pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Living the Way

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-11

Verse 8: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord”.

What little “list” do you have in your head that makes sure you are a good Christian? Is it something like this: church on Sunday, read Bible and pray each day, volunteer at the church bazaar? Maybe too many items? Maybe missing going to small group and doing one mission project a year? This idea is what Paul is getting at in our initial few verses today. Paul lists all the things that appear to make him a great Jew. But these things are just titles or “rules” he followed. The list we may keep is much like Paul’s list. If it is little more than going through the motions, our list is “rubbish”, to use Paul’s word.

In verse eight Paul declares, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord”. Paul knew that doing all the right things, that being who the religious order thought he should be, that checking off all the boxes – it was all for loss until he knew Jesus Christ as Lord. Paul came to know faith ad a matter of the heart, not the head. When his faith was a matter of the mind, he was living to please others. Saul’s faith was transformed one day when he encountered the risen Christ. That day he opened his heart to Christ and invited Jesus to dwell within him. In Matthew 23 Jesus referred to the scribes and Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs”, implying they looked good on the outside but we’re dead on the inside. Paul came to understand that this is who he was. He did and was all the right things according to man, but his faith had no life. Like many still today, he was trying to earn his way into heaven, to check enough boxes to merit entry. He grew to understand that faith was all about living his way into heaven.

For Paul, faith became knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and then trusting into “the power of the resurrection”. This trust allowed grace and mercy to mingle with love. These are matters of the heart, not the mind. It is about Christ dwelling within us. It is about inviting the Spirit to guide of walk of faith and to strengthen our relationship with God day by day, step by step. We, like Paul, will also come to know the joy of sacrifice, of “sharing in his sufferings”. This is what happens when we love God and others more than self. Like Christ and like Paul’s witness, may our walk of faith be both humble and generous so that we may experience the joy of salvation and the gift of abundant life, both in the here and now and one day in eternity. May it be so.

Prayer: God of love and grace, fill my heart with your presence. Fill my steps and words with your love. Transform my heart into a heart for others. Empty me of all that binds me to this earth and its things. May I know the power of your love and the gift of salvation more and more each day. Amen.


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Abundant Grace

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse Eight: Call the workers and pay them their wages.

In the parable today the going wage is a denarius.  It was the standard pay for a day’s labor.  For the vineyard workers, four of the five groups received generous pay.  They had worked three, six, nine, or eleven hours less then the first ones hired.  All four of these groups walk away happy with their pay.

The fifth group – those who agreed to a denarius and those who worked the longest – receive the same pay.  In a way this too is generous.  They began the day with nothing to do and were fortunate to be hired.  But what they agreed to does not sit so well with them.  As each group of workers receives their denarius, their unhappiness grows as they come to realize all are being paid the same.  In complaining to the owner, they voice their grumbling relative to the ones who worked only an hour.  They speak of the ones who best ‘prove’ their case.  Yet I think they did not think the groups who worked three, six, or nine hours deserved a denarius either.

God’s grace extends to all who labor for the kingdom of God.  There is no minimum time required before one can begin to draw on grace.  There is no cosmic scorecard somewhere in heaven that determines how much grace each person is allotted or tracks how much we have earned.  We are each given as much as we need.  We are each given the undeserved and unlimited gift of grace anytime we need it.

Our churches are filled with people from all five groups.  Some have just begun to draw on God’s grace.  Others have been living in His grace for 10, 30, or 40 years.  Still others have been living in God’s grace for as long as they can remember.  Many of these receive grace like most of the vineyard workers.  They receive more than they deserve and walk away grateful for the owner’s generosity.  May we each respond to God’s grace the same way, realizing we are receiving more than we deserve, walking away grateful for God’s abundant Grace in our lives.


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He Calls

God promised to establish King David’s household forever.  That is a very long time.  Being as we are human, that promise can be misread and abused.  If seen from the “free pass” perspective, it can be disastrous.  Some of the kings that followed David were great examples of this.

God also wants to bless our households.  God invites us to live by the grace of His covenant.  This offer is nothing we can earn, but was bought for us by Jesus Christ.  His blood and body bought all freedom from sin and death.

Although we know this to be true, we often live otherwise.  We can allow guilt and shame to stand between God and ourselves.  We can get caught up in the battle of striving to make ourselves ‘acceptable’ to God.  We can choose to live as some of those kings that followed David chose to live.

But it is not about what ‘we’ can do but about what God offers.  God simply says, “Come.”  He calls us to lay aside all that binds and holds us back.  He calls us to walk in His love, to be in His presence, and to be made right by His grace.  Allow God to work in you, to pour out Hs grace and mercy in abundance on your house.

Scripture reference: 2 Samuel 7:8-11 and 16