pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Losing One’s Life

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verses 38-39: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”.

Jesus’ words today are really about the cost of discipleship. Over the years, the cost has been varying degrees of suffering and sacrifice, depending on the era and location. In Jesus’ day, he and his disciples were oppressed by both the Jews and the Romans. Both saw Jesus and his small group of followers as a potential threat and as a people who were not worshiping the “correct” way. Beatings and imprisonment and death would become the norms for some time. Similar costs exist in places around the world today. But here in our nation and in most of the western world the cost of following Jesus is maybe a little rejection and perhaps some scorn or ridicule. At times our faith may cost us a job or some friends.

After explaining the costs to his disciples and followers, Jesus closes with these words: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. The cross is standing out from the world and giving instead of taking. It is to live in the world as Jesus lived in the world, offering all of himself before considering what he could get out of another. It was standing up for the ones without voice or power. This is the idea of dying to self, of losing one’s life for Christ’s sake. It is placing self after faith and family and others. It is being selfless.

In our modern culture, this is not an easy place to be. We are told that the way is narrow that leads to life abundant and eternal. The losing of self leads to community and connection, to deeper relationships with God and with one another. It is living for the building of the kingdom of God here and now. It is love itself lived out in all we do and say and think. May this be the sacrifice we each make day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, the opportunities are there. If I will but get outside of my comfort zone, outside of my walls. It is engaged with the world, giving freely of self, that life is really blessed and full of joy. May I humbly serve you this day. Amen.


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Suffering with Jesus

Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

Verse 10: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”.

Peter is writing to encourage the followers of Jesus Christ who are in trials and sufferings. As foreign as this sounds to us, suffering for their faith was a regular event. For much of the first 300 years of the church, it was dangerous to be a Christian. The Jews and the Romans were both openly hostile towards Jesus’ disciples and followers. Yet the church thrived and grew. Today we see this same thing happening in places where there is a potential cost to following Jesus. The willingness to risk and to pay the cost refines and bolsters the faith.

Peter encourages the early church to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ”. The disciples in the early church were grateful to suffer for Christ because they understood that they were suffering with Christ. They were literally doing what Jesus did. I once read or heard a quote that roughly said: “If you are not suffering a little for your faith perhaps your faith is too little”. In essence the author was getting at the idea that if no one notices you are a Christian, are you really a Christian? There is a lot of truth to that. Too often we like to fly our faith below the radar.

Peter identifies and warns his disciples about the cause of their suffering. We fly low for the same reason. In verse eight he reminds them that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. Imagine the power of that verse as the Roman practice of throwing Christians to the lions ramped up. The devil continues to prowl today. His favorite weapons are still fear, doubt, anxiety, worry… Peter encourages the early church and us today to “resist him, standing firm in the faith”. Trust that God is really in control. Remain in Jesus Christ just as he seeks to remain in you.

Peter closes with this promise: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”. Yes, we will suffer at times if we are really living out the gospel faith that Jesus modeled. Yes, we will. God is not only with us in the sufferings, but he will always bring us through stronger and with a deeper faith. May we trust in our Lord and Savior, stepping where he leads us today.

Prayer: Lord God, no one likes to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. Yet at times you call me to do just that. I can rejoice and even thank you for my times of suffering. They have been fruitful and have led to growth in me and in my faith. May your Holy Spirit help me to be willing to do whatever you call me to today. Amen.


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Suffering to Transform

Reading: Acts 7: 55-60

Verse 56: “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”.

Today’s text reminds us that we will suffer for our faith. There are varying degrees of suffering. The example we see today in the stoning of Stephen is far more violent and carries a finality that is far removed from most of our realities. On a daily basis we must deny self and seek to live as humble servants. At times we sacrifice and serve others in ways that have actual costs. At times decisions and actions to stand for justice or against oppression place us in the cross hairs of others, even of other Christians at times. Like Stephen, we must remain true to our faith and then graciously accept the outcome, especially in the face of suffering.

