pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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“Come After Me”

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Photo credit: John Thomas

In the first part of this week’s passage from Mark 8, who Jesus is gets clarified (he is the Messiah) and Jesus’ focuses the disciples in on the charge to focus on the things of God. This focus will be important as Jesus’ earthly ministry ends and as the disciples begin to live out and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today’s passage is a summary of what it requires to “come after me” or to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. As one theologian put it, this call is to walk so closely behind Jesus that we are covered in the dust of the rabbi. The call is two-fold: “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To deny self is to first love God, second to love others, and, third, to love self. This call leads us to shed our false, earthly self – the one that chases after power, possessions, and position – and to live into who and what God created us to be. Losing our old way of living leads us to find our true self in Christ Jesus.

Taking up our cross is what Jesus did as he made his way to be crucified. For Jesus, this walk was not easy. It was difficult, it was hard, and it came at a cost. Closely following Jesus we will find that discipleship is all of these things and more. Our journey of faith will involve sacrifice as we give of ourselves and our resources as we love God and others. Taking up our cross also involves loving self. This is realized as we grow and mature in our faith. As we set our minds more and more on the things of God and less on the things of this world, we find more peace, more joy, more contentment, more hope, and more love. A growing and maturing faith empowers us to deny self and to take up our cross not as a thing we must or should do, but as our grateful response to the blessings and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our life. We love well because he first loved us and we willingly take up our cross because Jesus bore his for the salvation of our souls. As we grasp these truths and as we seek to come after Jesus, following his example, may all we say and do bring glory to the Lord.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the Messiah, our Savior. Thank you for showing us the ease with which Jesus lived out your love. Help me to live into this love so that I may bear it out into the world, offering and sharing your peace, joy, and hope as well. Amen.


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Willing to Die?

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 24: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

Our passage begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are probably in town for the Passover and are curious about this man. Perhaps they were in the crowd that waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”! Maybe they’ve just heard a few stories – snipets of his teachings or whispers of miracles. These Greeks know enough to want to know more.

Jesus begins by announcing that his time has come. Soon he will be glorified. Jesus wants them to know that not only he will soon die but that all who follow will also pay a price as well. In verse 24 Jesus says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”. Jesus is paralleling his physical death with the emotional, cultural, spiritual… deaths that all followers of Christ are called to. During the season of Lent the question that Jesus might ask of us today is this: What kernels of wheat do we need to allow to fall to the ground? Is it being greedy with my money? Is it being selfish with my time? Is it judging those who are different than me? What is your kernel of wheat that you need to let go of so that you and those you meet can experience true life?

As a society we have come to see humility and death as the enemies – physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. We do all we can to stave off death. This is the right and godly thing to do with a child or young parent or many others. Yet for each of us there comes a time when our physical death is a welcome friend. As a society we look down on humility. Instead we are taught to be strong, to be independent, to work for success in life. We’re taught that once we accumulate these things, all will be good. Until we do. Then we learn that meaning and purpose and love and contentment and peace and joy and hope cannot be earned or bought. Living as a person of the world, these eternal gifts are elusive.

We must be willing to die to pride, fear, arrogance, anxiety, selfishness, doubt, greed, lust, envy, racism, jealousy, judging, anger, prejudice, worry, elitism, injustice… as we seek to follow Jesus. As Jesus says in verse 25, we must “hate his [or her] life in this world”. Only then will we be willing and able to die to self and to begin to walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ, following him daily and one day into eternal life. May you and I be willing to do the hard work of this call to die to self. May the Lord bless our journeys.

Prayer: Loving God, your Spirit leads and guides me daily, holding up to me those kernels that still need to die. I’ve plucked off leaves now and then. Help me to get to the roots. For those things that still separate me from you and from others, grant me the strength to die to these barriers and sins. Thank you God. Amen.


