pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Markers of Success

Reading: Luke 16:19-31

Verse 19: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linens and lived in luxury every day.”

Photo credit: Falaq Lazuardi

Today we begin to look at a parable called “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” We will first focus on the rich man. We will turn to Lazarus and other aspects of the story later in the week. In the opening verse we read about the rich man. To dress in purple was a sign of wealth and power. To wear fine linens implied a life of leisure. Both of these are signs of success. Living in luxury every day was a sign of great wealth. The rich man has arrived. He has the life. That is how society would see him, right?

The standards haven’t changed much. Our culture looks at someone in fancy clothes, jetting here and there, living large as the epitome of success. In worldly terms, yes, they have achieved a certain status. For the rich man, this became his focus. Living for self became his goal. In the story it doesn’t sound like he gave Lazarus much thought. He does know his name. At some point he at least noticed the poor beggar lying outside his door. But Lazarus wasn’t worth much attention. Too busy enjoying and living life!

While I certainly don’t jet around or dress in fine linens, I do struggle at times to “see” those in need. I can get caught up in my version of success. By nature, I’m a doer, a checklist maker. These are my markers of success – getting things done, accomplishment, focus. I can get so busy chasing after these things that I can blow past the person in need that God has placed at my door. I can get frustrated when a person or circumstance is forced, rightly so, upon my organized and planned out life. What are your markers of success that can compete with loving the one that God places in your path?

Prayer: Lord God, when I get a bit too self-absorbed, bring me back down to the heart of love that lives inside of me. Gently nudge me, smack me upside the head – do what you need to do to remind me to love others as Jesus loves me. Lessen the self inside me so that others become my focus. All for your glory. Amen.


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Being a Disciple

Reading: Luke 14:25-27

Verse 26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate… his [or her] own life cannot be my disciple.”

When was the last time you tried to wheel and deal to get your way or to get something you wanted? When have you tried to negotiate for more time on a project or payment? When have you use a “little white lie” to sway someone or to avoid hardship or trial? When have you fully committed to something only to let it slide, and in short order to boot?! In this life we’ve all been guilty of at least some of these things. This tendency is part of what leads Jesus to speak the words in today’s passage.

In verses 26 Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father… mother… wife… children…” These are hard words to read. How can one be a Christian and hate those closest to him or her? That sounds so contradictory to almost all else that Jesus says. The list does not end here though. Jesus calls us to hate “his [or her] own life.” To me this call brings the first part of verse 26 into a clearer perspective.

To hate our own life is to hate the fleshy and sinful parts of ourselves. To hate the pride and ego, to hate the jealousy and envy, to hate lust and other evil desires – this is something I can understand. It is not easy, but I can get behind this call from Jesus. When I allow these and other sinful behaviors to rule in my life, then I am less than God created me to be. In a similar way, we can hate these parts of father, mother… Speaking the word of truth we can help one another to recognize and deal with these parts of us that lessen the image of God in all of us.

In verse 27 Jesus says, “And anyone who does not carry [her or] his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” To carry the cross of faith is not always easy. To follow in the footsteps and example of Jesus isn’t easy either. We must hate that parts of ourselves (and of those we love) if we are to carry and follow. This is the way that leads to true life. May we willingly and faithfully choose to carry our cross, following in the way, being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to keep you as #1 in my life – over self, over family, over all else. Lead and guide me to walk in your ways. Amen.


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Authentic and True

Reading: Colossians 3:5-11

Verses 9-10: “Since you have taken off your old self… and put on the new self…”

Continuing on in Colossians 3, Paul fleshes out the “old self” to “new self” transformation. He begins by giving us an overview of what actions we must die to in order to become new in Christ: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed.” Paul then gives us a list of emotions or emotional responses that we must also die to: “anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language.” Both of these lists are far from complete. Paul implores us, telling us that we “must rid ourselves” of all of these kinds of evil. To live in these ways is not to live in the way of Christ.

