pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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But First…

Reading: Luke 9:57-62

Verse 61: “I will follow you Lord, but first…”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

Our passage for today is titled “The Cost of Following Jesus” in my Bible. Just reading and considering these words brings an array of thoughts and emotions. This particular morning I range from “of course there is a cost” to “I wonder what the cost would be if I truly was all-in with following Christ?” One does not walk with Jesus very long before one understands there is a cost. The second realization or question only comes after one has walked a few miles with Jesus.

In today’s passage Jesus interacts with three people who express a desire to follow him. Let’s just say right up front that we can all relate to all three people. The first tells Jesus he’ll follow “wherever you go.” The trouble is there is no “wherever.” The journey of faith never ends. A relationship with Jesus is one where our faith is ever on the move, ever growing and changing. The second man is called by Jesus: “Follow me.” Unlike the first disciples who left nets and tax booths to follow, this man says, “Wait a minute…” He has to go do something else first. The third man combines the first and second, saying, “I will follow you Lord, but first…” The “but first” are the key words, the important words.

Sure, Jesus, I’ll go visit that person, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll help with that ministry need, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll start coming to church again, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll forgive ____, but first… These are a few of the many ways I struggle with the “but first…” concept. A few of many. As you can see, I’m often wrestling with the cost of following. The hard reminder today calls me and encourages me to walk closer to Jesus, to hold a little tighter to the plow. Doing so, may I be better “fit for serving in the kingdom.” May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes I think you’d like to ask me if I’d like fries or chicken with my waffles. And sometimes I don’t even get that far. Forgive me for the times I fail and for the times when I don’t get close enough to even fail. Help me to walk a little closer to Jesus today. Today, O Lord. Amen.


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How Might We Walk?

Reading: 2nd Kings 2:1-6

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here, the Lord has sent me to…'”

In last week’s reading from 1st Kings 19 we heard God twice ask Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Running for his life, filled with fear, Elijah runs far away, ending up on the mountain of God. On Horeb God questions Elijah – his dedication, his trust, his faith. Instead of giving up on or getting angry with Elijah, God sends him on his next mission. Elijah will go and will anoint Elisha as the next prophet of God’s people. After a little on the job training we arrive at today’s passage.

In today’s passage three times we hear Elijah say to Elisha, “Stay here, the Lord has sent me…” to Bethel, to Jericho, to the Jordan. Each stop is significant in the history of the Israelites. Each place is a place where Elisha could pause to worship God. Perhaps a lesson could be learned at each stop. But Elisha senses that his call this day is to walk with Elijah, his master. Each time Elijah tries to send him away, Elisha responds, “As surely as the Lord lives and you live, I will not leave you.”

Elisha continues on even when the prophets of Bethel tell him that the Lord will take Elijah that day. The prophets of Jericho repeat the message and Elisha walks on. Elisha walks on faithfully, knowing that the end is near. Walking steadfastly and without fear, Elisha demonstrates that he is ready to lead as a prophet of God. How might you and I walk today, revealing our faith and our trust in God?

Prayer: Lord God, I do not know where or to whom my steps might take me today. But I know you do. So I ask that you would lead and guide me each step, using me as you will. Amen.


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Walking with Us

Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-6

Verse 4: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.”

There are times in our lives when we come to a crossroads. The path that we have been walking feels like it has become more difficult than we can bear. We come to a point where we question if we can go on. In today’s passage, Elijah came to such a point.

He is coming off a pinnacle moment in his ministry. In miraculous fashion Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal – a foreign god. The people realized that God as “indeed God.” In response, they put all of the prophets of Baal to the sword. Next Elijah prays and a really long drought is ended. All is well!

But there is one problem. Jezebel, the king’s wife, is a follower of Baal. She sends word to Elijah: you’re next. Victory turns to fear and Elijah flees. This is a crossroads moment for Elijah. Fear takes over and he flees into the wilderness. After a day’s journey, he questions why he is running. Elijah says to God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” He doesn’t want to fight anymore. He just wants it to be over.

Perhaps you’ve had similar moments. A few years ago I had one. A small segment of the church basically said they wanted a new pastor. My first thought was much like Elijah’s – “Fine, I’m out of here.’

