we each allow God to push us today.

Prayer: Loving Father, your love knows no bounds, does it? You see one and all as worthy of your love. Who and what they are or have been does not matter to you. A heart turned towards you is simply the starting point for us all. Help me today to better be your love in the world. Make my love a love for one and all, Lord. Allow me to follow closer. Amen.


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The Way

Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Verse 9: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”.

Peter, like almost 100% of the early church leaders, is a Jewish Christian. Yes, they are Christians first, but their Jewish upbringing is still a big part of their faith. All of the dietary laws, the rite of circumcision, the Sabbath observation… are keys to the new Christian faith. To become a believer and to be baptized into the Holy Spirit one must become a proselyte – in essence, a believer in training. One must prove their faith over a period of time by following all of the rules and only then could you become a baptized believer. The church has not existed for very long and they already have a set method to join! The idea of having a clear process to follow and a defined set of rules to obey sounds very much like another establishment of the day.

Our passage today opens with the aftermath of Peter going to Caesarea. The other leaders of the church in Jerusalem say to Peter, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them”. You broke rule 19.a.2 and rule 27.f.4. How could you. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” in what we read in Luke 15:2. The Pharisees make this statement just before Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. You might recall each parable ends with a celebration when the lost are found.

In our passage today, Peter uses some of the rules to establish why he broke the rules. First, he was praying. Second, God brought him a vision. Third, God explained the vision to Peter. Not once but three times. Peter even shares that he protested what God was instructing him to do, saying to God, ‘I have never broken rule 4.e.3’. God responds by saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”. Rule 4.e.3 had been revoked. Peter then goes on to tell the story of what happened in Caesarea.

This passage leads to the question: what rules or traditions or unwritten codes are we hanging onto that are preventing unbelievers from becoming believers? Yes, change is hard. What new understanding might God be bringing to Christianity today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes that I may see. Holy Spirit, speak into my life and my heart, illumining the way you would have me go. Amen.