pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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To What Extent? How Far?

Reading: Romans 9: 1-5

Verse 2: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”.

Have you ever been in a situation where you wished you could take someone’s place? Or have you ever been in a situation where you’d give anything to change the final outcome? Maybe someone you love lost a child and you’d take that child’s place in a heartbeat if you could. Perhaps things could have been done or said differently and that person wouldn’t be estranged from the family. I’d guess that almost all of us have been in these situations or have heard stories of others who were in these or similar situations.

Paul is right there with us. In verse two we read, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”. You can feel his pain. Paul grew up in a Jewish home and became a Pharisee, a scholar of the Jewish faith. Paul knows what all of “my own race” know – the covenants and prophecies, the law and temple worship. They have the faith that has been longing for the Messiah. They know the stories and scriptures that point to Jesus as the Messiah. But they will not recognize him as the Savior, as the one, as the Messiah. To one who does accept Jesus as Lord, it is hard for Paul to understand how the Jews do not. Paul believes in Jesus Christ so strongly that he is willing the be cursed to hell, to trade away his salvation for the sake of the Jews believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul is willing to take the place of that child. Paul is willing to do anything to change their unbelief.

Paul’s willingness should be our willingness. Like the men with the treasure in the field or the pearl of great worth from last week’s Matthew 13 passage, we should be willing to give up anything or to do anything to see another come to Christ as Lord and Savior. As we ourselves ponder those we know and perhaps love who are living outside of a relationship with Jesus, to what extent are we willing to go so that they may be saved? How far?

Prayer: Lord, we know that at times the cost of faith might be high. The question I wrestle with is how far am I willing to go to bring another to Jesus Christ. Work within me to expand the range of what my answer truly is. Ever push the boundary, Lord. Thank you Jesus. Amen.


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A Big Love

Reading: John 13: 1-7 and 31-35

Verse 34: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.

Jesus has spent three years in ministry with the twelve men gathered around the table. They have been witnesses to God’s love being lived out. At times they have certainly been recipients of that love. For the disciples that has most often come in the form of teaching and sometimes in gentle redirection. They have seen Jesus love as he heals, teaches, and welcomes the outsider and the marginalized. This night, Jesus’ demonstration of love is drenched in humility. As they gather and settle in for the Passover meal, Jesus strips down and washes the disciples’ feet – all twelve. He washes the feet of the betrayer. Judas is included. Of course he is – Jesus is love.

This example of love is unique. Jesus did not have to take on the role of lowly servant washing dirty feet. But he did. It was an object lesson for the disciples. It is one for us as well – especially the way Judas was included. In this we see that love is not conditional. Just as it would have been easier for Jesus to stoop and was the feet of just the disciples who would serve him until their deaths, we too find it much easier to love and serve those we love and are in good standing with. But that is not Jesus’ model. That is not Jesus’ kind of love. His command is: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Jesus loved the faithful and the betrayer, the seekers and the doubters, the followers and the Pharisees, the women at the foot of the cross and the ones who put him on it. In his words and actions, Jesus says, ‘I loved them all’. As he speaks into our hearts each day, he says, ‘Go and do likewise’. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving Lord, you give a tall order: love as you loved. That is a big love. Open wide my human heart to be more like your divine heart. Shape and form and stretch it to become just like your heart – loving one and all unconditionally. May it be so in me. Amen.


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Free to Love

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 13-15

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”.

Paul speaks a lot of freedom. While it is true that in Christ we find much freedom, it is a freedom that is bound by love. We are free to live a full and wonderful life, but Paul is clear that there are lines that we are not to cross. In Paul’s way of thinking, we are free to love others. Paul describes the love we are to have for one another as “becoming slaves to one another”. That means we place the needs of others far ahead of our own needs.

In verse 14 Paul makes an important statement. He writes, “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”. This is a big and bold statement. As Saul, he would have never made this statement. The law and keeping every letter of the law was very important to the former Pharisee. For most Jews, the law was a key focus and was the underpinning of life. Paul has come to understand what Jesus meant when he talked about love. It was a complete and sacrificial love that gave all for the other.

When we are willing to live out this sacrificial love for the other, we are building up or pouring into the other. Instead of giving ourselves away and emptying ourselves, we find that we too are filled up and we feel more freedom to love others. As we give ourselves away, we gain more and more. Our freedom in Christ abounds!

Prayer: God, grant me the opportunity to pour into another today. As I do so, thank you for your giving love that overflows my heart. Amen.


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The Flock

Reading: Luke 15: 1-7

Today’s passage begins with Jesus acting in a countercultural way.  He is associating and dining with those who would not be welcome at the Pharisees’ tables and who the Pharisees see as outcasts.  Who could you bring to the family dinner table or to sit beside you in your pew at church that would make others uneasy or would make them frown or tisk-tisk you?