In Stephen’s example we can find strength and hope for our bouts with suffering. First, we must keep our focus on God. As the anger and malice levels rose, Stephen stood firm. His truth did not change. He declared his connection to Jesus Christ with assurance, saying, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”. He valued this connection and relationship above all else. Second, he gave himself over to God. He recognized who was really in control and, without fear or worry or anger, he committed his spirit to the Lord. Seeing heaven open he was grateful and ready fir his next step on the journey. Even when the next step is not into eternity we can declare that we take it with Jesus, knowing that we are not alone. Lastly, he extended grace. Stephen had no animosity or anger over what was happening. He knew he was suffering for Jesus and his faith in him. They were not stoning Stephen because he was Stephen. The suffering came because he was proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Stephen knew they were choosing not to accept the truth about Jesus. It was not personal so he prayed for those who were opposing the truth. We too can do this. We can and should pray for those who bring us suffering. In doing so we are transformed more into Christ’s image even as we are helping to transform the world around us. In doing so we will also see the glory of God as he works in and through us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, ever help me to stand for what is right and holy and just. Embolden me when these truths bring suffering. Remind me that it is for you. Use me today, however you will. Amen.


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In His Footsteps

Reading: 1st Peter 2: 19-25

Verse 25: “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.

Today our passage contains a reference to sheep and/or shepherds. This metaphor carries us through this week. Sheep were plentiful in Palestine. The landscape and climate were not well-suited to cattle; sheep were the primary source of both meat and wool. Sheep are funny critters. In that way, they are a lot like us. But the commonalities do not end there. Although generally good followers, at times sheep will wander. Although exclusively loyal to the voice of their shepherd, at times they do not understand or remember the words spoken. Although docile and timid in general, on occasion they become playful or rambunctious – depending on your perspective. Although not known as trouble makers, once in a while sheep will get into a spot or predicament that does require some maneuvering to get back out of. Some suffering may be required.

In 1st Peter 2 today we read about times of suffering for our faith. Peter reminds us, “to this you were called”. Peter is writing within the context of submitting to masters. He includes kings, governors, and slave owners in the list of masters. We would have different titles today, but the principles remain the same. We are still called to respect and submit to authority. In our lives Jesus has the ultimate authority. That is one of Peter’s points. In our day and age, being obedient to Christ can bring some suffering our way. In our land that usually looks like a little ridicule, maybe some ostracizing, and possibly a little self-denial. Once in a while our faith may lead us to take a stand or to enter into a situation that brings some adversity or a bit of discomfort. These are not situations that we step into lightly – especially the second or third or… times. They come with a cost. Yet this is precisely what Peter is calling us to when he writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps”. Whether it was injustice or oppression or false religion or unethical behavior, Jesus stepped in and confronted it head on. And there was always a cost. None of us have to look far to find an ill or a difficult situation that needs addressed. We are called to follow in the footsteps of our Shepherd. Instead of sheep simply going astray, may we boldly and courageously follow in Jesus’ footsteps. May we each shine light into the darkness, building the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Dear God, give me courage both to see and to act. Lead me into the darkness, that your light and love may be known. Gird me up, making me willing to pay the cost for you and for the building of your kingdom here in this place. Go with me, O God. Amen.


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Stepping Forward

Reading: Matthew 21: 1-11

Verse 5: “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey”.

Today Matthew paints the picture of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The city is already abuzz as many have come into town to celebrate the Passover. As Jesus’ followers are joined by others along the road into the city, a spontaneous parade begins as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Cloaks and branches line the road to make for a royal entry. The people shout and cheer Hosanna as he rides on. But this king comes as he has always been. In verse five we read, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey”. Zechariah had spoken these words long ago. Jesus, ever the one of peace and hope and humility, enters the city as such. Here is our first lesson from today’s passage: enter humbly, looking for ways to serve others, seeking to bring hope and peace.

As we consider the most recent events in Matthew’s gospel and what lies ahead for Jesus, we learn another lesson. In response to James and John’s mother’s request for her sons to have seats of honor in heaven, Jesus reminds all of the disciples that whoever wants to be great must first be a servant. He also reminds them that he came to “give his life as a random for many”. With these thoughts on his mind, Jesus heads towards Jerusalem. Knowing what lies ahead makes it both harder and easier. Knowing that he would physically suffer and would die a brutal death must have made the journey forward harder. Knowing that God was in control and was leading him to a far greater purpose and knowing that God was going to work in and through him made forward motion easier.

At times we too will see the way forward but will be challenged by the potential cost or suffering. To enter into servant ministry always comes at some price. It is most often messy. Yet we can enter knowing what Jesus knew: God goes with us, leading and guiding us all the way. We also know that when we step forward in faith, that we do not step forward alone. The Holy Spirit goes with us. As we feel or see or sense the call to humble servant ministry to our neighbor or to an older member of our church or… may we step forward in faith, trusting fully in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and my heart to the opportunities to serve you and others today in this unique time and season. Help me to be responsive as we all seek to remain safe and healthy. Lead me to love others as you first and still love me. Amen.