In verse 9 Paul begins by saying “Do not lie to each other.” He knows it is easy to look nice and shiny and good on the outside. That’s what he did for years. That’s what he was all about back in his Pharisee days. Today, with pretty minimal effort, one can look like a Christian. Until we have an affair… Until we join in the gossip during fellowship hour… Until we cheat on our taxes or business ethics… Until we slander our leaders… Until we lose our cool at work or with one of our children… If we’re honest though – if I am honest – the greater struggles are within my heart and head. I too easily slip into being judgmental and critical, into jealousy and pride. All inside the privacy of my heart and head. This is the self that we – that I – must die to daily.

On our own this is impossible. We do have hope. As he closes this part of the letter to the Colossians, Paul reminds us that when we are renewed in the knowledge of Jesus Christ there is no Greek or Jew, no… When we live an authentic and true Christian life we see one another as God sees each of us: beloved, worthy, forgiven. In this place, “Christ is all and is in all.” May we each work towards this beautiful vision for our world day by day, each beginning within our own heart and head.

Prayer: Lord God, sanctify me within. When the old self rises up or begins to surface, light up the Holy Spirit within me and burn away all that hinders the image of Christ in me. Guide me to live an authentic and true faith in all ways. Amen.


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New Reality, New Life

Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

Verses 1 and 2: “Set your hearts on things above… set your minds on things above.”

Paul begins Colossians 3 reminding us that we have been raised with Christ. This is obviously not a physical resurrection but a spiritual resurrection. When we become willing to die to self and the sin that self generates, then we are made into new creations, alive in Christ. Continuing on we see into the mind of Jews living about 2,000 years ago. They conceptualized heaven in the sky, hell beneath the earth’s surface, and the earth in the middle. At least mentally, this remains how many today “see” or understand this concept.

Continuing, Paul invites us to “set your hearts on things above… set your minds on things above.” Paul invites us to not hold fast to earthly things but instead to focus on heavenly things. Paul focuses next on the parts of us that connect most directly to Jesus Christ – our heart and our mind. Once we die to self and proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with Jesus’ living presence, making us new in Christ. The indwelling presence guides and leads us, filling both heart and mind with the things of God and of Jesus Christ, making us more and more like Christ.

Paul next speaks of a new reality: we are then “hidden” in Christ. This is not a worldly, physical reality. The body is still here and we can very much experience death and suffering and trial, much as the early Christians did. Paul is speaking again to a heavenly reality. This earthly life will cease, yes. But true life has already been won. It is found in Christ and is lived out daily here on earth. One day, when we transition to our eternal and true home, wherever it “is,” we will then experience the fullness of Christ’s glory. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making me new in Christ. Thank you for claiming me as one of your own and for living in my heart and mind. Day by day, new mercies by new mercies, draw me deeper and deeper into your love. Amen.


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Turn and Trust

Reading: Psalm 52

Verse 9: “In your name I will hope, for your name in good.”

Photo credit: Alex Woods

Psalm 52 begins with David questioning, maybe even judging, another man’s choices and decisions. In the day these were the thoughts and emotions of his heart, spoken aloud and put to music as a personal expression of his experience suffering at the hands of this selfish man. David also shared his belief that God will right these wrongs. In an odd way, it would be “normal” today to see verses 1-7 posted on Facebook or Twitter or… Read with the right tone, these words could be what we’d call a “rant.” That is, without verses 8-9. These verses express David’s trust and faith in God.

Consider the person described in verses 1-7. People we know or read about would fit these descriptors. Many in our world speak falsehoods with a deceitful tongue. Many choose self rather than God as their stronghold, trusting in wealth made at others’ expense. These folks were present in Amos’ day too. They were uprooted and “snatched from their tents” too. We may also be tempted to think these thoughts, to wish this fate for those who do evil and who seek to please and elevate self above all others. In our day we can be tempted to toss out a rant.

