pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Open to Others

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.

On its most basic level the parable of the rich man is about greed and the negative decisions it can lead to. In the parable a bumper crop triggered the man’s “mine” instincts. He decided he had to build bigger barns to store his new crop. He coveted his grain because in it he saw not only financial security but also a chance to take some time to enjoy life. He was very focused on self.

Possessions and wealth are not the only things we can feel greed over and can seek to covet. This morning I read about a small neighborhood church in a changing community that decided to take a chance and reach out. Instead of holding onto their church, they opened their doors and invited their new immigrant neighbors inside. They invited them in and began praying with them – to find homes and jobs and for comfort to their loneliness. The praying led to relationships and that small church grew as their new friends became brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some churches could see new faces as threats to what they have and know. In many cases immigrants are cast in an “us” and “them” scenario. And immigrants are not the only people groups that can be seen in an “us” and “them” framework. When we create perceived differences between ourselves and another group of people, we are denying that they too were created in the image of God. When we allow greed to put up a barrier between us and our neighbors, we are holding tightly to what we have always known or had and are not allowing God’s love to work in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world, or in our own heart.

The rich man was focused only on self. He could not see all he had to offer his neighbors. His greed prevented him from seeing beyond himself and from experiencing God’s love at work. In the end, what good did all that grain do him? Storing up and holding things for ourselves – goods, money, time, compassion, prayers, empathy, a place at the table – does not make us rich towards God either. May we all learn a little from the rich man and from the church that opened its doors to those outside. May we practice what we learn.

Prayer: Lord God, who is out there today for me to engage? Lead me to share your love with another today. Soften my heart and open my eyes, hands, and feet. Amen.

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Filled to Feed

Reading: John 21: 15-19

Verse 16: “Simon son of John, do you love me”?

In our passage today, it focuses right in on the relationship between Jesus and Simon Peter. There is a parallel to Peter’s denial of Christ in the courtyard of the high priest. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me”? Each time that Peter responds with a “yes” he is addressing a specific denial. Jesus’ response varies each time. His first response is “feed my lambs”. His second response is “take care of my sheep”. His third response is “feed my sheep”. Each of these responses focuses on a different aspect of ministry. Peter is called to teach the children and new believers, to lead the church, and to teach the mature believers. In these verses we see Peter restored and established as the one who will guide the early church forward.

Like Peter, on our walks of faith we too will stumble and fall into sin. We too will have times when we deny Christ. Each time we deny a nudge or whisper of the Holy Spirit, we are denying Christ. In reality, we are often like Peter. Yet Christ remains. He may asks us, “Do you love me?”, but it is for our own benefit, not His. We each need to wrestle with this question over and over to remind ourselves that we do love Jesus as a means to better live out our faith in the world. In order to do this and to do it well, we must keep our connection strong. This is what happened in verses 1-14. Jesus appeared and worked in the disciples’ lives, feeding them. It is important to note that before Jesus sent Peter out to feed and care for the church, Jesus took the time to feed and care for Peter. Jesus filled him up before sending him out to feed others.

Here too we must be like Peter. We must allow Jesus to fill us, to care for us, to feed us before we can go out and do likewise. Through prayer, reading, study, worship… we are filled by Jesus so that we can go out into the world to share the good news. In our personal time and in our corporate time may we be filled today, overflowing with the love of God in Christ Jesus, ready to share His love with the world. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this time this morning, filling me with Jesus. May our worship today also fill me up and may you use me to fill others up. In His name I pray. Amen.


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Follow

Reading: Mark 8: 31-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

It must have been hard for Peter and the other disciples to hear what Jesus was saying. They have been following this man who is the Messiah. He has healed every disease and illness, He has taught with power and authority, He has established himself as God’s Son in their eyes. And now He is telling them that He will soon be killed. This leads Peter to challenge the plan that Jesus has just laid out. No, there must be another option Jesus.

