pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Jesus’ Charge

Reading: Luke 8:26-39

Verse 39: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Today’s passage from Luke 8 is powerful. Jesus and the disciples come ashore and are met be a man who is possessed by many demons. These evils spirits have driven him out of community. He lives alone and naked, out in the tombs. These evil spirits immediately recognize Jesus and they fear his power. After freeing the man from these many demons – notice that Jesus does not force them out but that they leave the man because he is in Jesus’ presence – the man is found sitting at Jesus’ feet, “dressed and in his right mind.”

How easy it is for us to become hardened and possessed by things. Sometimes it comes from within me – pride, anger, jealousy, control, addiction… These things can possess me. Sometimes it is from without – racism, ageism, sexism, politics… These things too can possess me. When these things, or a combination of them, become my focus, my driving force, they indeed take possession of the Spirit in me, leaving me naked, wretched, blind. But even in this state Jesus will come, will be present, reminding me of who and whose I am.

After healing the demon possessed man, there is fallout. There is a financial cost. But the loss of the pigs is not what drives the villagers to ask Jesus to leave. No, it is fear. Fear that Jesus might drive their demons out too. Fear that Jesus might change their lives too. We must also be prepared for the same response. Yes, people are glad that we’re no longer angry or controlling or biased or prejudice. But don’t “force” that stuff on them, don’t “make” them change. Like with the man in our passage, Jesus’ presence leads to change. So we’ll be asked to leave too. Yet in that moment may we remember who and whose we are and may Jesus’ charge ring in our ears too: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Prayer: Lord God, please continue to work in me, refining me, reshaping me, transforming me into who you want me to be. Empower me to tell the good news of what you’ve done for me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Tell Us Plainly

Reading: John 10:22-24

Verse 24: “How long will you keep us in suspense?”

In our passage from John 10, Jesus is walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. It is an enclosed area in the temple. Many Jews gather around Jesus, seeking to know more about him. I can imagine this question blurted out, part in curiosity, part in frustration, part in release: “How long will you keep us in suspense?” Do the Jews long to know better the mystery of who Jesus is? From the gospels, which are accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings, we get an excellent idea of who Jesus is. Taken together they paint a great picture of who and what Jesus was and is. Yet they pale in comparison to actually living with Jesus.

Jesus walked and talked and lived among these people. For 3 years. They had much greater access to Jesus and his teachings than we do. Yet they ask, “How long…?” Do they really want to know who and what Jesus is? Or do they want him to conform to their idea of a Messiah? Their statement, also in verse 24, reveals the answer to their question: “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus has told and told all with ears to hear that he is the Christ. He has shown and shown all with eyes to see that he is the Christ. Jesus has entered into relationship with all who have open hearts. And yet they do not believe.

So today I ask: In what ways have you come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world?

Prayer: Lord God, this day may you use me to open ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to receive. Doing so, may others come to believe in the only one who can save. Amen.


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Presence

Reading: Luke 9:28-36

Verse 29: “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”

The inner three – Peter, James, and John – are brought up the mountain with Jesus. Jesus begins by praying to God, by connecting to God. As Jesus is praying, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” Jesus is transfigured. He is changed into something more divine, radiant with the glory of God. Peter, James, and John are present to this version of Jesus. Moses and Elijah come and talk with Jesus about his impending death in Jerusalem. The disciples hear once again about what will soon happen. A cloud envelops them and God tells Peter, James, and John, “This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” And then it is just Peter, James, and John with Jesus. It is over as suddenly as it began.

Why did Jesus choose to have Peter, James, and John there? A practical reason is so that this amazing story gets into the Bible. While true, there has to be more. First, it reveals the glory of Christ in a new way. It paints in their minds an image of the divinity and glory that will be the eternal Christ in heaven. Second, it changes Peter, James, and John’s understanding of Jesus. Jesus has been declared the Messiah. The miracles and the teachings show his power. In the transfiguration the disciples get a clearer picture of what God in the flesh looks like from the heavenly perspective. The stories of Moses coming down the mountain with his face aglow – they have seen what did that for themselves. Third, it changes them. They will never look at Jesus the same nor will their faith ever be the same. Peter, James, and John now know the glory of God in Jesus Christ in a deeper, more personal way. The inner three will carry this glory forever in their hearts.

