pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Two Actions

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Continuing on from yesterday’s passage, Jesus gathers his disciples and the crowd to explain the cost of following. Having just explained the price that he will pay, Jesus details what will be expected of those who choose to follow him as Lord and Savior. The words that Jesus speaks are powerful and challenging. His words will become even more so as the disciples reflect on the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.

Jesus identifies two actions one must take to “come after” or to “follow” him. The first is to “deny self”. This is what Jesus lived out his whole ministry. He placed the needs and wants of God first, closely followed by the needs and wants of others. Self was a very distant third. If we were to follow Jesus today, what would this look like? It would begin with listening to the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God in our lives. The second step would be to respond to the guidance and direction of said Spirit as we respond to the needs of those we meet day by day. Jesus saw the other, the lonely, the hurting, the hungry… and ministered them as he encountered them. May we too have ears to hear and eyes to see.

The second action is to “take up” our cross. The cross represents the way of Jesus. For Jesus it was ultimately walking the path to suffering and death for the sake of others – for you and me. Along the way Jesus often took up the cross for others. He took up the cause of the marginalized and the sinners and the outcasts and declared them worthy of his time and of the kingdom of God. Each of these encounters against the powers of the world came with a price too. The way of Jesus calls us to sacrifice as well. Jesus calls us away from the things of this world by reminding us that the cost of trying to “gain the whole world” is to “forfeit” our soul. In contrast, following Jesus will save our soul. Giving up our selfish desires and leanings and focusing on Jesus’ example of sacrificial service will lead us to bless others as we live out the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ. May it be so as we seek to bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, tune me in to the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to not only hear but to respond, offering all I can to those I meet in the world around me. Empower me to shine your light in all I do and say. Amen.


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May They Know

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12 (and 13-14)

Verse 9: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”.

Continuing from yesterday we see that Elisha and Elijah have at last arrived at the Jordan River. This is a place of transitions – it is where Joshua took on leadership from Moses as the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. Joshua struck the water with Moses’ staff and they crossed over on dry land. Elijah takes his cloak and strikes the water – Elijah and Elisha cross over on dry land.

Elijah knows the time has come. He asks Elisha what he can do for him before he is taken from him. Elisha responds, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”. He wants to continue the work of his master and to do so to an even greater degree. Elisha wants to be twice as connected to God. Elijah understands the request and the enormity of the request. He tells Elisha that it will be so if he sees him being taken away. After the chariots of fire whisk Elijah away to heaven, Elisha tears his clothes in grief.

In verses thirteen and fourteen we see that the cloak has been left behind for Elisha, just as the staff was given to Joshua. Asking, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah”? he strikes the Jordan with the cloak and crosses over on dry land. Clearly God is now with Elisha. The mantle has been passed. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Elisha.

At the close of Jesus’ ministry he too passed the mantle on to his disciples. To each of his disciples Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this way, Jesus passed on the mantle – the task of being God’s love lived out in the world. Joshua would go on to lead as Moses had led, Elisha would go on to prophecy as Elijah had. In the same way, as disciples we are to go on as Jesus taught us to. Led by the Spirit we are to continue in his footsteps, offering sacrificial service, radical welcome, unconditional love, undeserved grace… Just as Jesus stood out from the religious and political leaders of his day, we too are to stand out.

The fifty prophets stood at a distance watching. As Elisha struck the Jordan and crossed over on dry land, they knew a prophet was in the land. As folks stand and watch us, may they know that Jesus is in the land. May they know.

Prayer: Lord God, pour out your Spirit. May it be evident in me. As others see me, watch me, hear me, spend time with me, may they sense the presence of Jesus within me. May this presence lead to questions, to conversation, and to the sharing of faith. Amen.


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Sincere, Devoted, Selfless

Reading: Romans 12: 9-21

Verse 10: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves”.

The section for today is titled “Love” in my Bible. If I had to choose just one word to describe or define God or Jesus, love would be the word. Love guides all that the divine does and says. In today’s passage, Paul encourages us to live the same way.

“Love” is a word that has many applications and even more degrees at the human level. Love, like most words, can be tossed around and can be easily manipulated. It can be twisted for our own purposes. These types of uses fall under the “hate what is evil” part of verse nine. Paul begins today by slicing through all of this by writing “love must be sincere”. Other translations use pure or genuine. It is a calling to love as God and as Jesus love. As Paul urges us to “cling to what is good”, I am reminded of the WWJD slogan. Well, Jesus would love.

In verse ten Paul writes, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves”. The first part of this verse mainly covers agape or brotherly love but the same ideas are essential with all forms of love. Being devoted means commitment and investment in the relationship. It means always honoring and respecting the other person. This approach naturally leads into the second part of this verse. Genuine or sincere love makes the intentional and purposeful choice to place the other person’s needs and wants ahead of our own. This is a call to selfless love. Often it is a sacrificial love. Here too we are reminded of the love that Jesus Christ modeled throughout his ministry and especially on the cross. There he put the needs of the entire world before his own wants as he conceded “not my will but your will be done” to God in the garden.

