pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Serve

Reading: John 12: 20-36

Verse 26: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be”.

Today’s passage from John is about sacrifice or giving of oneself. Jesus begins with the familiar illustration of the wheat kernel. If it remains on the stalk it remains just a single seed. If it is picked it is ground and becomes flour. Only when it falls into the ground does it die and produce more seeds. This is the natural cycle of life for seed-bearing plants. It is the cycle of life that mankind has observed for years. This concept is very familiar to Jesus’ audience and even to us in the ‘modern’ world.

Once Jesus has us at a good level of understanding, He goes on to parallel this with our faith journey. He basically says that if we hold tightly to life in this world, eventually we will lose it all. But if we are willing to allow self to die to the things of this world, then we will find true and eternal life. It is similar to the seed’s journey. Only when we are able to live life beyond ourselves and this world and its desires for we gain real life. Jesus goes on in verse 26 to say, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be”. When our lives focus in on serving Jesus as His followers, then we are ever with Him. This is a here and now as well as a forever promise.

When we live as a servant in the here and now, we experience Jesus all the time. Sometimes it is as we are His hands and feet, doing for others, that we sense His presence in us. And once in a while we are blessed to see Jesus in those we serve. It is a beautiful reminder that we are all God’s children. It is a wonderful reminder that as we do for “one of the least of these”, we do it for Jesus himself.

Jesus sets for us the ultimate servant’s choice this week. Later this week, on Good Friday, Jesus will give His life for us. He will fall into the tomb. But He will not remain there. On Easter, Jesus rises and walks out of the grave. He defeated the power of death and invites us to do the same. Through faith in Christ we too can gain eternal life. It is a glorious invite. Until we receive our final call, may we love and serve Him in this world. Verse 26 finishes with, “My father will honor the one who serves me”. May it be so for each of us this week!

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Attitude

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verse Five: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

The opening verse from today’s passage is challenging. To try and take on the attitude of Jesus feels like a pretty daunting task. After all, He is Jesus.

Regardless of the pursuit or goal, a good attitude goes a long way in determining success. Some might even argue that it is one of the most important characteristics of people who are successful. I think this applies two ways when we think about our attitude as a follower of Christ. First, our personal attitude or outlook must believe that we can be like Christ. Trusting in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit goes a long way in thinking we can follow Jesus. Second, we must understand Jesus’ attitude and seek to live out what He lived out.

Jesus’ attitude is revealed in two actions in today’s passage. First, He “made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant”. For us to take on this attitude, like Jesus, we must first die to self. Only when we have given up the rights to our own selfish desires and wants can we truly take on the heart of a servant. From this place of surrender, Jesus was able to meet all where they were at and to meet their needs as He could. The idea expressed by John the Baptist applies well here: I must become less so that He can become more.

The second attitude we see today is, “he humbled himself and became obedient to death”. In many ways, the second is like the first attitude. It is maybe an extension of the first too. Humility does have something to do with becoming nothing, but it also acknowledges God’s role in our successes. We see God’s presence as what brings us success in following Jesus. It is not our own doing. Over and over Jesus credited God. So too should we. The idea of becoming obedient to death helps us to understand the depth of commitment to the other. First most of us, sacrifice of time or resources is what will be required. But for some, it may be the giving one’s life. It is hard to know if we could do such a thing when pressed to the choice.

Today and every day, may we strive to have the attitude of Jesus Christ, loving and serving all we meet.


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Pure Heart, Steadfast Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 10-12

Verse Ten: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast Spirit within me”.

Today, as we continue our Lenten journey, we come to a familiar passage. For many, the journey began on Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes. In our church and in many others, words very similar to the key verse were spoken: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast Spirit within me”. It was an appropriate verse to begin this season of preparation to celebrate Easter. The ideas of dying to self and of repenting of all that keeps us from God is well-represented by the ashes that began this journey.

