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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You Chose Love

Reading: John 3: 14-18

Verse 17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”.

Our passage today begins with Jesus referencing an Old Testament story. When the Israelites grumbled against God and Moses, God sent poisonous snakes. In response to their cries for help, God had Moses fashion a serpent and place it high on a pole. By looking up to this symbol, the people who had been bitten were saved. Jesus parallels this story with belief in him. If one looks to the “lifted up” or risen Christ, we too are saved.

Verse sixteen details the depth of God’s love: “he gave his one and only Son” so that we could be saved. God incarnate loved us enough to take upon himself the sin of the world and to die on a cross. His loving sacrifice saves us from the consequences of our sins and from the finality of death. Sin and death no longer reign. The cross speaks the final words: you are loved. The Old Testament God who quickly judged the people’s sin and sent snakes as the consequence instead chose to send his Son. The God who judged and condemned the Israelites turns to love.

In verse seventeen we read, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”. God chose to love us as we are and as we always will be on this earth. God chose to save us because of his great love for us. God chose to enter our broken and hurting and messy world in order to save us. Instead of tossing in the towel and giving up on us, Jesus wrapped himself in a towel and knelt at the disciples’ dirty feet. Washing their feet was a symbol not only of humble service but also of the way his death on the cross would wash away our sin.

In many ways Jesus said, ‘You are loved’. As we continue to walk deeper into Lent and to draw closer to the cross may we seek to reveal to one and all that they are loved. May Jesus’ love be our love as we strive to draw the kingdom of God near.

Prayer: God of grace and power and love, you sent Jesus to save. Thank you for the depth of your love. You gave a willing sacrifice. You chose to love when condemning would have been so much easier. Thank you for choosing love. Amen.


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The Chance to Witness

Reading: John 1: 6-8

Verse 7: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe”.

The opening verses of John’s gospel are beautiful and introduce Jesus to the readers in a way unlike the other three gospels. So too is the way that John the Baptist is introduced and brought into the story of Jesus. In verse six we hear, “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John”. It is simple and straight forward, but tells the reader all we need to know. In Luke 1 we have a detailed description of the events leading up to and of John’s miraculous birth. Like Mark, John jumps right into the meat of the story. John describes it this way: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe”. This verses contains two pronouns and a reference to “that light” that beg further thought and draw the reader into exploring the text.

The first “he” refers to John the Baptist. As we read last week, John the Baptist came as a “messenger” sent to “prepare the way”. John did so by preaching a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1). “That light” refers back to verses four and five from the powerful opening of John 1. In Jesus we find “life” and John refers to this as “the light of men”, a light that the gospel writer describes as one that “shines in the darkness”. This light that shines in our darkness reveals the sins and struggles within each of us and in our world. This connects to the personal call in Isaiah 40 to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by making “straight in the wilderness a highway for the Lord”. This involves clearing away the sin and other obstacles that keep us from walking in faith with Jesus Christ.

The “him” refers not to the witness but to the one to whom John the Baptist is witnessing, to Jesus Christ. It is in and on Jesus that we believe. Here John the Baptist is pointing away from himself and on to Jesus Christ. John knew his role, his place in the work of the kingdom of God. Reading on, in verse nine, John points even more directly to Jesus.

John the Baptist was a witness, one sent to testify, just as we are called to be and do. While none of us are likely to be in a street corner or out in a field preaching today (the modern equivalents of John’s place by the Jordan River), we will all have opportunities to witness to our faith and belief in Jesus Christ. When people notice our calm in the storm or our strength in the trial, when others take note of our generosity or of our kindness to all, these are opportunities to do as John did – to point to Jesus. He is the source of our calm, of our strength, of our mercy and grace. When given the chance to witness, may we point to the light of the world, to Jesus Christ our Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, may your light shine in me today. Through Jesus, fill me with a spirit of power. Use that Holy Spirit power to tell the story of what Jesus has done and will do for me and for all who believe. Amen.


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Hear the Cries

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-15

Verse 17: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the wilderness. They are given a small amount of food and water. Soon these run out. Hagar must have been struggling with this fate – we all would. Why would life have to end like this? What do you think being rejected and cast out felt like? People all over our nation are wrestling with the idea of being outcast, rejected, marginalized. Some are like Hagar, on the inside looking out. Others are on the outside and many are trying to understand and are trying to be a part of the solution.

