pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Giving, Not Taking

Reading: Mark 10: 41-45

Verse 43: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Photo credit: Lina Trochez

As we continue in Mark 10 we first see that the other disciples are “indignant” with James and John. They are mad about what James and John asked of Jesus. Is it because they have been watching Jesus closely and better understand what his kingdom is all about? Is it because they are naturally less power hungry? Is it because they didn’t think to ask first? Their anger could come from any of these roots or from many other angles. The world has had 2,000 years to ponder Jesus’ example and we’ve had 56 or 84 or 23 years to figure it out and we still struggle with the kingdom of God’s take on power.

The disciples see power as physical strength and control, as political or religious dominance, as a hierarchy even within the small group of twelve that closely follows Jesus. We too struggle with notions of power. They may vary depending on our age and in our stage in life, but we all wrestle with pride, ego, control… to some degree or another for most of our lives. Jesus reminds the disciples how much they dislike the ways that the current leaders “lord” their power over others. The Romans, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the tax collectors… all exert power in ways that negatively impact their subjects. He says, “Not so with you.” Don’t be like others with power. Be counter-cultural. Be like Jesus’ example. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Humble yourself and live a life of serving. Be about giving, not taking.

To drive home the point Jesus invites the disciples to look once again upon the one speaking to them: “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” If the one who could command the angels with a word chooses to give instead of take, if the one who chose to give his life “as a ransom for many” chooses humble servanthood, what better choice could we make? As opportunity arises may we choose to give instead of taking.

Prayer: Lord God, there are opportunities to give all the time. It can be time, resources, talent, prayers. When opportunity comes my way, when the Holy Spirit nudges me, make me faithful, make me a humble servant. Help me to closely follow the example of Jesus. Amen.


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A Faithful Journey

Reading: Mark 9: 42-50

Verse 47: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown in hell.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Today’s portion of our passage from Mark 9 has some hard words. Being thrown into the sea with a large stone tied around us, cutting off hands and feet, poking out eyes – these actions seem so harsh, so cruel. But the actions themselves are not at the heart of what Jesus is emphasizing. Jesus’ point is the price we will pay if we keep on sinning. So, yes, we would be better off in this life without a hand or foot or eye than to be whole and cast into hell. Jesus is reminding us that we should do whatever we can to be faithful disciples.

There are, of course, other things that cause us to sin. What our mouths allow into our bodies can cause us to sin. What our hearts and minds allow into these decision-making and influencing centers can cause great harm to our faith and witness. With whom and where we choose to spend our time and resources can lead to destructive behaviors. There is much that can negatively affect our ability to be faithful disciples. To all of these negative choices and habits and to any others that we can name, Jesus says, ‘Stop!’

Instead we are invited to keep a careful watch on our inner, human self. We are encouraged to be aware of those things that inhibit or adversely affect our walk with Jesus Christ. This is another way to call us to die to self and to take up our cross. There is usually a cost to walking away from destructive friends and habits. There is a price to pay when we place God and others before self. Yet how great is the reward. A life centered on love and humble service fills us with joy and peace and hope. And how beautiful and amazing heaven will be!

We will all be “salted with fire.” If we are faithful and true the fire will be refining and not consuming. As we consider Jesus’ words this day, may they spur us on to a faithful journey of faith. Each day may we shine forth the light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, guard my heart and my mind, my mouth, my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears… Guard all of me, Lord! By the power of the Holy Spirit guard me from the attacks of the evil one. By that same Holy Spirit power, guide me to walk in your ways each day. Amen.


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More Than Enough

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

Verse 8: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”.

Photo credit: KMA

In our passage from 2nd Samuel we see God at work in David’s life. God sends Nathan the prophet to tell David a story. Although David has just committed some pretty horrendous sins, there is still a part of David that quickly recognizes injustice… I think we are all a bit like this. Outside of ourselves we quickly see when things are wrong.

Nathan tells David the story of a rich and powerful man who takes what he wants from a poor and insignificant man. David is outraged at the injustice. He rails against the actions of the rich man. He wants justice done. And then Nathan drops the bombshell: “You are the man”. Nathan goes on to remind David of how God has blessed and blessed and blessed David. At times we need this reminder too. When we get a bit of a woe-is-me attitude over some trivial thing, we too need to remember how blessed we are.

