pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Overflowing Joy

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verse 12: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.”

As Paul opens his first letter to Timothy, he shares his call story. In verse 12 he writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.” Paul overflows with joy that God called him into service to Jesus Christ. Paul’s past was one that opposed the way of Jesus. That’s what he’s referring to in the next few verses. Leaving behind that life, Paul gave up much to follow Jesus. In his ‘old life’ he was a Pharisee. His zealous faith led to him being esteemed by his fellow Pharisees. He was looked up to by society. The Jews held the religious leaders in the highest regard. His lifestyle would have been quite comfortable. And then at the call of Christ, Paul gave all this up to be an itinerant preacher of the gospel. He gave all of this up to endure ridicule, abuse, beatings, and imprisonment. And he overflows with joy that God called him to serve Jesus as Lord.

All who come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior hear his call. Responding to the call to ‘follow me,’ we dedicate our lives to serving God and others. Our calls will vary. Some are called to vocational ministry; some are called to minister through their vocations. We are also all given gifts or talents to use for the glory of God. The sweet spot where our call to minister aligns with our talents – that is where God fills us with joy. Yes, there may be, no, there will be challenges, hardships, and costs to following the way of Christ. More importantly, though, we will come to overflow with joy as we live God and neighbor more than self. This day and every day, may we know this overflowing joy.

Prayer: Lord God, it is such a blessing to serve you and others. You called me back to the path of faithful living and it changed my life forever. Use me each day as you will, however best builds the kingdom. Amen.


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Giving Up Everything

Reading: Luke 14:28-33

Verse 33: “Any of you who does not give up anything, [she or] he cannot be my disciple.

Continuing in Luke 14, Jesus tells two parables to help us understand the cost of discipleship. The first parable speaks of a man wanting to build a tower. Jesus points out that he’ll first estimate the cost before beginning. If he starts and only gets part way he’ll be ridiculed for being unable to finish. The journey of faith is like building a tower. Towers are tall. They stand out and can be seen from far away. When one decides to follow Jesus one commits to standing for what is good, just, holy, and right. If we declare to be a Christian and then turn our back on evil or injustice, others will look at us and ridicule us. Jesus is asking if we’re willing to always speak for and stand up for those in the margins of life.

The second story is about a king going to war. Jesus points out that before the battle begins he’ll assess his strength, his chances of winning. If he thinks defeat it coming, he’ll ask for terms of peace. When we consider entering the battle for our soul our for the soul of others, we too must consider if we have what it takes. Now, of course, we do not fight alone. God is on our side. But we do have a role to play. Jesus is asking us if we’ll ever choose good over evil, right over wrong.

Both of these stories ask us to stop and to think about our commitment to Jesus Christ – to really think about it. While perfection is not expected or attainable, Jesus does expect us to keep building that tower, to keep assessing the battle for our soul. Thus, the call is ever the same: “Any of you who does not give up anything, [she or] he cannot be my disciple.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day walk with me and encourage the building of my faith. Day by day keep me looking within, seeing where I need to work on dying to self. Each day form me and shape me, ever to be more like Christ. Amen.


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Walk by Faith, Trust in God

Reading: Hebrews 11:29-38

Verses 29 and 32: “By faith… And what more shall I say?”

The book of Hebrews builds to chapter 11. Here the writer provides an awesome list of many great examples of the faith. These are all people who believed and acted in faith. Note there is not one person listed for keeping every letter of the Law. For each on this list, it was the living out of their faith that allowed them to “conquer kingdoms, administer justice… shut the mouth of lions…” It was faith alone that lead “weakness to be turned to strength.” Faith led each to accomplish or do far more than any could have done on their own. The same remains true today. “By faith… And what more shall I say?”