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Dominion

Reading: Psalm 22: 23-31

Verse 28: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

The words that we read in today’s Psalm seem far from the realities of our world. The world feels like it is full of suffering. Many of their cries seem to go unanswered. The poor do not appear to be satisfied. All the earth has not turned toward the Lord. In the midst of these continuing realities, verse 28 calls us to a higher truth, to an eternal reality: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

The hope that we find in our faith reminds us that this world and its trials are temporary. God is truly in charge and one day the Lord will be the only king or ruler. All people past and present will “kneel before him”. This is a future scene that one day will come. As we live out our day to day lives, do we simply wait for Christ to return or to call us home? Do we just go through the motions of life and live with the suffering and the cries and the plight of the poor? Should we be okay with all the lost souls?

As Christians in the modern world reading these words written long ago by King David, our role is to connect to that “future generation” and to be the ones who “proclaim his righteousness” and who share the hope we have with a world in need. Rather than seeing ourselves as David and the Jews did and do – as a chosen people set aside for God – may we see ourselves as Jesus saw and lived out his ministry: as one sent into the world to minister to needs, to care for the marginalized, to alleviate suffering. May we, by our words and actions, proclaim that the kingdom of God has drawn near, manifesting this reality in the world. May all that we do and say reveal the dominion and rule of Christ here and now. In and through us, may Christ reign.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to the cries of the suffering and to the needs around me. Lead and guide me to make your love known in this world. Amen.


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Drawing Near

Reading: Mark 1: 9-15

Verse 15: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”!

Mark’s gospel quickly moves to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The prophecies and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus gets zero verses in Mark’s story. John the Baptist’s whole ministry gets seven verses. Jesus’ baptism gets three and his time being tempted in the wilderness gets two. John’s imprisonment and the start of Jesus’ ministry gets two verses combined. Mark moves quickly through these events. Mark’s compact gospel gives key quotes that often pack a punch. Verse 15 is one of those verses. These are the first words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s gospel.

Jesus begins by stating, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near”. It is time to begin public ministry. This ministry will involve the kingdom of God, incarnate in the person of Jesus, coming near to people. It will come near enough to touch people and to speak with people, to eat with people and to bless their lives. It will come near enough to enter into relationship with people. Jesus continues by saying, “Repent and believe the good news”! In another translation this reads, “Change your heart and lives” (CEB). This is closer to the original text. The word translated ‘repent’ implied expanding one’s mind to a new reality. Jesus engaged and lived in a whole new way, more fully expressing God’s love for each of us, his children. To engage the world as Jesus did, to love others as Jesus did – this requires a new way to see the world and to understand our purpose in it. This mind shift will lead to us living a radical, selfless life that stands out, that draws questions.

To become like Christ in mind and heart, in words and actions, will lead to opportunities to bring the kingdom near and to share our belief in the good news. Not blending in but living a holy and compassionate life will draw others into conversation, giving us the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. In this way we will partner with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, drawing the love of God into other’s lives. As we seek to be the kingdom here on earth, we too will be changed. God’s blessings on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to live a life of faith that is noticable, that is radical. May my witness draw others in so that I have the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Amen.


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Come and See

Reading: John 1: 43-51

Verse 46: “Come and see”.

Today’s passage opens with the call of Philip. Jesus “found” Philip and said to him, “Follow me”. The fact that Jesus found him implies that Jesus is looking for certain people. Just as God had Jesse’s older sons pass before Samuel until David – the one after God’s own heart – came and was anointed. Jesus must have seen a similar heart in Philip. Then, just as Andrew had done with Peter, Philip goes and finds Nathanael and says, “come and see” as he invites him to come meet Jesus. Philip too saw or felt something special in Jesus. All of these things that Philip experienced are a part of our call too. Jesus saw something special in our hearts, he knew we were ready at that moment. We saw something special in Jesus and he called, we followed.