As we consider what sincere, devoted, selfless love looks like today, may we be thankful for Christ and for others who have loved and who love us this way. And may we strive to love in this model ourselves. May it be so with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, to have such a love is admittedly not always easy. The easier path is selfish and inwardly focused. Open my heart to love as you love. Help me to deny self and to even die to those parts of myself. Mold me and shape me to love as you first loved me. Amen.


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Act of Worship: Living Sacrifice

Reading: Romans 12: 1-2

Verse 1: “I urge you… to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”.

In the book of Romans there is a doxology at the end of chapter eleven. It is Paul’s way of announcing an intentional shift in focus. Starting in chapter twelve Paul addresses how to live a life of faith. In chapter twelve, he begins with how to worship God. He is writing to the church in Rome. It is a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers, many of whom are Romans. In our opening verse, Paul urges them to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices”. The idea of sacrifice would be familiar to all. Jews and pagans alike practiced sacrifices as part of their worship. The idea of giving oneself in sacrifice, however, would be a foreign concept to all.

When Paul uses the term “living sacrifice” he is not referring to what all in the Roman church would initially think of – that cow or ram or dove that is alive when brought to the altar. Yes, it gives its life as the sacrifice. Paul is thinking along these lines, but with one significant change. The physical life of the believer is not taken. As such, a believer can give oneself over and over again in sacrificial worship and service to God. Being a “living sacrifice” does involve dying to self, yes, but it is also about finding new life through this act of worship.

As we continue into verse two, Paul encourages them to step away from the patterns of the world and to allow themselves to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds”. The process of giving of self sacrificially, when repeated over and over, does have a transforming affect. It changes us to be more and more like Jesus Christ. As we walk this road, we become increasingly a part of knowing and living out God’s will and ways. We live his “good, pleasing, and perfect will” out better and better day by day. As we seek to grow closer and closer to our Lord and Savior, may this be our spiritual act of worship.

Prayer: Living God, open my will to your will. Focus my eyes on what you see. Attune my heart to what makes yours sing. This day and every day, guide me to give all of myself so that I can fully experience your transforming power. May it be so. Amen!


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Strong and Powerful

Reading: Genesis 29: 15-28

Verse 18: “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel”.

After stealing Isaac’s blessing from his brother Esau, Jacob runs away to his mother’s family in Haran. His mother, Rebekah, had schemed to get the son she loved more the coveted birthright. Her love for Jacob led her to place him before his older brother Esau. Once Jacob safely arrives in Haran, he soon meets Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Laban says to Jacob, “You are my own flesh and blood”. All seems to be going well.

After staying with and working for Laban a month, Jacob is asked to name his wages. Being in love with Rachel, Jacob names his price: “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel”. He must love Rachel very much. The time flies by – “they seemed like only a few days” – and Jacob asks for her. After a big feast Laban sends Leah, the older sister, to lie with Jacob. In the light of morning he realizes he has been tricked. In that moment he must have known what Isaac and Esau felt when they found out what Jacob and Rebekah did to them. Just as Rebekah’s love for Jacob led her to do what she thought she had to do, so too does Laban’s love lead him to do for Leah, his oldest daughter. To Jacob’s protest, Laban replies that it is custom to marry off the oldest daughter first. He grants Rachel to Jacob too, in exchange for seven more years of labor. Jacob willingly agrees.

Love is a strong and powerful emotion. We have all done things for love too. And we’ve all had people look at us and question our decision. That is the path of sacrificial love too. It is a love that leads one to place the other before one’s own needs… It is the kind of love Jesus practiced and calls for from his followers. May we seek to love well today.

Prayer: Living God, your call is to do anything in the name of your great love. Give me a servant’s heart today. Make my love pure and generous. Guide me to be love in the world. Amen.


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For All

Reading: Romans 8: 6-8

Verse 8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

As the second half of our Romans reading opens, we are reminded again of how God is in control. We read, “at just the right time”. Not a moment too soon, not a few days too late. Perhaps it was when humanity needed saving the most. Maybe it was when things lined up just right from God’s perspective. Possibly it was a tipping point that none of us can see from this side of the veil. But at just the right time, “Christ died for the ungodly”. That is me and that is you and that it all people everywhere. Christ died for all.

The act of sacrificial death born out on the cross begs the question: Why? Paul answers the question in verse eight: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Why? Because God loved you and me and all of humanity so much that he was willing to send his son to die a painful death. Why? Because the price had to be paid for the sins of the world – mine, yours, all of ours. Why? Because resurrection can happen only after death. It is quite the demonstration of love.

If Christ was willing to die for us while we were still sinners, what should our response be to those we encounter that need healing or redemption or restoration or new life? Should we be willing to go as far as Jesus went to minister to those he met? If not death, then how far should we be willing to go to end injustice in all forms, to break bonds and addictions, to cross unspoken barriers, to offer forgiveness and grace? Should we even have a line?

When Jesus encountered someone in need, he did not have them fill out a questionnaire to determine if they qualified or fit certain parameters. He did not evaluate them to see if they were worth his time and energies. No, Jesus came for all and he loved all. We see this reflected in his death – he died for all. And before his final departure, Jesus instructed his followers to go and do likewise. Today, may we seek to model that same love – no conditions, no qualifications, no strings attached. May we simply love and serve all we meet today.

