pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Being a Disciple

Reading: Luke 14:25-27

Verse 26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate… his [or her] own life cannot be my disciple.”

When was the last time you tried to wheel and deal to get your way or to get something you wanted? When have you tried to negotiate for more time on a project or payment? When have you use a “little white lie” to sway someone or to avoid hardship or trial? When have you fully committed to something only to let it slide, and in short order to boot?! In this life we’ve all been guilty of at least some of these things. This tendency is part of what leads Jesus to speak the words in today’s passage.

In verses 26 Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father… mother… wife… children…” These are hard words to read. How can one be a Christian and hate those closest to him or her? That sounds so contradictory to almost all else that Jesus says. The list does not end here though. Jesus calls us to hate “his [or her] own life.” To me this call brings the first part of verse 26 into a clearer perspective.

To hate our own life is to hate the fleshy and sinful parts of ourselves. To hate the pride and ego, to hate the jealousy and envy, to hate lust and other evil desires – this is something I can understand. It is not easy, but I can get behind this call from Jesus. When I allow these and other sinful behaviors to rule in my life, then I am less than God created me to be. In a similar way, we can hate these parts of father, mother… Speaking the word of truth we can help one another to recognize and deal with these parts of us that lessen the image of God in all of us.

In verse 27 Jesus says, “And anyone who does not carry [her or] his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” To carry the cross of faith is not always easy. To follow in the footsteps and example of Jesus isn’t easy either. We must hate that parts of ourselves (and of those we love) if we are to carry and follow. This is the way that leads to true life. May we willingly and faithfully choose to carry our cross, following in the way, being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to keep you as #1 in my life – over self, over family, over all else. Lead and guide me to walk in your ways. Amen.


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The Nitty Gritty

Reading: Jeremiah 1:9-10

Verse 9: “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.”

After working through the appointment and Jeremiah’s ‘buts,’ God now turns to the details of his work as a prophet. God first reaches out and touches Jeremiah’s mouth, saying, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” What a great confidence this must have given Jeremiah. In our own way, though, we too are touched by God’s hand. As we read and mediate on God’s word and as we interact with sermons, devotionals, and in small groups, the Spirit is putting the word of God into our mouths, hearts, and minds. This becomes a resource for the Holy Spirit to tap into as it leads and guides, whispers to and nudges us, empowering each of us to speak the truths found in God’s word.

In verse 10 God gets down to the nitty gritty. Jeremiah will “uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant.” The process of discipleship is not easy. Jesus talked often about frequently dying to self and about the constant pruning away all that hinders our faith walk. He spoke regularly about the costs of following him. While God was speaking on a national scale in Jeremiah 1, describing what must happen to realign Israel with God, it is individuals that lead and that make up the nation. In this sense, realignment must be very personal too.

The first four verbs are a good descriptor of our battle with the world and with the flesh within us all. We must diligently root out and rid ourselves of the lies of the world and of Satan. True life is not about chasing after wealth, status, popularity… To walk as Christ calls us to walk we must overthrow these lies. In this battle we must constantly build up and plant God’s truths in our heart and mind. In this ongoing battle we must be disciplined to lean into and stand upon the word of God. True life is found here.

May we ever seek the one who formed us with a purpose. Finding all we need in the Lord, may we strive to be light and love in the world, drawing others towards these words of life.

Prayer: Lord God, when the temptations of this world begin to draw my attention, may the Holy Spirit be louder, firmer, stronger. Day by day lead me in your ways, growing deeper and deeper in my love for you and for neighbor. Amen.


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Bring God’s Peace

Reading: Luke 10:1-11

Verse 2: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

In Luke 10 Jesus sends out the 72 (or the 70, depending on your Bible translation.) The purpose of sending these disciples out is to proclaim that “the kingdom of God is near.” By giving the 72 power to heal, Jesus is preparing these towns and villages for when Jesus himself will come to teach and heal.

While he sends them out with power Jesus also sends them out vulnerably. The 72 are to travel light and to depends on others for food and lodging. They are going out “like lambs among wolves.” The 72 are dependent on others for their basic needs. “Peace” is their calling card. If a home or place receives the peace of God that they offer, then they are to stay and minister. If not, they move on.

The ministry of the 72 is powerful. The peace of God opens doors for healing and this builds a hunger for what Jesus will offer. We’ll read more about that tomorrow. But for today, let us consider: As ones who are also sent out into the world, do we have this same power? Can we bring God’s peace to others?