Hagar prepares to die, along with her son. Both weep tears. Ishmael’s are probably of sadness and loneliness and confusion. Hagar feels these emotions, but more: anger, hurt, unworthiness, isolation, hopelessness. But as they cry, God hears them. God says to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”. Those words – “do not be afraid”. These words are echoed throughout the story of faith. They say, God is near, God is with us. Today is not the end. Hagar and her son will not only survive, he will become a great nation too. God is saying that they matter, that their lives are important to God. God hears the cry of the outcast and the rejected. They are of sacred worth to God. God is their God too.

God continues to hear the cry of those that some see as less worthy, as less than. Jesus certainly heard their cries too. He invited us to hear the cries of the needy, the marginalized. And he told us to respond, to meet needs, to love them just as he first loved us. There is a great need in our nation right now for social justice and equality. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, hear the cries of the outcast and oppressed. And may we, like God, choose to walk with them.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen me for the day ahead. Gird me up to love all people well, to model that love after Jesus’ love. Lead me to act justly and to love mercy as I strive to walk humbly with you. Amen.


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Missionaries

Reading: Mark 6: 6b-13

Verses Twelve and Thirteen: “They went out and preached that people should repent… They drove out demons… anointed… and healed”.

After a period of watching Jesus in ministry, the disciples are empowered by Jesus and are sent out two by two. Jesus is beginning to train them to be His replacement. Full of faith in Jesus, “they went out and preached that people should repent… They drove out demons… anointed… and healed”. The disciples are able to model the ministry of Jesus. They preach the gospel news of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. They encounter the demon-possessed and they drive out the demons. They anoint people and heal them of their illnesses and diseases. In all these actions, the disciples are restoring people to wholeness and into faith in Jesus Christ.

Each of these actions drew people to Jesus, depending on their need. These three things continue to be at the core of the ministry of the church. The sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ is still the central activity of the church and of all followers of Christ. This is usually the first step. Belief often leads then to restoration of the person – body, mind, and soul. It is through faith in Jesus that we all find healing.

The sending of the twelve (and later the sending of the 72) establishes the idea that all believers are sent out into the world to be Jesus to the lost, the lonely, and the hurting. Some are sent someplace on the other side of the world and some are sent right next door. All of us are sent. This passage also contains a reality. Although all believers are sent, not all non-believers are ready to receive. Some will not welcome us as we come in the name of Jesus. We offer Jesus as best we can and then we move on. Remembering that we once were lost too, we trust that other believers will follow as God continues to work at saving the whole world.

We go forth today, into our day and into our world, willing missionaries sent with the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. May we ever be faithful missionaries of the gospel. May our words and actions bring healing and wholeness, leading others to Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Reading: Matthew 21: 33-41

Verse 40: When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do with those tenants?

Jesus is teaching in the temple courts.  He is in Jerusalem and each day people gather around Him to hear His interpretation of the scriptures and to hear the stories He likes to tell.  Others are there to listen for a way to trap Him or to catch Jesus in a blasphemy.  He is aware of both aspects of the crowd.

This day Jesus tells the story of the landowner who plants a vineyard and builds a wine press and watchtower.  Then he rents the vineyard out and goes on a journey.  Harvest time comes and he sends for his share of the crop.  But the tenants beat and stone and kill those who were sent.  The landowner sends a bigger group, but the results are the same.  AND then the tenants do it again when he sends his very own son to collect.  Then Jesus asks them a question: “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do with those tenants”?  The answer seems obvious.

At this point, most everyone in the crowd has the same answer.  Most of us would give the same answer too.  But Jesus’ stories always seem to have an edge or twist to them.  There are probably a few in the crowd besides His twelve disciples who are wary – they know there is more to the story.  But for now, for today, the story ends here.

When we consider the story, are we thinking we are more like the owner, like those sent, or like the tenants?  At times we certainly think we are the owner.  We look at our life and our possessions and our talents and think they are all ours.  At times we can see ourselves as those who are sent.  We try and share the good news but are rejected and/or abused.  And at times we are the tenants – living for self, disregarding all else.

Jesus is also framing larger questions too.  The first is who really owns the ‘vineyard’?  The second is who is the son that is finally sent to re-establish the correct relationship between owner and tenants?  And the third is, what is our response to the one who is sent?  From these perspectives, the story takes on new meaning and depth.  From here we must consider how we see and relate to God, how we see and relate to Jesus, and what role we are or should be playing in the vineyard.


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Beautiful Feet

Reading: Romans 10: 14-16

Verse 16: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.

Paul has just built his case for what one must do to be saved: believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord”.  In verse 13 Paul writes, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  It is a faith that is offered to all people.  This echoes Jesus’ commission to bring the good news to all nations.  God’s love and saving grace are for all peoples in all places.

