pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Prince of Peace

Reading: Psalm 122

Verse 8: “For the sake of my brothers [and sisters] and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be with you.'”

Today we begin the season of Advent! It is a season of preparation, a season to ready ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. It is a time to take in the spirit of this Psalm of Ascents, to regularly head up to the house of the Lord for worship and praise.

The second half of the Psalm focuses on the theme of peace. In the context of the Psalm, it is peace for Jerusalem and for David’s fellow Israelites. Reading these words for today, we can seek peace for our churches and for our world as well as for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Reading these words, we can also commit to a pilgrimage – not to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem.

There is an invitational spirit to this Psalm. It is an invitation to journey together, to worship and live in community. May we also commit to this witness in Advent. No other season so naturally raises people’s awareness of Jesus. Being aware of this, may we choose to be invitational people, seeking to draw others into a relationship with our Prince of Peace. As we journey together towards Bethlehem, seeking to live out our own commitment to following the way of Christ, may our very lives seek to say to others, “Peace be with you,” as we share the Prince of Peace with a world in need of Christ’s peace.

Prayer: Lord God, you bring peace to my life in so many ways. Your very presence is a natural experience of peace. May this spirit be in me as I seek to serve you this week. Amen.


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Prepared

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Returning to these words of Jesus in Matthew 24, we again hear the call to be prepared. Jesus implies that being prepared involves living faithfully. Noah is the first example. Against all reason he built an ark, trusting fully in God’s direction. Jesus follows this with another example. In verses 40-41 he speaks of two men and then two women. Both are engaged in everyday life. In both cases, one will be taken to heaven and one will be left behind. We can only assume that one had lived faithfully and one had not.

Throughout the gospels Jesus is clear that we do not live faithfully just to get into heaven. We live out our faith here to make the world better, to make a positive difference, to do God’s will here as it is in heaven. So what if we read verses 42-44 in this light too? In the next chapter in Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. In this passage Jesus says, “whenever you did this for one of the least of these” then we’re doing it for Jesus. What if each opportunity to feed or clothe or visit or… is an opportunity to look into the face of Jesus?

With that in mind, re-read verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Maybe he will come in the one you meet this afternoon as you’re walking downtown. Maybe she will come in the morning as someone new comes to church. May we be prepared to recognize Jesus always.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see better. Lead me to love wider. Guide me to know you and to recognize you more regularly. Amen.


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World-Changing Great News!

Reading: Luke 1:68-75

Verse 68: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.”

Photo credit: Shane Rounce

Today and tomorrow we will work from Zechariah’s Song, found in Luke 1. Zechariah is a priest and is the father of John the Baptist. Both he and wife Elizabeth are “well along in years” when an angel visits Zechariah and tells him that they will have a son. He questions the angel Gabriel and, as a result, is struck silent until the baby is born and named eight days later. This song is Zechariah’s joyous response to all that God has done and will do.

In verse 68 we read, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.” Zechariah is a priest who serves in the temple so he knows the scriptures, which at this time was the Law and the prophets – the Old Testament. He knows the prophecies both concerning the Messiah and the one who will come to prepare the way. The angel Gabriel tells him that his son will be the one to prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah clearly understands what is happening.

In his song Zechariah praises God for raising up a “horn of salvation.” Mary has come and visited, revealing the good news in her womb to Elizabeth and Zechariah. The “horn” he speaks of is Jesus Christ, told of long ago “through God’s holy prophets.” Then, in verses 71-75, Zechariah shares what this news means to him, to Israel, and to us today. Jesus the Savior will bring salvation and will show mercy. He will rescue us from our enemies and “enable us to serve him without fear.” A world-changing event is under way. Zechariah celebrates joyfully in a song of praise to God. May our lives echo his joy as we too seek to serve the Lord “in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Prayer: Lord God, what great news Zechariah shares! What joy there is at the coming of your prophet John and your son Jesus. What gifts of mercy and forgiveness, love and grace we receive in Christ. Fill us with joy and trust as we seek to share this great news with others this day and every day. Amen.


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Stand Firm, Hold Fast

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17

Verse 15: “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

The first five verses address some of the false teaching that has been a challenge to the people of faith in Thessalonica. Of focus is the event of Christ’s return. Some are falsely preaching that Christ already returned and that the church there missed it. Others are raising themselves up into the role of the Lord in an attempt to gain a following. While we can be susceptible to being led away from the truth, we tend to struggle today with what the world says is important: success, power, status, popularity, wealth… So verses 13-17 are still very relevant to our lives today as we seek to live faithfully.

