pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Who or What?

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 9: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

The section of Psalm 36 that we read today begins with these words: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” There is a “grand sweep” feeling here. The psalmist reminds us that God’s love and faithfulness are everywhere. This immensity of God continues in the next verse. God’s righteousness is like a “mighty mountain” and God’s justice is like the “great deep” – vast as the ocean! These words, images, and the feelings they create can carry us and can fill up our faith.

And then I think about our world. Illness runs rampant across the globe. Sides continue to fight about anything and everything pandemic related. The political landscape here feels worse than that. No one seems to be able to hire enough help yet many sit at home. The world is a mess right now. Somehow this is hard to align with the everywhere immensity of God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.

But, then again, God is not the God of all people. In verse 7 we read, “Both high and low among mankind find refuge in the shadows of your wings.” We find refuge. To find it we have to seek it. To seek it one has to want it. To want it one must desire God more than the things of this world. It is a choice. God desires a relationship with all people – “both high and low” and all in between. But God won’t force it. Each must decide who or what they will worship.

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” I want to walk as a child of the light. I will seek the Lord. I will find refuge in the shadow of his wings. Who or what do you choose to worship?

Prayer: Lord, in you there is life. That life is contentment, peace, joy, hope, assurance, love. Your kingdom rests on faith, righteousness, justice. You offer rest and refuge from the things of this world. Strengthen and encourage me today as I seek to walk in your light. Amen.


Leave a comment

Who and What?

Reading: Matthew 22: 15-22

Verse 20: “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription”?

As the end of Jesus’ ministry draws to a close, the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders has escalated. Early in the final week of his life the Pharisees send some folks to test Jesus, to try and trap him. Even when they are flattering Jesus to soften him up, their words have truth in them. The words of these envoys belie their dilemma. Jesus is a man of integrity – so why are they trying to trap him? Jesus is one who teaches the truth – so why begin with words that are not believed by the ones that sent them? Jesus is not swayed by men – so why try to trap him with a political and religious question? Because Jesus is all of these things, to find or catch him sinning is not possible. So the religious leaders distress to trickery.

After calling out the hypocrisy, Jesus asks for a coin to use in his answer to their question: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not”? A “yes” would anger many Jews. They resent the Romans and their oppressive taxes. A “no” would be seen as treason by the Romans. Jesus chooses a better answer than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. After receiving a denarius, he asks the questions, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription”? Before going on to hear Jesus’ answer to the original question (that is for Sunday), let us apply these questions to ourselves.

If our lives were held up for all to see and examine, what would be the answer to the question of whose image we bear? This question gets at the root or core of who we really are. When others look at us, do they see the image of Jesus Christ? Do they see one who has integrity, who speaks truth, who is not swayed by the things of the world? Or do they see one who is willing to be a little immoral at times, one who will occasionally bend the truth, one who sometimes does chase after the things of the world, or one who does all three?

Who and what we are matters. It matters to God and it matters to the witness that we have to the world. Who we are, and, more importantly, whose we are really are great things to consider. May our reflection today upon these questions lead us closer to living in the image of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord of all people and of all the earth, in each of my words, in each of my actions, in each of my thoughts, may I bring you the glory. May all that is selfish and prideful and sinful be laid aside in the pursuit of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Leave a comment

What Love

Reading: Psalm 148: 1-6

Verse 5: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created”.

The opening stanza of Psalm 148 is where we begin today. It speaks of the heavens’ call to praise God the creator. The angels, sun, moon, stars, and sky are called to praise God because “he commanded and they were created”. The word was spoken, the decree given, and they all came into being. As we read of angels or look up into the starry sky, they indeed reveal God’s glory and power and might and draw out praise.

These verses remind me once again of the immense power of God. With a word, billions upon billions of stars were created. Not only that, God knows each by name (Psalm 147:4). This stirs up two thoughts in me. The first is my smallness. When I think of the stars and all else that God created, it is awesome. In comparison to that, I am small. And yet God formed me in the womb, knit me together with his own hands (Psalm 139:13). Even though I am small in the grand scope of creation, I am special to God. That is pretty amazing. And the same is all true for you.

The second thought it draws me to, especially at this time of year, is the thought that God – the creator of more than we can even begin to wrap our minds around – chose to take on flesh and walk among us. God incarnate did not hold onto his divinity but instead emptied himself, becoming like us so that through Jesus Christ we can find life abundant and life eternal. What love God has for you and me. What love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are higher than the heavens, deeper than the sea, and you are the creator of all things. And you dwell in my heart. Wow. Thank you, God. Amen.


