pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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“Come After Me”

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.”

Photo credit: John Thomas

In the first part of this week’s passage from Mark 8, who Jesus is gets clarified (he is the Messiah) and Jesus’ focuses the disciples in on the charge to focus on the things of God. This focus will be important as Jesus’ earthly ministry ends and as the disciples begin to live out and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today’s passage is a summary of what it requires to “come after me” or to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. As one theologian put it, this call is to walk so closely behind Jesus that we are covered in the dust of the rabbi. The call is two-fold: “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To deny self is to first love God, second to love others, and, third, to love self. This call leads us to shed our false, earthly self – the one that chases after power, possessions, and position – and to live into who and what God created us to be. Losing our old way of living leads us to find our true self in Christ Jesus.

Taking up our cross is what Jesus did as he made his way to be crucified. For Jesus, this walk was not easy. It was difficult, it was hard, and it came at a cost. Closely following Jesus we will find that discipleship is all of these things and more. Our journey of faith will involve sacrifice as we give of ourselves and our resources as we love God and others. Taking up our cross also involves loving self. This is realized as we grow and mature in our faith. As we set our minds more and more on the things of God and less on the things of this world, we find more peace, more joy, more contentment, more hope, and more love. A growing and maturing faith empowers us to deny self and to take up our cross not as a thing we must or should do, but as our grateful response to the blessings and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our life. We love well because he first loved us and we willingly take up our cross because Jesus bore his for the salvation of our souls. As we grasp these truths and as we seek to come after Jesus, following his example, may all we say and do bring glory to the Lord.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the Messiah, our Savior. Thank you for showing us the ease with which Jesus lived out your love. Help me to live into this love so that I may bear it out into the world, offering and sharing your peace, joy, and hope as well. Amen.


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Anointed by God

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 and 6-9

Verse 2: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”.

Photo credit: Fulvio Ciccolo

Psalm 45 is a song about a king that will soon marry his bride. Although we do not know for sure, Solomon could certainly be the king – he was wise and was part of the Davidic line that reigns forever. The verses we read today are focused on the qualities of the king and of God. These qualities are ones we too should model to the world.

Verse two connects God’s blessings to the king’s character: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”. Being touched by and covered in God’s grace, the king has been blessed. In the next three verses, which we did not read today, the blessing comes in victories in battles with his enemies. We too experience such blessings. God often intervenes in our lives, saving us from this situation or that threat. Some of the time we notice. Once we kneel at the throne of grace and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, we too are anointed with God’s blessings.

In verses six through nine the psalmist turns his attention and addresses God. Acknowledging that God will reign forever, the writer recognizes that justice will be “the scepter of the kingdom”. The call for equality, the charge to welcome all into God’s family, and the mission to care for the least of these all flow out of God’s love of justice. Continuing on in the passage, next God’s righteousness is exalted. Because of God’s steadfast and faithful love, God sets his “companions” above all others as they are anointed with the “oil of joy”. Those who walk faithfully and obediently with God are set apart – both here on earth as well as for an eternal inheritance – bringing them joy and hope. To be in the family of God is a great blessing.

Just as the king in our Psalm has his heart set on God, may we too set our hearts on God. Walking step by step with God, we too will be anointed with oil and our cups will overflow with God’s blessings. Living out love, righteousness, hope, joy, and justice, may we witness our faith in the everlasting God to the world.

Prayer: God, you love justice and mercy and grace. Your righteous one modeled how to live these things out in love. Guide me to follow well in his footsteps, caring for the least of these and for the sheep of your flock, flinging wide open the gate. May all I say and do and think bring you the glory. Amen.


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Building Up

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 7: “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”.

As we continue in Ephesians 4 today Paul speaks about unity and some about diversity. Paul begins this section reminding us that “grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. Grace is the starting point. Grace allows us to see and walk alongside others just as they are. Grace is what allows us to sit at the table in fellowship with those who don’t see this or that exactly as we do. Grace opens the door to love.

Starting in verse eleven Paul speaks of some of the diversity of gifts folks in the church have: apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers. Not all are the same. This list is far from complete yet it demonstrates the diversity necessary in the body of Christ. Each person is gifted to “prepare God’s people for acts of service”. As the church lives out its faith in the world, the body is built up towards a “unity of faith”. Spiritual maturity – “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” – is what enables the church or the body of Christ to be of one heart and one Spirit. Growing closer and closer to Christ, grace and love abound more and more.

