pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Rewards and Persecutions

Reading: Mark 10: 27-31

Verse 31: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

We begin our time today where our passage left off yesterday. We are once again reminded that “all things are possible with God.” As we once again hear Jesus’ call to lay aside the things of this world to follow him, we quickly realize that we need some divine help to walk out this kind of faith. Peter and the other disciples have just heard Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man and have heard the warning about the great difficulty of entering heaven if we are tied to the things of this world. Peter declares, “We have left everything to follow you!” Yes, they truly have. For almost three years they have followed the one who also did the same, leaving Nazareth, his family, and the family business to bring healing and the good news to the world.

Jesus then tells us that following comes with great rewards and also with persecutions. We receive much from our faith – little in the ways of the world but much in terms of living a life that is abundant and joyful and fulfilling. It is not always an easy life. It runs counter to the ways of the world so we also face some persecution. Sometimes it is blatant and abusive; sometimes it involves quiet suffering.

In the last verse Jesus speaks to the counter-cultural nature of God’s kingdom. He says, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Those walking in the ways of the world think they are ‘first.’ But in the economy of God, they are ‘last.’ Maybe ‘lost’ would be a better word. Conversely, those who seem to be last according to how the world judges success will be first in the kingdom of God. Living and loving as Jesus did, the faithful will enjoy the abundance and glory of heaven. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, your ways are not the ways of the world. Sometimes they are not my ways either. Guide me to a more faithful walk day by day. 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.


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Forward in Faith

Reading: Mark 1: 16-20

Verse 18: “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

Photo credit: Jillian Werner

In today’s passage Jesus calls the first four disciples. They are just regular people. All four are fishermen, used to a hard life. They work long hours, endure the weather, and rely upon the water for their livelihood. This day began just about like every other day – until Jesus walks along the shore. This scenario is true for most of us. Our days start about the same each day and then sometimes Jesus shows up, calling us into ministry.

First Jesus comes to Simon and Andrew. They are at work when Jesus comes, casting their nets into the sea. He simply says, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for men”. We read that “at once” they left their nets – right there in the water – and followed. The call of James and John is similar. They are mending their nets when Jesus calls them. “Without delay” James and John leave their father and the hired men behind to follow Jesus. Is this the lesson we are to take from today’s reading?

It certainly is one of them. Most of the opportunities we have to “come and follow” are moments unfolding in life at that time. The person the Holy Spirit nudges us towards may not be there any more or the particular need may not be there when we see them the next time. The door or window of opportunity that is open when the Spirit whispers in our ear may close or shut if we say we’ll get to it “tomorrow”. And, honestly, what call would Jesus give to you or me that would compare to the call these four fishermen received today? Well, honestly, each call rises to the level of being a disciple.

The first step for Andrew, Simon, James, and John is the first step for each of us. The first step is to decide if we trust Jesus. When we are nudged to go to that person or when the Holy Spirit whispers into our heart, we have no idea where that step will take us. Yet, just like these fishermen, we are called to step forward in faith. As Jesus calls us today or tomorrow or another day, may we each trust in the Lord. Without delay, may we go where the Lord sends us.

Prayer: Lord God, I’ve come to see that “not now” most often means “no”. Help me to be better in those moments when you call. That “thing” that feels oh so important is never as important as the person or need you are calling me to. Make me more obedient, Lord. Amen.


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Your Way, Father God

Reading: Philippians 2: 1-13

Verse 5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

Today’s passage is confusing to many in the world and counter-cultural in many societies. It always has been. Early on we learned to do well, to excel if possible. In school we quickly learned who the smartest were. Whenever a spelling quiz or multiplication test was passed back, all glanced around to see who had the 100%. On the fields and in the band rooms those who were picked first for the team or who occupied first chair were seen as the goal. As life continued, the world continued to teach us to rise up, to be popular, to keep buying bigger and better. Even in Jesus’ day there was a clear social hierarchy. The Jews, Jesus’ people, saw themselves as far superior to all others. They were, after all, God’s chosen people.