On our journeys of faith we too have encounters with Jesus that forever change us. We experience moments when his presence is tangible, times when the Spirit speaks, times when prayers are answered or when doors are opened… Just as the disciples did may we too tell these stories of our faith, encouraging and helping others to better see and understand the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for those moments when your presence was felt and was real. Thank you for the times when you’ve clearly guided, provided, strengthened, protected me. Amen.


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When I Am Weak

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 12: 2-10

Verse 9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As our passage today begins, Paul speaks of himself in the third person. He tells of a “man” who has a grand vision of heaven. There he witnessed “inexpressible things”. Paul could choose to tell all about this vision but he refrains. He does not want others to “think more of me” than they should. Paul’s language here reminds me of those ‘just asking for a friend’ questions we give or receive once in a while.

In our time many are drawn to leaders with awesome resumes, excellent credentials, and/or with amazing charisma and leadership skills. It was not any different in Paul’s day. There is never a shortage of people that want to lead or that think they are just the best leader ever. Both are in great supply. Paul could have boasted of his encounter with the risen Lord or of his vision of heaven. Instead he admits his weakness and his brokenness. He chooses the path of humility. Paul shares that he has a “thorn” in his flesh. It torments him and he has begged God to take it away. God will not. The Lord instead tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. The Lord allows the thorn to stay to remind Paul again and again that he’s not perfect, that he’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread. Paul can think back to his Pharisee days and say, ‘I once knew a guy like that…’

Paul was found by Christ and has matured in his faith. He now knows that when he is weak, Christ is strong. When insult or persecution or hardship comes, Paul now relies even more on Jesus Christ. It is then that Paul finds strength. It is then that we are strong too – when we rely on and trust in Christ. In humble faith may we ever turn to the only one who can save: Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, in Paul I see Jesus’ humble servant’s attitude. When I look within, may my life and leadership reflect this same grace and humility. Remind me of my flaws and weaknesses when I think too much of self. Thank you God. Amen.


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Love and Faithfulness

Reading: Psalm 22: 25-31

Verse 30: “Future generations will be told about the Lord”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Today we read the last seven verses of Psalm 22. These verses rejoice in God’s care and love for his children. They remind us that God is always there for us. Psalm 22 begins with these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? David feels totally alone and dejected. He is being mocked and fears for his life. Then, in verse 22, there is a shift. David basically says, ‘And still I will praise you’!

Life for most of us has its share of time in the valleys. Life brings disease, death, unwanted change. Life will leave us feeling wrung out and alone. We too will make choices and do things that separate us from God and from others. We will be the cause of our sorrows and sufferings at times. No matter the cause of our time in the valley, we never walk alone. In verse 27 David writes, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord”. We will remember who and what God is and when we do, we will find that the Lord is right there with us. We will be like David: “They who seek the Lord will praise him”!

This Psalm, like the whole Bible, is the story of God’s love and faithfulness. It is the overarching message of the Psalm and of the whole of scripture. Like with David’s Psalm, may God’s love and faithfulness be the overarching message of our lives. May our life and witness tell future generations about the Lord our God!

Prayer: Lord, this morning I think of the song, “My Hope Is Built”. You have been my anchor in the storm; you are where I find my hope and peace. Thank you for your sure love and your faithfulness that never ends. Amen.


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Calling Them to Come

Mark 1: 1-5

Verse 4: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

Last week we began Advent with the end of the story – the end of the age when Jesus will return in power and might. This week we jump back to the beginning of the story, with the ministry of John the Baptist. Mark begins his gospel quoting from two of the many Old Testament passages that point to Jesus Christ, the full revelation of God. Mark describes John’s ministry simply: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. John set up outside of the temple, outside of Jerusalem – outside of all civilization for that fact. He was calling people back to a simpler way of life from a simple place: the wilderness. It was not a place to come and stay. It was a place to come to, to do what needed done, and to return home from.

