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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For All

Reading: Romans 8: 6-8

Verse 8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

As the second half of our Romans reading opens, we are reminded again of how God is in control. We read, “at just the right time”. Not a moment too soon, not a few days too late. Perhaps it was when humanity needed saving the most. Maybe it was when things lined up just right from God’s perspective. Possibly it was a tipping point that none of us can see from this side of the veil. But at just the right time, “Christ died for the ungodly”. That is me and that is you and that it all people everywhere. Christ died for all.

The act of sacrificial death born out on the cross begs the question: Why? Paul answers the question in verse eight: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Why? Because God loved you and me and all of humanity so much that he was willing to send his son to die a painful death. Why? Because the price had to be paid for the sins of the world – mine, yours, all of ours. Why? Because resurrection can happen only after death. It is quite the demonstration of love.

If Christ was willing to die for us while we were still sinners, what should our response be to those we encounter that need healing or redemption or restoration or new life? Should we be willing to go as far as Jesus went to minister to those he met? If not death, then how far should we be willing to go to end injustice in all forms, to break bonds and addictions, to cross unspoken barriers, to offer forgiveness and grace? Should we even have a line?

When Jesus encountered someone in need, he did not have them fill out a questionnaire to determine if they qualified or fit certain parameters. He did not evaluate them to see if they were worth his time and energies. No, Jesus came for all and he loved all. We see this reflected in his death – he died for all. And before his final departure, Jesus instructed his followers to go and do likewise. Today, may we seek to model that same love – no conditions, no qualifications, no strings attached. May we simply love and serve all we meet today.

Prayer: Loving God, open my heart to your love, that in receiving I may give. Bind my will to your will and my ways to your ways. Empower me to love and serve others well 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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Forgiveness

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 23: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”.

Much of the resurrection focuses on forgiveness. The most obvious examples are Jesus forgiving those who placed him on the cross and the grace that he extended to the thief on the cross next to his. But there are other examples. The taking upon himself our sins began the process of confession and repentance that we must practice at least daily. The spirit of forgiveness, I would argue, began even earlier in the week. As Jesus washed Judas’ feet and shared the first communion with him, Jesus was modeling what forgiving our enemies looks like. Then, in the garden, as Jesus the man feared the brutality that lay ahead, he gave a human plea to be spared. To move past this point, to master his emotions, the divine Jesus bowed to his Father’s will. To do so he had to come to peace with his situation. To do that, in a way Jesus had to offer forgiveness for what he was about to endure.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, after offering his peace to them and showing them the scars, he shared his intent to send them out. He empowered them with these words: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”. The Holy Spirit would be the guide and the power to go in Jesus’ name. With this power the disciples would teach and heal – both physically and spiritually. We too receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, first at our baptism. Being anointed with water, the Holy Spirit becomes a part of our lives, leading and guiding us. Upon professing Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit blossoms into full life. As we mature in faith our ability to hear and feel the Spirit deepens and widens. This power that grows and blossoms in us is the same Holy Spirit that led the first disciples out to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to change the world forever. We too have the same power inside of us.

Part of Jesus’ plan was the forgiveness of sins. It is why he went to the cross. It is what he modeled over and over as he restored many to wholeness of life. It is what Jesus continues to do today as the Spirit works in our lives and through us in the world. The peace that Jesus brings is tied to this idea of forgiveness. If we are to have peace in our lives – true peace – we must be disciples that practice forgiveness. That means that we do not offer up the hollow “I forgive you” like we did when kids. That means not trying to offer forgiveness while still holding onto hurts and thoughts of revenge. That means truly forgiving our enemies and others that we suspect might hurt us again. This is the forgiveness offered at the cross. This is the forgiveness that Jesus lived out. This is the forgiveness that the resurrection calls us to live out. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God. Yes, loving God. You love me in spite of all my sins and failures. You do so because once I confess and repent, to you my sins are no more. Grant me that depth of love, O Lord. Grant it to me, please. Amen.


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For me, for you, for us

Reading: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:13

Verse 53:5 – “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities… by his wounds we are healed”.

In these verses from the prophet Isaiah one can see and feel the connections to Jesus and to Good Friday that the very first Christians felt just after his death. The raising up and the exalting by God, the being despised and rejected by men, the taking up of our infirmities and the carrying of our sorrows – these verses all speak of Jesus and his last hours on this earth.