In our passage Elijah is despondent. He lies down, hoping it will soon be over. An angel awakens him and gives him sustenance for the journey. God is not done with Elijah yet. In the days and weeks after that difficult and hurtful meeting, God sent me sustenance. Many people offered words of affirmation, support, encouragement. God wasn’t done with me either.

God has a way of coming alongside us, of walking with us. In the midst of trial or hardship God has our back. God calls us to walk faithfully, trusting in where God is leading us. May this be so for you.

Prayer: Lord God, you never give up on us. Your Spirit is a steady and sure guide, leading us to walk in faith no matter what may come. Thank you for this love that never fails, for this love that builds trust. Amen.


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Complete and Total Love

Reading: John 14:23-26

Verse 23: “If anyone loves me, he [or she] will obey my teaching.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

In today’s verses from John 14, Jesus connects loving and obeying. In verse 23 we read, “If anyone loves me, he [or she] will obey my teaching.” For emphasis, Jesus adds, “He [or she] who does not live me will not obey my teaching” in verse 24. To love means to obey. To not obey means no love. Jesus is not just talking about what it looks like on the surface, but is speaking to the heart of the matter.

Today we might use the phrases “practice what you preach” or “walk the talk” to illustrate what Jesus is getting at here. To preach about forgiveness on Sunday morning and then to withhold forgiveness on Tuesday afternoon is not obeying Jesus. It is disobedience because Jesus taught us to forgive just as we are forgiven. If I tell my children to respect others and then I myself exclude someone for whatever reason, I am not obeying Jesus’ command to love one another – even my enemies. To encourage generosity and compassion in others and then to be stingy and selfish – yes, not obeying what Jesus taught and modeled. Yes, saying the right thing. No, not walking the talk.

This list could literally go on and on, page after page after page. It is so because the command to love had no limits, no stipulations, no conditions, no excuses, no rationalizations… It was a straight-up command to love those who are hard to love and to love those easy to love, to love those who love us and to love those who hate us, to love those like us and to love those different from us.

Today we are reminded that it must be more than words. It must be practiced and lived out all the time. If it is not, we fail to obey Jesus’ teachings. If we fail, it is not love. Today may our love be total and complete.

Prayer: Lord God, when I’m struggling to love and obey, send Jesus’ Holy Spirit to remind me, to convict me, to do whatever is necessary for me to obey and love. In my obedience to your teachings may I demonstrate my love for you and for all people. Amen.


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Walk with the Light

Reading: John 12:20-36

Verse 35: “Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overtakes you.”

Our passage today begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are likely Jewish converts in town to celebrate the Passover. They’ve heard of Jesus and want to meet him. In response Jesus speaks of the hour at hand. At present, Jesus is just one man. He is the kernel of wheat that must die to produce a crop. The risen Christ will send the Holy Spirit into the hearts of all who believe, producing a crop of followers that will continue to bring light into a dark world. At that time, in that hour, Christ will be brought to the Greeks.

Jesus then reminds us of the contrast between followers of the world and followers of the Word, Jesus Christ. People of the world get caught up in chasing this and wanting that. They are selfish, loving self and this earthly life. People of the Word focus on serving Jesus. They do not get caught up in the things of this world. They are selfless. Serving Christ fills them with a holy presence that shines out into the world.

Again speaking of his death, in verse 32 Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” The light of Christ will manifest itself in the lives of his followers, shining out through acts of love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and service. As the seed dies it creates a crop – Jesus followers who will go out all over the earth, carrying the light of Christ with them, drawing others to the light. They will go to the Greeks and beyond.

Speaking to those present and to all who will one day seek to follow, Jesus says, “Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overtakes you.” Faith is a journey. It is a process that ever leads us closer and closer to being like Jesus. When we choose to quit growing in our faith, it begins to die within us. What we don’t feed, it starves, it wastes away. In these words Jesus encourages us to keep walking forward in faith. The light will lead us on, allowing us to take the next step. While Jesus lights our way we can keep moving forward in faith. When we quit walking, when we stop growing as disciples, then the darkness begins to overtake us. May it not be so. Day by day may we choose to walk in the light, taking step after step, growing in our faith, sharing Jesus’ light and love with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord God, shine your light on my path, leading me in the way I should go. Daily guide me to grow more and more in my faith. Fill me to overflowing so that your light shines out from me too. Amen.


