pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Trust

Reading: Luke 17:5-10

Verse 10: “We have only done our duty.”

Photo credit: Nathan Lemon

This week’s gospel passage begins with the apostles’ request, “Increase our faith!” I don’t know about you, but I’ve made this request before. Sometimes I’ve said it aloud but mostly it is through prayer that my heart raises this request to God. I think it’s a pretty normal request, both for the apostles and for us. When life gets hard it is natural to ask for a little more God. And to be honest, we feel better in all of life if we think we have a little extra in the tank too!

Jesus’ response is interesting. And challenging. The bulk of his answer comes in a teaching about servanthood. He explains that servants have roles and that the simple expectation is to fulfill that role or roles. When a servant has acted faithfully and obediently, there is no big party or celebration. For the apostles and for all who follow Jesus, the expectation is to live a holy life of humble service, loving God and neighbor. That is his expectation. And according to Jesus, our response should be: “We have only done our duty.”

So how does this illustration relate to the apostles’ request for more faith? Jesus is saying that they have all the faith they need. But what is needed is the living out of that faith. Do what is expected: love well, practice goodness and kindness, be generous and empathetic, help those in need by feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned… Ultimately Jesus is asking us to trust. Trust that our faith is certainly sufficient. Trust that he is more than enough. With trust, use the faith we have to live the life that we are called to. May it be so for you and for me this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, in those moments when I begin to waver or to falter or when doubt rises up, remind me again that my faith is more than enough. Lead me to step forward in faith and trust, being bold for you. Amen.


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Humble

Reading: Luke 14:1 and 7-11

Verse 11: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

Jesus is at the home of a prominent Pharisee for dinner. As the guests arrive, Jesus observes how they picked the places of honor at the table. The closer one sat to the host or special guest, the more honor one would receive. After observing for a time, Jesus tells today’s parable. All parables have a main point. The point of today’s is this: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What did Jesus observe that led him to tell this parable? As he sat and watched others jockey for the best places at the table, how the arrogance and pride and ego must have been on full display. The Pharisees were a religious order. All organizations have hierarchies – some structural or organizational, some organic, some perceived. There are often times when those who are not the “boss” think they know more than the boss. Some in places of authority have to power to walk up to another, to point down the row of seats, forcing someone else down the pecking order. It really mattered to these Pharisees where they say at the table. Pride, arrogance, and ego were on full display.

We live in a world where pecking orders and hierarchies still very much exist – from the board rooms right on down to the school lunch table. The desire to rise up the order, to gain more control and power, to elevate oneself are temptations many of us face. When we allow our arrogance and pride and ego to drive our words and actions, then we are no better than these Pharisees. So the question for us to ponder today is this: when we feel we deserve better, how do we instead choose to practice the humility that Jesus so gracefully displayed?

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to judge others as a means to elevate myself or to gossip or critique others as a means to raise my own self-esteem, remind me that all I am is found in you alone. Lead me to focus on you as my purpose and meaning. Guide me in humble service. Amen.


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Ready and Prepared

Reading: Luke 12:35-40

Verse 37: “It will be good for those servants who master finds them watching when he comes.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

Today’s passage reminds me of a saying I heard versions of in scouts and in athletics – always be ready. In scouts it was along the lines of “always be prepared.” Whether heading out on a camping trip or sitting on the sidelines during a game, one must be focused and paying attention. One must be prepared to engage right away when our name is called. Coaches called that “keeping your head in the game.” If one wasn’t ready and prepared, then someone else would step into our place.

In today’s passage Jesus invites the disciples to always be ready for when the “Son of Man” comes. The parable speaks of servants who are at home, waiting for their master to return. In verse 37 Jesus declares, “It will be good for those servants who master finds them watching when he comes.” The master will be pleased if we are ready and prepared when he comes. At the point of seeing the clouds roll away at the trumpets’ blasts it will be too late to start preparing.

For those found watching and ready, the master will become the servant. This brings to mind images from the Last Supper, where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet as an example of humble service. It also guides us in how to wait for Jesus’ return. We are to be prepared by being in active service to others. This readies us for the inbreaking of Christ’s reign. If we live out his love here and now, building the kingdom here on earth, humbling serving others, we will be watching and ready when he returns. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, help me this day to be a servant. Open my eyes to see places and ways to serve others. Guide my hands and feet to step into those opportunities. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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A Grateful Heart

Reading: Psalm 50:1-8 and 22-23

Verse 23: “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50 begins with God getting ready to judge Israel. God prepares to testify against them, saying, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak.” And God does speak! In verse 8 it appears that the people are offering sacrifices to the Lord. But God wants more. God wants heart change. It’d look like this today: showing up for an hour on Sunday morning and then never thinking of or praying to or connecting to God in the other 167 hours of the week. And believing that we’d done enough.