Today, on this day when Jesus goes to the cross, verse six stands out for me: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray”. Each of us turn our own way as we wander astray from Jesus. We do over and over. Yes, we do manage to die to some of our sins, but others seem to dog us all of our days: ego, pride, judging others, just to name a few of my struggles. Perhaps these are yours too or maybe you have a few of your own.

And then we come back around to verse five with me. Here we read, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities… by his wounds we are healed”. These words make both this day and my struggle with sin so much more real – pierced, crushed, wounds. Jesus paid a steep price just to get to the cross, to the place where he took on our sins. Then, there on the cross, Jesus paid for our sins with his blood and with his life. For me, a wandering sheep. For you, a wayward son or daughter. For us, the family of God. Thanks be to God. Again, thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, yes, God, thank you. Thank you Jesus for all you endured for me. Thank you God for allowing your son to walk that road for me. Thank you for doing what I could never do. Thank you for your love for me. Amen.


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A Big Love

Reading: John 13: 1-7 and 31-35

Verse 34: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.

Jesus has spent three years in ministry with the twelve men gathered around the table. They have been witnesses to God’s love being lived out. At times they have certainly been recipients of that love. For the disciples that has most often come in the form of teaching and sometimes in gentle redirection. They have seen Jesus love as he heals, teaches, and welcomes the outsider and the marginalized. This night, Jesus’ demonstration of love is drenched in humility. As they gather and settle in for the Passover meal, Jesus strips down and washes the disciples’ feet – all twelve. He washes the feet of the betrayer. Judas is included. Of course he is – Jesus is love.

This example of love is unique. Jesus did not have to take on the role of lowly servant washing dirty feet. But he did. It was an object lesson for the disciples. It is one for us as well – especially the way Judas was included. In this we see that love is not conditional. Just as it would have been easier for Jesus to stoop and was the feet of just the disciples who would serve him until their deaths, we too find it much easier to love and serve those we love and are in good standing with. But that is not Jesus’ model. That is not Jesus’ kind of love. His command is: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Jesus loved the faithful and the betrayer, the seekers and the doubters, the followers and the Pharisees, the women at the foot of the cross and the ones who put him on it. In his words and actions, Jesus says, ‘I loved them all’. As he speaks into our hearts each day, he says, ‘Go and do likewise’. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving Lord, you give a tall order: love as you loved. That is a big love. Open wide my human heart to be more like your divine heart. Shape and form and stretch it to become just like your heart – loving one and all unconditionally. May it be so in me. Amen.


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Only in Surrender

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-31

Verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to address a division that has arisen. On one side of the divide are the Greeks. They love learning and discussing ideas. They look for and prize wisdom above all else. They want to know their way into believing in Jesus Christ. On the other side are the Jews. The Jews look for signs. This is how they had always recognized and identified the power of God at work. Way back the power of God was revealed in the manna and in the wall of Jericho falling down, just to name a couple of examples. More recently it shown as Jesus and the disciples healed and cast out demons. The Jews wanted to be awed into believing in Jesus.

Paul tells both sides that they are wrong. Both the Greeks and the Jews are looking in the wrong place if they want to find the power of Jesus Christ. In our opening verse Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. To the world the cross represents weakness and shame and wrong doing. To the world it was foolishness for Jesus to die on a cross like a common criminal. But the world is perishing. Paul instead reminds the Jews and Greeks that true power is found in the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus demonstrated servanthood and obedience. It was there that he became humble to death as he died to save us all. In his death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and paved the way for us all to experience “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Just as Jesus was humble, we too must be humble as we approach faith. We cannot think our way into believing. Nor can we argue another into faith. We cannot “genie” our way to believing either. We cannot try and force God to prove he is real. We find faith when we come to the point of kneeling before Jesus, aware of our sin and our need for his grace, humbly asking him to be the Lord of our life. Only when we surrender do we find victory in Christ. It is more of that upside-down kingdom. When we are weak, he is strong. May we walk in surrender to our Lord and Savior today.

Prayer: Loving Father, you took me as I was, broken and filled with so many sins and weaknesses. Just like a potter, you went to work reforming and reshaping me, guiding me to your purposes. I am far from perfect. I beg you to continue to be at work in me. I surrender all to you for your glory. Amen.


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Upside Down

Reading: Psalm 36: 5-11

Verse 7b: “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”.

We begin Holy Week today with a Psalm that is not part of the revised common lectionary but is often read this week. As I began reading the first two verses, a song leapt into my mind. These words form the opening verse of “Your Love, O Lord” from Mercy Me. It is so appropriate as mercy forms one of the central thematic movements of Holy Week.

