pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Discipleship Cost

Reading: Luke 8: 51-62

Verse 57: “A man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go'”.

As Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem he knows all about the cost of discipleship. In the first half of the passage, he meets some folks who aren’t quite ready for discipleship. They reject him – won’t even welcome him into their midst. Jesus rebukes James and John’s desire to punish them severely for not welcoming Jesus. They just are not ready yet. Jesus suggests they simply move on to the next place – perhaps some there will be more receptive.

Along the way they encounter three who sense a call to maybe follow Jesus. The common cultural commitment to follow a rabbi was a major 24/7 commitment. But most rabbis weren’t like Jesus and following them was different. To the first, the one who says “I will follow you wherever you go”, Jesus says following him won’t be comfortable. Jesus does not have a home base. He relies on those he meets along the way. Sometimes you just have to keep on going, hoping the next place is more welcoming. This isn’t what the man had in mind and he passes on following this rabbi.

Jesus next meets two more with some interest in following. Yet both have obstacles to following. Both have something else more important to do. Jesus’ basic response to both is the same. If you want to follow, 24/7 devotion is the expectation. One must be willing to prioritize Jesus above family and everything else if one is to truly follow. For these and for many, the cost is too high.

We began today with a story about some folks not even being willing to welcome Jesus and we follow up with three examples of not being able to follow once a desire to do so is felt. There is a high cost to choosing to say yes to the Lord and Savior of the world. May we each choose to count the cost and to make the costly choice of discipleship this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord, it is a hard and narrow road. The cost is sometimes physical, sometimes emotional, sometimes financial, sometimes social, and sometimes all of these. Grant me the strength and the will to choose to follow you only all of my days. Amen.


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Spirit Led

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 16-25

Verse 25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”.

The passage for today contrasts the fruit of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. In many ways these are polar opposites. The works of the flesh are the selfish desires that we all have inside and that lead us to living a life that is not in alignment with God’s plans and purposes for our lives. On the other side of the spectrum are the works of the Spirit. When we live in alignment with these godly things we produce good fruit.

The works of the flesh are many. We are each familiar with these things. Paul provides a list in verses 19-21 that are “obvious”, to use Paul’s word. This list of sins contains many that most of us struggle with: jealousy, selfish ambition, envy – just to name a few. We each could add to the list as well: pride, lust, greed, and gluttony – again, just to name a few. Paul warns us that those living this way “will not enter the kingdom of God”. It is the reality that we all live within and that we all struggle with because we are creatures of the flesh.

Even though we are of the flesh, our inheritance does not lie here on earth. As heirs with Jesus Christ, we are children of God. When we keep ahold of this side of our character, then we are led by the Spirit. There is still this conflict within us, but we are not fighting the war alone. We are not even in charge. When we live by the Spirit our lives are different. Instead of the fruit produced by the flesh, we produce Holy Spirit fruit. Instead of guilt and shame and doubt and fear and condemnation we experience love and joy and patience and kindness and… The fruit is both within and without. When led by the Spirit we produce good fruit for the building of our faith and for the building of the kingdom of God here on earth. Therefore brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my battle within is almost constant. But the presence of your Holy Spirit is always constant. Attune me better to the lead of the Holy Spirit so that the fruit of my life may ever be pleasing to your sight. Amen.


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Free to Love

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 13-15

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”.

Paul speaks a lot of freedom. While it is true that in Christ we find much freedom, it is a freedom that is bound by love. We are free to live a full and wonderful life, but Paul is clear that there are lines that we are not to cross. In Paul’s way of thinking, we are free to love others. Paul describes the love we are to have for one another as “becoming slaves to one another”. That means we place the needs of others far ahead of our own needs.

In verse 14 Paul makes an important statement. He writes, “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”. This is a big and bold statement. As Saul, he would have never made this statement. The law and keeping every letter of the law was very important to the former Pharisee. For most Jews, the law was a key focus and was the underpinning of life. Paul has come to understand what Jesus meant when he talked about love. It was a complete and sacrificial love that gave all for the other.

