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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Rewards and Persecutions

Reading: Mark 10: 27-31

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

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

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

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

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

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


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Rooted in Love

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Verses 17-18: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love… grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”.

Photo credit: Emma Gossett

Chapter 3 of Ephesians opens with Paul declaring himself a “prisoner” of Jesus Christ for the sake of the Gentiles. Those he once saw as so far outside of God’s love have been brought near. Paul is now the primary missionary to the Gentiles. What an amazing turnaround! Our passage today is a prayer for the Ephesians. It begins with Paul on his knees.

Ephesus was a city much like the cities and towns that we live in. The culture of Paul’s day valued wealth and status and power. Life was centered around getting more and more. The world in which these early believers lived and the audience with whom they were sharing the good news was not much different from our own contexts. Paul first prays for the Holy Spirit’s power to fill them and to strengthen their inner being. Paul asks God to make them sure of who they are in Christ Jesus.

Paul then prays, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love… grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”. Perhaps thinking of the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8, Paul prays for deep roots of faith. When trouble or persecution or the cares of the world rise up, Paul prays that they will remain rooted in the love of Jesus Christ. He prays for them to understand the vastness and limitless nature of God’s love. Knowing this, they will be filled with the “measure of the all the fullness of God”. They will be filled with his love. Being filled, they will then overflow into the world. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of love, fill me, fill me, fill me. Pour out your love upon me. Fill me so full that your love washes away all that keeps me from being fully yours. Amen.


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When I Am Weak

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 12: 2-10

Verse 9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As our passage today begins, Paul speaks of himself in the third person. He tells of a “man” who has a grand vision of heaven. There he witnessed “inexpressible things”. Paul could choose to tell all about this vision but he refrains. He does not want others to “think more of me” than they should. Paul’s language here reminds me of those ‘just asking for a friend’ questions we give or receive once in a while.

In our time many are drawn to leaders with awesome resumes, excellent credentials, and/or with amazing charisma and leadership skills. It was not any different in Paul’s day. There is never a shortage of people that want to lead or that think they are just the best leader ever. Both are in great supply. Paul could have boasted of his encounter with the risen Lord or of his vision of heaven. Instead he admits his weakness and his brokenness. He chooses the path of humility. Paul shares that he has a “thorn” in his flesh. It torments him and he has begged God to take it away. God will not. The Lord instead tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. The Lord allows the thorn to stay to remind Paul again and again that he’s not perfect, that he’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread. Paul can think back to his Pharisee days and say, ‘I once knew a guy like that…’

Paul was found by Christ and has matured in his faith. He now knows that when he is weak, Christ is strong. When insult or persecution or hardship comes, Paul now relies even more on Jesus Christ. It is then that Paul finds strength. It is then that we are strong too – when we rely on and trust in Christ. In humble faith may we ever turn to the only one who can save: Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, in Paul I see Jesus’ humble servant’s attitude. When I look within, may my life and leadership reflect this same grace and humility. Remind me of my flaws and weaknesses when I think too much of self. Thank you God. Amen.


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Attentive

Reading: Psalm 130: 1-2

Verse 2: “Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

The Psalm for today begins at a place of need, a place of hurting – “out of the depths”. This is a place that we’ve all prayer from. Whether death or illness or persecution or unwanted change or… we have felt alone and called out in desperation, “Lord, hear my voice”. And then we’ve longed for a response. At times it’s been immediate. God’s presence becomes tangible, the doorbell rings and God has sent someone heading our way, a song comes on the radio. At times we wait a bit. We do not feel abandoned yet we do not have an answer right then. So we keep on praying and then God answers one day – in a text or note or call, in a verse or devotional that we read, in something we hear at church. Most often in these moments we realize that God has been there all along. We just needed eyes to see or ears to hear.