Verse eight is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for David and for you and me. It is also an invitation to contentment. This trait can be hard to live into in our culture that pontificates often about more, bigger, and better. Through Nathan God says to David and to us: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”. God desires good and blessing for his children. God’s care and provision for us reveals his love for us. God might not give us the winning lottery ticket but God does want to fulfill the true desires of our heart. May we learn to trust into God. For with God, we have more than enough.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to see the greener grass or the shinier thing, remind me of my place in the center of your love. Remind me of the depth of your love for me. You are my all in all. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Pray, Speak, Stand

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-5

Verse 2: “One evening David got up… walked around on the roof… saw a woman bathing”.

Photo credit: Joshua Oluwagbemiga

Today we enter one of the uglier stories in the Bible. The story begins with a bad decision and spirals down from there. David decides to stay home when the army goes off to war instead of leading them into battle. But a king can do what a king wants to do. Then one night he can’t sleep. In verse two we read, “One evening David got up… walked around on the roof… saw a woman bathing”. His eyes and heart wander. He spies a very beautiful woman bathing. Lust is born. As the story unfolds one of his servants asks, “Isn’t that Bathsheba… Uriah’s wife”? Hint, hint. But a king can do what a king wants to do. David sends for her and sleeps with her. Forced himself upon her is the much, much more likely reality. David is finished with her and sends her back home. It is an ugly story that ends with an unexpected pregnancy.

On Sunday in church we talked about breaking down walls and about standing with the abused, oppressed, taken advantage of… We would have loved to have been there and to have stood up for Bathsheba. We think we would have stood and shouted, “No more of this ‘But a king can do what a king wants to do’ stuff”! Yet today people with power continue to force their way, to coerce others, to play by their own set of rules. Naming realities helps to break down walls. Sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation are still alive and well. One of the top sex trafficking events in the US will take place just up the road in a couple of weeks. I believe the Sturgis Rally is second only to the Super Bowl. Most of us are appalled by and disgusted by the story of David and Bathsheba. Are we equally so when we recognize that sex trafficking and pornography are huge business in our nation?

Just as those in David’s palace should have stood up for and then cared for Bathsheba, so too must we pray for and speak for and stand with those who are exploited and used by others. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, we peak today at the ugliness of a person in power forcing his way. Hold our eyes and hearts for a few moments; help us to connect to Bathsheba. Then turn our eyes and hearts to the ugly realities of today. Money and power and lust still lead to ugliness today. Guide us all to do what we can – some to pray, some to speak, some to stand with the victims. May your love bring healing to the brokenness of our world and lives. Amen.


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Even in This

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 10-20

Verse 18: “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

After God acquiesces to the people’s request for a king, God gives some words of warning to the people. Yes, a king can bring stability and leadership and authority to the nation. Yes, a king can negotiate with other kings and can lead the troops out into battle when needed. A king can fight for the people! But a king can also demand or, at times, take when the demands are not met. A king can call for military service and can seize land, crops, livestock, and servants. A king can tax the people to support his reign. A judge or prophet would never do any of these things. The leader that the people reject, God, would never do any of these things. Yet the people want a king.

All of this, both the good and the bad, comes true as king after king leads Israel. Reading through 1st and 2nd Kings, we see that God is right. There are more bad kings than good kings. The fate and the lives of the people rise or fall under the leadership of each king. Yet even though the people reject God in favor of a king, God remains engaged. Even though God grants them this autonomy, God does not abandon his children. God continues to send prophets to guide and redirect and shepherd these kings. God even chooses the first few kings.

God leads you and me in the same way. God does not force us to love and obey him or to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. God engages us, the Spirit leads and guides us. But we are free to choose our own kings, our own gods. God allows us free will, just as he did with the Israelites. God warned them, saying, “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”. When leadership is oppressive, selfish, authoritarian… God will allow them to learn their lesson. In time God will respond to their cries. We too experience this process. We have to endure a consequence for our poor choices. God will always forgive us when we’re repentant. But our poor choices and bad behaviors often impact others, creating ramifications. We too must go through a refining and learning process. Even in this, God is at work. Thanks be to God for loving us enough to always be there on the other side.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love always leads and informs. Your love is greater than our limitations and failures. We are ever a work in progress. You are so patient, so faithful, ever true. What a wonderful God you are! Amen.


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Truth… Love

Reading: John 18 and 19

Verse 18:37 – “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”.

Photo credit: Leighann Blackwood

Under cover of dark betrayer and soldiers and religious leaders come to arrest Jesus. He is questioned by Annas and then Caiaphas. During these events Peter denies Jesus three times and then the cock crows. Early on Friday morning Jesus is brought to Pilate, the Roman ruler. Pilate finds Jesus innocent yet ultimately bows to the pressure of the crowd shouting “Crucify”!