In verses 9-21, which are not in our lectionary reading, the psalmist details the problem. First God tells the people that God has no need for the blood or flesh being offered. God instead asks for thank offerings – expressions of gratitude for what the Lord has done in their lives. At the core of these offerings was a humble recognition that all one has comes from God. Everything. An “attitude of gratitude” does more than keeping us humble. It recognizes that God is good and kind and caring. Being grateful also creates a more generous and compassionate heart within us. A regular habit of thanking God for all of our blessings really changes our relationship with God and positively affects how we see and interact with the world.

There is another benefit to giving God thanks regularly. In verse 23 we read, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Being grateful prepares our heart for walking in God’s ways. And it readies us to see God’s salvation. Both of these can be experienced daily. A grateful heart opens us up to seeing and bring a part of God’s saving grace at work each day – both for ourselves and others. This day, may we rejoice in the blessings of the Lord as we seek to bless others too.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be grateful in all things, not just in the obvious ways that you touch my life. In trust and faith may I be grateful in hard times too, recognizing your presence and love there too. Amen.


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A Place of Spirit

Reading: Psalm 8:1-5

Verse 4: “What is humanity that you are mindful of us, the sons and daughters of God that you care for us?”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

In Psalm 8 David begins with a statement of praise. He ends with the same statement: “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” He bookends the Psalm with this phrase to emphasize the power and might of God over all the earth. As he continues, David acknowledges the glory of God revealed both in the heavens and in the praise that comes from “children and infants.” Against these two witnesses those who are “enemies” are silenced. Even they can see the glory of God revealed in these ways.

Moving into verses 3-5 we consider our role as sons and daughters of this majestic and glorious God. David, looking once again to the heavens, but also seeing other parts of God’s creation, asks the question: “What is humanity that you are mindful of us, the sons and daughters of God that you care for us?” As David takes in the scope of the “works of your fingers”, he is humbled. Yet at the same time David recognizes humanity’s place in the order of God’s creation. In the grand hierarchy, David identified humanity as “a little lower than the heavenly beings.” This place of spirit that David finds – humble yet aware of his place in God’s creation – it is a place that was inhabited by Jesus Christ himself as well. In humble service may we too seek to demonstrate our love of God and of all of creation. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, this day may I be filled with both a spirit of humility and a recognition of the ways that you ask me to build up your kingdom of love. May they work in harmony to bring you all the glory. Amen.


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Humble Service, Faithful Love

Reading: Revelation 1: 5 and 7

Verse 7: “All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be!”

Returning to Revelation 1 today we focus on the “is to come” that we touched on yesterday. In verse 5 John refers to Jesus as “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus does have power over all of us. But just as you and I have the ability to fall to temptation and to choose to sin, so too do the kings and ruler of this world. Just because Jesus is Lord doesn’t mean that it always look like he’s 100% in charge.

It has been said in the scripture and by the world that those with power and authority should be held to higher standards. I believe it should be so. It was this way with Jesus. He modeled what he preached. No one has had more power or greater authority than Jesus. Yet he sought to be a humble servant, to love others above self. When we strive to live this model ourselves, we are are recognizing Jesus as Lord. That is the path we are called to walk. Is it possible for these two worlds to align today? Can those with power and authority lead with humility and love for the other? I believe so.

In verse 7 John writes of Jesus’ return – of the day when Jesus will “come with the clouds,” of the day when “every eye will see him.” No one will miss out on his return. All will know the time has come. John continues, writing, “All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be!” Note the “of the earth” part. Those who have chased after and used their power and authority for selfish ends – those will mourn. Those who have walked the path of humble service and faithful love – they will rejoice. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be faithful in my service to you and your coming kingdom. Use me in humble service and faithful love today. Amen.


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As I Have Done…

Reading: John 13:1-17 and 31b-35

Verses 15 and 34: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you… A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

In today’s passage we see love in action and we hear the challenge to love in this way. Our passage begins with Jesus stepping out of his role as Lord and teacher and into the role of humble servant. He lovingly washes the disciples’ feet – a job that even the fishermen would have considered well below them. It was a task usually done by house servants or slaves.

After returning to the table, Jesus asks, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” Seeing the usual blank stares, Jesus explains. Just as the Lord and teacher was willing to wash their feet, they too are to “wash one another’s feet.” Jesus’ example tells them to be willing to do anything for each other – no matter what. To drive home his point he says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” In a devotional that I read earlier today, Steve Harper sums up this event this way: “Here is the pinnacle of the principle, ‘the word became flesh.’ Love acts.” Faith is not just something we have. It is something we do.

In the second part of our passage, Jesus formalizes this teaching. In verse 34 he says, “A new command I give you: love one another.” The command to love one another is ancient, not new. Leviticus 19:18 forms a core principle of the Jewish faith. In this Old Testament passage, loving one another was commanded within the context of not taking revenge or not holding grudges. Instead of being reactive, Jesus reframes the command to be proactive. Jesus lives and challenges us to live a faith that is alive, that seems to do good. The challenge grows as we read the rest of verse 34: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

To love like Jesus. Possible? Yes, once we know the depth of his love for us. That is what Holy Week is all about. As we walk through the next few days, may we come to fully realize the depth of Christ’s love for you and for me. As then may we go into the world, loving one another as Christ loves us.