Some of the time, though, it seems to become an extended period feeling alone, isolated, without love or support. We pray along the lines of the psalmist, crying out, “Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications”. Long enough, O God! Hear the words of my prayer, the need of my heart! We think, if you’ll but hear you’ll listen, you’ll respond God, you’ll be attentive to what I want or think I need. In these moments it is hard to trust, to wait on God. Just as God is faithful, so too must we be faithful. We must be diligent in our prayers, faithful in our daily walk with the Lord, attentive to our place within the relationship. In his time, God will respond, he will attend to our prayers. The Lord will not pass us by. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, in my moments of desperation first lift up me trust in you. Remind me of your faithfulness that has come again and again so that I too may be faithful. I trust in you alone. Amen.


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Our Refuge and Stronghold

Reading: Psalm 9: 9-20

Verse 9: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”.

In today’s Psalm there is a deep sense of trust in God’s power and might. The Psalm begins with David praising God “with all my heart”, rejoicing in the downfall of the enemy, celebrating God’s righteousness and justice. As we begin today in verse nine David writes, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”. A refuge is a place of protection, a place of safety. It is a place where one finds peace and respite. One feels secure in a stronghold. One is able to regroup, to catch one’s breath, to ready oneself to reengage.

The danger of a literal refuge or stronghold is that we can want to simply stay there, to remain disconnected or distanced from the oppression or trouble. In the New Testament Jesus told us that we would face trial and abuse and oppression and hatred. A solid walk of faith comes with a cost, a price to pay at times. Amidst the persecution that David is facing he cries out to God, asking, “Have mercy and lift me up”. He turns to God, trusting in God’s power, leaning into his presence, declaring “the Lord is known by his justice”. When we are faithful, when we are walking out our faith in alignment with God’s will and ways, then we too can lean into God in times of oppression and trouble, trusting in our refuge and stronghold to lead us through. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever present, always hearing the prayers of those who trust in you. In those times of trial or trouble, remind me again and again that you are ever my strength and my shield. Your love always surrounds me. Thank you and amen!


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What an Advocate!

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”.

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

In two days many churches will celebrate Pentecost. This day recalls the moment that God’s Spirit filled the first believers. In our passage today Paul unpacks some of what the Spirit does with and for those who believe.

Paul begins by describing our longing to be forever with God. He is speaking of that inherent longing in all of humanity. In the opening verse Paul describes this as all of creation groaning as we “wait eagerly for our adoption… for the redemption of our bodies”. For Paul, this is the ultimate hope we find in our faith – to one day be redeemed fully, to be transformed into our heavenly and forever form. Living in difficult times, often facing persecution and hardship, even death, Paul and his fellow Christians often had to hold onto this hope found in Jesus Christ. At times, in our deepest valleys, we too hold onto the hope of eternal life.

In verse 26 Paul writes, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In the same way that the Spirit raises up hope in our hearts, the Holy Spirit also strengthens and encourages us. Paul also describes how the Spirit goes a step further. When we are so weak (or ill or lonely or sorrowful or upset or…) that we cannot even put our prayer into words, then “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”. When we cannot even form the words, the Holy Spirit prays for us. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts takes over and takes our pleas to God on our behalf. In the moments when we are simply overwhelmed, the Spirit speaks to God for us. When we are as weak as weak can be, the Spirit “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. To me, it doesn’t get any better than that. The Spirit prays for you and me in alignment with God’s perfect plans for our lives. What an advocate we have! Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for loving me so much that you chose to send your Spirit to dwell in me. Thank you for being willing to know and abide in imperfect and sinful me. That is a deep, deep love. Thank you. Amen.


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In the World

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verses 16-17: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth”.

Our passage today is a prayer that Jesus prays over his disciples. As one reads the prayer, Jesus’ love for his disciples pours out of his words. There is also a clear sense of the connection to God and of a disconnect from the world. Jesus understands that the disciples are set apart from the world and that this status will cause hardship and persecution.

Jesus has taught the disciples the words that came to him from God and they have accepted these words. They believe Jesus is the Savior and have anchored their relationship in God’s love lived out. They have been transformed. They are now not of the world but are of God – “they are yours”. Jesus prays for this connection and the unity that it brings to continue. In verse eleven he prays, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”. The transformation from being “of God” instead of “of the world” is made clearer in verse fourteen: “They are not of the world any more than I am of the world”. The disciples citizenship is with God eternal.