When we step out in faith and are God’s presence, we bring God’s peace. When we come alongside another and offer comfort or strength, we bring God’s peace. When we help another or carry another’s burden, we offer God’s peace. These are ways that we too open the door for the healing that Christ offers. In these ways we respond to Jesus’ request to “send the workers out into his harvest field.” May we be people who help to draw the kingdom of God near.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to help others to know your peace and then your healing touch. However I can, guide me today to be a builder of your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Radically Different Love

Reading: John 13:31-35

Verse 35: “By this all will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As Jesus begins what amounts to his closing words or final instructions to the disciples, he starts with the most important point: love one another. All that Jesus said and did was rooted in love. This was the one emotion that arched over all of his ministry. For those that walked with Jesus and for those who seek to walk in his footsteps, love remains the central facet of discipleship.

As the disciples began to process “as I have loved you,” it might have meant something slightly different to each disciple. In a similar way, as ones who read the gospels, a teaching or an action of Jesus may stand out as the example of loving others. Or maybe a few form our basic picture of what loving as Jesus loved looks like. And the longer we walk with Jesus, the more we study and emulate his life, the more complete our picture and practice of his love becomes.

This love that includes widows and orphans and other outcasts, this love that includes those who harm and wrong us, this love that includes those hard to love – this love is the mark of a follower of Christ. Jesus’ love is radically different than the world’s limited, conditional, me-centric love. So when we truly love one another as Jesus loved us, the world will notice. May it be so for you and for me today. May we love extraordinarily well today.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to offer radical love to others. May I love as you loved – unconditionally and completely, without limit or barrier. Use me today to reflect your love to a world in need. Amen.


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Share and Build

Reading: Revelation 21:1, John 13:31, and Acts 11:1

Rev. 21:1 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”

There will be a day when this world is no more. On that day the new heaven and earth will be established and God will once again walk with humankind. Our Revelation text also tells us that the sea will be no more. At the beginning of time the sea represented chaos and disorder. It was a great unknown still in Jesus’ day. 1,500+ years later we still believed that if you went too far you came to the end and you dropped off into a forever of nothingness. Symbolically, in Revelation, no sea means an end to the chaos and disorder of this world and this life. Therefore, no more death, tears, crying, pain…

In our verse from Acts 11 we are reminded that the Gentiles received God’s word. ‘Gentile’ was a term that originally referred to all people who were outside of the Jewish faith. In time it came to represent all people living without a relationship with Jesus Christ. The idea that all people can receive the word of God was a grand opening of the faith. Anyone and everyone became potential disciples.

John 13:31 speaks of Jesus and God being glorified. This refers to Jesus being raised from the dead. Taken in the context of our Revelation and Acts verses, it reminds us that when we share the good news of Jesus Christ and lead others towards a relationship with Christ, then Jesus and God are glorified here too. Each step, each effort to include all people in the family of God, each inches us closer to the day of a new heaven and earth while also bringing more of that kingdom to this earth. May we seek to share and build the kingdom of God today and every day by glorifying Christ!

Prayer: Lord God, the day of a new heaven and earth will be glorious beyond imagination. It will be awesome! Use me today and every day to make this earth a little more like the one to come. Amen.


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Recognizing the Lord

Reading: Luke 19:28-38

Verse 38: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We begin and end this week with a passage from Luke 19. Next Sunday we will celebrate Palm Sunday – Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That event begins what is known as “Holy Week.” It is Jesus’ last days on earth. It culminates with his death on Good Friday. Then the story is gloriously climaxed on Easter Sunday as Jesus Christ is resurrected. This week we begin with the palm parade.

In the opening 7 verses of our passage we see the divine at work. Jesus sends two disciples to fetch a colt from a stranger. He tells them where to go and where to find the colt. He tells them that they’ll be asked about what they’re doing and he tells them what to say in response. Pause for a minute. Think about these verses, about this story. How would this impact your faith and your relationship with Jesus if you were one of the two disciples?

When the owners hear why someone is taking their colt – “The Lord needs it” – they allow it to happen. What would lead them to do this? Perhaps they had encountered or experienced Jesus. Maybe he had healed or taught in their village. Maybe they were friends with Lazarus. Or maybe the Holy Spirit led them to allow the colt to be led away. Jesus mounts the colt and people begin to spread their cloaks on the ground, forming a crude royal carpet.

As Jesus and his disciples near Jerusalem, as they head down from the Mount of Olives, the “crowd of disciples” begins to celebrate. We can assume this crowd contained both new and old disciples – ones who have long followed Jesus and some who are drawn to him now. The crowd shouts, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” They recognize Jesus as king. They proclaim him “Lord” and rejoice in the peace he will bring. Recognizing Jesus as Lord changes everything. How will you and I live into this truth this week?

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior this day and this week. By my faith, by my witness, by my example, may others be drawn to the Prince of Peace, to the Lord of Lords. Amen.