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Increasing Our Resemblance

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15:42-50

Verse 49: “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”

In today’s portion of our passage from 1st Corinthians 15 Paul offers some contrasts between what we are in the flesh and what we will become. We are perishable and weak in the flesh; we are prone to sin. One day we will be raised in glory, becoming imperishable as we are filled with power from God. In the body we are captive to the natural forces of this world: sickness, disease, death. In these ways we also bear the image of Adam and all of humanity. At the same time, though, when we walk in faith we grow to be more and more like the second Adam, Jesus Christ.

Paul reflects this change in verse 49, where he writes, “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” Born as people of the dust of the earth, we live that way at least for a while. At some point all Christians make a decision to be more. We find a desire to love for more than this earthly existence. Accepting Christ, our focus shifts away from the things of this earth and towards the walk of faith. Claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior, we begin to follow Jesus’ ways and example, living into the likeness of the man from heaven. As we enter this new life, we begin a process of ongoing transformation as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart.

Choosing Christ begins our journey towards heaven, towards the resurrection of the body. One day we will become so much more than we are now. It will be beautiful and amazing. Yet what happens here and now is also beautiful and amazing. Transformation begins the moment we enter a relationship with Jesus Christ. May we welcome this process each day. May we all be open to the power of the Spirit of Christ to work in and through us each day, increasing our resemblance to Jesus Christ, the man from heaven.

Prayer: Lord God, I ask you today to work in my heart, making me more into the image of your son. Turn me from the ways of men, empowering me to walk increasingly as your disciple. Amen.


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Faithful and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 37:1-11

Verse 5: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in God.”

Psalm 37, like many of the Psalms, is an acrostic poem. The original text would have used the pattern and rhythm in the alphabet or in the letters of a specially chosen word to draw readers in. Even though we lose this aspect in translation to English, we can still see how each pair of verses build upon each other as one reads through the poem. In the first pair David encourages us not to be jealous of what evil men accumulate: “they will soon die away.” In the next stanza we are encouraged to trust and delight in the Lord (instead of earthly stuff) because “God will give you the desires of your heart.”

The pattern continues as we read on. In verse five David tells us, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in God.” Walk faithfully and steadily and God will “make your righteousness shine like the dawn.” The Psalm continues to build, encouraging us to be still before the Lord and to refrain from evil and wrath. David reminds us in verse 11 that the meek will be blessed and will “enjoy great peace.” Faithful living leads to a joyful life. Steadily walking with God brings peace.

A little fun activity I tried was writing an acrostic for God. I used the word “gracious.” Can you guess what each letter stood for as I described who and what God is to me? What word would you choose to describe God or Jesus? What does each letter represent?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder of how and why we walk faithfully and steadily with you. It’s a blessing to be encouraged so. Help me to live into your gracious character and each piece within. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Walk the Path

Reading: Genesis 45:3-8

Verse 7: “God sent me ahead of you to preserve a remnant on earth and to save your lives.”

Photo credit: John Thomas

As we turn to Genesis 45, we first must acknowledge that a lot has happened to Joseph up to this point. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers. He has been falsely accused and imprisoned. He has also been empowered by God and is now only second to Pharaoh himself. Famine has forced his birth family to seek food in Egypt. Joseph has tested and tested his brothers to see if they’ve changed since the day they sold him into slavery. Finding that they have, Joseph reveals the truth to them, saying, “I am Joseph. Is my father still living?” The brothers are terrified – they do not know how this will play out. Joseph is no longer the scrawny, annoying little brother they had so easily disposed of.

The brothers are not the only ones to change over these many years. Joseph has changed too. God has worked and worked in his life, humbling him and drawing him closer and deeper into relationship. Joseph understands how God was at work even through the trauma of his youth. Joseph sees that it was God who acted to save lives, to reunite his family. Assuring his brothers, Joseph says, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve a remnant on earth and to save your lives.” Yes, the brothers played a role – cruel and hateful at the time – but God works for good so Joseph offers forgiveness and grace.

