pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Can you…?

Reading: Mark 10: 35-40

Verse 35: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

After clearly hearing what lies ahead for Jesus in verses 33 and 34 – condemned, mocked, spit upon, flogged, killed – James and John come to Jesus with a request. They preface it with “do for us whatever we ask.” It seems like they have something really important on their minds. Turns out to be so – they want the seats of glory in heaven. Did they miss the part about being condemned…?

Instead of getting angry or frustrated, Jesus is patient. Explaining the cost of discipleship another way he asks if they can “drink the cup” or be “baptized” as he will be. They say “we can” even though they have no idea what they will face. James and John will drink the cup of suffering and rejection and mocking. They will be baptized by the fires of persecution. Jesus assures them that they will indeed be able to pay the high price of discipleship. But, alas, he cannot grant their request – God already has those seats filled.

Those of us who have been part of a faith community for very long understand the cost of discipleship. We’ve given or heard lots of sermons about loving others more than self, about taking up our cross, about dying to self, about being generous and serving others. We’ve been through enough Easters to be aware of the high price Jesus paid to break the chains of sin and death. We feel perfectly comfortable, as James and John did, to ask Jesus about or for anything – from small requests to really big prayers. But are we willing to drink the cup and to be baptized as Jesus and the early disciples and apostles were? I fully realize that it is not in the slightest way a ‘quid pro quo’ situation, but there is clearly a cost to discipleship as Jesus clearly lays out in today’s passage and in many others.

Maybe your first thought, like mine when I read James’ and John’s question, was something like: How could you ask that?! If so, may we spend a little more time with Jesus’ question: Can you…?

Prayer: Lord God, it’s easy to walk a surface level faith. It’s easy to show up on a Sunday and maybe to a small group once a week or so. It’s another thing to be willing to suffer and to endure persecution, to pay a price for my faith. Lord, move me closer to this sacrificial and fully committed faith. Amen.


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Our Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 4: 14-16

Verse 14: “Since we have a great high priest… Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

In yesterday’s reading from Hebrews 4 we were reminded of our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God. This part of the passage called me to an awareness of my thoughts and attitudes, of my sinful nature. In verses 14-16 today we are pointed towards salvation, restoration, and redemption through Jesus Christ.

Our passage for today begins with this wonderful reminder: “Since we have a great high priest… Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Because we have Jesus, we can cling tightly to our faith. Jesus is on our side. Once upon a time the priest intervened for the people. The priest brought the people’s needs before God. The priest made atonement for the peoples’ sins. Before Jesus a priest was essential in one’s relationship with God. Then Jesus, God in the flesh, came and brought direct access to God. Anytime, anywhere, anyhow we can go directly to God with our needs, with our thanksgiving, with our confession and repentance. Jesus literally and figuratively tore in two the curtain that separated the people from the throne room of God.

And it gets better. Jesus intercedes for us. Seated at the right hand of God is one who “has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” Jesus knows what it was and is like to be human – fragile, weak, selfish, easily tempted. He can sympathize with us, can have empathy for us, can speak to our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God on our behalf. Jesus was able to be the final sacrifice and can be in God’s presence because “he was without sin.” Because the perfect lamb of God is on our side, we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” knowing an ally is already there, already speaking on our behalf. With confidence we can come to God with our confession and repentance, knowing we will receive mercy, knowing we will be made new again. In the same way we can bring our needs to God, trusting that we will find the grace needed to get through the trials and sufferings. In and through all of life our great high priest, Jesus Christ, walks with us. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: God of mercy and grace, thank you for the incredible gift of Jesus Christ, your Son. He is with us; he is for us. He knows what it is like to live here on earth, to be tempted, to feel pain and sorrow. And oh how he loves us. Because of this love Jesus brings us before your throne – day by day and one day eternally. What an amazing love! Thank you God! Amen.


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Not Ashamed

Reading: Hebrews 2: 5-12

Verse 10: “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.”

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

In today’s section of Hebrews we are reminded of the supremacy of Jesus. Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor” as God “put everything under his feet”. All in this world is within Jesus’ reach. All in this world is within his control. All in this world is invited into his love. Many choose to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, becoming a follower, a disciple. But some do not choose Jesus. This is why we read “yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” in verse eight. Faith in Jesus Christ is a personal choice.

During his time on earth Jesus was subject to God. It too was a choice that he made. Jesus could have taken power for himself. He could have accepted Satan’s offer to rule all the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus could have kept all of his friends safe and protected. But he went with Mary and Martha outside of Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus was well acquainted with the sufferings and trials of this life. He felt pain and grief, loneliness and rejection. In verse ten we read, “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.” To be our Savior, Jesus needed to know our suffering. To give us victory over sin and death, Jesus had to give his perfect life. Willingly doing so he provided the way for the sinful and imperfect to be made perfect and holy. In many churches and places of worship we will remember and celebrate this gift in the sacrament of communion.