Yet the disciples remain in the world. Jesus knows the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead so he prays for God to protect the disciples from the “evil one” – the prince of darkness, the ruler of the world’s passions and desires. Jesus asks God to “sanctify” the disciples – to make them holy, to fill them with his light and love. The darkness cannot overcome the light; hatred will never triumph over love. Standing on God’s truths and in his love, all the powers of evil will not prevail against the faithful. Jesus knows these truths, these promises. These remain today. As you and I are sent out into the world, this prayer and these truths cover us. Living in but not of the world, we too belong to God. May we step forth boldly in these promises today!

Prayer: Lord God, you hem me in, you go before me, you are my rear guard. Your abiding presence gives me peace and your unending love builds up my courage. Send me out, use me today. Amen.


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Be the Church

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 3-9

Verse 9: “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”.

Paul opens his first letter to the church in Corinth by calling them saints – those “sanctified” and “holy”. As we begin our passage today, Paul extends “grace and peace” from God and from Jesus Christ. Paul gives thanks to God for the grace given the church through Jesus Christ. It is grace that empowers believers to live in a world that brings persecution and offers temptations. Grace also gives believers the ability to love others as they are – without judgment and without barriers. It was grace that led Jesus to pay the price for all sins as he went to the cross. It is grace that welcomes us as sinners into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul also names the way that the Corinthian church has been “enriched in every way”. This is also part of what allows them to bear such a strong witness in the world. Paul identifies the source of their strength and power: “you do not lack any spiritual gift”. They have been blessed by the Holy Spirit with a multitude of gifts and talents. In this way they are like all other churches. Collectively they have all the gifts and talents necessary to be the body of Christ in the world. The same is true of your church and of my church. As the church strives to live out its mission to make disciples, the Holy Spirit uses these gifts and talents to build up the kingdom of God here on earth as we await the revelation of Jesus’ return.

When we, the church, use our gifts and talents we are also strengthening one another. When we give of ourselves, we build up and encourage one another, playing our role in the effort to “keep strong to the end”. In our current season it may be more challenging to be the body of Christ. We may need to find innovative and creative ways to safely care for and love our neighbors. We may need to try new and socially distanced ways to be in fellowship with one another. As has always been the case, we will find Spirit led ways to be the church to one another and to the world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God will see us through these current challenges because, above all, God is faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, in this season ministry has been challenging. It feels like we are frequently shifting and adjusting. Thank you for the guidance and direction as we work to find ways to minister to others. Please continue to lead and guide us as we seek to be your love lived out. Amen.


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When You See…

Reading: Mark 13: 24-29

Verse 29: “When you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door”.

In Mark 13, verses 1-23, Jesus forewarns the disciples about the difficult times ahead. The temple will be destroyed; wars and natural disasters will come. There will be persecution and many false teachers. Families will be split over the faith and “the abomination that causes desolation” will come. The false Christ will use miracles to deceive many. Jesus warns his disciples to be on guard. As bad as it sounds in these opening verses, though, it gets worse in our passage for today. For generations we have looked at the world and the horrible events happening around us and have wondered if this is the time.

Beginning today in verse 24, things get catastrophic. The sun and moon will go dark and the stars will fall from the sky. All natural light will be gone. The earth will be as dark as it has been since the day God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The evil, the dread, the fear will be at their climax. Then the heavens will shake – Christ is breaking forth in power and might. Those alive will look up and see Christ coming on the clouds in “great power and glory“. He will send out his angels to gather all believers “from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens”. What a great cloud of witness that will be!

Then Jesus pauses and draws their attention to the fig tree. It too gives signs concerning the times. Even this little tree is a part of God’s grand plan. Year after year the branches get tender as the leaves form and come out. This is a sign that summer is near. It is simply how God designed the tree. Jesus then parallels this thought to the end times – they too will occur and unfold just as God designed them. In verse 29 Jesus says, “When you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door”. At just the right time, God will send Jesus into the world. At just the right time, he will come again. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, we do not know the exact timing, but we know the signs. They will be unmistakable – darkness and evil will be at their greatest. These days will pale in comparison. As I wait, keep my eyes open, Lord. As I wait, keep my faith strong. Amen.