Philip describes Jesus as “the one Moses… and the one about whom the prophets wrote”. He sees Jesus as part of the big story of God. After meeting Jesus, Nathanael calls him the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel”. He recognizes both Jesus’ divinity and authority. Earlier in John 1, John the Baptist calls Jesus the “lamb of God” and Andrew calls him the “Messiah”. How was Jesus introduced to you? Was it one of these names or was it Savior or healer or redeemer or comforter? Was it something else?

For the first disciples, each would come to know the many names for Jesus. Just as I am son, pastor, husband, follower, father, musician, brother, and so on, Jesus is not any one thing. As they grew in their faith and belief, just as we do, who and what Jesus is to us grows. Along our journey of faith others have taught us another “part” of Jesus, just as we in turn have taught others. In doing so we become part of the long line of disciples following the Christ.

Today, may we pause to praise God for three things. First, thank and praise him for your place in this family. Second, thank God and pray blessings upon all who have helped you to know Jesus. And, third, ask for guidance and discernment about who to share your Jesus with today as your life and words say, “Come and see”.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for all Jesus is as the head of this happy family. Thank you God for each who has helped me to know you more. Bless each and every one of them, O God. And, Lord, lead me to the one or ones who need to see you in and through me. Amen.


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Live in the Light

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 1-11

Verse 8: “Since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet”.

As the closing chapter to 1st Thessalonians begins, Paul reminds them who they are – and who they are not. Sadly, I still need this reminder too. After almost 35 years as a practicing Christian, at times I still struggle with the darkness. Paul begins by reminding the Thessalonians that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night”. This thought echoes the conclusion of last week’s parable from Matthew 25: be prepared!

In the next few verses Paul contrasts living in the light and living in the dark. For Paul’s audience there was a clear understanding that light is good and dark is evil. Paul first reminds them that they are “sons of light”. Each believer is a child of God, a brother or sister in Christ. He admonishes them not to be like those who are “asleep” but instead to be “alert and self-controlled”. Paul also reminds them that bad things happen at night. This remains largely true today. I recently moved from a small town. In a conversation with a police officer I commented that the town seemed like a safe, nice place. He commented that I should ride along one night. Then I would see a whole other side of the community.

The call to live in the light is a call to devout and holy living. The light exposes all that is evil, sinful, ungodly. At times we are tempted towards the things of the flesh. This is part of being human. If we are striving to live in the light, however, then our faith, our connection to Christ, will help us to deny these temptations. But it is such a fine line that we usually walk. It is easy enough to step into the dark, to give in, to think, “Here, no one will see me”. Paul knows this is a reality, a choice each believer faces. So, in verse eight, he urges them and us to be “self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet”. Let faith and love guard your heart, invite hope to dwell in your mind. With Jesus Christ, faithfully live in the light, shining brightly for all the world to see!

Prayer: Lord God, I hear the call clearly to be a child of the light. It is such a clear call. When I have walked in the light, life has always been better. Yet the dark still calls. The things of this world are attractive and pleasurable. In this battle, I need you! May the Holy Spirit speak loudly and clearly, reminding me that you are my God, my hope, my salvation. May it ever be so! Amen.


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The Foundation

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse 1: “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”.

As our passage opens today, we learn that Moses is once again up on the mountain speaking with God. This is not the first or last time that Moses speaks to God. Conversations have already happened many times and this is his third or fourth trip up the mountain. Moses’ conversations with God are sprinkled throughout their forty years in the wilderness. But this trip takes longer than usual. The people grow restless and they gather around Aaron, who is second in charge. They say to him, “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”. Scholars believe the Israelites have been in the wilderness about three months at this point. The many gods of Egypt are still fresh in their minds. Aaron fashions a golden calf and the people worship as the Egyptians had. The Israelites rise early and offer sacrifices and then proceed to eating and drinking and they party it up.

