pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”.

Returning to Romans 8 today we see the fruit of being a child of God. Once the Spirit dwells within us we are adopted into God’s family. We find our worth and value in God. We find our sense of belonging in Christ and in our faith community. We come to know our home is with the Lord.

Paul extends the idea of adoption to the benefits of being in God’s family. In verse seventeen he connects these dots, saying, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”. Once we are accept our place as a child of God, we are inheritors of many things. We receive the same abundant love and mercy and grace that is found in Christ. We receive the peace, strength, and commitment to the other modeled by Jesus. We receive forgiveness of sins and life eternal. These blessings will, at times, lead us to “share in his sufferings”. There are times when our inheritance leads us to take up our cross or to love the other completely. There will be a cost. This too is part of our inheritance.

As we live into our inheritance we begin to see more as Christ sees. We grow to see all people as worthy of our love, our acceptance, our time. We stop seeing things that divide and differentiate. We begin to live out Jesus’ unconditional and generous love. We become a part of building the kingdom of God here on earth.

As we consider our place as a beloved child, may we be led to truly understand and live in ways that bring all people into the family of God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so good to be in your family. Use me today to help others understand how deeply and unconditionally loved they are. Amen.


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The True Kingdom

Reading: John 10: 16-18

Verse 17: “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life”.

We turn to John 10 for a second day in a row. Yesterday we were drawn to consider the present reality of God’s kingdom here on earth and to consider how we are each working to include others in said kingdom. Today we focus in on the how and the who of our task to draw others into the kingdom of God.

For Jesus, the how was laying down his life. Jesus did this literally, going to the cross to defeat the power of sin and then to and out of the grave to defeat the power of death. This obedient, sacrificial action reflects both Jesus’ love for God and for us. In turn, it draws God’s love and our love too. While we may not go as far as Jesus did with our obedient and sacrificial actions, we can certainly expect to be called upon to pay a cost as we seek to share the love of God with others. It may be financial, physical, emotional, relational. The ‘how’ will almost always involve giving something for or to the other. While this is often difficult, the real ‘who’ is harder.

When we consider Jesus’ ‘who’, is general they were Jews. The people Jesus spoke with and ministered to were often much like Jesus himself. This too is our general mission field – those we work with, associate with, maybe go to school with. Jesus also welcomed and engaged those from the edges and fringes – those society and formal religion rejected or avoided. Herein lies our real challenge. We like the neat and ordered, the understandable and routine. Our churches like these things too. But for the kingdom of God to be fully revealed, it must reflect our actual communities, in all of their beautiful diversity. To realize this we must be willing to engage and welcome those outside of our normal circles. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and unsure of the places and people we seek to connect with – only in these thin spaces will we really rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Only then will the margins and fringes be wiped away by the love of God, opening our community of faith to reflect the true kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, it’s easy to call upon or engage those like me, those inside the church. It is much harder to engage and love those who are not like me. Give me a willing spirit and a deeper trust in you. Go with me Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Share the Blessings

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse 17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”?

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

As a disciple, John witnessed firsthand the power of Jesus’ love. For three years John was present to a life that held loving God and loving neighbor as the highest commands. These two actions defined who Jesus was at his core and define who all who follow Jesus should be at our core.

Love can be revealed many ways. John begins with this way in today’s passage: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”. To accomplish God’s purposes in establishing the new covenant, Jesus died on the cross. Taking on the world’s sins, with his blood Jesus paid the atoning price, breaking sin’s grip on humanity. Rising from the grave he conquered death, opening the way to life eternal. This was a great sacrifice. While on occasion a person will give his or her life to save another, our acts of sacrifice are most often much less than these.

In verse seventeen John writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”? If you or I have any material possessions and ignore the needs of others, then we must ask ourself: Is the love of God really in me? Can we ignore the needs that God brings before us? Yes, we can and do. But at a cost. The cost is both to us and to the person or persons we ignored or chose not to serve. When this happens, we are both less than God intends us to be. The agape love of Jesus Christ within us is made more complete when we give sacrificially to the other. The other begins to experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ in and through us. They begin to know the voice of the good shepherd.