When we are willing to live out this sacrificial love for the other, we are building up or pouring into the other. Instead of giving ourselves away and emptying ourselves, we find that we too are filled up and we feel more freedom to love others. As we give ourselves away, we gain more and more. Our freedom in Christ abounds!

Prayer: God, grant me the opportunity to pour into another today. As I do so, thank you for your giving love that overflows my heart. Amen.


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In Our Focus

Reading: Psalm 16: 8-11

Verses 8 & 11: “I have set the Lord always before me… You have made known to me the paths of life”.

Not too long after beginning to really follow Jesus, one learns that life is better with Christ. No, one’s troubles do not just go away but the presence of the Lord makes the journey better. Our faith brings us hope, comfort, strength, peace… Through these experiences we come to know one of the truths that David states: “You have made known to me the paths of life”. Through our own experiences we too come to believe that Jesus is the only way to live and to eternal life.

Yet even though we come to know this as we mature in our faith, the reality is that we must make an effort to keep our faith in focus. In verse 8 we read, “I have set the Lord always before me”. I think the key word here is “always”. That means 24/7. To keep God ever before us – 24/7 – takes a lot of effort and a lot of discipline.

The effort is shown in how we connect with God. In our prayer life it must be more than a quick ‘thank you God’ here and a table grace there. Daily prayer must be intentional and should include praise, thanksgiving, confession, and petition (asking). Our study of the Word must also be more than superficial. For example, when we read the Upper Room or some other devotional, do we read the passage or just the key verse listed at the top? Reading the passage will add depth to our understanding. We must turn to the Bible for guidance and for direction as well. Another practice that helps keep our faith in our focus is fellowship with other believers. That is certainly public worship but it is also in small group or Sunday school settings. Talking about our faith and learning together are great ways to expand our perspective and to deepen our understanding of God’s word.

And then there is discipline. The daily and intentional attention to the means of grace requires discipline. Discipline is essential to the life of a follower of Jesus. It is too easy to put off the prayer time or Bible study or small group. It is an easy excuse to say I’ll do it later or I’ll catch up tomorrow or I’ll start going again next week. How would we feel if we lifted up an earnest prayer and God responded with “I’ll try and get to that next week”? May we strive to keep the Lord ever before us and in our focus. May it be so.

Prayer: Thank you God for my routine. There is no better way to start my day! Thank you for the regular opportunities to engage with you and with other believers. Blessings upon blessings! Amen.


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Ever Before Me

Reading: Psalm 16

Verse 8: “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken”.

Psalm 16 is written by David and flows with confidence in God. For David, God is his refuge, his giver of good things, his counselor. David trusts that God is worthy of his praise and rejoicing. He also knows that God is always present. With confidence David writes, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken”. He chooses a daily relationship with God and upon that relationship he can stand firm.

In today’s Psalm, David is affirming and positive. But life is not always good. David, like us, certainly had days and seasons when life was hard and had times when sin created separation from God. Some of David’s Psalms reflect these valleys. It was in those lows that David learned that God never leaves him. We too experience this if our first action in the valley is to reach out to God. The Lord is always there, always by our side. Verse 8 is a great verse to memorize or to put on a note card or to highlight in our Bibles.

Psalm 16 closes with another promise that can sustain us and help us through a trial or time of grief or suffering. God shows us the “path of life” – the way to eternal life. David knows that one day he will be in God’s presence, enjoying “eternal pleasures” at God’s right hand. What a joy it will be! This promise is ours too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to daily walk with you. Keep me intimately connected so that I can stand firm in the trials and hard times. Thank you for always being present to me, O God. Amen.


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The Fire of God

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-2 & 6-14

Verse 11: “Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated them… Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind”.

