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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Loving God…

Reading: 1st Corinthians 6: 12-20

Verse 15: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself”?

As followers of Jesus Christ we have a freedom that guides our living. Through Jesus Christ we are freed from the things of this world. Earthly pleasures still entice us, yes, but we find our joy and peace, our very identity, in and with Jesus. Yes, we will sin and one day face death, but in Christ we are freed from the shame and guilt of our sin and we are freed from worry or fear or anxiety over death. We see the things of the world as temporary and we see our life in Christ as eternal. But the freedom that we find in Christ is not permission to do anything and everything, knowing that Jesus forgives our sins. Faith calls us first to holy living and to humble service. Some in Corinth had this backwards. They were confused. Some were sinning openly and knowingly under the claim that “everything is permissible” because of the grace and mercy and forgiveness offered by Jesus.

Today’s passage centers on the sexual immortality present in some of the church members’ lives. Promiscuity and the use of prostitutes were the earthly pleasures that some were indulging in. Others in the church did not think these behaviors were in line with holy living. Instead of simply telling those who were sinning to stop, though, Paul helps them to think through this scenario so that they can think like this for themselves when other issues or questions arise. Paul uses “do you not know…” three times to frame their thinking. He reminds them that their bodies are “members of Christ himself”, that sexual union makes the two people “one flesh”, and that the body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit”. Ultimately Paul is reminding them that they are connected to Christ and that what they do with our bodies should honor him. To enter into sexual unions outside of marriage, to overindulge in food and drink, to lord one’s status or wealth over others, to do other unhealthy things with our bodies – all dishonor our bodies and therefore dishonor God. All of these issues were things that the Corinthian church would wrestle with and through using Paul’s framework. In the end, each issue would come down to loving God, loving neighbor, and loving self. Doing these well, the church brought honor and glory to God. May it be so with each of us as well.

Prayer: Lord God, in so many ways faith is about love. Does this thought or word or action show my love of God? Does it reveal my love of neighbor? Does is reflect a holy and righteous love of self? Guide me in your ways of love. Amen.


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Well Done…

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 23: “Well done, good and faithful servant!… Come and share your master’s happiness”.

We return today to the Parable of the Talents. Yesterday we focused on the one servant who allowed fear to hold him back. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to use the talents, gifts, resources… that God has given us to build up the kingdom here on earth. When we willingly and joyfully invest in the lives of others we do not lose those blessings ourselves, but we gain even more. The upside-down kingdom of God that we can experience is illustrated in today’s parable.

When we make the intentional choice to use the talents that the Master has given us, whatever the talent(s), we are usually investing in relationships. If your talent, for example, is working with children or youth, then your time given at Sunday school or VBS or youth group is being invested in their faith and in the relationships with the children or youth and their families. If your gift is musical, your time given in the choir or praise band is being invested in your faith, in the members of the group, and in the worshippers’ relationship with God. If your talent is cooking or baking and you invest time in providing food for the times of fellowship at church or for those in need in the larger community, then your talents are building relationships within the body of Christ or with the larger world. No matter what your talent, it can be used to build relationships and the kingdom.

Two of the servants in today’s parable invested the master’s money using the talents they had to bless their master. It was not for their own reward or profit. Yes, the master did bless them for their service. Our Master will as well. When we choose to live out our faith, using the talents that the Lord has given to each of us, we too will one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!… Come and share your master’s happiness”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for orienting me towards doing and serving. Thank you for the talents that you have given me to live out my faith in these ways. On those days when I’d rather not, when I want to make the selfish choice, remind me again of your love and investment in me. Call me to do your will, not mine. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.


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Walking the Path Ourselves

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 12: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.

For our third day in our Matthew 23 reading, we turn to the last section – verses eight through twelve. On Friday we looked at the call to living authentic faith. We must practice what we teach. If we say we are a Christian, we must do as Jesus Christ did. On Saturday we looked at motives and intentions. If we do good just to be seen or to draw attention to ourselves, then we are not really living out our faith. Our faith should center on an audience of one – the Lord Jesus Christ. In today’s passage Jesus centers our faith on the Master, on the Messiah – Jesus Christ himself. Letting us know the value of titles and accolades in God’s economy, in verse eleven Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant”. Talk about an upside-down economy! Yes, the one willing to humbly do for others is demonstrating their faith well. They are living out the two great commandments to love God with all that we are and to love neighbor as yourself.