Knowing the trials and sufferings of this life, Jesus knows our struggles, our challenges, our temptations. He understands us and how hard this world can be. Because he can relate to this, Jesus is “not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.” Jesus welcomes and invites all into the family of God. This day may our grateful response be to help others hear the invitation.

Prayer: Lord God, you love even me. You love us all. In love you gave your Son for me, for us. Guide me to give back to you in humble service this day and every day. Amen.


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Sharing His Glory

Reading: Hebrews 1: 1-4

Verse 3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being.”

Photo credit: Jake Thacker

The opening verses to Hebrews are a great connection from the faith of the Jews to faith in Jesus Christ. There is a connecting of the dots. Many who came to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior had been faithful people of God their whole lives. They came from a faith tradition centered on the one true God that stretches back for thousands of years. Scattered throughout their long history are prophets sent by God, sent to speak God’s word to the people of God.

The author of Hebrews connects this long prophetic line to Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Through the teaching, witness, and example set by Jesus, God spoke to the people. Jesus was the fuller revelation of God. The prophets spoke the words that God gave them. They were usually good models of the faith. But they were finite; they were human. In verse three we read, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being.” Jesus shone God’s glory to the world. In all he said and did, Jesus pointed people to God’s love, mercy, grace… In this way Jesus was God incarnate, God in the flesh, God with us. At the end of his time revealing how we are to live out God’s love, mercy, grace… in the world, Jesus then offered himself to save us. Jesus “provided purification for sins” by shedding his blood, giving his own life to defeat, once for all, the power of sin. Then, rising and returning to heaven, he took his rightful place at God’s right hand. One day Jesus will return, establishing his kingdom here on earth.

In the interim Jesus sent and sends the Holy Spirit, his indwelling presence in all who believe. Living inside each who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Spirit guides, leads, encourages, comforts, sustains, and strengthens us as we walk in Jesus’ footsteps, sharing his glory. Doing so, others meet the Son living in us and we each grow closer to the Way that leads to eternal life. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, Immanuel, Christ with us – through the ages you have spoken to your people through those you have sent. Each has revealed your call upon your people. In the time in the flesh you gave us the clearest picture of pure love lived out. Then you gifted us with the Holy Spirit to help us walk out this pure love in the world. Thank you, thank you, thank you, awesome God. Amen.


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Hard Heart… or Heart for God?

Reading: Mark 10: 1-12

Verse 5: “It was because your hearts were hard…”

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Today’s passage in Mark is typical of the ‘conversations’ that the religious leaders had with Jesus. Today’s conversation focuses on the topic of divorce. This was a topic widely debated and interpreted since the time of Moses. Jesus quotes from the beginning times, in Genesis, lifting marriage to a lifelong covenant as the two “become one flesh.” In Deuteronomy 24:1 the Law allows for a man to write a certificate of divorce if his wife “becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her.” At the time, this usually applied to cases of sexual immorality. However, in Deuteronomy 22 the universal punishment for all consensual sex outside of marriage is stoning to death for both parties. If these laws were followed, then divorce caused by sexual immorality would be unnecessary. The muddy waters around the topic of divorce have made it fertile ground for interpretation and debate. For example, in the Mishnah section of the Talmud, a book containing authoritative interpretation of the Law, one rabbi writes that divorce is permissable only for sexual immorality and another rabbi writes that divorce is permissable for something as trivial as burning supper. So for Jesus, there is no 100% right answer.

Jesus answers their question by reminding the religious leaders of God’s intent for marriage. It is to be a relationship where “two become one flesh” as they are united by God. The lifelong commitment is emphasized by Jesus as he says, “what God has joined together, let man not separate.” This is God’s intent for all marriages. In a perfect world every marriage would be ‘happy ever after.’ But we live in an imperfect world, often falling short of the glory of God. Human will has forever fought the will of God. As the ancient Israelites pressured Moses about really, really having to live out God’s intent for marriage, Moses permitted divorce. Jesus points out that it was “because your hearts were hard” that Moses refined the Law. The desires of mankind affected how God’s law was understood and then lived out. The hardening of hearts continues to affect how we as individuals, as communities of faith, and as a society in general live out God’s will for our lives.

Divorce or sexual immorality are far from the only arenas in which humanity says over and over, ‘God, do we really, really have to do this or live just that way?’ Our hard, selfish hearts often lead us to question the will and ways of God. In our passage Jesus is inviting his audience then and us today to better understand and live into the heart of God instead of into our fleshy hearts. God’s heart is a heart first guided by love, but is also backed up with mercy, grace, compassion, empathy, generosity, forgiveness, humility, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control… May our hearts be filled with these things of God, bringing God the praise and glory. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, Jesus boiled down the Law to two central commands – to love you with all that we are and to love neighbor as self. When we truly live these out, all else falls in line. May we not be people who split hairs over this and that. Instead may we love as generously and universally as you 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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All for One Lord

Reading: Mark 9: 38-41

Verses 39-40: “Do not stop him… for whoever is not against us is for us.”