My initial reading of the passage stirred up feelings of judgment inside of me. How could they so quickly lose their focus on God? Then I remembered that snow day back in college. The weather was so bad that school was cancelled. We walked to the liquor store first thing that morning so we could “celebrate” not having to go to class. Classes the next day weren’t the best. Another reaction I felt was disgust with how easily they abandoned Moses, the one who has led them so faithfully. That triggered another thought, also from college. Sometimes the professor was late for class. In about one minute we were discussing how long we needed to wait. We’d give five minutes if we didn’t like the class and a whole ten minutes if we really like the professor or the class. Moses was “always” correcting them and giving “tons” of rules to follow. Maybe those who chafed at these things were the first voices to stir the pot, rallying the people to abandon this fellow Moses.

These are but two examples of times when I have quickly fallen into poor decisions or have abandoned leaders who had my best interests at heart. I believe we all have these experiences. Like sheep we are easily led astray. Like the Israelites, we can quickly turn to our own “golden calves” – to things or people that we think will make us happy or that we think will do what we want them to do. We too can quickly abandon the Lord our God when it seems to be taking too long for that answer to prayer or when the outcome isn’t to our liking. We quickly turn to our selfish desires and to the things of the world. As we are honest and acknowledge these truths today, may this story serve as both a reminder and as a warning. May it serve to always help us to keep God as our foundation, as our guide and as our way of life. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, when I begin to look to other things, when my heart starts to wander, send the Holy Spirit’s voice to call me back to your ways. When my will begins to rise up, gently nudge me away from placing self on the throne of my heart. Help me day by day to find peace and joy and contentment in following you. Amen.


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Friends and Fairness

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 13: “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius'”?

When the landowner hires the first group, early in the morning, they agree on a denarius for their pay. With each subsequent group the landowner says, “I will pay you whatever is right”. It was an agriculturally based economy and a denarius was the accepted wage for a days labor. The ones hired at noon, for example, would expect a half denarius for their efforts. To have good workers in your vineyard, fair pay was essential. To be able to provide for your family, a fair wage was essential. This remains how the world works.

At the end of the day the foreman is directed to pay the ones who only worked one hour first and to work his way to the ones who worked twelve hours. The story would have a totally different feel, a different impact, if told the other way around. If paid first, the twelve hours crew would go home with their denarius, happy to have earned a whole days wage. Those hired later would be happy about receiving more than they deserved, especially the three and one hour crews. But this is not a story about happiness. It is a parable about God’s grace and love towards us and about God’s sense of fairness and contentment. The parable is aimed at the religious, at those who think it unfair that a lifelong sinner could be suddenly saved and forgiven. The religious disliked how easily and freely Jesus welcomed sinners into the family of God. He was so generous with his time and love. The religious wanted the sinners to live right first – meeting all the requirements, following all the rules, jumping through all the right hoops – before entering the family of God. They wanted the sinners to get all cleaned up before joining the family. Jesus was too much of a “take you as you are” kind of guy for their particular taste.

In verse thirteen the landowner responds to the angry twelfth hour folks by saying, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius”? There are two things to note here. First, the owner calls the employee “friend”. That would be like God calling you and me ‘friend’. Wait, God does. God does not rule from on high, looking down on us, condemning us if we fail to be perfect. No, God invites us to walk and talk with him, to be his companion, to be our friend – warts and sins and all. Second, the landowner reminds the workers that he is not being unfair. I need to be reminded of this over and over when my inner Pharisee rises up and tried to look down on the humble tax collector over in the corner. God promised us grace (among many other things). God’s grace is not a finite quantity. When another receives God’s grace, there isn’t suddenly less for me. Yet sometimes I begrudge others receiving grace. Because of God’s endless love for all of humanity, there is always more than enough grace for us all. Instead of worrying about what others received, we should be thankful that we are blessed by God’s grace. I always receive way more than I deserve. Today may we each give thanks for God’s abundant grace and for our personal relationship with God, giver of grace.

Prayer: Lord God, this journey is not about happiness or getting my “fair” share relative to others. There’s no earning my way into relationship with you. So turn me from the world’s sense of happiness and from the earthly desire to compare. Help me to simply trust in my relationship with you. You desire to be my all in all. Guide me to live like I believe that and trust into that all of the time. May I rest today in your love and grace. Amen.