Instead, let us follow David’s example. Let us turn to God with our hurts and emotions. Let us trust in God’s unfailing love. Let us praise God for all that God has done in our lives. Let us live out what David expresses in verse 9: “In your name I will hope, for your name in good.” Yes! God is good. God is faithful. May we ever praise God’s holy name.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to let loose and spew words of hurt, remind me to turn first to you. You are a safe place to let out my emotions. Then draw me to trust in you, in your love, and in your goodness. Amen.


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Really That Simple

Reading: Galatians 5:1 and 13-21

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Paul begins our passage today with a word of encouragement: “Christ has set us free. Stand firm.” No longer living under the Law, Paul has found freedom in Christ. Yes, he still wrestles with sin, as we all do, but he has been freed from the guilt and shame. No longer remaining stuck there, Paul has been freed to follow Jesus Christ and to live captive to Christ. No longer hindered by that old “yoke of slavery” to the Law, Paul stands firm in his faith in Jesus Christ and invites us to join him.

The freedom Paul finds is not a “you can do anything you want” freedom but a freedom lived within the bounds of Christ’s words and example. Paul identifies the filter for determining this line in verse 14. Here he reminds us: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Is he speaking of the old Jewish Law or of the new law of Jesus Christ? Or is it both? I believe it is both. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5). He fulfilled it by being God’s love lived out in the world. Doing so, Jesus was led by God or the Spirit, as Paul refers to in verses 16-18. Led by the Spirit, Christ was not captive to the desires of the sinful nature. We too can claim this Holy Spirit power and the freedom it brings.

In verse 19-21 Paul gives quite the list of “acts of the sinful nature.” Even though quite the list, it is quite incomplete. That maybe being a given, the sins on Paul’s list and on any other list we can generate come down to following the single command given in verse 14. If we truly love our neighbor more than self, we will not sin against them or against God. It’s really that simple: love unconditionally and fully.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see with your eyes of love. This is where so many of my relationships and my interactions begin, with what I see. So let me see all as you see them, as a beloved child of God. Then lead me to love them – all of them – in a way that they come to better know your love. Amen.


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Humble Service, Faithful Love

Reading: Revelation 1: 5 and 7

Verse 7: “All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be!”

Returning to Revelation 1 today we focus on the “is to come” that we touched on yesterday. In verse 5 John refers to Jesus as “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus does have power over all of us. But just as you and I have the ability to fall to temptation and to choose to sin, so too do the kings and ruler of this world. Just because Jesus is Lord doesn’t mean that it always look like he’s 100% in charge.

It has been said in the scripture and by the world that those with power and authority should be held to higher standards. I believe it should be so. It was this way with Jesus. He modeled what he preached. No one has had more power or greater authority than Jesus. Yet he sought to be a humble servant, to love others above self. When we strive to live this model ourselves, we are are recognizing Jesus as Lord. That is the path we are called to walk. Is it possible for these two worlds to align today? Can those with power and authority lead with humility and love for the other? I believe so.

In verse 7 John writes of Jesus’ return – of the day when Jesus will “come with the clouds,” of the day when “every eye will see him.” No one will miss out on his return. All will know the time has come. John continues, writing, “All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be!” Note the “of the earth” part. Those who have chased after and used their power and authority for selfish ends – those will mourn. Those who have walked the path of humble service and faithful love – they will rejoice. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be faithful in my service to you and your coming kingdom. Use me in humble service and faithful love today. Amen.


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The Mind, The Attitude of Christ

Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

Verse 5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Our passage today opens with quite a challenge! Other translations challenge us to have the mind of Christ. What a life we’d live if we always practiced the attitude or mind of Jesus Christ.

In the passage Paul explains what it requires to meet this challenge: emptying self and then being a servant, being humble, and being obedient to God. I don’t know what’s harder – the emptying or the being. I do know that to truly be these things one must be willing to empty or die to self. This act of surrendering our will and way to God is the necessary first step to true servanthood and humility and obedience. We can be partly these things without surrender, but always in a lesser way because we will still keep self in mind.