In verse fifteen Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow up into him… Christ”. This truth is not my truth. It is not your truth. It is not any human being’s truth. Jesus boiled the truth down to loving God with all that we are and reflecting that by loving our neighbors as Christ loves us. Covered in grace and love, Jesus set for us the example of what it looks like when we allow our lives to speak truth. May we follow Christ faithfully, being built up and building others up in love and grace, in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, may your grace and love abound in me. When I am less than you call me to be, gently whisper your will into my heart and mind. Lead me to walk steadfastly in the steps of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Divine Wisdom

Reading: Psalm 20

Verse 7: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

In Psalm 20 David offers a prayer for military victory over the enemy. He asks for protection, help, and support. He knows that the Lord “saves his anointed”. Although it may seem different to pray for victory in battle, I think most of us ask God to grant us victory pretty regularly. It may be victory over an addiction or a sin we’ve been struggling with. It may be to receive that promotion over the competition or to find the right home in the right neighborhood. It may be to feel progress in our grief or to put depression or stress or anxiety behind us. It may be for physical healing or spiritual wholeness.

David bases his prayer request on his faithful walk with God. He does not need to introduce himself to God before kneeling in prayer. David has sacrificed for God, he has come to the altar with gifts, he has been anointed or blessed by God. He is praying from a place of deep relationship with God. When we lift our petitions to the Lord our God do we come from the same place as David? Do we seek to have the heart of God within us through prayer and study and worship? Do we regularly talk with God so that we have an intimate and personal relationship? Do we sense, invite, and follow the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit?

In verse seven we read, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. David differentiates his prayer and desires from the ways of the world. Those kings who rely on chariots and horses or on jets and tanks or on economic might or political alliances are relying on earthly power. David relies on heavenly power to gain victory over the enemy. His trust is built on his faithful walk and alignment with God’s will and ways. When we pray for the desires of our hearts or even for the needs we have do we do so from a place of divine Wisdom and connection? If so, we too will “rise up and stand firm”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, in those moments of quiet, still my voice and draw me into your holy presence. Tune my ears and my heart to the soft whisper of your voice. Lead me to walk in your will and in your ways. Amen.


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Fix Our Eyes

Reading: 1st Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1

Verse 17: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all”.

Paul and the Corinthians know each other well. Paul lived there for about eighteen months, teaching, guiding, forming a church. Paul is one who has suffered much for his faith. The people of Corinth know this well. When Paul writes of these “light and momentary troubles”, the people of the Corinthian church understand that Paul’s troubles were far from light and momentary. Yet he does not lose heart. He holds onto hope and trusts in God with all that he is.

Paul points them and us on toward the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all”. Knowing Jesus’ story and seeing firsthand the troubles endured by Stephen and others who followed Christ, Paul understands the cost associated with belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Many in the church in Corinth have undoubtedly experienced trials and sufferings for their faith. It is an understood part of the journey. Yet this life is but a small step, a light and momentary stop along our path to eternity. The glory we will experience there will be so wonderful and amazing. We can only begin to imagine how vastly that glory will outweigh this present reality.

In this life and especially in the trials, may we too “fix our eyes” on the eternal glory that awaits all who believe. The Lord is our hope for the life to come and our strength in the days of this present age. Thanks be to God for his love for you and for me!

Prayer: Lord God, your promises are the foundation of my hope and strength. As I walk day by day guide me in your ways. Keep my eyes and heart fixed on your glory and your kingdom. 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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Fellowship with the Light

Reading: 1st John 1: 1-5

Verse 3: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us”.

In his first letter John proclaims the life of Jesus and the eternal life of Jesus. Just as he did in his gospel, John begins our passage today by reminding us that Jesus Christ was present with God at the beginning, in the creation of the world. John goes on to state that he himself has heard, seen, and even touched the physical Jesus. John did so for three years as a follower of Jesus. He was also blessed to see, hear, and touch the resurrected Jesus, “the eternal life”. John shares all of this firsthand evidence to let his readers know that Jesus was really real and that the resurrection really happened.

There is a point to John’s sharing of these facts. In verse three he writes, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us”. John shares his experiences with Jesus so that we too may know Jesus and can have fellowship “with us”. John goes on to define “us” in the next verse. Fellowship is not just with John or with the community of faith, but it is also with God the Father and with Jesus Christ, his Son. Christian fellowship always includes the divine. Without this holy presence we are simply friends gathering for a social function.

Much of the world prefers to function on this surface level – pleasant hellos and how are yous, general acceptance, polite conversations… Deadening all this is the constant noise and buzz of information that we seem to prefer to live amidst. It is refreshing to pause and to feel and hear John’s excitement surrounding his real experience with Jesus Christ. It is inviting. This shines out in verse five where John writes, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all”. There is no noise, no buzz. The light is clear and bright. In the light we can see things as they are. It is easy to understand what we touch and are touched by. In the light, our journey of faith follows a clear path, easily seen as we study and learn about Jesus Christ. It is in this process that we too see, hear, and touch Jesus himself. As knowledge leads to belief, we are increasingly seen, touched by, and heard by Jesus the divine. Our fellowship with him deepens and our joy is ever made more complete. Thanks be to God for our fellowship with the light!