Today’s passage shifts to some realities that make most Christians a bit uncomfortable.  In our minds, yes, we all know that the Great Commission applies to all followers of Jesus Christ.  We are all called to proclaim the good news.  Today, Paul gives us a series of questions to consider.  First, how can anyone call on someone they do not believe in?  If one does not believe in Jesus then they will never experience salvation.  This is a matter of great eternal consequence.  It is imperative that all people have the opportunity to call on Jesus for salvation.

Paul then asks how one can believe without hearing of Jesus Christ.  It is indeed very hard to believe in someone you have never heard of or understand.  So all must hear the good news and come to understand what Jesus offers.  Then Paul asks how someone could hear without someone else speaking.  Again, if we do not tell others the good news of Jesus Christ then it is very unlikely that they will hear.  Paul then says that we each must be sent in order to tell.  Jesus’ parting words to all of us was to go and make disciples of all nations.  We are sent.  Each Sunday we close worship with a benediction – a reminder to the people of God to go out and bring Jesus to the world – to go forth to love and serve the Lord our God.

Paul closes with these words: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news”.  He is quoting from the prophet Isaiah, who lived hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth.  Isaiah’s statement remains true.  The good news is still the good news.  All need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  Do you want beautiful feet today?


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Loved That Much

“For God so loved the world…”  Just by prompting you with those six words, you probably can finish the verse.  For those that have even just a few years of church, these are familiar words.  But not to everybody.  After Tim Tebow wore ‘John 3:16’ on his eye black in the national championship game a few years back, over 90 million people googled it.

It is a powerful verse.  It is the gospel message in a nutshell.  On a communal level, sometimes the message is hard to fathom.  When one sees all of the violence, hatred, abuse, prejudice, injustice… in the world, it is hard to understand how God could love this world so much as to send His only Son into it.  But that is just how much He loves this broken world.

Then I think about this verse on a personal level.  When I consider how long I have known and been in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and look hard at my life some days, I think, ‘Even me?’  In spite of all the times I fail to do what you lead me to and all of the times I sin, You still love me?  Yes He does.  God loves all of us this way.  Wow!

The reality is that God would send His Son to die for just one of us.  He loves each of us that much.  But God sent Jesus to all of us – for each and every person who lives or has lived from the time Jesus walked the earth until the time He returns in glory.  For God so loved this broken, hurting, fallen world so much that He sent His one and only Son to save this world.  He loves the world that much.  He loves you and me that much.  Thanks be to God for His great love!!

Scripture reference: John 3: 16-17


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Filled to be Emptied

Jesus calls us to believe in the light so that we can become the light ourselves.  Darkness is powerful – only the light can overcome it.  After teaching the people all day, Jesus takes some time in solitude to pray.  It is a hard week ahead.  Even the Son of God needs to spend time alone with God in order to face what lies ahead.

Psalm 71 begins with the encouragement to take refuge in God.  In the midst of the trial and adversaries that surround all around the psalmist, they seek refuge, protection, and safety in time alone with God.  There is the admission that we cannot manage on our own but need time alone with God to find the strength and the ability to face the day or week ahead.

In both of these cases and in our case too our enemies pursue us.  The messages of the world shout out things to chase after and interests to develop that are not the things of God.  These things and people in our lives will challenge our faith.  And like Jesus and the psalmist, we too must take time alone with God.

Today, where will you find the time to be alone with God?  Where will you go to hide from the world as you seek help, protection, and love from God?  It is important to make sure we are full of His presence before we go out into the world to be the light and love that dispels darkness and fills it with Christ’s presence.  After being filled up, go out and give it away.

Scripture references: Psalm 71: 1-14 and John 12: 20-36


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We Are Not Alone

When Moses encounters God in the burning bush he has some questions for God.  When we meet God in our own particular circumstance and we sense that God has a task or mission for us, we too have our own questions.  And maybe we ask the same two questions that Moses asked.

Moses first asks who is he that God should send him to Pharaoh.  Often, when we feel that God is leading us somewhere, ask the same basic question ‘ “Me? Are you sure?”  We seek two things with this question – reassurance that God is indeed choosing us because we have the gifts and talents to accomplish this mission and, secondly, that He will be with us.

His second question seeks to define who God is.  Jesus asked the disciples the same question – “Who do you say I am?”  It is important to know who we serve and to whom we belong.  Much like us when we go forth to share the good news or to serve, Moses wants to be able to tell them who sent him.  We do not go on our own.  We go in and through God.  He is a steadfast and true God.  We do not go alone.

Scripture reference: Exodus 3: 1-15