So where in the world did this Jesus come from? Why would he come to this people – and continue to seek to come into worldly people’s lives – with the call to “consider others better than yourselves”? Being the fastest or strongest or best anything wasn’t even on Jesus’ radar. Owning a huge flock of sheep or a big cabinetry factory never drew a second of his attention. Jesus did not care what others thought of him. Accordingly, Jesus chose to take on “the very nature of a servant”. Instead of being a powerful ruler by the world’s standards, Jesus became a conquering servant. Instead of looking at how he climb up the social and political and economic and religious ladders, he sought to dismantle the ladders. Instead of seeking to work his way into the “right” circles, Jesus sought to bring all into his circle. Instead of saying “My way”, Jesus said, “Your way, Father God”.

Jesus was love and obedience lived out. May we each seek to follow Paul’s call day by day: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

Prayer: Living God, lead me today to walk humbly. May I see others and their needs before considering my own. Guide me in the ways of Jesus, your humble servant, my example. Amen.


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Anything

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 4: “Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What am I to do with these people'”?

As the people come to be in need of water, they come to Moses and they quarrel with him about it. He is their leader. There is no water. They want Moses to do something about it. Moses realizes that he cannot do anything about it so he turns to the one who can. Even though he was frustrated, Moses turns to God and God responds by providing water from a rock in the middle of the desert.

I cannot blame Moses for being a bit frustrated. Time and time again the people have quarreled and tested both Moses and God. So much so that Moses names the place of the miracle as such! Moses does what he should do – he goes to God. Unfortunately many of us do not follow this example, myself included, especially in my past. When something was wrong or needed taken care of, I fixed it or did it. That was my nature. I was a “doer”. So much so, when I was moved to my first church as the only pastor, I had to learn a couple of hard lessons. I was warned by my district superintendent not to just do everything. He made my natural leaning seem like a bad thing. Even though I was warned not to do everything, to allow others to do, I had a learning curve that proved the wisdom of his words.

Whether it is pride or the need to be in control that drives us to be a doer or if it is fear of failure or of disappointing others that drives us to get inaction, like Moses, a quick turn towards God should be our first step. And often our second and third and…

In our passage today, God pretty much ignored Moses’ frustration. God led Moses to a rock, which he struck, and water poured out. Read that again. Yes, water came from a rock in the middle of the desert. God can do anything. Anything. If we but turn. Like Moses, may our attitude be one of surrender and may our first steps be toward God. Then we too will see and experience the amazing power of God.

Prayer: Lord God, continue to mold and shape me into who you intend me to be. I am grateful for the journey so far, and I know there is far to go. I am even thankful for the times you’ve had to squash the clay, to begin almost from scratch – painful but necessary steps in my process. Day by day, lead and guide me, shape and form me, O God. Amen.


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Step by Step

Reading: Matthew 16: 17-20

Verse 20: “Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ”.

In response to the question that we were pondering yesterday Peter had declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. As we continue today in Matthew 16, Jesus praises both God and Peter for this revelation. Jesus is elated that God has blessed Peter with this understanding. Jesus tells Peter that he will be the foundation of the church. Jesus will use Peter to lead the church as the Holy Spirit moves out in mission. Peter and the disciples will be given the “keys” – the wisdom, courage, faith, trust, words, actions… to loose Christianity upon the world, binding hearts to God. It is quite the statement that Jesus makes. It is one of the most effusive and encouraging statements from Jesus that we find in the Gospels.

And then Jesus warns the disciples “not to tell anyone that he was the Christ”. What?! Wait a minute. Hold on! Without digging a little deeper, this warning seems out of place. Just as Jesus’ words to Peter are a future thing, so too is sharing that he is the Messiah. To go out and to start proclaiming this would be like reading the last few pages of the book first. It would alter how you read the story. It would be like us sharing “Jesus’ blood will wash away your sins” as our opening line to a non-believer. In their minds they would think, “Blood? Sins?” and our conversation would be over. Yes, we might keep talking.