As I try to imagine John out there in the wilderness, my mind thinks of “bullhorn guy”. He is that person standing on the street corner, yelling at people through a bullhorn, telling folks that they will end up in hell because of their sins. People tend to go the long way around street corners such as these. We, in general, do not like to consider our sins, much less confess them in public on a street corner. Although the basic message is the same – repent of your sins – John must have been as far from the bullhorn guy as one could get. Mark writes, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to see him”. There were, of course, some curious folks who went out to see what all this was about. These folks appear in our churches once in a while. A bump in life leads them to check out this faith thing. Others come to appease a significant other or their family at the holidays. The religious leaders showed up too. Not to be prepared or to confess or to be baptized, but to assess the threat to their own power. A lot of people were going to see John. But most people, large numbers of people, went to see John to be made right with God. In verse five we read, “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him”. They emerged from the waters ready to live a new, more faithful life.

There was a hunger to be close to God, to be a better person, to live a more holy life. This is what drew people out into the wilderness to hear John’s message and to be changed. John called the people to more. As we too live out our days, may our witness call people to more. This day and each day, may our friends and neighbors, our co-workers and classmates – may they see the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ within us, calling them to more.

Prayer: Lord God, may I be an example of your will and way. May all I do and say and think point people to you and to the saving relationship that you offer in and through Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Best News Ever

Reading: Romans 10: 5-15

Verse 12: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”.

Christianity can be exclusive. Since day one it is something we have struggled with. In the very earliest church they thought one had to first be Jewish before one could become a Christian. Soon enough the Gentile Christians were trying to exclude the Jewish Christians. That is partially what Paul is addressing today. To the church in Rome and to all Christians today, Paul says, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”. All people are loved by God. In similar writings Paul adds slave and free, young and old… to illustrate that God is for all people.

Religion in general has a long history of using beliefs and sacred texts as a means to justify exclusivity and sometimes violence. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and a host of other religions have fought wars, conducted purges, persecuted, imprisoned, … others outside of their faith. This is a fine line we walk. To have a belief system inherently makes one feel that their belief system is “right” or “correct”. If you didn’t, would your faith be worth having and following? But to use those beliefs to do harm of any kind crosses a line that Jesus clearly drew. A quick look at Jesus’ ministry, teachings, and life reveal a God who loves all people.

Tension existed between Jesus and the dominant religion because of his inclusiveness. Jesus interacted with all kinds of people deemed unclean, unholy, and unwelcome. His inclusion of prostitutes and Samaritans, of tax collectors and adulterers, of lepers and other infirm revealed the depth and breadth of God’s love.

Paul ends today’s passage with an encouragement to be like Jesus – preaching and teaching. It is also a claim to exclusivity: to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the whole world. We are called to go and tell of God’s love found in Jesus Christ. It is the best news ever. May we go and tell one and all.

Prayer: Lord of all creation and of all people, may I be a bearer of the good news. May I always tell of a love that conquers all things, defeats all barriers, and welcomes all people. Amen.


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Come and See

Reading: John 1: 29-42

Verse 32: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him”.

John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the “lamb of God” – interpreting this as the one who will take away the sins of the world. After recognizing Jesus’ eternal nature, he also identifies his own purpose in baptizing with water: that Jesus “might be revealed to Israel”. Through the baptism of repentance that John was offering, hearts were prepared to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Then John gives this testimony about when he baptized Jesus: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him”. John the Baptist had been told by God that this would be the sign that reveals the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He then plainly states, “This is the Son of God”.

The next day John again identifies Jesus as the lamb of God. This prompts two of John’s disciples to leave him to follow Jesus. After a quick exchange, Jesus invites them to “come and see”. One of the two gets his brother. Andrew is convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. He gets Simon Peter and he too starts to follow Jesus.