As Pilate and Jesus are talking, Jesus tells him that his kingdom is not of this world. If it were, Jesus says his followers would have fought for him. Jesus goes on to tell Pilate, “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”. Jesus came to establish a new kingdom, one based on God’s vision for the world. It is not based on force or oppression or political power. So much of Pilate’s life has been wrapped up in these things. Today many people live by these and similar constraints. The steps on the ladder of success are built on the backs of those climbed over, stepped on, taken advantage of, exploited… Pilate is no different. In response to Jesus’ words, he utters, “What is truth”? Pilate clearly finds no joy, no love, no hope, no peace in his current life. Pilate needs Jesus’ kingdom just as much as the lost and broken of today’s world need Jesus.

Pilate fears losing what he has. A riot will cost him dearly so he bows to the pressure of the crowd and hands Jesus over to be crucified. Some today cling to what they have, materially and in title, afraid to trust in someone other than self. To lose this earthly life for one centered on Jesus’ kingdom of love and sacrifice and service feels like too big a step. Without witnesses to the truth of a life lived for Christ, none would take the step of faith. Here is where we take up our crosses and follow in Jesus’ footsteps, revealing the truth of his love and hope and peace and joy to the world.

Even as his own life was ebbing away, Jesus cared well for others. Speaking to John and to his mother, Jesus expresses his love for each by connecting them in a new way. This is his kingdom, one built upon love. As we each encounter others, may we too seek to love well, sharing his love with those in need.

Prayer: Lord, in the moments of trial and pain and even death, Jesus spoke and gave love to others. Though the road was hard, Jesus walked it faithfully. May I do the same. Amen.


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Walking Into Places and Spaces

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Photo credit: Lili Popper

As we begin this week we enter into the end of Epiphany, the season that focuses in on the revelation of Jesus Christ. In this season we highlight who and what Jesus is. Our call, however, is to reveal Jesus Christ to the world every day of our faith journey. It is fitting that this season culminates on Transfiguration Sunday, when the Christ is filled with light, revealing him in all of his glory. In each passage this week we enter into the thin spaces of holiness, into the places where God is at work.

As 2nd Kings opens there is turmoil in the land. The king tries to consult Baal, one of the local pagan gods. Elijah, God’s prophet, condemns this action and proclaims that the king will die. It is also time for Elijah to end his earthly life and to cede the role of prophet to Elisha. After clearly demonstrating that God is with him, Elijah comes down the mountain to walk out his final steps. Three times Elijah tries to leave Elisha behind, seeking to spare him. Each time they arrive at a new place, the local prophets come out and tell Elisha that the Lord is going to take Elijah from him. Three times Elisha asks them not to speak of it. Each time Elijah tries to leave him behind Elisha says, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”. He will not abandon Elijah. He will continue to walk faithfully with him. Elisha chooses to walk into that thin space with Elijah. As he walks through that space, Elisha is transformed from protege to prophet, from student to master, from one who follows to one who leads others into God’s presence.

As believers we too will face times when the Holy Spirit invites us to walk into those thin spaces, into those holy places. We will be called to be the presence of God in the lives of others. We will be asked to walk with another on a difficult journey. We will be asked to sit or pray with another in a time of pain or loss. We will be asked to share our faith and our hope with another who is lost or broken. In these sacred moments we will be called by the Holy Spirit, asked to be the very presence of God to another. Yes, it is scary and hard to step into those places and spaces. We do not go alone. The one who invites goes with us. The Spirit is ever present, ever ready to reveal the power of God’s love, peace, hope, power… through us. As we feel ourselves called and as we stand on the doorstep to these holy and sacred moments, may we too say, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Prayer: Lord God, each time that I have stepped into that thin space, you have been right there with me. Your Spirit leads and guides, strengthens and encourages. Each experience has been holy and sacred. Yet each first step is always hard. It ever requires trust and faith. Continue to give me the courage and belief to step into those places and spaces. Walk with me day by day. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 12: “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you'”.

The parable we read today is called “The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids”. The story is really about the bridegroom. We often see our faith this way too – sort of backwards. We think God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit – all here for us. Living in a consumeristic, instant gratification, me-first society, it is easy to fall into this mindset. In this approach, as bridesmaids we would ask why it takes so long for the bridegroom to arrive. We have waited SO LONG for the groom to arrive so that we can go into the celebration and festivities.

The folly of this inwardly focused faith is revealed in the foolish bridesmaids. First, instead of simply going and getting more oil – something they are evidently capable of – they ask for some from the wise ones. At times in our culture, it is easier to take from others instead of doing for ourselves. This creates a dangerous culture of dependence. Second, when our faith is focused on ourselves instead of on Jesus, the object of our faith, then we do not really get to know Jesus. We fail to hear his call to humble service. When our time comes to stand at the door, if our faith is selfish and shallow, we too will hear, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you”.