Mercy is centered first in love and compassion. Love leads us to have compassion for those close to us. Compassion becomes mercy when it is undeserved or cannot be earned. To extend mercy or to offer mercy, one must have compassion for the other. This week will seem to draw to a close with an act of great mercy as Jesus goes to the cross, taking on the sins of the world – my sins and your sins. There is a vastness in the love that Jesus offers in this act. Yet we know that victory over sin is not the only victory this week!

As I read the passage for today, the second half of verse seven clung to me. The ideas and emotions contained therein are near and dear to my heart. The verse reads, “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”. This verse shouts to me the vastness and wideness and inclusiveness of God’s love. Both the high and the low. Both men and women. Both the elderly and the children. Both the Black and the white and the Native and the Asian and the Mexican and the immigrant and the refugee. Every single person falls within the scope of God’s love. Every single one. And it does not stop with humanity either. The promise is to one day restore all of creation – a new heaven and a new earth. God’s love seeks to draw all of creation in.

The psalmist also writes of feasting on the “abundance of your house” and of drinking from God’s “river of delights”. This is God’s perfect plan – for a future day. As I look at the world it is plain to see that not all feast and not all drink. That is not the way of the world. As followers of Jesus Christ, it is here that we find one of our primary missions (see Matthew 26: 31-46). We are called to build God’s upside-down kingdom here on earth. That is the one where there are no rich or poor, no fed and hungry, no slave or free… In doing so we help the least and the broken and the lost to begin to experience verse nine: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I hear the call to action. Lead me to be a builder today. May your mercy and love flow in and through me. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Greater

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 3: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand”?

The psalmist begins by crying out to God. Unfortunately, I did not often begin here. I often ended up there, but I did not often begin there. I ended up there when I had failed or come up short, when my efforts were not enough, when I couldn’t just put my head down and push through.

My tendencies towards independence and self-sufficiency, coupled with a sometimes elevated sense of self, usually led me in the opposite direction of turning first to God. The combination of too many failures and crashes eventually coupled with a growing and maturing faith in God that has worked within me to produce a follower more likely to begin with prayer than not. Hindsight reveals that God has always been at work on my broken vessel.

Along the way I learned that my failures were sins, just as my not coming to God in prayer was a sin. In both cases I was placing other gods before God. The psalmist writes, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand”? This idea comes true when one realizes that God’s love and mercy are far greater than any and all sin. This was shown on the cross. As the psalmist continues, “with you there is forgiveness”. Not once or twice or even ten times, but forever and always. What a wonderful God we serve! May we serve him well today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for humbling me and breaking me down. Thank you for helping me to see that alone I was lost and destined to fail. Please continue to walk daily with me, guiding me to be a servant to all. Amen.


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On the Fringes

Reading: John 4: 27-42

Verse 35: “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”.

When was the last time you met someone like the woman at the well? When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was not like you, who was outside of your normal circles of friends and acquaintances, who was not among the popular and accepted folks in the community? Every community has them. It may be only one or two who live outside the norms of society. It may be thousands who live on the fringes in your community.

In verses 5-26 of John 4, Jesus made the choice to engage one of these people. He stepped over many barriers to draw in this woman at the well, to help her find the living water that only he can give. The disciples return just as the conversation between Jesus and the woman ends. They have been in town getting food. In response to their offer of physical food, Jesus speaks instead of the spiritual food he has to offer.

Some of the people we might meet on the fringes are in need of physical food. Some on the fringes are in need of a place to belong, to feel loved. Some are in need of support and guidance and direction in life. Some on the fringes have other basic needs – heating fuel, gas to get to work, clothes for the kids. Before we can begin to have the spiritual conversations with someone on the fringes we must cross a barrier or three and we must help them cross barriers as well to find a place of trust and security and honesty. Jesus models this well in the story we read in John 4.

Jesus also acknowledges that we all play a role. In verse 37 he says, “One sows and another reaps”. We may be like Jesus was with the woman at the well – beginning the conversation and following it through to a profession of faith. But most of the time we are just one step in the process of someone becoming a follower of Jesus.

In our passage today, Jesus encourages the disciples and us to be a step in the process. In verse 35 Jesus tells us, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”. These words are just as true today as the day he spoke them. Some people are curious. Some are hurting. Some are angry. Some are alone. Some are grieving. Many are on the fringes and want to come into community. Open your eyes and look. The fields are ripe. Go forth to be the love of Jesus to one in need of connection.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see those in need. Help me to live well – to foster a deep love for the marginalized and others with needs. Open my eyes and my heart, O God. Amen.