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

If you were given the chance to describe Jesus in three words, which words would you choose? There are many words that could be used to describe Jesus. All of our lists might not be the same. My list and your list could change in a month, depending on what life has brought or on how faith has been active in our life.

Today my three words would be love, servant, and compassion. What would your three words be today?

Maybe a word or two is similar, maybe not. I was at a celebration of life service yesterday for a man who followed Jesus closely in all he said and did. The words I chose today reflect the image of a follower of Jesus that I saw in John these past twenty or so years. Yesterday I learned that his walk with Jesus was longer than that. As his children and grandchildren spoke it became clear that John walked with and shared Jesus a long time. What events or experiences in your life shape your expression of Jesus or the words you would choose to describe him?

In our passage today there is some conflict between the disciples and a man who was driving out demons but was not one of them. If I saw someone ministering to another, sharing the mercy of Jesus, would or should I stop them because mercy wasn’t on my list today? No! Just because our expressions of faith or the place we worship or the denomination we affiliate with isn’t exactly alike, it doesn’t limit our ability to share Jesus with others. We are all part of the body of Christ. We are all working towards the same end game. We are all called to bear fruit. In Christ may we all be for one another.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be an encourager of different expressions of faith. Jesus Christ speaks into individuals many different ways, drawing each into a personal relationship. In all I say and do may this remain the ultimate purpose: bringing others to Christ. Amen.


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Prayer Power

Reading: James 5: 13-16

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

As James closes his letter of action and encouragement to be “doers of the word” he turns to the practices of prayer and praise. In verse thirteen we are encouraged to pray when we are in trouble and to sing songs of praise when we are happy. Practicing our faith should simply be a regular and consistent aspect of all parts of our lives.

In the next verse James calls for the sick to seek out prayer and anointing from the elders of the church. The practices of coming together to pray, to lay hands on someone, to anoint them with healing oil – these are holy and sacred moments. Jesus promised, “where two or more are gathered in my name…” In these moments the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ becomes present to and with us when we gather to pray, adding those prayers and that presence to ours.

James tells us that the sick will be saved and the sinners forgiven when we gather together and offer these communal prayers to God. These powerful moments of prayer are fueled by the Holy Spirit’s presence, yes, but they also require something of us. We first need to be willing to be vulnerable and transparent with one another. To confess our sins to one another or to lay out our need for healing requires trust and humility, grace and empathy. To be willing to enter into these prayer spaces is sometimes challenging and difficult. Therefore it is important for the elders of the church to model these prayer practices themselves, asking for prayer and then humbly bowing head and heart before the throne of God as others surround and cover them in prayer.

Today’s portion of James 5 closes with these words: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.” Our prayers are powerful and effective. They can change lives and bring transformation to brokenness, healing to pain, and comfort to the grieving. May we be known as people of prayer. Through our actions and practices may the world see the power of prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, open our eyes and hearts to the power of prayer. All things are possible for the God who desires good things for those who love and believe in the Lord. Help my prayers to reflect this truth. 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.


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Servant to All

Reading: Mark 9: 30-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Photo credit: K. Mitch Hodge

As we delve into Mark 9 today we look at one of the conflicts within all of us. On the one hand we want to be the best. We want recognition, titles, position, power. On the other hand Jesus calls us to be “servant of all.”

The disciples are not much different than we are. Walking along to road they argued about who was the greatest disciple. As kids we argued about who was the best player on the team and about who was smartest at math. As teens we argue about who is the coolest or about who has the best car, clothes… As adults we vie for promotions and titles. We try and demonstrate our success by the homes we live in, by the cars we drive… In our own ways we desire greatness, just like the disciples did.

Jesus knows what they were arguing about. He begins to counter this desire by saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The radical, counter-cultural Jesus suggests another way. This “servant of all” approach is modeled by Jesus. This call to humble service is a call to always be humble, in all circumstances and with all people. It’d be easy to be humble standing on a basketball court with Michael Jordan. It’d be much harder to do so when staring at a kid who can’t tie his shoe, much less dribble a ball. In this illustration we’d love to find something, anything, that we could do for Jordan. Humility calls us to be equally if not more willing with the awkward kid. For Jesus, all meant all.

To serve all others is not always easy. To illustrate the depth of this call, Jesus gathers a child in his arms. He challenges the disciples to welcome children as he does. Jesus takes one who is an afterthought in most places in that society and elevates them to a place of full belonging and equality. The child represents the one with great needs who cannot care for themselves. More than just children would meet this description. To care for the least and the last always requires humility wrapped in a servant’s heart. Following Jesus’ example may we too strive to serve all.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see and love as Jesus did. Help me to see, care for, and treat all people, regardless of who or what they are, as ones to love. Grant me both a humble heart and hands and feet willing to serve. Amen.