While the statement is true, it is not a good starting point for sharing our faith with a non-believer. We can get there, but first we must share how Jesus makes a difference in our lives. We can get to salvation and atonement and justification… but we must start with how Jesus changed our life. Our relatively simple but deeply personal faith stories have the power to change lives.

Through Jesus’ life and teachings and through the disciples and apostles, people came to know Jesus as the Messiah, as the Lord of their lives. It is a journey, not a destination. Faith grows one step at a time. Today may we help another move one step closer to Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to say, the level at which to share, in each encounter today. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to help draw others closer to you. Amen.


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First and Always

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 3: “Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test'”?

Moses is leading the people on a journey to the Promised Land. It will be a forty years journey. When I think of the length of the journey, it reminds me of the long drives to Montana. Sometimes before we even left South Dakota, the “Are we there yet?” refrains would begin. When that happened I knew it was going to feel like a long trip. Even though it was only an eleven hour drive, I think it felt a little bit like Moses was feeling in our passage today.

The Israelites have recently been rescued from slavery in Egypt. In this process, God brought plague upon plague, finally breaking Pharaoh’s spirit with the death of the firstborn. The Israelites were passed over by the angel of death. This miracle became an event they celebrate every year, to this day. The hand of God continued to be upon Moses as he parted the sea and saved the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptian army. God has just provided manna, quail, and water to all the people. As they set out once again the people find themselves at a place with no water. Instead of turning to God in prayer, thanking him for the many saving acts that they have just experienced and seeking one more, they choose to grumble at and quarrel with Moses. In response Moses asks, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test“? I imagine God was thinking the same thing, don’t you?

At times I’m sure I’ve made God think that. I know God loves and cares for me, provides for and protects me, leads me and guides me. Even so, trust in God is not always my default response when a need arises or when I find myself in a time of trial. Seeking God is usually my first response, but not always. And it should be always. Maybe you are like me and know your need to turn to God first and always. As we remember how dearly loved we are by God may we make intentional efforts this week to rely first on God in all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, I know no one loves me like you do. No one has good plans for me like you do. May the Spirit remind me of these things over and over as I seek to follow Jesus more closely. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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God’s First Love

Reading: Micah 6: 1-3

Verse 2: “The Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge”.

God is a god of relationship. All of the covenants, the agreements that give structure to the Bible, are all about living in right relationship with God. The fuel of relationship is love. We can see how love fuels a relationship when we look at marriage or parenting. In a marriage covenant we pledge to love no matter what – in sickness, in poverty… When we assume the role of parent we commit to loving our children unconditionally, no matter what they do or do not do. These models are human versions of the covenant love that God has for each of us, his children. But even these human models are lacking. The greatest marriage ever, for example, pales in comparison to God’s love for us.

In the opening verses of Micah 6 we can see that God is not happy. God calls on Israel to “plead your case”. He is calling them to task because they are failing miserably at their side of the covenant relationship. We have all had friendships and even relationships that have not lasted. Maybe it was because of them, maybe it was because of us, maybe it was both. One or both sides came to the conclusion that the relationship was not worth the effort to keep it sustainable. So the friendship or relationship ended. We have also all had or have friendships or relationships that we have invested in and developed and grown over time. They are so valued by us that we will even risk calling the other out when they are lacking in effort or commitment. In those cases we are saying that we love deeply enough to risk calling the other out.

In verse two today we read, “The Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge”. Israel has not been keeping up their part of the covenant. God is calling them to task. It is a love that is unconditional so God calls on the mountains as witnesses to the case. They have been silent witnesses since the beginning of creation as the relationship between God and humanity has unfolded. The people Israel have been disobedient and God is calling them out. The relationship that is life-giving has become like a burden to the people. They have forgotten their first love. God has not forgotten. God never forgets us, his first love.