Today in our church and in many churches we will celebrate All Saints Day. We will pause to remember and name those that have gone on to eternity. These persons have finished their race and today we remember them and are thankful for their service to God, to the church, to the community, to the building of the kingdom of God. We rejoice in the ways that they have witnessed to faithful living. Our passage today closes with these words: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.

May we exalt the Lord our God only. May we recognize humble service as the model that Jesus Christ set and as the way that the faithful saints have walked, seeking to walk the path ourselves. May we too one day hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant”.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the call to humble service. Thank you for all who have set and are setting the example for me. Jesus Christ is the ultimate example but we are ever surrounded by a great cloud if witness too. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Audience of 1

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 5: “Everything they do is done for me to see”.

Yesterday we looked at the warning to do as the scribes and Pharisees teach, not as they do. There is a disconnect between what they preach to the people and how they themselves are living their lives. The middle section in our reading today begins with verse five. Here we read, “Everything they do is done for me to see”. This can be a trap we too fall into. Being human, we like recognition. When we do something “good” and no one notices, we feel hurt or let down or we can even question why we did it. Some of the time, we can also be like these religious leaders, waiting for an audience before we do our good deed, insuring publicity or recognition for our actions.

The scribes and Pharisees loved to be seen and recognized. It reinforced both their authority and their ego. They wore large phylacteries and long tassels – two symbols of their deep connection to God. Today, one may give a large donation, thinking the size of the gift will reflect the depth of their faith for others. Some will want it announced in church or published in the bulletin or will want a plaque placed on the item so that all will know of their good and generous gift. The scribes and Pharisees wanted the best seats or places at events or in worship. This prime real estate is where others will notice they are there. In a similar way, they loved to be called ‘rabbi’ – a title that was revered, respected, honored. It pumped up the ego to see all bow a bit as the people acknowledged the religious leaders. The title separated them from the rest of society. It also insulated them from those outside of their religious circles.

Today, some still like to have a title connected to their name – doctor, professor, reverend, pastor, officer… Titles convey power and authority. These titles can be used to gain admittance and to avoid consequences. It is a good thing, for example, when the pastor title gains entry to pray with a dying person during these pandemic restrictions. Yet it would be a bad thing, for example, to pull out my pastor ID card first, instead of my driver’s license, if pulled over for speeding. Titles can be abused, they can separate, they can be used to manipulate, they can be used for personal gain. Jesus is warning us against such things, to check our egos, and to be aware of our motives and intentions.

When we practice our faith, when we offer acts of kindness, may it always be for an audience of one – for the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord, when I am tempted to shine the light on me, remind me of the call to humble service. When I want others to notice or see what I’m doing, check my pride and remind me of humble service. When I’m drawn to playing the pastor card, remind me of the call to humble service. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Everyday Faith

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 9-13

Verse 9: “Surely you remember… our toil and hardship… we worked… not to be a burden… as we preached the gospel”.

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica to encourage them and to help guide them in their walk of faith. In the section that we read from today, Paul is reminding them of the example that he and his companions set when they were there. The reminder is a call to walk this way too. In verse nine we read, “Surely you remember… our toil and hardship… we worked… not to be a burden… as we preached the gospel”. Paul was what we call a bi-vocational minister. Preaching the good news of Jesus Christ was only part of his day. Paul also worked hard as a tent maker. This is the “toil and hardship” that he refers to. It was hard manual labor. Paul worked so that he was not a “burden”. This was absolutely necessary early on. There were no churches yet, there were no Christians living there, there was no support systems established in the towns that Paul first went to. He had to have a means of support for himself. Paul’s companions also modeled this form of ministry. More importantly, though, Paul wanted those in the church to understand that faith was a part of everyday life. Paul lived out his faith at work as a tent maker just as much as he did when preaching the gospel. This is what he is calling the Thessalonians to and it is what he is calling us to as well.

In verse ten Paul draws their attention to the “holy, righteous, blameless” example that he set when he was among them. He does this as a way to encourage them to live the same way. The Thessalonians heard the gospel and believed in Jesus. They saw the model Paul lived out. Now they were being called or even challenged to live the same way. We too are called and challenged to live “holy, righteous, blameless” lives. To do this, like Paul and like the church in Thessalonica, we must work at our faith. When we do so, we will find the encouragement and urgency to live a life worthy of God. For Paul, part of the work takes place within the community of faith. Worship is our primary means of connecting with God and with one another. Gatherings like small groups and service opportunities also connect us. It is from our time in community that we grow in love of God and in love of neighbor. In community we also find comfort and belonging and other things so needed in this pandemic season. Many are feeling helpless and hopeless right now. Being in Christian community reminds those hurting right now that God is their help and their hope. The other part of our work takes place in our personal relationship with God. Time in prayer, study, and meditation draws us deeper into our relationship with God. Like it was for Paul, faith should be practiced and witnessed to in all parts of our life. May it be so for each of us today.