Leave a comment

Go

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 9b-15

Verse 9b: “What are you doing here”?

Earlier this week I looked at verses 1 through 9a in this same chapter. To review quickly, Elijah angered the queen, fled in fear, and was cared for and guided by God to the cave on Mount Horeb. In the morning, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here”? This is a question that I think God asks often.

Fear and worry and doubt and job fatigue led Elijah to flee – to hide from the world. I can relate to some of these emotions and to Elijah’s response to them. Once in a great while monastic life seems like a great idea. His loving God leads Elijah to a safe place, to a cave atop a mountain, far away from his enemies and from the world. Until God asks this question, the cave is a comfortable place for Elijah.

When I retreat it is not usually to a cave or to any other physical place. When I do retreat it is usually into myself. In those moments when the world seems against me or when it seems to be closing in, I withdraw emotionally. In my mind I disconnect. I try and create felt distance and separation. But soon enough, God asks, “What are you doing here”?

Elijah has a response. He has been thinking about it. He knows the question is coming. This process is familiar to me too. Elijah tells God that he has been “very zealous for the Lord God Almighty” – I’ve been working really hard for you God. And these people – these Israelites – they have broken the covenant. Why would I want to be with those sinners? And then the ice cream atop the cake – “I am the only one left”. Woe is me. Have you been here? I certainly have.

The God says, in essence, ‘Come here. Come here Elijah’. Elijah goes to the entrance to the cave and the noise of the world passes by. The wind, the earthquake, the fire – those are the threats of Jezebel, the fears of the world, the self-pity. Then Elijah hears a gentle whisper. Ah, God has arrived. It is significant that God comes in the calm, in the quiet.

But once again Elijah tries the “I’ve been so busy…” excuses. God simply says, “Go…”. Return to the world, go where I am sending you. I will be with you. God knows we will stumble and falter too. God says the same thing to us: go, go where I lead. I will be with you. God continues to lead Elijah every step of the way. God will do the same for us. So, go.

Prayer: God, in those moments when I too doubt or fear or feel wrung out, come and push me back out into the world. Use me for what you will. Strengthen and encourage and fill me for the task at hand. Help me to ever step forth in faith. Amen.


Leave a comment

A Day to Wait

Reading: John 19: 38-42

Verse 40: “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen”.

When Jesus breathes His last breath, three hours of darkness descends upon the land. After the three hours of darkness passed, Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for Jesus’ body. Nicodemus comes to help, bringing with him myrrh and aloes for the body. “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen”. These two men, leaders in the Jewish religion, then place the body in a nearby tomb – one we believe Joseph bought for himself. From the other three gospels, we know that some of the women who followed Jesus were also there. Mary and Mary Magdalene are named in two of the gospels.

None of Jesus’ disciples are there. They are fearful of being associated with Jesus. They are afraid of what the Jewish leaders might do to them. Joseph and Nicodemus are likely both members of the ruling council. They do not seem too concerned about being associated with Jesus. The events that have unfolded the past two days must have brought them to the point of believing in Jesus. They most certainly did not know what was going to happen Sunday morning. Joseph and Nicodemus were simply showing love to Jesus by caring for His body.

Then Saturday happens. It was the Sabbath – the day to worship God and to rest. For all who had followed Jesus and who had professed faith in Him as Lord and Savior, Saturday was a “now what?” kind of day. I doubt that they praised God much that day. I doubt they did much except pray and think about what had just happened in light of the three years they had just spent with Jesus. It must have been so hard to reconcile these two. For all of Jesus’ followers, this day must have been awful. It was a day full of why?, what if?, how? type of questions.

It is a hard day for us to sit in the moment, knowing that tomorrow is coming. We know the end of the story. Yet today can be a day of questions and reflection for us too. But our questions are of a difference type. How has Jesus changed my life? Why did Jesus pick me as a follower? What if I lived out my resurrection faith more fully? May your Holy Saturday be blessed as you reflect on Jesus this day.

Prayer: Lord, may I be present to you today. May I find you in the moment, in-between the cross and the empty tomb. May I come to know you better today. Amen.


1 Comment

What Then

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

Verse 10: “What then should we do”?