When we find ourselves in similar places, can we offer the forgiveness and grace demonstrated here? We all experience traumas – times when we are hurt or treated wrong by others or by circumstances. Often, at the moment of the hurt, the other was much like Joseph’s brothers. We can feel that they don’t deserve forgiveness. We can withhold grace. Sometimes we even do this to ourselves. We can be pretty tough on ourselves. Can we turn to God in these moments, seeking to discern how God has been and is at work? Can we see and choose to walk the path of forgiveness, offering grace to the other? It is the path our Lord walked as he made his way to the cross. May we too be people of forgiveness and grace.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I am imperfect. I’m a sinner on my best days. Soften my heart towards others Lord. Enable forgiveness and grace to flow from my heart, bringing healing and restoration to all, including me. Amen.


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The Way of Jesus

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 and 21-22

Verse 16: “One more powerful than I will come… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

“One more powerful…” How we love and long for power. The human race has long sought power. Power, of course, comes in many forms. It reveals or shows itself in many ways. For some, power is represented by the amassing of things – money, retirement funds, homes, cars… For some power is revealed by position or title – the number of employees under you, the tag line on the office door, the ability to make unilateral decisions. For others, power comes through appearance, athletic prowess, or via some other talent. For many though, power is as simple as being more powerful than one other person.

Jesus was certainly powerful – just not in any of these earthly ways. Jesus’ power came through love and was revealed by being selfless, by serving others, by giving away. You and I are capable of living in these ways. It is possible. But the ways of power in the world always gnaw at us, always make us question this way of Jesus. In our hearts we know it is good to love others more than self. Yet all that we’ve grown up around, all that so many others pursue, runs contrary to the way of Jesus. Our selfishness, our greed, our fears – they work against kindness, generosity, compassion…

We are not without hope. This Jesus, if we are willing to kneel and to ask him to be the Lord of our life, this Jesus will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” This baptism empowers believers to live as Jesus lived – loving unconditionally, serving selflessly, sharing generously and abundantly. Being baptized into Christ commits our life to walking in Jesus’ footsteps, to loving as he loved. It is not easy. The world always calls out, always raises fears, doubts… The power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the refining fire of Jesus Christ – these keep us on the path, keep us walking in the way of Jesus. As we walk this path longer and longer, the more we come to understand that there is no greater power than the love of Christ within us. Love always wins. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear Lord, in the quiet of the morning, it is easy to say that love is power, that love always wins. As I move out into the day, into the mess of the world, remind me over and over to walk in the way of love, in the way of Jesus. It is a frequent choice. Guide me to choose you and the way of love. Amen.


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Closer to our Redemption

Reading: Luke 21: 25-28

Verse 28: “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”

Photo credit: Felipe Correia

As the early Christians read Luke’s gospel, as they read these words of Jesus, they were living in difficult times. Persecution had ramped up and most believers lived in fear. Many were being jailed and some were even being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. They looked forward to the second coming, which they thought was imminent. As they see these signs that Jesus spoke of starting to unfold, they are hopeful. What is bad news for the world – nations in anguish, men fainting in terror – is good news for the believers. As they read “at that time…” many thought the time of persecution was drawing to a close. To those finding hope, Jesus says, “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” These words of Jesus give hope, build courage, and empower the faithful.

The promise that redemption draws near continues to be true. Just as the early followers learned as they lived out their faith, so too do we learn as we live out our faith: when we stand up for our faith, when we raise our heads and voices for justice, equality, goodness… then Jesus draws near. When we walk with and at times uplift the needy, the broken, the marginalized, the powerless, then we are drawing close and walking hand in hand with the one who redeems us.

These words of Jesus call us to remain faithful, to walk in faith no matter what goes on around us or in the world, to stand up and speak truth, and to cling to our Lord and Savior in times of trouble. Our redeemer is steadfast and true. He is ever faithful and present. Yes, one day Jesus will come in “a cloud with power and glory.” One day Christ will return to reign forevermore. Each day may we walk in faith, drawing closer to our redemption day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, whether it be a day or many years, walk with me, shaping me more and more into who you call me to be. Daily walk with me, filling me with your love and power and strength. Until the day of my redemption, lead and guide me. Amen.