This point of entry into a relationship with Jesus is the same for all who follow. We hear of him, perhaps from a friend, perhaps from reading the Bible, maybe from church or Sunday school. We are drawn in to know him more and more, one day realizing that Jesus is the Savior – the lamb sent to take away not only the sins of the world but our sins too. Like those that came to see John the Baptist, we bow and humbly confess our sins and, repenting of them, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus becomes a living presence within us, becoming a part of our everyday life. From then on we strive to follow the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

We also become a bit like Andrew in the process, telling others that we have found the Messiah, inviting them to meet him as well. When we first do, Jesus begins to invite them to “come and see” – see what life in Jesus looks like. As we live out each day, may we continue to come and see Jesus, knowing him more and more, extending the invitation to others as we help to build the kingdom here on earth. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Father God, as I seek to come and see, reveal yourself to me in a new way. Open my eyes in a new way, drawing me ever deeper into your love. Amen.


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Up from the Foundation

Reading: Psalm 137: 5-9

Verse 5: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”.

In the short-term of life it seems like things never change. The context of our Psalm today is the period of exile that followed the fall of Jerusalem. The people of Israel have been in Babylon for what feels like forever. It feels like their situation will never change. Deep within they long for their past. But at this moment they are stuck in Babylon.

In the long-term of life it often feels like things are always changing. Kings come and go, foreign powers rise and fall, there are times of freedom and times of captivity. Humans in general do not like change. The routines that we fall into in life feel like “forever” after a while. Our faith is one of these routines. In exile, the people of Israel cling to the songs and stories of faith. The telling and retelling of their oral traditions and the singing of their sacred songs connects them both to God and to the past that they long for. The deep desire to always remember is captured in verse five, where we read, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”. If one forgets the most important thing – God – then all else is lost.

Our faith exists and thrives in between the past and the future, between the constant and the change. The Bible and the practices and traditions that we derive from it keep us connected to God and to Jesus. They remind us of who we are as Christians and as communities of faith. Yet our faith also looks forward. One way we look forward is our trust in the future promises – to one day enter heaven and to one day see all things made new as Jesus Christ returns. The other way we look forward in our faith is the idea of journey. Our faith today is not what it was five years ago. We seek to journey forward, ever becoming more and more like Jesus.

The Bible, the traditions, the practices – these are the solid foundations of our faith. The desire to grow to be more like Jesus – this is the building up from that foundation. We are blessed by both. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for being who and what you are: unchanging love and mercy and grace. Thank you for showing us all these things lived out in your son, Jesus Christ. Keep me connected to both. Amen.


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Tell, Tell, Tell

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 16: “And he told them this parable…”.

Jesus loved to tell a story. His stories always taught something about faith and they usually connected to everyday life. All in the audience could usually relate to the story, often called a parable.

Although it is not as common today, there are still cultures and people groups who still tell their history through stories. Oral traditions are how much of a people’s story gets passed along to the next generation. Much of the Bible comes to us as oral tradition that was finally written down. For example, the gospel we read today was compiled and written at least forty years after Jesus died.

Many people in the less developed areas of our world still rely on oral tradition. Literacy rates are low and books are scarce within some people groups. Here the stories of the group, the family, the individual is passed on in story form. Stories are easier to remember than factual lists or straight history accounts. Much care and attention is given to knowing the story well in order to pass it along well to those who do not know the story. Knowing the story well and passing it along are two key components of living out our Christian faith.

There are actually two stories we need to know well as Christians. The first is the story of the Bible. We do not need to memorize the whole Bible but we do need to understand the overarching story and the important details related to personal salvation and faithful living. The second story we need to know well is our own faith story. We must be able to tell the story of how and why Jesus matters in our life. We must be able to tell the story of what Jesus does for us.

Once we know these stories, our task becomes telling the stories to others. The story of the Bible is big and we can share that with anyone. Our personal faith story is a little more specific, yes, but there are many who need to hear it. We just have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to these people. As faithful followers may we tell the story of faith well and often – both of the stories!

Prayer: Lord, Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is a big story. Help me to continue to be faithful to learning more of the story. Day by day increase my understanding. Grant me then the words and actions to tell your story and my story well. Amen.