pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Pleading Earnestly

Reading: Mark 5: 21-24

Verse 22: “Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

Today we begin to enter into this week’s passage from Mark 5. Jesus returns to the Jewish side of the lake and is greeted by a large crowd. A man named Jairus is in the crowd. He is one of the leaders at the local synagogue. He has encountered Jesus before. Now he comes to speak with Jesus. In verse 22 we read, “Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him”. What causes us to fall at Jesus’ feet, to plead with Jesus?

For Jairus, his daughter is dying. That would cause any parent to plead earnestly. In the same situation we would pray and pray and pray. And then we would pray some more. We can assume that Jairus has tried everything else to save his daughter. Why else would a respected, well-known Jewish leader come to this Jesus? Jairus is desperate. Jesus is his last and only hope. At least a small part of him believes and hopes that Jesus can “put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live”.

When we get to this point – to the place of desperation – have we tried everything else but deep, intense prayer? Only then do we come to Jesus with belief and hope? Do we approach him, fall at his feet, and plead earnestly? Yes, at times our prayers do get ratcheted up to this level. Yet a faithful walk with Jesus is at its best at a steady, daily, regular pace. May this be the routine of our prayer life, building us up for those times of intimate, powerful, intense prayer. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, may my daily time with you be strengthening and encouraging each day. In steady faith, may I grow in you and in my trust in you. In those moments of great need, may I really lean into you, kneeling upon my rock and my hope. Amen.


Leave a comment

Set Aside

Reading: Psalm 4

Verse 1: “Answer me when I call to you… Be merciful to me and hear my prayer”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In Psalm 4 David cries out to God. He is direct and open and honest. He begins the Psalm pleading with God to answer when he calls, to hear his prayer, and to grant him mercy. There is a trust that David has in God. Over the course of his lifetime David has experienced God’s faithfulness and mercy, his grace and love. As we journey in faith with God, we experience this same building up of trust in God.

David is distressed by those in Israel who have turned from God. They are chasing after false gods. David calls them “delusions”. David could be writing these words today to the many people who chase after worldly things – power, acclaim, wealth, popularity. David asks, “How long”? How long will they chase after these delusions? None of these things last; none of them bring peace of heart and mind, none bring true joy or lasting contentment.

David reminds these lost souls, “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself”. This is not just for today or even for next year. It is forever. God wants all people to love him more than these earthly charms. Yet some do not recognize the Lord of life, the giver of peace. As children of God, we have been set apart. Yes, the things of this world still draw us in, still call out to us. But the power of the Holy Spirit is greater, God’s love for us is stronger. In faith may we remember God’s righteousness and mercy, being strengthened for each day. Being strengthened may we live as a child of God each day, set apart for his purposes. As such, may we be in the world but not of it.

Prayer: Father God, strengthen me for the battles ahead. Be they big or small, walk with me. Guide me thoughts, words, and actions. May self be set aside to bring you all the glory. Amen.


Leave a comment

“L” is for…

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

In today’s passage Jesus sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet. His words and what I imagine his tone to be evoke visions of Ezekiel or Isaiah. Jesus is once again speaking of heaven and hell. Passages like this naturally bring to our mind the question: am I in or am I out? Reading this passage I’ve often fallen into these ways of thinking. In my rule-following mind it was and sometimes still is hard not to feel some condemnation when I read this passage.

Jesus is clear in the overall message today. There is a right or faithful way to live with one another. Therefore, there is also a wrong way. The right way is to care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. The wrong way is to ignore them, to not care for them. In verse forty we read, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. In verse 45 we read the result of failing to care for such as these: “you did not do for me”.

Reading this passage we can tend to think: Am I a sheep or am I a goat? The judge living inside of us can easily start to scroll through our lives, weighing the evidence for and against. The ‘in or out?’ question can become a balance scale of sorts. But then I stop and ask: does this align with the Jesus we see in the Gospels? Can you really see Jesus judging you this way when you one day stand before him? This is not the Jesus revealed to me in the New Testament or along my faith journey.