Perhaps you remember a few years ago when the WWJD bracelets and t-shirts were popular. The WWJD stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” It was a way to focus Christians in on how they should live out their faith. In many ways, John the Baptist is a precursor to this movement. He is helping people to prepare for the way of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

There was a certain feel-good aspect to the whole WWJD movement. Although John the Baptist was a bit confrontational, there was a feel-good aspect to what John was doing out there in the wilderness. Our passage today begins with John addressing those who only want to look religious. The “vipers” look good but their faith has no depth. They are the folks today who come to church on Sunday morning and go home and swear at the television because their team is losing a ball game.

Some in the crowd hear John’s confrontation not as insult but as challenge. It is interesting to note who hears the challenge. The ordinary people in the crowd and the dreaded tax collectors and the hated Roman soldiers. Yes, there is a Good Samaritan angle to this passage too. In a similar way to this later teaching of Jesus, the religious leaders only hear insult in John’s words. He warns them, saying not to just claim Abraham as their father and think all is good. To many today, John would say, ‘Don’t just show up for an hour on Sunday and wear your little WWJD bracelet to work (or school)’. Just saying or pretending to be a Christian isn’t worth much.

To those whose hearts hear John’s message, there is a good conviction that occurs. In response they ask him, “What then should we do”? John’s response is what the WWJD gear was supposed to do: illicit the godly response in all situations. In essence, John said, ‘Do the right thing’. Share what you have, treat others well, don’t abuse your power, be content. Jesus would say, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. May we each go and do likewise.

Prayer: O Lord, sometimes I fall short. When I do, send your Holy Spirit, loud and clear, reminding me of my call to love and care for all of your children. May it ever be so. Amen.


2 Comments

Who and What

Reading: John 6: 1-21

Verse 2: “A great crowd of people followed Him because they saw the miraculous signs He had performed on the sick”.

The crowds came. They came not to hear Jesus preach but to be touched, to be healed by Jesus. Today we read, “A great crowd of people followed Him because they saw the miraculous signs He had performed on the sick”. They came in droves for the miracles. After briefly testing a few of the disciples, Jesus has the people sit down and then He proceeds to turn five loaves and two fish into enough to feed thousands. And almost as a witness to His power, the disciples collect twelve baskets full of leftover bread. Not only can Jesus heal the sick and injured, He can also produce food. It is no wonder that they wanted to make Jesus be their king. What a king He’d be!

But Jesus is not this kind of king, so He withdraws from them. Yes, the miracles are evidence of Jesus’ power, but the miracles themselves are not the essence of who and what Jesus is. He did not come to conquer an occupying army and to restore Israel to power. Jesus came to conquer our hearts, one person at a time, to build a new kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom of love and compassion and mercy and grace. It is a much different kingdom than the politically oppressed were looking for. So Jesus withdrew.

This passage makes me wonder how often I try and make Jesus something He is not. How often do I try and fit Jesus into the mold I need at the time because it suits my needs or desires? One does not have to ponder very long to find examples where this has been the case. I suppose to fully know who and what Jesus is would require fuller surrender on my part. I would have to kill the miracle-seeking and accept who and what Jesus really was – love lived out in the world.

Jesus was love of God and love of other lived out on a daily basis. May this be my purpose too, day in and day out. Through His power and presence, may it be so.


Leave a comment

Questions

The teacher of the law was given a great opportunity.  He was able to ask Jesus a question directly.  And Jesus answered him directly!  This is uncommon as Jesus usually responded with another question, with a parable, or with a story or illustration that indirectly answers the question.

Think for a moment if you were this teacher.  What other question would you ask – this one goes right to the heart of his profession.  If you were a doctor, for example, you might ask about the cure to a disease.

I think the question we would ask would depend on where we are in our faith journey or on what has been occurring recently in our life.  If there has been a tragic event or if we or a loved one are drawing close to the end of our time on earth, then the question will center on this.  Many of our questions in these cases center on the “why” question.

If one is in a ‘normal’ stage of life and all is relatively good in life, the questions would be different.  Maybe our question would center on the how and what type of questions.  But in all cases, I think our questions would center on wanting to understand something better.

So if you could ask anything of Jesus, what would it be?  It is important to wrestle with our questions because they lead to conversations with Jesus.  Our questions reveal a lot about our inner being, the state of our faith, the things that are unsettled within us, and the things we long for deeply.

While we usually do not get as direct of an answer as the teacher of the law received, our questions are great to consider anyway.  Ask Him your question!  Allow the ongoing conversation between you two to roll around in your heart and mind and to build your faith in and understanding of Jesus and who He calls you to be.

Scripture reference: Mark 12: 28-34