The walk of faith is not all glory and roses. Part way through verse 35 the author begins to shed light on this reality too. Living in faith is sometimes hard because sin has been a part of this world ever since the first humans walked the earth. Since then the people of God have struggled with sin – just like the people of the flesh. This struggle has led to conflict and even violence. The prophets were often rejected, beaten, imprisoned. The disciples and apostles faced the same fate and worse. They were “stoned… sawn in two… put to death.” The ways of the world can push back pretty hard against those who preach and walk in the way of the Lord. Yet these too are great examples of the faith.

Taken as a whole, today’s passage reminds us that a walk of faith – although rarely without cost – is the only walk that keeps us connected to and in love with God. Even though “the world was not worthy of them,” God still calls the people of faith out into the world, offering grace and mercy and compassion and love. And what more is there to say? May we all walk by faith, trusting fully in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to trust in you and to then walk in faith. When the road seems unclear or when the obstacles feel too big, remind me that it is not by my power or courage or will that I walk in faith, but by your love. Amen.


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Fire and Division

Reading: Luke 12:49-53

Verse 51: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Jesus begins this teaching by declaring that he came to “bring fire on earth.” This reminds me of an expression once used to describe enthusiastic Jesus followers: they are “on fire” for Jesus. This phrase was used to paint a picture of someone who was super eager to share Jesus with everyone they met. Oh, wait. Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about here? And does this describe you and me?

The fire Jesus refers to next is the fire of the Holy Spirit. The baptism that he had to undergo was the baptism of his death. Here Jesus is longing for the day when he returns in Spirit, dwelling in each believer’s heart. Leading and guiding, the Spirit empowers all believers to be “little Christs” in the world. Sadly, this often looks more like poking and prodding. “On fire” isn’t exactly the best description, is it?

One reason for this might be what Jesus touches on in verse 51-53. In verse 51 he says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Peace to our lives? Yes, Jesus! Peace to our world and to our relationships? Well, no. Living out our faith will cause division. It will create rifts in all of our relationships – family, friends, coworkers, classmates. Living for Christ will inherently push against living for the world. Selfish versus selfless, greedy versus generous, authority versus service – these and many more are places of division, places where we will pay a relationship cost for walking in Jesus’ footsteps. May we tread faithfully, assured of Christ’s Holy Spirit presence within our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the courage and strength to always choose you. Empower me to walk the path that you set before me, no matter the cost, being light and love and hope for the world. When the desires of the flesh rise up in me, make greater the fire of the Holy Spirit. Refine me then to be more like Jesus. Amen.


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“Go and Do Likewise”

Reading: Luke 10:25-37

Verse 29: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'”

The expert in the Law answers Jesus’ question correctly and is told to love God and neighbor in order to live, to gain eternal life. It would be a nice place to end the story. But it continues and in verse 29 the expert says to Jesus, “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'” The lawyer wanted to be justified, to hear it is okay to love who he wanted to love.

Before we go too deep in our condemnation of the expert in the Law we must admit that we too often ask the same question. It may sound more like “God, do I really have to love that person?” Like with the priest and then the Levite, we see a need or we encounter one who is unloved and we rationalize and we pass by. We have to get to work. I have an appointment. I’m not equipped or trained to deal with that… Oh how we long to be like the Samaritan.

The Samaritan stops and cares for the man. He brings him to an inn and cares more for the injured man. He then pays the innkeeper to care for the man and promises to return to cover any additional costs. What extravagant and generous love!

Turning back to the one who wanted to justify himself, to the one who wanted to limit who all he had to love, Jesus asks him who the neighbor was to the man who was injured. He responds, “The one who had mercy on him.” The one who stopped to love someone who was really hard to love – the one who went out of his way to love extravagantly and generously. May we too “Go and do likewise.”

Prayer: Lord God, open my heart, soul, strength, and mind to love like the Samaritan loved. Guide me to not count the cost and to be generous with all that you’ve blessed me with. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Model God’s Heart

Reading: Acts 16:16-23

Verse 19: “They dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace to face the authorities.”