Prayer: Lord God, your example of love is so great. It is awesome. Help me to realize and to practice loving others as you love me. Amen.


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The Mind, The Attitude of Christ

Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

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

Our passage today opens with quite a challenge! Other translations challenge us to have the mind of Christ. What a life we’d live if we always practiced the attitude or mind of Jesus Christ.

In the passage Paul explains what it requires to meet this challenge: emptying self and then being a servant, being humble, and being obedient to God. I don’t know what’s harder – the emptying or the being. I do know that to truly be these things one must be willing to empty or die to self. This act of surrendering our will and way to God is the necessary first step to true servanthood and humility and obedience. We can be partly these things without surrender, but always in a lesser way because we will still keep self in mind.

In our world so much value is placed on possessions, titles, status, and so on. Living in this world, it is hard to let go of these things. That’s why faith is so counter-cultural. To serve others usually asks us to give away and to be generous with what God has blessed us with. To be humble is to relinquish place and to think more of the other, to see and live into our interconnectedness and interdependence. To be obedient is to listen to God’s voice – both in the scriptures and as spoken by the Holy Spirit. To listen implies that we hear and follow what is said.

To live in this radical, counter-cultural way is to exult the name of Jesus. When we die to self we take on the mind of Christ. When we live as humble servants, obedient to God, we practice the attitude of Christ. Doing so, we bow down to and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Doing so, we invite others to do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to kneel at your throne and to pour out self, surrendering to you. Prune away all within that holds be back; nurture and grow those parts that witness to your will and way. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Christ’s Ambassadors

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21

Verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making the appeal through us.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

In our 2nd Corinthians 5 passage, Paul says we are Christ’s ambassador. To understand what Paul is saying, we need to know what an ambassador is. In a general sense, an ambassador is an envoy or a representative. We have government ambassadors who work in embassies all around the world. When two cities form a sister-city relationship, an ambassador goes to represent their city to the other. Sports leagues and all sorts of other organizations have ambassadors too. Ambassadors strive to represent the best that their country, city, sport, organization… has to offer. They share all the good that can be had or found in that connection or relationship. If something bad happens, the ambassador does everything they can to make it right again.

What does it then mean to be an ambassador for Christ? It first means that we share the very best that Christ has to offer to the world. This begins by doing everything in love. We do this by lifting others over self. We’re talking humble service here. It is continued by being merciful and gracious to all. It is practiced with generosity and through radical hospitality. And when we err, when we mess up, when we are less than Christlike, the love is demonstrated by seeking forgiveness and by working towards reconciliation to restore any damage to the relationship.

Living and acting as Christ’s ambassador, God is making “the appeal” through us. The appeal is to live and love this way too. The joy and hope, the peace and contentment, the genuine love for others – these draw people to Christ. A good ambassador represents the best of what Christ has to offer. May we live each moment cognizant of our call to be Christ to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, may all I meet experience the love of Christ. Pour it out of me, into the lives of others, drawing them towards Christ. May my joy and hope be appealing to those without. Amen.


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A Longing Love

Reading: Luke 13:31-35

Verse 34: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longer to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.”

In our gospel text for this week we find a lament from Jesus. Laments express a deep sadness and a longing for something. There are lots of laments in scripture, especially in the Psalms. Jesus was not the first prophet to lament a lack of faith. In today’s passage Jesus expresses his sorrow over the Jews rejecting him as the Messiah. This is a common lament subject for Jesus.

In verse 34 Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longer to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.” Jesus’ desire to be known and accepted by the Jews is deep and sincere. He was born among these people for a reason. Early on many are drawn to Jesus. Great crowds gather. In remote places people come from all around. People living under Roman occupation and a burdensome religion were driven to the healings and other miracles that Jesus offered. These eased or lightened the difficulties of life. But those at the top of the religious hierarchy kept their distance. This faith that Jesus proclaimed was dangerous to their religion. As his ministry progressed, Jesus taught more and more about humble service and truly loving God and neighbor more than self. The crowds began to thin out as the reality of what it meant to really follow Jesus became clearer and clearer.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, knowing the final rejection and death soon to come, he pauses and laments what could have been. It was nothing new. The religious leaders have a long history of killing and stoning those sent by God, of rejecting God’s prophets. It is with deep and sincere sorrow that Jesus says, “But you were not willing!” Jesus longs to gather them up, to protect them, to shelter them. This remains true today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the heart revealed in Jesus – a heart of pure love for all of humanity. Thank you for a love so great that it even longs for those who reject and even abuse it. Lead me to love as Jesus loves. Amen.