It is hard for us to always hear what the Holy Spirit is saying. We are cruising through life and our faith seems just fine. We believe in Jesus, we read and study our Bible, we pray at least a couple times a day. Things are good. Then the Holy Spirit whispers to our heart, it tries to nudge our hands and feet into action. We recoil a bit at the thought of stepping out of our routine, out of our comfort zone. We think, no, Holy Spirit there must be another way, another person to meet this need.

Jesus called the disciples and the crowd to Himself. He calls us to hear these words too: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. If we are to follow Jesus, we must begin by denying self. That means that we subvert our pride and ego and selfishness and our wants and all else to Jesus. He must sit alone on the throne of our hearts. Then we must take up our own cross. This means that we put to death the desires of the flesh and that we are willing to pay the price for another. Just as Jesus did, we do not count the cost. When our souls are in this place, then we are ready to follow, to walk as Jesus walked, loving those who need loved. More than just reading or hearing these words, we need to live them out too.

Holy Spirit, blow into my heart today. Shoo out all of my selfish desires and ways. Rid me of all that prevents me from dying to self. Help me to pick up my cross and to hold it tightly as I seek to love and live like Jesus did. May I follow my Lord and Savior closely today. Amen.


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Round and Round

Reading: Romans 4: 13-16

Verse Sixteen: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”.

In our culture we generally like to feel we are at least ‘even’ with each other. If someone brings us a plate of cookies, for example, we feel we need to return the favor by bringing them a cake or plate of cookies or treats. If we ask someone to help us move, then we feel obliged to show up when they are moving. If wr have someone over for dinner they drive home contemplating when they can have us over for dinner. We go round and round.

Sometimes I think we feel faith is like this too. We try to do good things to gain or earn God’s favor. We pile on more when we have sinned and feel the guilt or shame. We try and check off all the boxes to meet what we think God and others expect of us to be considered ‘good’ Christians. So we go to church and to that pot luck and to the small group and to the rescue mission to help serve the meal and… We go round and round.

Lent is a good example of this idea. The concept behind a season of preparation for Easter is to be ready spiritually to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. What do we do to get ready? We give something up for Lent, wr join another Bible study, we go to that special Lenten small group, we read an extra devotional, we… Sometimes it feels like we are going round and round instead of connecting more deeply to God. But we can’t quite avoid it either. If I were to just say “Stop!” all this and just get closer to God, I would feel inclined to follow it up with advice to just pray more or to just read your Bible more. And we go round and round.

God knows. He knows. In verse sixteen we read,”Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”. We are saved by grace alone. No matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or don’t say, God’s grace is always sufficient. This removes our need to check boxes or to give up this or to add in that. This need is within us, in our minds, maybe even in our hearts. God says enough, my grace is enough. If abstaining from chocolate or whatever helps you feel closer to God, then do it. If reading an extra devotional or being in a small group helps you grow closer to God, then by all means enjoy your time. In the end, though, may we all rest upon the promise of salvation by faith alone. In this promise, grace is sufficient. It is all about God. This we know. May it be so.


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Narrow and Hard

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s passage is all about commitment, dedication, obedience, discipline, and, ultimately, transformation. This call to discipleship is hard. That is why Jesus said the way is narrow in Matthew 7. Faith is just like all other things of great value – it requires a great deal of effort to attain our goal.

Jesus begins today’s key verse with, “if anyone would come after me”. He is implying the first thing about faith is a choice. All people everywhere have a sense of God one way or another. Some sense a higher power, some sense God in the created world, some sense God in the “there must be more to life than this” feelings. Faith begins with the inner urge to live for and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Beginning a relationship is the first step.

Next Jesus turns to those big words I opened with, saying, “he must deny himself”. Denying self and our own wants and desires is the beginning of living out our faith. When asked, Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. When we truly do this, there is little room for self. In denying self, the transformation process also gets under way. The study and practice of our faith through prayer, worship, Bible study, … is what begins to transform our hearts and minds so that we begin to see and feel and think as Christ did.