Photo credit: Gary Butterfield

In today’s passage Paul and Silas continue to minister in Philippi. They encounter a slave girl who can predict the future. After days of her following them around, shouting, “These men are servants of the most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Paul finally has enough and he casts the spirit out, freeing the girl to be herself. This kind act comes with a cost. The girl’s owners can no longer profit from her divination skills. In response, “they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace to face the authorities.” There is a price to pay for cutting into their profits. Paul and Silas are stripped naked, beaten, and thrown into jail.

As we consider the time and place in which we live, who do you know that is captive to an unjust system or to unacceptable conditions? Or, who do you know that benefits from a system that lessens or oppresses others? These are two sides of the same coin, as we saw in today’s text. Is there someone in a bad relationship that just needs a little help to get out in their own? Is there someone living in poor housing that you can raise awareness of, leading to an improved situation for them? Is there someone stuck in grief or dealing with illness – mental or physical – that you can come alongside, offering relief or help to?

At times we are called to be the voice for those without. And at times we must stand up for and with those without power. In these ways we model the heart of God. May God open our eyes and hearts to the needs all around us.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the world around me. Reveal to me the places and people who need your help or intervention or rescue. Show me the way to help however I can. Amen.


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Come and Follow

Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

Verse 7: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

In today’s passage from Isaiah we meet the “suffering servant.” These words apply to the author, Isaiah. Like yesterday’s Psalm 118, we can also read these words and hear and interpret and apply them to Jesus Christ. He was also a suffering servant. Today we are also invited to own these words, to take this mantle upon ourselves.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “The sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” God spoke to Isaiah, guiding his life and his words. God has given us the Bible. God has backed that up with the Holy Spirit. God offers us instruction and guidance. God gives us words to follow and words to speak to the weary, the exiled, the downtrodden, the hurting. Will we know and speak the word God gives us?

In verse 7 we read, “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.” First, note that it does not say “will not suffer.” The will and way of God is always good and right and holy. Because of this we will not be disgraced when we live and speak in alignment with God’s will and way. But because the will and way of the world is opposed to God’s will and way, we will face suffering and maybe persecution. Jesus invites us to walk the road he walked. In our divided and controversy filled would, leading with love and offering humble service can draw other’s ire.

Lastly, in verse 9 we read, “It is the sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that condemns me?” We can answer this question one of two ways. The easy way is to say, “No one!” If God is for us, who can be against us, right? Well, yes. But…

Is this how Jesus would answer the question? I believe that Jesus would say that he (or she) that condemns us is the one that we should love even more. They are the one we should seek to serve in even more meaningful ways. Jesus’ road was the road of the suffering servant – it was not an easy road. We are invited to come and follow Jesus. May we choose to walk the road of love and service, no matter the cost.

Prayer: Lord God, set my feet upon the path that Jesus walked. Instruct me by your word, guide and empower me by your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Can you…?

Reading: Mark 10: 35-40

Verse 35: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

After clearly hearing what lies ahead for Jesus in verses 33 and 34 – condemned, mocked, spit upon, flogged, killed – James and John come to Jesus with a request. They preface it with “do for us whatever we ask.” It seems like they have something really important on their minds. Turns out to be so – they want the seats of glory in heaven. Did they miss the part about being condemned…?

Instead of getting angry or frustrated, Jesus is patient. Explaining the cost of discipleship another way he asks if they can “drink the cup” or be “baptized” as he will be. They say “we can” even though they have no idea what they will face. James and John will drink the cup of suffering and rejection and mocking. They will be baptized by the fires of persecution. Jesus assures them that they will indeed be able to pay the high price of discipleship. But, alas, he cannot grant their request – God already has those seats filled.

Those of us who have been part of a faith community for very long understand the cost of discipleship. We’ve given or heard lots of sermons about loving others more than self, about taking up our cross, about dying to self, about being generous and serving others. We’ve been through enough Easters to be aware of the high price Jesus paid to break the chains of sin and death. We feel perfectly comfortable, as James and John did, to ask Jesus about or for anything – from small requests to really big prayers. But are we willing to drink the cup and to be baptized as Jesus and the early disciples and apostles were? I fully realize that it is not in the slightest way a ‘quid pro quo’ situation, but there is clearly a cost to discipleship as Jesus clearly lays out in today’s passage and in many others.