Prayer: Lord God, in the quiet and stillness of the early morning, I can connect to you. When I enter the world, the busyness of the day, it can be a struggle. Slow me down, attune me to those that I cross paths with, lead me to speak hope and peace, light and love. May it be so. 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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Heart Condition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-20

Verse 18: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”.

In response to the Pharisees, Jesus addresses what it is that makes a person ‘unclean’. A person who was unclean was cut off from or had to live outside of community. In terms of faith, it meant separation from God. For the Pharisees being clean or unclean boiled down to whether or not one followed all of the law. For Jesus, being clean or unclean came down to the condition of one’s heart.

At the start of chapter fifteen the religious leaders question Jesus about the disciples eating without following the ceremonial cleansing rituals. They did not properly wash their hands before they ate. The implication was that the disciples were now unclean. That meant seven days outside the temple, seven days outside of community – according to the religious leaders. Responding to their lack of understanding, he says, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”. Jesus bases the condition of our relationship with God not on what we eat but on what our heart is filled with. The “dull” disciples are sharp enough to know that these words jab at the religious leaders. Their man-made traditions and overemphasis on following the law of Moses has left them with a rule following, box checking religion. But no faith.

Today’s passage calls us to consider the condition of our heart. Does your heart contain some of what Jesus lists in verse nineteen – evil thoughts, false testimony, adultery, slander, theft? Or perhaps others – gossip, greed, lust, jealousy, pride? Or maybe doubt, fear, worry, stress, anxiety? What we have in our hearts will eventually come out of our mouths. Jesus’ point here is more about what is in our heart than about what comes out of our mouth. In the heart is where sin is born or is where we choose to stomp it out. If, instead of filling our heart with evil, what if we fill it with love and compassion, with mercy and grace, with generosity and a vent towards service, with kindness and self-control? Then there is less room for sin and evil.

What is the condition of your heart?

Prayer: Lord God, fill me daily with your word and your will. Send the Holy Spirit to whisper words of life into my heart. Guide me to be filled with your love so that I can be love in the world. Amen.


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Alive in Christ

Reading: Romans 6: 1b-11

Verse 6: “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that… we should no longer be slaves to sin”.

At the end of chapter five Paul writes about Adam’s sin bringing death to the world and Christ’s death bringing new life to humanity. Through Christ’s death, through his act of obedience, grace and righteousness now reign. The power of sin and death were defeated. Establishing these truths, Paul goes on to ask a question to begin chapter six. It is a bit of a sarcastic question aimed at bringing the early followers of Jesus back into following mode instead of remaining worldly and enjoying their secular lifestyles.

In verse one Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase”? This question reminds me of the era in many churches when almost all that was preached about was that God is love and that grace abounds. Faith was portrayed as all rosy and as easy. The hard work of humble service and repentant hearts was not often proclaimed. It was the beginning of a shift where faith became more about going to church and enjoying it rather than feeling challenged to go outside the walls to serve and minister in the world.

Paul wants to contrast what is beginning to settle in with what faith actually calls one to do. The idea that one could do whatever one wanted (i.e. – sin) because grace would just fix it all anyway was gaining traction. Paul, however, sees their baptism into Christ as life-changing not excuse-making. In verse six we read, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that… we should no longer be slaves to sin”. Paul is emphasizing the death of the old self, to the sinful Adam in all of us. Dying to self does not mean that we sin no more; it means that sin has no lasting hold on us. Through the redemption we find in Christ, we are forgiven and made right again with God. We can confess and repent and let go of the guilt and shame that can keep us trapped and separated from Jesus Christ. Being made new we are “alive to God in Jesus Christ”. That, my friends, leads to faithful living and humble service. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving and forgiving God, thank you for the gift of being made right with you through Jesus’ sacrifice. In an act of extreme love Jesus made a way for us to be in right relationship with you. On our own, this is impossible. So I thank you for this gift – the best gift ever in this life. Amen.