Prayer: Lord of all, as I think about this passage, I look within and I search for times when I have not loved you fully, for times when I have been disobedient. I find them too easily. And yet you love me, you call out to me. Against me too you could bring a charge. But you don’t. Help me to bring mercy and love to those who I could bring a charge. Make me more like you. Amen.


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Reign Supreme

Reading: Colossians 1: 10-20

Verse 18: “He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy”.

The first half of our passage deals with living a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to the Lord. This involves bearing fruit, growing in our faith, and joyfully thanking God for our blessings. Living this way allows us to share in our inheritance. That is the gift of walking in the light as a child of God. All of this was the focus of yesterday’s devotional.

Today we turn to verses fifteen through twenty. In these verses Paul establishes the supremacy of Jesus Christ. Jesus has been and continues to be. He is both the firstborn of all creation and the firstborn from the dead. He holds all things together. Jesus is able to do so because “all things were created for him and by him”. The fullness of God dwelled in him during the years he walked the earth. At the end of this time, all things were reconciled to him through his blood shed on the cross. My Bible describes this as “making peace through his blood”. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice that paid the price for our sin. The making of peace is with God.

Jesus is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. All things came from him and he is the one whose blood allows us to be made right with God. All this so that “in everything he might have the supremacy”. Jesus is the Lord of life and the Lord over sin and death. In him all things hold together. Jesus desires to be first in everything. The words say “might have”. It is not a done deal – it is a choice. Will you allow Jesus first place in your heart, in your life? May it be so.

Prayer: God, when there was nothing in existence, there was Jesus. When all that we know here and now is no more, there will be Jesus. In the space in between that I now dwell, may Christ be first in all things – in my heart, in my mind, in my will, in my words and actions. May Jesus Christ reign supreme in my life. Amen.


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Turn to God

Reading: Psalm 63: 6-8

Verse 6: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”.

In his time out in the desert David appears to have some trouble sleeping. Verses 9 and 10 indicate that David is out in the desert because his enemies are pursuing him. Maybe this Psalm is written when King Saul was hunting him down or maybe it is later, perhaps when Absalom was leading a rebellion. Both were times when David fled into the desert or wilderness to find refuge. While none of us have probably fled because someone was trying to kill us, most of us have experienced trouble sleeping because of some trial or hardship or difficulty.

When I have had trouble sleeping, I have tried all sorts of remedies. I have tried, of course, counting sheep. I have read a book or played a game on my phone. I have tried listening to music. I have gone for a walk. In those times when a stressful decision lies ahead or when something else big is on my mind, I can turn to worry or fretting or… Today’s Psalm is a good reminder to me of what my first option should be: prayer. David writes to God, saying, “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”. David turns his thoughts to God. We do not know if he turned over his worry or if he sought God’s guidance or if he simply admitted his need for God’s help. But we do know that he went to God first in his time of need. It is a good reminder to us to seek God first and not as a last resort.

Because his trust is in God, David can rejoice. In the next two verses we read of how David sings to God and of how he feels upheld by God. When we turn to God we too will experience God as our help. Like David, this leads us to rejoice in the ways that God is and has been present in our lives. In future times of trial and distress we will more quickly turn to God as time after time we learn that God upholds us too. Our soul learns to first turn to and to cling to God in our times of need. God’s faithfulness and love and care build our trust in God.

On those nights when sleep evades us, may we turn to God first. If we cannot name the fear or worry or… to offer up a prayer, we can turn to the Bible to draw near to God. If we can name it, may we give it to God and trust that God will be present and will be our help.

Prayer: Lord, when the storms rage or when the attacks of fear or doubt or worry come, be my refuge. Draw me first to you. Remind me of David and his example that you would be my shelter in the shadows. Thank you God! Amen.