Elijah and Elisha are walking along, essentially waiting for God to act. Elisha has remained steadfast to his mentor. Both know this will be their last walk and talk. As they walk, Elijah uses his cloak to separate the waters of the Jordan so that they can pass over. Their walk will continue. He then asks Elisha what he can do for him before he goes. Elisha requests a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Then God acts. In verse 11 we read, “Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated them… Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind”.

Fire is a common theme in the Bible and it is often associated with God. In the Old Testament God spoke through fire, led by fire, and revealed his power with fire. In the New Testament fire remains a symbol of God’s power – the Holy Spirit comes as a small flame, fire refines the believers, and in the end fire will consume many. It is a chariot and horses of fire that finally parts Elijah and Elisha as Elijah is taken straight to heaven.

In our lives we too experience fire from time to time. It can be caused by stress or by a situation that arises. This type of fire is usually uncomfortable and we want it to end quickly. But sometimes this fire refines, so it is allowed to linger for a while. We can also experience a faith that is like a fire burning within. It is one that we cannot quite keep ahold of and that we seek to share with others. Fire remains symbolic of God’s presence and activity in our lives.

All that is physically left of Elijah is his cloak. Elisha picks it up and begins the journey home. The fifty men of the company of prophets is still present. Elisha asks aloud if God is still present too. Like his mentor, Elisha touches the river with the cloak. It again parts for Elisha to pass through. The cloak is the physical mantle that has been passed from Elijah to Elisha. The revelation of God’s power confirms that this too has been passed to the next prophet of Israel. The fire of God will continue to burn brightly, now in Elisha.

That same fire of God, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, burns in each of us. It allows us to hear God’s voice in our lives and it empowers us to be God’s voice in our world. May we hear and exercise that voice today.

Prayer: God of fire, you are the light to my feet and you are the warmth to my heart. Shine bright in me so that I can share your light with my world today. Amen.


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Presence In Change

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-2 & 6-14

Verse 9: “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you'”?

In our passage for today and tomorrow, Elijah knows a radical change is ahead. In the opening verse we read that God is planning to take Elijah up into heaven. As the passage unfolds, so does Elisha. Back in 1 Kings 19 God sent Elijah to Elisha to take him in as his understudy. Elisha had lived with and learned from Elijah, becoming close with him through the process. As Elijah is called to Bethel, he tells Elisha three times to “stay here”. Each time Elisha’s response is the same: “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”. Elisha is dedicated.

In life we too will find ourselves in positions similar to Elisha’s. For example, it happens when a good friend moves away. In the time left we rejoice over our friendship and we encourage one another on the journey ahead. It happens when a friend or loved one prepares to transition to the next life. We remain present and we assure them (and ourselves) of what lies ahead. We remind each other of our love for one another and of God’s love for us. As people of faith we commit to remaining engaged and connected in and through times of change.

At first Elijah seems to want to be rid of Elisha. On the surface it appears to be so. We must ask why. For some, this occurs because they want to spare the other being present right at the end. For some, they push others away to test, to see if they’ll really stick it out to the end. We do not know Elijah’s motivation, but we do see a change in him. Not only does he relent to Elisha’s request, but he begins to think of the other, of Elisha. As a way to acknowledge their relationship and to say thank you to his protege, to his friend, he asks Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you”? In a gesture of both love and concern, he asks what he can do for his friend before God takes him up into heaven. Elijah is thinking of much more than himself.

It is those content and strong in their faith that can remain present and have something to offer the other as the end draws near. As one says a last goodbye to a friend moving away or to loved ones before transitioning to eternity, sharing one’s faith and trust in God is a precious gift. We arrive at that point by living each day like Elijah did, connected to and loving and trusting fully in God. When we are content and strong in our faith, we too can witness to that faith as we make such transitions. May we invest in others for the building of the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: God, parting is hard. Sometimes it simply comes and we are a part of it. Sometimes it is a choice made. God, grant me grace and love to walk faithfully through the changes that life brings. Amen.