In verse 13 Paul thanks God for this group of believers, chosen and saved by “the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.” He next attributes the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ as that which drew them to faith. Our personal relationship with Jesus, the ongoing work of the Spirit, the way of life we find through reading and studying the scriptures – these are the foundations that enable us to live faithfully as strangers or foreigners in this world. This is what Paul is encouraging in verse 15 when he writes, “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Continue to walk the walk of faith. Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul closes this section with a blessing. He asks for Jesus and God to “encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and work.” May this too be our blessing as we seek to walk in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, give us the will and the courage to stand firm and to hold fast to all we have received from you. Open our hearts to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Open our minds to the words of life that we find in the scriptures. Open our hands and feet to the call of Christ to unconditionally love and humbly serve others just as he did. Amen.


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Building

Reading: Haggai 2:1-9

Verse 3: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?”

In the story of God’s people, some have returned from exile. Under Ezra and Nehemiah the remnant has rebuilt the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Through the prophet Haggai word comes to begin to rebuild the temple that was also destroyed by the Babylonians.

Have you seen pictures or visited any of the grand cathedrals in Europe? Many of these ornate, beautiful, and towering feats took hundreds and hundreds of years to build. And have you ever seen or visited a Puritan or Quaker meeting house? It’s a simple structure with a pitched roof and small steeple. Basic wooden pews fill the sanctuary. When God through Haggai asks, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?” this is the type of contrast that God is drawing. Soaring cathedral versus simple meeting house, old temple versus the new temple.

But the deeper point in not really about the building. Like the Jews we too can get caught up in that. In verses 4 and 5 God gets to what really matters. Here God says, “Be strong all you people of the land and work. For I am with you… my Spirit remains strong among you. Do not fear.” Enemies and critics all around them, a less than temple taking shape, and God basically says, ‘Don’t worry about all that outside stuff. I am with you. Do not be afraid. The building doesn’t matter. All that noise swirling around outside doesn’t matter. Lean into me, lean into the work I have given you. Trust in me.’

This message is translated to our lives and times by Jesus. We are not tasked with building a physical thing but are tasked with building the kingdom of God. Jesus generally describes our task this way: ‘Go out into the world and make disciples of all peoples. Go and help fill all of those human houses with the glory of God.’ Yes, God is still with us. So may we go forth to build the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, may my time in your word and in the building equip and encourage me to go out into all the world, seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world. Amen.


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Invitation to Love

Reading: Luke 19:1-6

Verse 5: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Today and tomorrow we look at the story of Zacchaeus. This is a very familiar story. It even has its own song! In the story, Jesus is passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus’ home town. But it is not like home. Zacchaeus is a tax collector. He is in partnership with the Romans. The heavy taxes that they demand are collected by people like Zacchaeus. And a perk of the job was the power to collect a little extra for oneself. This double strike against him is what led Zacchaeus to climb the tree. Besides being short, being in a crowd might not have been good for him. Tax collectors were that hated.

As Jesus comes along, he paused at the tree. He looks up and calls Zacchaeus by name. To one who was probably disliked by even his own family, Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” The one who was hated and despised by many is loved by Jesus. Isn’t that just like Jesus? It was the same with all from the margins – the woman at the well, the lepers, the one caught in adultery, the demon-possessed. If this is Jesus’ way of being in the world, shouldn’t we too model this kind of behavior?

To that point, who do you know that is out on a limb, that is down in the gutter, that is struggling with poverty, or that is otherwise existing on the fringes of society? And more importantly, how will you invite them into your love and into Jesus’ love?

Prayer: Lord, who is it that you want me to see today as I pass by? Open my eyes and my heart today to really see, to really love. Use me today to show someone that they too are loved. Amen.


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What We Can

Reading: Habakkuk 2:1-4

Verse 1: “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what God will say to me.”

Photo credit: Tyler Milligan

Moving into chapter 2 of Habakkuk the prophet has registered his complaint with God: there is much evil in the world and it is destroying the nation. Before pressing on, let us admit that this is a 2,600-year-old complaint that remains relevant today. Habakkuk wants to know what God is going to do about it.

Habakkuk does not ask God like we ask God with most of our prayers and petitions. He doesn’t pray about this and then forget about it until the next time his morning or evening prayer time rolls around. No, he declares, “I will stand at my watch.” Habakkuk will wait faithfully upon the Lord. He will take up his post on the ramparts and will wait patiently for God to answer. In faith and hope and trust he states, “I will look to see what God will say to me.” He is sure that God will answer his complaint.

And God does answer. God says, “Though it linger, wait for him.” It will not be a short wait. But hold onto your faith and hope and trust. Wait patiently. For Habakkuk and his generation, it will be a 600 year wait for the Messiah to come. For those of us reading this response post-resurrection, the wait is almost 2,000 years and counting. We await Christ’s second coming.