Every day we have opportunities to share what God has blessed us with. Each day “let us not love with words or tongue, but with truth and action”.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the will to meet the needs that you place before me today. You have blessed me with the ability to do so. May I be willing to release the blessings to others. Amen.


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Discipleship

Reading: Mark 11: 1-7

Verse 7: “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”.

Photo credit: Juan Gomez

Our passage for today opens with an act of discipleship. In the literal sense Jesus instructs two disciples to go and do something for him. The two are instructed to go and get a colt for Jesus. They are told to enter the village ahead, there they will find a colt. They are to untie it and, if anyone asks, to tell the people that Jesus needs it. And, yes, don’t worry – we’ll return it when we’re done with it. They are not borrowing a cup of flour from the neighbor. Culture must have been much different back then.

Up to this point in Jesus’ ministry his popularity has risen and fallen. Many were initially attracted to the miracles but the more he spoke of the cost of discipleship, the more the crowd thinned. Yet his name was known. In whose name could we go today to commandeer a car or even a bike? Who among us would be so daring to even attempt such a thing? We would be so full of doubt and questioning. But what of these two disciples?

The disciples do as Jesus says. They find the colt just as he said they would. They answer the question that Jesus said might be asked just as Jesus told them to. And they return to Jesus with the colt that “no one has ever ridden”. What impression or effect did this act of faith have on these two disciples? How did this shape their faith moving forward? Verse seven tells us, “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”. Seeing Jesus there, assuming a place and position new for him, how did they see their role?

At times the Holy Spirit calls us to action. It whispers or nudges us to an action or to speak words. We too often ask, “Say what?” or “Do what?” How would our faith and our lives be different if we simply did as these two disciples did? Where would our faith take us if we truly lived with Jesus Christ as the Lord of our life?

Prayer: Lord God, your call is persistent, your love is unchanging. In those moments when I begin to question, when I try to hesitate long enough for the opportunity to pass, spur me to action. When I fail to respond immediately, well up in me a quick compassion and an unquenchable love for those you place before me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Two Actions

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”.

Continuing on from yesterday’s passage, Jesus gathers his disciples and the crowd to explain the cost of following. Having just explained the price that he will pay, Jesus details what will be expected of those who choose to follow him as Lord and Savior. The words that Jesus speaks are powerful and challenging. His words will become even more so as the disciples reflect on the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.

Jesus identifies two actions one must take to “come after” or to “follow” him. The first is to “deny self”. This is what Jesus lived out his whole ministry. He placed the needs and wants of God first, closely followed by the needs and wants of others. Self was a very distant third. If we were to follow Jesus today, what would this look like? It would begin with listening to the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God in our lives. The second step would be to respond to the guidance and direction of said Spirit as we respond to the needs of those we meet day by day. Jesus saw the other, the lonely, the hurting, the hungry… and ministered them as he encountered them. May we too have ears to hear and eyes to see.

The second action is to “take up” our cross. The cross represents the way of Jesus. For Jesus it was ultimately walking the path to suffering and death for the sake of others – for you and me. Along the way Jesus often took up the cross for others. He took up the cause of the marginalized and the sinners and the outcasts and declared them worthy of his time and of the kingdom of God. Each of these encounters against the powers of the world came with a price too. The way of Jesus calls us to sacrifice as well. Jesus calls us away from the things of this world by reminding us that the cost of trying to “gain the whole world” is to “forfeit” our soul. In contrast, following Jesus will save our soul. Giving up our selfish desires and leanings and focusing on Jesus’ example of sacrificial service will lead us to bless others as we live out the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ. May it be so as we seek to bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, tune me in to the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to not only hear but to respond, offering all I can to those I meet in the world around me. Empower me to shine your light in all I do and say. Amen.