Prayer: Lord of life, continue to draw me into your son Jesus. As I walk each day, help me to see, hear, and touch Jesus both in my times of prayer and study and in my encounters with others in the world. To God be the glory! Amen.


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Truth… Love

Reading: John 18 and 19

Verse 18:37 – “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”.

Photo credit: Leighann Blackwood

Under cover of dark betrayer and soldiers and religious leaders come to arrest Jesus. He is questioned by Annas and then Caiaphas. During these events Peter denies Jesus three times and then the cock crows. Early on Friday morning Jesus is brought to Pilate, the Roman ruler. Pilate finds Jesus innocent yet ultimately bows to the pressure of the crowd shouting “Crucify”!

As Pilate and Jesus are talking, Jesus tells him that his kingdom is not of this world. If it were, Jesus says his followers would have fought for him. Jesus goes on to tell Pilate, “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”. Jesus came to establish a new kingdom, one based on God’s vision for the world. It is not based on force or oppression or political power. So much of Pilate’s life has been wrapped up in these things. Today many people live by these and similar constraints. The steps on the ladder of success are built on the backs of those climbed over, stepped on, taken advantage of, exploited… Pilate is no different. In response to Jesus’ words, he utters, “What is truth”? Pilate clearly finds no joy, no love, no hope, no peace in his current life. Pilate needs Jesus’ kingdom just as much as the lost and broken of today’s world need Jesus.

Pilate fears losing what he has. A riot will cost him dearly so he bows to the pressure of the crowd and hands Jesus over to be crucified. Some today cling to what they have, materially and in title, afraid to trust in someone other than self. To lose this earthly life for one centered on Jesus’ kingdom of love and sacrifice and service feels like too big a step. Without witnesses to the truth of a life lived for Christ, none would take the step of faith. Here is where we take up our crosses and follow in Jesus’ footsteps, revealing the truth of his love and hope and peace and joy to the world.

Even as his own life was ebbing away, Jesus cared well for others. Speaking to John and to his mother, Jesus expresses his love for each by connecting them in a new way. This is his kingdom, one built upon love. As we each encounter others, may we too seek to love well, sharing his love with those in need.

Prayer: Lord, in the moments of trial and pain and even death, Jesus spoke and gave love to others. Though the road was hard, Jesus walked it faithfully. May I do the same. 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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Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 13-25

Verse 25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

What does God expect or require of you? What did Jesus expect of his disciples and of those that would follow him? If we were to make a list to answer these questions, would the list be a collection of things to do or would it detail how to live our lives? Paul is answering these questions for the church in Rome in today’s passage.

The church in Rome was falling into the trap that Paul has been caught in for most of his life. Faith was a form of legalism – of checking boxes and staying within the lines defined by the Law. Faith was not a way of life. To help them understand this Paul goes back to Abraham, the father of Israel, the patriarch of all patriarchs in the Jewish faith. In our passage today Paul points out that God credited Abraham as righteous because of his faith in God. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his trust and obedience to God’s direction. The Law was not even in existence yet. Entering into this right relationship with God through faith alone made Abraham and his descendants heirs of God’s promises. For Paul, all who believe in Jesus fall into that line of descendants. Belief is what gets one in that line, not following any set of rules or lists that we can make up.

Paul defines belief in Jesus as the only action necessary to be “credited” as righteous – being right with God. He wants to be clear that righteousness does not come from following the Law or any other set of rules, but from faith in Jesus Christ. In verse 25 Paul reminds those in the church in Rome and all who follow Jesus why belief in him is essential: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. In dying for our sins, Jesus removed the weight of the Law – that sacrifice for this sin, this sacrifice for that sin… – and he paid the price through his blood. A final sin sacrifice was offered by one for all. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are made righteous before God. In being raised from the dead, Jesus defeated death, opening the way for us to receive eternal life. Both are gifts, given to us without price, without any requirement except believing that Jesus did this for each of us. These is no law or rules that we can follow to receive or earn these gifts. They come through faith alone. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, I am so grateful for these gifts of love – born to the cross and into the grave for me. You stood in my place and took the punishment for me. And you did not stop there. You walked out of the grave, breaking those chains too. Thank you for the gifts of love that make it possible to experience joyful and abundant life now and to enter eternal life one day through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.