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Seek

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 3: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”.

In our passage today Nicodemus is a seeker. He feels the pull of Jesus Christ on his heart. He senses that following this rabbi will change his life. And like most seekers, there is a thing or two that inhibits his seeking. The fact that Nicodemus comes at night indicates a struggle many have: he does not want to give up his position or status in life. Nicodemus occupies a place in Jewish society that affords the utmost respect. He has power and influence. To choose to follow Jesus would certainly cost him all of this. Today the idea of dying to self and asking Jesus to be Lord of our life calls us to make the same decisions.

Nicodemus wants to understand Jesus. He wants to know more, to go deeper. He has seen and/or heard enough to draw him in. He is curious. Nicodemus is able to go directly to the source. But even that is confusing for him. This can inhibit continued pursuit. Effort is required to persevere. Today many people turn to the Bible for understanding. The living word functions much like Jesus did. As one reads more and more the passages come to life and gain deeper meaning. A different story can shed light on another difficult passage, building on one’s understanding.

The longer into the night that Nicodemus and Jesus talked, the better Nicodemus’ understanding will become. The same is true for seekers who spend time reading and studying the Bible. The same is true for those a little further along on their journey. The more we read and study, the better we understand the story and message of the Bible. Like Nicodemus, may we invest in our relationship with Jesus. He will lead and guide us as we seek him and continue to mature in our faith. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me in more and more each day. Help me to dive down deep, growing closer to you day by day. Amen.


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To Love

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Psalm 119:1-8

Verse 16: “For I command you today to love the Lord your God… then you will live and increase”.

Both the passage from Deuteronomy 30 and the one from Psalm 119 call us to walk in God’s ways. Both speak of life or blessings or prosperity or obedience as the goal. Both also warn of the cost of deciding not to walk upright and blameless. There is a clear call to make the choice to walk with God. It is a choice we must make over and over as the lures and temptations of this world are ever before us.

Walking daily with the Lord is the goal but it is not as easy as a paint-by-numbers project. It is not like when we were children and we tried to take giant steps to walk in someone’s footprints. We are called not to a set pattern or to a predetermined path but to a lifestyle built on loving God and loving one another. To me the first is often easier than the second. God is fully good and loving and holy. God is steadfast and true. I, like the rest of humanity, am not always good and loving and… I get selfish. I get jealous. I can be hard to love at times.

Both Moses and the psalmist call for us to follow the commands, decrees, laws, statutes. From the Old Testament perspective this was the understanding. Keep all the rules and receive God’s blessings. As the Bible moves into the New Testament we see that this task has become burdensome. The Pharisees and other religious leaders have become legalistic. Religion has become a huge code to follow and the connection to God’s heart has paid the price. It has made the circle smaller. Jesus reveals a better way. Jesus took the two great commands – to love God and to love one another – seriously. Jesus entered into life with people, engaging them where they were at both spirituality and physically. Out there, in the midst of life, it was often messy. When we are willing to walk in Jesus’way, letting love of God and love of one another guide us, it might get messy for us too. I’d rather be in a messy place filled with love than in a nice, clean, tidy box filled with rules. How about you?

Loving God, your love is so expansive. The deeper I peer into your heart, the greater the love. In your son’s life I so clearly see the call to love the marginalized and the overlooked. Yes, it was messy. But that didn’t bother Jesus in the least. Help me to feel the same way. Amen.


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Remaining Faithful and Diligent

Reading: Luke 18: 1-8

Verse 8: “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly”.

Our God is full of love and mercy and compassion. Our God is righteous and holy and good. Our God stands for justice and equality and truth. Our God works for restoration and reconciliation and redemption. As we continue to work out our faith journeys, we should seek to grow in all of these things, becoming more and more like our Lord.

Today Jesus focuses on being persistent in our prayers as we seek justice. Justice, like all of the other qualities or characteristics listed above, are intertwined and interconnected with the others. For example, love, mercy, and compassion lead us to seek a justice that applies universally to all people. These qualities lead us to stand up and even to sacrifice so that the oppressed and marginalized experience the same justice as we and others experience. As we do this, we are a bit like John the Baptist, seeking to become less so that Jesus becomes more.