Prayer: Loving God, open my heart to your love, that in receiving I may give. Bind my will to your will and my ways to your ways. Empower me to love and serve others well today. Amen.


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Encouragement

Reading: 1st Corinthians 3: 1-9

Verse 9: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building”.

Today is Valentine’s day. The day is named after St. Valentine. I learned just today that he was famous for writing letters. Valentine wrote many letters of encouragement to be a positive light in other people’s lives. His letters came from the heart, from a place of love. The word “love” is found throughout the Bible. There are four Greek words all translated to “love” and each had its own original meaning. The version most often used in the Bible is “agape love”. Agape love is a pure, sacrificial love that places the other ahead of self.

In our passage today Paul calls the Corinthian church to this kind of love. They are quarreling over a secondary issue and this has led to division. He correctly identifies both himself and Apollos as “only servants” and points the people toward the only one that can make faith grow: God. Only God can make the seed that Paul planted and that Apollos watered have life and grow to become faith. In verse nine Paul writes, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building”. The church is the field or the building of God. Only by turning to God will the church grow.

We too are each God’s workers. We too have a role to play in one another’s faith. Today it would be fitting to encourage one another as we practice agape love. With a note, a phone call, a text, a personal post, take a moment to practice God’s agape love, encouraging another today.

Prayer: Holy God, thank you for the privilege of being a co-worker. Keep me looking to you as the only source of power. Give me words today to encourage others to follow you. Amen.


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A Great Love

Reading: Hosea 1:10

Verse 10: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”.

The people of Israel and Judah have separated and Israel has departed from God. God has decided to mercilessly send them into exile. The sins of idolatry are so great that a consequence is required. The people are no longer God’s people and God is not their God. At times we too get to a place that feels like this. Because of our sin we have created separation from God.

In today’s passage we find hope. God reveals through Hosea that Israel will be restored. The separation will not be forever. God begins by telling them that they will be as vast as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted. This image and these words echo the covenant that God made with Abraham. It speaks of a day when Israel will be a vast nation.

God also connects back to the reference to Jezreel. What had once been a place and event that was displeasing to God will now be where the restoration begins: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”. Once again Israel will live in covenant relationship with God. The relationship will come full circle. Israel will once again be God’s children and God will be their God.

At the start of the book of Hosea Israel was so far from God’s ways that a harsh consequence was necessary. Even though the sin was this great, God did not give up on them or forever abandon them. God did not stop loving his children. The message for us is the same.

Although our sin might be great, God will never stop loving us. It is that great love that gives us hope. It is a love that never fails. Therefore, whatever we might do, whatever we might become, there is still a God who loves us. There is still a God who wants to bring us back into right relationship. For us, for you and for me, God even went so far as to amend the sacrificial system. It cost God his son on the cross. Now, through Jesus’ blood, we can personally be restored and redeemed. It is a great love that never fails. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your love for me is amazing. No matter what I do, no matter how far I run, no matter what, your love always calls out to me, ever seeks to restore me, ever yearns to make me righteous again. Thank you for your love. Amen.


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Love Like Jesus

Reading: Luke 10: 25-28

Verse 25: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

An expert in the law comes to test Jesus and to justify himself. The lawyer wants to be right and to make Jesus look wrong. The man’s question is focused on something almost all people wrestle with: eternal life. In verse 25 he asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. Instead of giving an answer, Jesus draws the lawyer deeper into the heart of the issue. Jesus doesn’t want to just give an answer, he wants to be able to unpack the answer as well. Jesus asks the man what he thinks. The self-righteous, arrogant lawyer takes the bait and he has the right answer. In the culture of the day, a young Jewish child could easily come up with this answer.

The man’s answer is our answer as well. The first step towards inheriting eternal life is to love God completely. One must love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. Once filled with the love of God, one is led to step two. One is naturally led to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus would go on to amend this too. In John 13:34 we are directed to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Jesus’ standard for love is one that is complete and unconditional. When one invests time studying Jesus in the Gospels, one finds the example of selfless and sacrificial love. Jesus loved and ministered to every single person who came to him, from the lawyer in today’s passage to the prostitute to the widow to the tax collector to the hungry crowd to the lame, deaf, mute, leper… Not once did Jesus place his wants or needs ahead of another’s needs.

The lawyer’s question is personal and selfish: what must I do? He knows the two commands but is focused on self. The two commands do not involve the word “I”. Neither did Jesus’ understanding of loving God and loving neighbor. At times I can find myself asking the same selfish question as the lawyer. In those moments my concern for the other is minimal at best. My culture and my nature tends towards the selfish. The call, though, is to love God and to love neighbor. Daily the self must die so that I can love God and others unconditionally. As Jesus said, “Do this and you will live”. May it be so.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, your model of love is the one I strive for. Help me, through the power of your Holy Spirit, to love God and to love neighbor fully and without hesitation. Kill the fleshy man within me. Build up my love for God and for others. 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.