pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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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.


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Called by God

Reading: Hebrews 10: 1-10

Verse 4: “No one takes this honor upon himself [or herself]; he [or she] must be called by God.”

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

Today’s passage begins with the traditional role of the priest in ancient Judaism. Called from the Levites, a priest represented the people “in matters related to God.” This included offering prayers and sacrifices as they dealt “gently” with those who were “ignorant” or “going astray.” The priests were human beings too, so they were sinful and offered sacrifices for their own sins.

In verse four the author of Hebrews shifts to Jesus. Quoting from two Psalms, the writer identifies Jesus as one appointed by God to be the high priest forever. Like the Levite priests, Jesus offered up prayers and petitions to God. He was heard by God because of his “reverent submission” to God. We are also reminded of Jesus’ final suffering on the cross, through which he “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus was without sin. This enabled him to be the final and perfect sacrifice in humanity’s battle with sin.

Where do we fit in this priesthood? We are not from the line of Levi – the traditional qualification for being a priest. This is no longer a prerequisite in Judaism either. We are also sinful, far from perfect. We all deal with sin regularly in our own lives. Therefore we all fall short of role of “great high priest” given to Jesus. Even though we do not fit either of these categories, we are all called by God to be priests or ministers of the gospel. We are all called to offer prayers and petitions for ourselves and for others. We are all called to reverent submission to God. We are all called to suffer for our faith at times. We are all called to help one another on our walks if faith, gently and lovingly helping those who have gone astray. We are weak and sinful, offering the sacrifice of repentance to be redeemed from our sins. Through Jesus Christ’s gift on the cross we who believe claim eternal life.

The moment we claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are called by God to be a witness to our faith. We do not take this calling upon ourselves. Called by God and commissioned by Jesus, we are charged with making disciples for the transformation of the world. Called, we follow in Christ’s footsteps, carrying the good news to all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, use me each day to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Use my words, my actions, my thoughts, and my witness to draw others into your light and love. 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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Greatness

Reading: Mark 9:33-35

Verses 33-34: “Jesus asked, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept silent… they had argued about who was the greatest.”

Photo credit: Giorgio Trovato

What do you think made Peter or James or Bartholomew… think made them greatest among their fellow disciples? Along the same lines, what do we think makes us special? What makes us great? Just as each disciple had his own reason or case, we too draw on certain things that demonstrate our greatness. Some point to earthly things such as power or wealth or education or fitness or beauty. Some point to relationships or service or ministry. Even these ‘worthy’ ones can become a slippery and dangerous slope when pride and ego and envy enter our hearts.

Today in the Disciplines daily devotional author Angela Staffner offered this nugget: “We are all participating in an ongoing discussion about greatness, spoken or unspoken.” She noted that our lives speak for us. As Jesus gathers the disciples and points them towards humility and service, he is guiding them into the way that reveals not their own greatness but God’s greatness. The disciples each had gifts and talents that were great. So too do we. The Jesus question is this: Do we use our faith story, our material resources, our spiritual giftedness to serve others? Going deeper, do we see these things as tools to use to glorify God or are they means to elevate self and to prove how great we are?

Jesus could have used his power, wisdom, and other divine abilities to be a totally different kind of Messiah. He could have led from a place of might and superiority. Jesus chose to walk the path that he is calling the disciples and us to walk. He met one and all right where they were at, heard their stories or needs, and poured into or served them as he was able. Using those things that God has given us that make us great followers of Jesus Christ, this day may we joyfully employ these things for the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord, walking in humility is not always easy. The desire to be seen, to be noticed is always near the surface. Recognition, applause, that feeling of success – they call out. Bend my will to your will. Focus me in on the Jesus way. Guide me to speak and do in ways that bring you all of the glory. Amen.