In our world so much value is placed on possessions, titles, status, and so on. Living in this world, it is hard to let go of these things. That’s why faith is so counter-cultural. To serve others usually asks us to give away and to be generous with what God has blessed us with. To be humble is to relinquish place and to think more of the other, to see and live into our interconnectedness and interdependence. To be obedient is to listen to God’s voice – both in the scriptures and as spoken by the Holy Spirit. To listen implies that we hear and follow what is said.

To live in this radical, counter-cultural way is to exult the name of Jesus. When we die to self we take on the mind of Christ. When we live as humble servants, obedient to God, we practice the attitude of Christ. Doing so, we bow down to and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Doing so, we invite others to do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to kneel at your throne and to pour out self, surrendering to you. Prune away all within that holds be back; nurture and grow those parts that witness to your will and way. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Trust in God Alone

Reading: 1st Corinthians 10:1-13

Verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.”

As Paul works with the Corinthian church, trying to compel them to a more faithful witness, he tells them of the struggles of the Israelites in the desert. Being former Gentiles, they wouldn’t be terribly familiar with the exodus stories. But as we all know too well, the sins of idolatry and sexual immortality and the sins of grumbling against and testing God remain present even to this day. Even though the Israelites were all alone in the desert, God’s people found ways to sin. Even if we went off and lived as a hermit, we’d find ways to sin. Temptation and sin are ever present dangers. Paul reminds the Corinthians of this often. It is only when we are aware of our natural tendency to be drawn towards self and the lures of the flesh that are all around us that we begin to be on guard against such sin.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of all that was in favor of the Israelites remaining faithful: together they passed through the sea and were led by the cloud and by Moses. Together they ate the manna and quail and drank from the rock. And yet they sinned. The church in Corinth was all baptized into the one Christ and they were all indwelled by the same Holy Spirit. Yet they too sinned. To trust in our past or to rely on being a ‘Christian’ is not proof or guarantee against that we will be free of temptation or sin. Paul warns, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.” Faith is not about the past or the future. It is about the present. Just as Jesus called on God the moment that temptation presented itself when he was in the wilderness, so too must we call on God in our present temptation. Right then.

Paul concludes by reminding us that “God is faithful.” When we too choose faith, God will “provide a way out so that you can stand.” In our moment of great need, may we trust in God alone. God is faithful. God is mighty to save.

Prayer: Lord God, turn me always to you and not to my own understanding or will power. Alone I will continue to fail. With you may I stand. Amen.


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Stay the Course

Reading: Luke 13:31-35

Verse 32: “Go and tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.'”

Photo credit: Shane

In response to a warning from the Pharisees, Jesus tells them he is staying the course. Whether Herod really was looking to kill Jesus or if the Pharisees just wanted him out of town or if there was some other reason, Jesus remained focused on his mission. Jesus chooses to keep faithful to his calling, no matter what the cost.

We too are called to be faithful. We are called to love God and to love neighbor as we seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ so that lives and the world may be transformed. Voices all around and within us tell us to be selfish, to ignore the needs of others, to think it is someone else’s job to offer Christ to the world. We can even blame the victim when the fire gets a little too close to home for us to be comfortable. We can be good at circling the wagons, at clinging to the good old status quo.

With so much on the line – yes, Jesus knew he was going to be the another in the long line of prophets killed by the Jews – he still chose to carry out his mission. He still stayed the course. In those moments when self-interest rises up, fighting against the compassion and love for the other also being whispered into our hearts, may we remember Jesus’ commitment to God and to the least and the lost. May we too choose to stay the course, bringing Jesus’ love to all people.

Prayer: Lord God, use me to bring your light and love out into the darkness. When fear or selfishness rises up, remind me of my Savior. Empower me to love well each day. Amen.