Then Jesus turns to our calling. He next instructs us to “take up his cross”. As we are transformed more and more into His image, we come to discover that special blessing or talent or gift that God has given us to serve His will. Some teach, some preach, some feed, some clothe, some visit, some sing, some clean, some sew, some lead, some transport, some… The cross represents Jesus and our gift or talent is how we share Jesus with others. Our “cross” is what helps others to connect to Jesus.

Once we have been drawn into relationship, once we have been transformed to love God and others more than self, once we have found our niche in serving God, then and only then can we say we follow Jesus. May we all choose the hard and narrow way of Jesus today. It is through the Lord that we find the life truly worth living. Blessings on your journey.


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Thoughts

Reading: Mark 8: 31-34

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s text begins with Jesus teaching the disciples about the end of His time with them. This scene reminds me of visits to hospice or the hospital with people who are assuredly ready to come face to face with their creator. These thoughts bring peace and strength to their loved ones. They are positively focused on what Peter is struggling with. But not everyone is ready to say goodbye. Sometimes we do not want to let people go. Selfishly we want more time, even if just a day or two. This is where the very human Peter is coming from. His time with Jesus has radically changed his life and he does not want to even begin to think about it ending.

This thought is what led Peter to rebuke Jesus. The thought focused inward and was selfish. Jesus’ response is sharp and to the point: focus your mind on the things of God! It is where all of our thoughts should begin. A few years ago the WWJD wristbands and t-shirts led us to first think of Jesus in all situations. This is essentially the point of today’s passage. When Jesus goes on to say, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”, He is really saying to do as He does. Notice that Jesus’ statement begins with our thoughts as well. Denying self is an action we take within.

This is a wonderful passage for the season of Lent. This season is a time to look inward and to lay aside all that keeps our focus off of our relationship with Jesus. The things that distract us or lure us away or get between us and Jesus all begin with our thoughts. It can be something that is bright and shiny that we come to long for or it can be the person who so easily gets under our skin, leading us to being judgemental or critical. But if we first keep our thoughts focused on the ‘things of God’ and what pleases Him, then we will indeed take up our cross daily as we follow Jesus. Before we do or say anything, may our thoughts be holy and pleasing in God’s sight. Amen.


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Come and Follow

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.

Jesus was quite the radical in His day.  He called a group of men to be His disciples not from within the elite of the pre-Rabbi schools but out of ordinary life.  He did not spend all of His time in the temple but was out in the towns and villages eating and teaching the sinners and the lost.  Jesus did not simply read the scriptures and proclaim the word, but He also rolled up His sleeves and served others as a mean to show them God’s love.  He lived this way so that we would know what it looked like to live as a Christian.

In today’s passage we hear these words: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.  The first step is to deny self.  Society teaches us to first look out for #1, but Jesus says to put self last.  Jesus loved God with all He was and then next loved all of His neighbors more than He loved Himself.  He first sought to serve God and neighbor and only then did He consider His own needs.  In doing so, Jesus met people’s basic needs, sought equality for all, showed love and forgiveness and compassion, and lived a humble and simple life.

The next part involves taking up our cross.  On the cross of Calvary, Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice.  When Jesus calls us to take up our cross, He is asking us to die to self, to be willing to live with less so that others may have some, and to be a servant to all.

And then He says, “Follow me”.  Jesus calls us to do what He did, to follow His example.  Get out there into the ordinary of life – get outside the walls of the temple and our homes and our comfort zones.  Spend time with the lost – the sinners and the atheists and the non-believers.  Eat with them, talk with them, share Jesus with them.  Find ways to serve others, to meet people’s basic needs, to lift them up, and to bring them hope and justice.  In all this, we follow the One who lived God’s love out loud.  May we come and follow, showing the light and love of Christ to all for the glory of God.