We will all one day stand before the Lord. As we do so, will Jesus see one who lived for God and for others? Will he see a life spent in seeking to live love out loud day by day? That is the hope. To that end may we love God and others above self, being ready for the day or hour when we see Jesus face to face.

Prayer: Living God, it is so easy to be selfish, to want for earthly things. The influences of the world nudge us in this direction. Send the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit to ever call me into the ways of love and service, in the ways of peace and hope. Amen.


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Pressing On

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

In today’s passage Jesus is preparing his disciples for a radical change – his death, followed by him being “raised to life”. The time the twelve have spent with Jesus must have been the best time of their lives. They have witnessed all kinds of miracles and have been a part of a few. They have been side by side with love lived out to the full. They have been blessed with the wisdom of God. If I could just have dinner with anyone in the world, far and away my choice would be Jesus.

The news Jesus delivers is hard to fathom. How could this even happen to the Messiah? How could that be the end of the story? There had to have been a personal side to the emotions the twelve felt too. Peter says, “Never, Lord”! This is the same Peter who was proclaimed the “rock” upon which Jesus would “build my church”. Following these new words from Peter, Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan”. Imagine how that must have stung Peter. The Lord has a way of keeping us humble. Peter is not thinking of the “things of God” – of the plan laid out for Jesus and for humankind. He is not thinking of the Messiah of love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Peter is thinking of what Peter wants – to just continue as it has been. We never want to lose someone or something we love.

Jesus then turns to all of the disciples and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. For Peter and probably for all of the disciples, the initial denial will be the desire for Jesus to stay with them. The death and resurrection are critical pieces of the plan. They will also be asked to deny self in many more ways as they follow the risen Lord. They will each take up the cross and sacrifice many things along the journey. Such is the cost of discipleship. It is a sobering thought.

Like the twelve, we prefer life to be good, to move along smoothly. It is well with our souls when we are surrounded by those we love, enjoying life, feeling closely connected to the Lord. But the storms of life come, we are drawn to crossroads, we too face death and loss. And at times we too must take up our faith, stand with or for Jesus, and count the cost. This is how we carry our cross. With God, it is always one we can bear, always a path we can tread. It is so because we do not walk alone. As we long for our reward, may we each press on toward the goal of heaven, trusting in God each step of the way.

Prayer: Redeeming and saving God, strengthen me for the journey ahead. Grant me the power to walk the path you place before me. Fill me with your love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Each day may I offer all that I am in service to you, my Lord and King. Amen.


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Take Courage!

Reading: Matthew 14: 22-27

Verse 22: “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead of him”.

Jesus’ actions in today’s passage have an immediate teaching moment for the disciples as well as application for all who follow as disciples. Jesus sends the disciples on ahead of him so that he can pray in solitude. They head out into the waters and a storm arises. As the night progresses, the disciples are increasingly battered and afraid. Into their fear and tiredness, Jesus walks across the water. He comes through the storm to be with them, to calm their fears, to reassure them. As he nears, Jesus echoes the words that God spoke to Moses during a storm in his leadership, saying, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”. The winds and waves calm as Jesus enters the boat, validating who he is: the Son of God.

In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first disciples and the early church would read this passage and see themselves as the ones in the boat. Jesus commissioned all disciples to go into the world to share the good news. For the early church the storm was the Jews and Romans. Today, for us, it is secular culture that defines the post-Christian world that we live in. For the early followers, the harassment and ridicule were the early wind and waves. As the storm increased they endured persecution and prison and even death. It felt like a storm raging against their boat. The same God who came to Moses, the same Jesus who came to the disciples in the storm – the same Holy Spirit continued to be with the early disciples and continues to come to you and me when the storms of life rise up.

Jesus continues to call us out into the world. In response, as followers we seek to live out the gospel, to share our faith when opportunities arise, and to be examples of the humble servant whenever we can. At times we too will find ourselves in the storm, battered and afraid. But we will not be left alone. Jesus continues to come to us, to walk right through the storms, to bring us peace and strength and assurance. Through the whisper of the Holy Spirit, Jesus repeats over and over, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”. May we ever remember, Jesus is with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, your abiding presence is always with me. Ever guide me, ever walk with me. Help me to remember, especially in the storms, that I am never really alone. No matter how bad the storm, Jesus is by my side. Help me to cling to his power and strength. Amen.