Instead of arguing with the religious leaders, Jesus tells a story that all there could relate to.  Being a shepherd was a very common job.  Although it was a job at the bottom of the scale, all would be familiar with this occupation.  Each gathered there would understand that all the sheep in the flock were of worth and value.  So when one sheep goes missing, of course the shepherd goes and looks for it.  Naturally, the shepherd is happy when the sheep is found.  Although just a story, probably all there were happy for the shepherd too.

Now that Jesus has all in the audience to this common point of understanding, He adds an analogy.  He says that in the same way God rejoices when one lost sinner repents and is returned to the fold.  I think the Pharisees would agree with this concept as well.  If a fellow Pharisee sinned, God would rejoice when they made the requisite sacrifice, became ceremonially clean again, and returned to the group.  Their ‘flock’ is the circle of people who are just like them.

If you walked into church tomorrow with someone who had not attended in a while, the flock would rejoice and say, “Welcome back!” to the lost sheep.  While someone returning to church is a good thing, I think Jesus is making another point.  Jesus’ understanding of “flock” is much bigger than ours or the Pharisees’.  By ‘sinner’ Jesus means all people who sin, not just church members who sin.  Jesus’ vision of flock is ALL people.  Red and yellow, black and white, sinner and saved, believer and non-believer… all are precious in His sight.  Who is outside your circle that you need to bring in?


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Unwanted Guest

Reading: Luke 7:36 – 8:3

The woman in today’s story is a bit of an unwanted guest.  She is well-known as a sinner, as one who is unclean.  Sins against God were also seen as social sins, so she is one who would have been shunned by any good Jew.  It is curious that she was even allowed in the house.

The Pharisee in the story is officially the host.  He has invited Jesus into his home for a meal.  However, as the story reveals, he is apparently not a very good host.  It was customary to do certain things to welcome a guest.  Most basic was the washing of the feet.  In the dry and dusty climate the cleansing of the feet was a needed and refreshing act of service.  It symbolized the acceptance of the guest.  By not washing Jesus’ feet, the Pharisee left a barrier up between them.

The woman must have sensed something powerful in Jesus’ presence.  She stood silently behind Him and began to weep.  Grace and love must have been working on her heart.  As she cried, her tears wet Jesus’ feet.  Sensing Jesus’ welcome of her presence, she knelt and began wiping His wet feet with her hair, taking on the physical grime and dirt as she cleaned His feet.  In a final act of loving service, she anointed His feet with perfume.  The sin that so encompassed her life must have been falling away too.  His love was overcoming much.

As the Pharisee is mentally recoiling at this obvious sinner touching Jesus, Jesus confronts him.  He uses a simple story on debt forgiveness to illustrate why the woman cries so – she is joyful over the love and grace and mercy that Jesus is giving her.  God’s love is not limited to the saved, but is offered most generously to the sinner, the one most in need.  Much joy comes when one repents, turns from sin, and knows forgiveness.  Through extravagant love given and received, this woman was made whole again and new in Christ.  In our encounters with the lost, with the sinners, and with the unwanted guests, may we too offer the extravagant love of Jesus Christ.


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God Is Better

Our culture has become adept at bending the truth.  We are good at telling people what we think they want to hear and at ‘working’ statistics to support our viewpoint.  It is easy to say this is who we are and then to go act in a different manner.  Larger society has become very gray.

It was no different in Jesus’ day.  The Pharisees came out to see Jesus and wanted to challenge Jesus and the disciples because they were eating with ‘unclean’ hands.  They had not undergone the ceremonial cleansing of their hands before they ate.  The word ‘ceremonial’ is a tip-off.  In the opening line of His response, Jesus calls them hypocrites and quotes from Isaiah about their lip service and fascination with the rules.  We hear “smack, smack, smack” but the Pharisees were wondering who Jesus was talking about.

Jesus goes on to teach that it is not what we put into ourselves that makes us unclean but it what comes from our thoughts and words that make us unclean.  We sin and become unclean when we have evil thoughts, when we utter lies and unkind words, when we engage in immoral behavior, and when we allow envy, greed, jealousy, and malice into our hearts.  When we work to be holy and to live a righteous life and to keep evil far away, then we are right with God and we are ‘clean’.

People today are pretty good at wading through the smoke screens and half-truths served up so commonly today.  And we must make no mistake about it – God is pretty good at it too.  We cannot fool God.  When we come before Him with sin in our lives – and sinful we are – we must confess, repent, and seek His strength for the battle.  In His great love we find mercy and grace.  He refines us and gives us strength.  Allow Him in, lean on Him a little more, hear His voice, and go forth in Christ, seeking a closer walk with God.

Scripture reference: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, and 21-23