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I Will Be with You…

Reading: Exodus 3: 7-15

Verse 12: “And God said, ‘I will be with you'”.

In today’s passage we see the love and compassion of God for his people. In the first few verses we hear how God has “seen the misery”, “come down to rescue them”, and “have seen… the oppressing”. God has heard the cries of his people and has decided to act. As is most often the case, God will act through a person. God chooses Moses to go to Pharaoh to “bring the Israelites out of Egypt”.

In response to Moses’ self-doubt God tells him, “I will be with you”. God does remain present to Moses from that day forward – in numerous trips before Pharaoh and through many trials and rebellions in the wilderness. God remained Moses’ constant. Many years later God was a constant presence again. Born of the virgin Mary, God became one of us. As Jesus Christ, God lived out what he told Moses: “I will be with you”. The same love, the same compassion, the same empathy lived among humanity. God’s action took the forms of bringing wholeness to physically and/or emotionally and/or spiritually broken and hurting people. It led people to a new or renewed connection to God and to community. Jesus brought people out of their darkness, isolation, brokenness, and sin. He broke the chains of slavery – of sin and death – so that we could live in right relationship with God. Jesus died to accomplish this victory.

His death was not the end of the story. Jesus gifted us with the Holy Spirit. In the giving of the Holy Spirit to dwell in each believer’s heart, Jesus says, “I will be with you – forever”. The Holy Spirit is our constant presence of God in our lives. The Spirit leads us just as it led Moses, just as it was lived out by Jesus. Our Christlikeness, our creation in the image of God – these lead us to see the misery of the people, to go to rescue them, to work to end their oppression, to hear their cries. This day and every day may Christ within us lead us out into the world to share God’s love, compassion, and empathy, to help others know the God who promises, “I will be with you”. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you hear and see and feel and act, help me to do the same. Lead and guide me to be your love in my world. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Come

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse 4: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me'”.

In Genesis this week we flash forward from chapter 37, when his brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Time has passed and Joseph has been through more trials. But God has been clearly at work and through these experiences a faithful and mature Joseph now stands before his brothers. Now 40, he has risen to the second in command in all of Egypt. Only Pharaoh has more power. What shall Joseph do with these treacherous brothers who now stand powerless before him begging for favor? He has used his power to manipulate them but has done them no harm.

In today’s passage, his emotions finally overtake Joseph. He can play the game no longer. He feels his brothers are still family and they have proven themselves to now be good and honest. After clearing the room of all the Egyptians, Joseph weeps loudly. He is releasing much pent up emotion. He weeps so loudly that those outside the room can hear him. It is a gut wrenching, shaking all over kind of cry. And then in a sudden outburst Joseph reveals his true identity and asks if Israel, his father, is still alive. His brothers’ response? Stunned and terrified silence. This powerful, powerful man has just revealed that he is the younger brother that they sold into slavery twenty plus years ago.

Sensing their fear and shock, Joseph says to them, “Come closer to me”. Come and get more personal. Draw close and really see me. There needs to be no distance between us. Jesus said the same to Peter in last week’s reading from Matthew 14: “Come”. Step out of the boat and onto the raging sea. Walk across the water. Trust me. What went through Peter’s mind must have been what Reuben and Judah and… felt when Joseph asked them to walk across that beautiful floor. All their fear and worry dissipate as Joseph says, “Come”. It is an invitation to do the unlikely – to enter his presence, to be forgiven and reconciled, to have things put right again.

Many years later Jesus would offer the same invitation. In Matthew 11:28 he says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. Jesus invites us too – come into the presence, receive mercy and grace and forgiveness, find rest. Come, fellowship with the Lord.

Prayer: Gracious God, you continue to call, to invite me into your presence. Because you are holy and just and pure, you cleanse me, removing all that separates so that I can be with you. Thank you for your immense love and unending grace. Amen.