In our parable today Jesus acknowledges that there is some injustice in the world. This is not pleasing to God. It should not sit well with us either. In verse eight we read, “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly”. God will see that justice prevails – at some point. A good example of this is found in the story of Lazarus that comes in Luke 16. Lazarus had a very hard life but receives his comfort in heaven. God’s timing is a mystery to us. This leads us back to the other focus of the parable: be persistent in prayer. We do not fully understand all the ways of God. But we are called to place our trust and hope in God alone.

As we come to God in prayer, may we remain faithful and diligent, assured that God will hear and bring justice… at just the right time – at God’s time.

Prayer: Lord, listen to your children crying. Lord, hear the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized. Raise up the cries to the ears of your people. Lead us to be your heart and voice, to be your hands and feet, O God. Amen.


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Everything

Reading: Luke 14: 27-33

Verse 33: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple”.

Our passage today begins with the idea of carrying our cross. Like Jesus, we must be willing to surrender our will to God’s will in order to advance the kingdom here on earth. Bearing the cross will challenge us as we are called to suffer with Jesus, loving the unlovable, caring for the outcast, walking with the stranger. In grace and love we are to be Christ to the world.

Jesus then talks about the cost of discipleship. We are advised to consider the cost of following Jesus before we begin to build a life upon him. Like with any project, we must first consider if we are willing to give up family, friends, personal comforts, security… for the sake of serving Jesus. We are also warned in our passage about the coming battle. Satan is relentless in his pursuit of the faithful. Can we, in faith, stand against Satan’s lies and temptations and against the voices of the world? We cannot. If wise, we will go first to the one who has overcome the world and seek Jesus’ peace (and strength and guidance and…) to walk the narrow road that we chose to walk.

The passage today closes with these words: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple”. Jesus wants us to understand that the commitment that he requires is “all in”. It is a 24/7 commitment to be like Jesus. He is not asking for an hour a couple Sundays a month plus a five minute prayer most days of the week and sometimes before meals. Jesus asks us to be willing to give up all for him – “everything” is his word. We must surrender not only our will but our resources, our time, our possessions, our talents, our abilities… In doing so we will serve him well. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you ask a lot. Yet it is far less than Jesus gave on the cross. May I be faithful and true all of my days. Amen.


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Clear Priorities

Reading: Luke 14: 25, 26 and 33

Verse 26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father… mother… wife… children… brother… sister… even his own life… he cannot be my disciple”.

Two of three of today’s verses are really tough verses. Jesus says to the crowd and to us, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father… mother… wife… children… brother… sister… even his own life… he cannot be my disciple”. That is hard to read twice in such a short time. He then concludes our passage from Luke 14 by telling us that we must “give up everything” if we want to be his disciple. Jesus is using hyperbole today to make his point. He is addressing a large crowd. Those following Jesus has grown quickly and they all do not clearly understand the cost of following Jesus. Today’s verses are a bit of a reality check.

Jesus uses the word ‘hate’ today as a term to define our priorities in life. If asked what our priorities are, almost all of us would respond: God, family, work (or school). But a look into our week and our choices and decisions might not actually reflect that order. Jesus chooses his words today to drive home the point that faith must be our clear #1 priority. It must be so clear that we appear to hate our family, friends, and even our own self when compared to how much we love God. Jesus wants us to understand that there must be a striking contrast between the devotion we live and show to God and all other relationships and priorities in life. Jesus had strong relationships with his mother Mary, with the disciples, and with friends like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. ‘Hate’ would not describe any of these relationships. But his devotion to God never wanted – it was clearly Jesus’ top priority.

In verse 33 Jesus addresses the sacred cow of the secular world. Culture identifies and defines worth by what we have and by who we are in the power structures of the world. Again, Jesus is calling us to put all this worldly stuff a distant priority when compared to our faith. When we turn away and pursue the things of the world more than loving and serving God, we have lost focus on what really matters. Our priorities have been reordered.

Jesus says “Follow me” to us. That means living the priorities that Jesus lived. That means clearly committing to our faith as the most important thing in our lives and then living that commitment out. Yes, it is a hard commitment. Jesus is the only way. May he be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, at times walking a life of faith can be so simple and straight forward. At other times it can be a great struggle as the flesh inside me rises up and as the voices and things of the world call out. O God, help me to walk closely with you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Amen.