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Fragrance in the Air

Reading: John 12:1-6

Verse 3: “And the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume.”

Photo credit: Eugene Zhyvchik

In the first half of this week’s gospel lesson we see a sharp contrast between Mary and Judas. Jesus and the disciples are gathered at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus for a dinner honoring Jesus. During the dinner Mary pours a jar of really expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes off the excess with her hair. Mary understands what soon lies ahead for Jesus and she offers this act of love as a part of preparing Jesus’ body for burial. Her extravagant gift to Jesus is a great example of discipleship. In spite of what Judas is about to say, even if it were a cheap bottle of perfume, the heart behind her action would still model genuine discipleship.

Judas protests the use of this valuable item for such a purpose. I can imagine he thought, “Might as well just pour it in the ground.” Judas protests on the basis of a better use for the valuable perfume: it could’ve been sold and the money given to the poor! On the surface, this is a very disciple-like thing to say. But it is the right thing for the wrong reason. In verse 6 we read that Judas was a thief. A piece of a year’s worth of wages would’ve been nice for his pocket.

In verse 3 we read about another physical result of Mary’s gift: “And the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume.” The sweet smell of her offering filled the space. It lingered in the air. Certainly future encounters with that aroma – and maybe with all perfume aromas – would evoke memories of Mary’s gift to Jesus. It would remind them to then go and do the same. The fragrance that hung in the air was one of love and service. When we leave a room or space, does the way we have loved and served linger in the air?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to live in such a way that the fragrance of Christ is upon me. As I seek to live and serve others may a part of that fragrance be imparted to all I meet. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Presence

Reading: Luke 9:28-36

Verse 29: “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”

The inner three – Peter, James, and John – are brought up the mountain with Jesus. Jesus begins by praying to God, by connecting to God. As Jesus is praying, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” Jesus is transfigured. He is changed into something more divine, radiant with the glory of God. Peter, James, and John are present to this version of Jesus. Moses and Elijah come and talk with Jesus about his impending death in Jerusalem. The disciples hear once again about what will soon happen. A cloud envelops them and God tells Peter, James, and John, “This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” And then it is just Peter, James, and John with Jesus. It is over as suddenly as it began.

Why did Jesus choose to have Peter, James, and John there? A practical reason is so that this amazing story gets into the Bible. While true, there has to be more. First, it reveals the glory of Christ in a new way. It paints in their minds an image of the divinity and glory that will be the eternal Christ in heaven. Second, it changes Peter, James, and John’s understanding of Jesus. Jesus has been declared the Messiah. The miracles and the teachings show his power. In the transfiguration the disciples get a clearer picture of what God in the flesh looks like from the heavenly perspective. The stories of Moses coming down the mountain with his face aglow – they have seen what did that for themselves. Third, it changes them. They will never look at Jesus the same nor will their faith ever be the same. Peter, James, and John now know the glory of God in Jesus Christ in a deeper, more personal way. The inner three will carry this glory forever in their hearts.

On our journeys of faith we too have encounters with Jesus that forever change us. We experience moments when his presence is tangible, times when the Spirit speaks, times when prayers are answered or when doors are opened… Just as the disciples did may we too tell these stories of our faith, encouraging and helping others to better see and understand the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for those moments when your presence was felt and was real. Thank you for the times when you’ve clearly guided, provided, strengthened, protected me. Amen.


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Eye on Jesus

Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Verse 26: “Such a high priest meets our needs – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”

Today in Hebrews 7 we read about Jesus Christ, our priest forever. While in ministry on earth Jesus provided us an example for how to live out and live into God’s perfect love. Unlike earthly priests, Jesus was raised to new life and “because Jesus lives forever he has a permanent priesthood.” Jesus continues his saving work in heaven “because he always lives to intercede” for you and for me. Jesus prays for you and for me on a continual basis, ever bringing us before God.

In verse 26 we read, “Such a high priest meets our needs – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” This list is quite the list! It is also the example that we are called to follow, the footsteps that we must walk in. If this list feels intimidating or if it seems impossible we must remember that Jesus himself is praying for us – for us to be faithful disciples, for us to love God and others well, for us to be forgiven when we sin, for us to be strengthened when tempted, for us to be comforted when in sorrow, for us to… The one who died to save us is praying for us on our journey of faith.

To be holy, blameless, pure… is a high calling. But we are called to a high calling: to be like Christ. Jesus is for us; he is on our side. We know that with God all things are possible. Therefore let us keep our eye on Jesus, seeking to live as his faithful disciple day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to model Jesus Christ today. Help me to be love lived out, to be grace poured out freely. In and through me may others see and come to know Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. Amen.