Maybe your first thought, like mine when I read James’ and John’s question, was something like: How could you ask that?! If so, may we spend a little more time with Jesus’ question: Can you…?

Prayer: Lord God, it’s easy to walk a surface level faith. It’s easy to show up on a Sunday and maybe to a small group once a week or so. It’s another thing to be willing to suffer and to endure persecution, to pay a price for my faith. Lord, move me closer to this sacrificial and fully committed faith. Amen.


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A Faithful Journey

Reading: Mark 9: 42-50

Verse 47: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown in hell.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Today’s portion of our passage from Mark 9 has some hard words. Being thrown into the sea with a large stone tied around us, cutting off hands and feet, poking out eyes – these actions seem so harsh, so cruel. But the actions themselves are not at the heart of what Jesus is emphasizing. Jesus’ point is the price we will pay if we keep on sinning. So, yes, we would be better off in this life without a hand or foot or eye than to be whole and cast into hell. Jesus is reminding us that we should do whatever we can to be faithful disciples.

There are, of course, other things that cause us to sin. What our mouths allow into our bodies can cause us to sin. What our hearts and minds allow into these decision-making and influencing centers can cause great harm to our faith and witness. With whom and where we choose to spend our time and resources can lead to destructive behaviors. There is much that can negatively affect our ability to be faithful disciples. To all of these negative choices and habits and to any others that we can name, Jesus says, ‘Stop!’

Instead we are invited to keep a careful watch on our inner, human self. We are encouraged to be aware of those things that inhibit or adversely affect our walk with Jesus Christ. This is another way to call us to die to self and to take up our cross. There is usually a cost to walking away from destructive friends and habits. There is a price to pay when we place God and others before self. Yet how great is the reward. A life centered on love and humble service fills us with joy and peace and hope. And how beautiful and amazing heaven will be!

We will all be “salted with fire.” If we are faithful and true the fire will be refining and not consuming. As we consider Jesus’ words this day, may they spur us on to a faithful journey of faith. Each day may we shine forth the light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, guard my heart and my mind, my mouth, my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears… Guard all of me, Lord! By the power of the Holy Spirit guard me from the attacks of the evil one. By that same Holy Spirit power, guide me to walk in your ways each day. Amen.


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Earnest Prayer

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 and 9-10

Verse 3: “Then Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have found favor with you… grant me my life… and spare my people.'”

Photo credit: Caleb Jones

This week our general focus will be on the power of prayer. Today’s passage is one that has been covered in prayer. Leading up to this interaction with King Xerxes, Esther and all the Jews in Susa have spent three days in prayer and fasting. The three days in prayer and fasting were to seek God’s blessing on Esther’s audience with the king.

Like many of us, Esther and the Jews had been driven to prayer because of a difficult hardship looming in the future. Because of a personal dispute, vengeance was to be extracted upon all of the Jews living in the kingdom. Esther had to choose between the comforts and security of being queen and risking that very life to possibly save her people. She was queen because the last one had been deposed. Questioning one of the king’s decrees could cost Esther her position and maybe even her life.

At times we may face a risky choice – to speak up or to question may cost us more than we may be willing to give. Yet we know the right decision to make. We see the right thing to do. What is it that leads us to do what we know we should do? When in these situations we should look to Esther’s example. She and her people went to God in earnest prayer. They also fasted to demonstrate their commitment to nothing but prayer to God. The God of justice heard their prayers, encouraged the one who could act, and guided her through the difficult conversation.

When the Spirit stirs in us, raising up a cause or concern to bring to the Lord, may we too seek the power of prayer, trusting in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this example of faith and courage and trust in you. All was lived out by bathing it in prayer. Lord, draw me to my knees over and over again. Amen.