Then what is the point of the teaching? We cannot simply toss it or skip by it because it makes us uncomfortable or because it causes us to wrestle with our faith and how we live it out. In a way this was the underlying point of all of Jesus’ teachings. These words were spoken by the one that always calls us deeper into relationship, deeper into loving God and one another. So what if this teaching is about a way to live, about a rule of life? Jesus was one who sought to connect to the least, the lost, the last, the lonely. What drove him to do so was another “L”: love. Yes, the ideal is to always care for others, in whatever form that may be.

I struggle less with this parable than I used to. Now I see it as the model that Jesus set. I still fail at times. I don’t always feed the hungry… I do not always visit the lonely… But I do strive to love each to the best of my ability and capacity – to the best of my faith. When I fail, the Holy Spirit always goes to work within me, leading and prompting me to love deeper the next time God presents an opportunity. I am a work in progress. I’d guess you are too. May the shepherd continue to lead you and me.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for a heart that yearns to love more each day. Guide and lead my heart to be more and more like yours. Amen.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Even There

Reading: Psalm 139: 7-10

Verse 10: “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”.

Even there. Even there God is with us. In the quiet of the sanctuary on a Tuesday morning, God is there. In the excitement of worship on a Sunday morning, God is there. In the prayer on the couch and in the prayer on the walk to work, God is there. As the baby releases its first cry and as the person draws their last breath, God is there. In the spaces where we seek God’s presence and in the times when we try and run as far away as we think possible, God is there.

There is nowhere we can go, no way we can flee fast enough to elude God’s presence. God is in the heavens and in the depths and everywhere in between. God is in the highs and lows of life, just as much as in the regular and ordinary. Even when the psalmist rises early and travels all day to reach the “far side of the sea”, even there God is present. No matter where our there is, we too can say as the psalmist did: “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”. Our God is present at all times in all places.

God, unlike us, is always steadfast and true, ever unchanging and unfailing. As with all things concerning God, it is so because God loves us. God is love so his constant presence is based on his great love for us, his dear children. God’s constant love is a no-matter-what love that says “I will be there and guide you, even there”.

As we experience this love over and over, we come to trust God more and more. Our faith grows. I would say “trust completely” but that is not our reality on this side of the veil. At times even the strongest faith can buckle. We are weak at moments and Satan is ever at work. Yet then and there – yes, even there – God is with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, as I look out the window, I sense your presence in the sun creeping up in the sky and in the gentle breeze moving the pine branches. You are always right there – when I think I need you most and when I want you the least. You love me that much. Thank you. Amen.


Leave a comment

Ears to Hear

Reading: Acts 2: 14-18

Verse 17: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”.

For the followers of Jesus Christ, the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was a game changer. After his death and resurrection Jesus appeared for forty days as he continued to teach. Those that had orchestrated Jesus’ death felt pretty good about the outcome. There were some rumors of resurrection and appearing again, but all seems quiet now. The followers themselves are in a wait and see mode. Ten days pass between the ascension and this day that they gather. Life and direction must feel very unsure for them all. And then the promised Holy Spirit comes powerfully and fills them all with the ability to speak God’s word to people from all around the world. By the time Peter finishes the sermon that we read part of today, almost 3,000 people will choose Jesus, showing that his Spirit is indeed alive and well.

Peter begins by quoting from the prophet Joel. Writing about 900 years before Jesus’ birth, Joel prophesies, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”. It is significant that the Holy Spirit goes out to all people. Traditionally only prophets chosen by God held the power to speak for God. In the course of the Old Testament, there are only 55 prophets. But in the passage from Joel that has been now fulfilled and is quoted by Peter, the Spirit falls on sons and daughters, on young and old, on men and women, and even on servants. All are enlisted in the work of God. The religious leaders of the day would have certainly chafed at this idea and at what happens in the place that the followers are gathered. A large part of why they crucified Jesus was because he threatened their power. They control access to God. And now all sorts of people are being empowered to serve God, sharing the wonders of God in this case.

Understanding that the Holy Spirit is given to all people opens the gates. It means that all have gifts to offer for the building of the kingdom of God. It also means that those outside of the traditional power structures of the church have Holy Spirit voice. It still means that young and old, powerful and powerless, rich and poor, longtime members and those new to the faith, slave and free, black and brown and yellow and tan and white – all have voice. The big question is this: how can we seek to hear from and include all people in our churches and in the larger family of God? May we listen well.