The evils that drew Habakkuk’s complaint remain present today. Personifying evil, God says, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright.” Even so, God says to wait, to be patient, to keep the faith. Calling for our trust, God says, “The righteous will live faithfully.” Doing what we can to resist evil, to fight for justice, to do good in the world, may we live faithfully day by day, shining light into the darkness of the world.

Prayer: Lord God, while evil abounds in this world, your love is greater. While evil plots destruction and ruin, your love and grace triumphs in good. Use me day by day to bring light into the darkness, offering the healing and wholeness that Jesus brings to those who are lost and hurting and broken. May it be so today and every day. Amen.


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Faith Asks…

Reading: Luke 17:5-6

Verse 6: “He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…'”

Today we focus on the first 2 verses of this week’s gospel reading. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They are trying to quantify something that cannot be quantified. It is as if their faith were kept in small bottles and they thought that Jesus could give them one more scoop. Well then, why not 2 or 20 scoops?

Faith is not “changeable.” You believe Jesus died and paid the price for your sins or you don’t. You believe that Jesus rose from the grave to show the way to eternal life or you don’t. You believe that God loves you and has good plans for you or you don’t. You believe Jesus will come again to make all things new or you don’t.

Faith is also not “easy.” The natural challenges and hardships of life can cause doubt. The ways of the world can try and pull us away from God’s truths. The decisions we make and the sins we commit can reflect our fleshy human nature more so than the image of God within us. We are imperfect and faulty people. Being faithful is sometimes hard.

Jesus responds to the disciples by saying, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey.” Wow. That’s like walking on water stuff, Jesus. Yes it is. Jesus is saying that faith is not something you can acquire more of. Faith asks that we trust and obey. Faith asks that we step forward, knowing that God goes with us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I believe in salvation, forgiveness, redemption – all examples of your great love for me. Help me to trust when doubt creeps in, to stay the course when temptation rises up, to cling to you when my human nature says to run. In my weakness, be my strength, O Lord. Amen.


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Hold Fast

Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Verse 19: “Listen to the cry of my people.”

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

In the opening verses of chapter 8 God details the many sins of the people and the punishment waiting on their doorstep. The weight of all this is reflected in the world that we read today. These words are heavy upon Jeremiah’s heart and soul. In the opening verse today we read, “My heart is faint within me.” He is overwhelmed with the suffering and the struggle, with the pain and sorrow soon to befall the people of God. It is as if the brokenness of the world has caught up with him. Jeremiah longs for comfort and strength from God.

We too live in a broken world. At times our hearts can grow faint. People continue to struggle with poverty, oppression, injustice, unfair systems… Many are filled with despair and their hearts are also heavy. Like Jeremiah, we can shout out, “Listen to the cry of my people.” The brokenness of his world leads Jeremiah to cry out to God, to seek to maintain his faith in God and in God’s goodness. When overwhelmed we can feel just as Jeremiah does in today’s text.

In verse 22 Jeremiah asks, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” He questions God not to doubt God but to show that he still believes that God is listening and that God’s heart is still bent towards the people. Even through his tears and grieving, Jeremiah trusts that God is faithful and just and loving and kind and compassionate. May we hold onto these truths, trusting in the Lord our God. Even in the struggle or trial, even in the brokenness, may we hold fast to the God who loves you and me.

Prayer: Lord God, when the world around me or when life itself begins to overwhelm, flood me with your love and truth. Raise up my heart and spirit, give me the faith and strength to offer your love to those in need, be it me or others. Amen.


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In the Line

Reading: Hebrews 12:1-2

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.”

Hebrews 12 begins with a reminder of the past. First there is this “great cloud of witness” – the unending line of those who have lived out a life of faith, setting for us an example. In the line are those listed in Hebrews 11. Also in the line are folks we knew – parents and grandparents, pastors and Sunday school teachers, friends and neighbors. All of these witnesses provide both hope and encouragement as we journey in faith.

The journey is not always easy. The writer of Hebrews implores us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Oh how these things can get in the way. The worries and the pleasures of this world, our proclivity to sin – they can easily derail us. Satan is tricky and sneaky and knows every trick. We are called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This is not a prescribed course, set in stone. No, it is a way to live.

In verse 2 we are shown this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” Jesus marked out the way to live. He wrote the trail guide with his life. Therefore we are to fix our eyes on Christ. Doing so we too will pick up our cross with joy, knowing that denying self and humbly serving others are steps we walk daily with Jesus. We walk with joy because we know the promise waiting at the end of the walk of faith. The path ends at eternity as we step into God’s glory. With joy may we follow the way of Christ, one day becoming another who stands in the line of witnesses to God’s love, mercy, and grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me in the path. Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. Fill me with a joy that is contagious as I seek to love you with all that I am. May that joy then overflow as I seek to pour that love and joy out into the world. Amen.