Prayer: Lord, open my ears to all people’s voices. Help me to not only hear the traditional power holders but those on the edges too, for all have gifts to offer. Give me ears to hear, O God. Amen.


Leave a comment

Walk in the Light

Reading: Isaiah 2: 1-5

Verse 5: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”.

Our passage begins with the words “in the last days”. Isaiah is looking beyond his current time and place. In those last days much will occur. The temple mount will be raised up and all nations will stream to it. The nations will come to worship the Lord. The Lord will teach “his ways” so that the people can walk “his paths”. The law will go out and the Lord will judge. There will be no war; swords and spears will become ploughs and pruning hooks. Oh what a day it will be! Israel longs for this day.

Do not miss the shift in verse five. All of the above are “will” things. It will be raised… he will teach… he will judge. Verse five is in the present tense: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”. Yes, those “will” images are wonderful things. But they are future things. They remain future things even in our age. Isaiah is speaking in verse five of the now. He is saying that today is the day to walk in the light of the Lord. Isaiah is calling them to faithful living in the present time. It is a difficult time in Isaiah’s nation of Israel. They have strayed from God and have been found wanting. Judgment is coming. Yet even in the midst of all that Isaiah calls the people to walk in the light of the Lord.

Is this not where we find ourselves as well? We have allowed our nation to stray from the Lord. We have been quiet bystanders to the slide down the slope. We have been party to our churches turning inwards. We have turned inward. Our light has been shuttered. Circling the wagons has become more important than flinging wide the doors so that all can come to the light of the Lord. The circle has been drawn in tighter. Within, our words have become swords and spears. Oh how the Lord of light must weep. Yes, this is much light Isaiah’s God who wept over Israel.

Thus, the call remains the same: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”. May we each allow the light to shine in the darkness, driving away any and all selfish love. In its place may the pure and selfless love of God flood in. May we be a light to all peoples. May God’s love reign!

Prayer: Lord God, make my love into your love. Help me to see as you see, to feel as you feel. Strip away the anger and malice, strip away the pride. Give me a clean heart, a heart to love all people, all of your children. Amen.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Building God’s Kingdom

Reading: Jeremiah 4: 22-28

Verse 22b: “They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good”.

These verses for today are downcast. God laments that Israel does not know God, that they are fools. God notes, “They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good”. The nation of Israel has become exactly the opposite of what God intended. God’s response? Lay all its towns to ruin. Verses 23-25 are reminiscent of the beginning of the Bible – formless and void, no light, quaking mountains. These verses also feel similar to the day that Jesus drew his last breath. Yet God was not without hope. God knew the larger plan that was at work.

In Jeremiah’s day he was not the only faithful person around. With a quick glance it might have looked like it. This is why, in verse 27, God says that the destruction will not be complete. Even in exile leaders and people will rise up to keep the nation connected to God and to their faith. The towns laying in ruins and the time living in a foreign land will be a hard time. But it will also be a refining time for the Israelites.

The exile will end and a faithful people will rebuild. The nation will grow and flourish. But then the leaders will lead the people astray and the Romans become the new Babylon. Israel keeps some faith but the poor are oppressed, sinners become less welcome, religion becomes more exclusive and somewhat legalistic. In essence Jesus will raze the same criticism that we read today in verse 22, calling the religious leaders “whitewashed tombs” and hypocrites (Matthew 23).

This time God’s response is not exile but sacrifice. After Jesus sets us an example of what God’s love looks like when lived out in practical, tangible ways, he goes to the cross and grave to establish a new covenant. After rising from the grave, Jesus also fulfills his promise, sending the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit lives and dwells in all who profess Jesus as Lord, a presence that helps us to walk as Jesus walked. As we do so, following Jesus, we help that remnant to grow as others come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior too. As we share our faith, we help in building God’s kingdom here on earth. In all we do and say and think today, may we bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, you have ever been at work leading us away from sin and back into right relationship with you. Continue to do so in my life. Show me today how to best be your light and love so that others can come to know you or can come closer to you today. Amen.