Today’s key verse is a great reminder that we are still on this journey. In reality, though, the focus on personal holiness that we give during Lent should be a daily practice all year. Yet there is also something special about intentionally setting aside time to be more focused on our relationship with God. The result of God creating pure heart in us is a right and steadfast Spirit. When our heart is pure, then we become more open to what God is doing in our lives and in the world. As our heart is more like His when it is pure, we see and hear and feel the world more like Jesus did. And that is a good thing.

The psalmist goes on to ask God to remain in the presence of the Holy Spirit. This voice of faith that dwells in us keeps us intimately connected to God. It is through this constant presence that God does restore to us the joy of our salvation each and every day. A clean and pure heart walking daily in the Spirit’s presence is a heart willing to love God and to love people with all that we are. The daily walk is not always easy, so we too need God to sustain us for the journey of faith.

Today may we again focus in on this season of Lent, seeking to fully surrender our lives to God’s will. May we seek for God to create in us a pure heart, a heart desiring to have a steadfast and right Spirit within us, leading and guiding us to be the light and love that our world so needs. Blessings on the journey.


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Some Things

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 23: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”.

Jesus is speaking of death and life I today’s passage. On one level He is talking about His own physical death that will come on the cross. We hear a hint of emotion in the next verses about what He will soon face, but He also reveals this is why He came. Jesus knows that His death will bring glory to God. He knows this is true in a sense for all who will follow after Him as well.

Jesus speaks of the sacrifice a seed makes, saying, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”. The seed must be willing to fall into the ground and to give up being a seed for a tree or flower or some other plant to spring up with new life. In turn, the plant will create more seeds which will then produce more plants. Jesus then ties this idea to those who follow Him. Some men, Jesus says, love the things of this world – possessions, power, position… They have no hope. However, the man who ‘hates’ life in this world will find eternal life in the time to come. The implication is that if one hates the things of the flesh, then one will love the things of God. By loving and serving God, one finds eternal life.

When one ties these two ideas together, we come to see that we must allow some things in our lives to die. Those things are the things of the world. As followers of Christ, we follow after Jesus. In doing so, we value the things He valued: loving others, honoring God, giving of oneself, caring for those in need… When we walk this path we die to the pursuit of worldly things. There is simply not room for them when we are filled with Jesus.

This passage closes with this thought: “Where I am, my servant also will be”. Where will we find Jesus today? Will it be in the comfortable and routine of life or will it be in the places we find the marginalized and disadvantaged? May we willingly go where He leads us today.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Luke 1: 26-38 and 46-55

Verse 28: “Greetings you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!”

Do you remember the birth of your child or children?  It was an awesome experience!  Yes, there was great pain and perhaps it lasted too long, but at one point there was suddenly life when before there was none.  The baby emerges into the world and draws its first breath – life is born!  There is a sacredness to the moment that life is first brought into the world.  It is a holy moment when God is present.  It is something we will never forget.

When one steps away from the birth of our own children and we look at birth in general, it is still an amazing thing.  In each birth is the beginning of something new, therefore it is filled with excitement.  It is also filled with hope and dreaming.  Parents all over the world look at that newborn child and wonder about their son’s or daughter’s future and hope that it is blessed.

For Mary, the angel tells her she too is blessed.  The angel Gabriel says, “Greetings you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!”  She will carry the One who will save the world from our sins and show us the way to enter into life eternal.  Likewise, her cousin Elizabeth carries a special baby.  She will give birth to John the Baptist, he who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.  For these two mothers, they know through the angel’s visit that children are something special.  This must ramp up their own sense of excitement and dreaming about the future.

Yet we know what Jesus and John will eventually experience.  Both of these precious babies will give their lives in obedience to God.  Both will suffer.  Both will die willingly for their God.  Both willingly die for the people they love – John for Jesus and Jesus for you and me.  We celebrate Jesus’ birth tomorrow night.  It is a birth orchestrated by God.  It is a holy birth.  It is a birth that brings hope and promise to all the world.  It is a birth that brings hope and promise to you and me.  It is a hope and promise not just for tomorrow night, but for forever.  Thanks be to God.  Amen!


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Invitation

Reading: Matthew 22: 1-14

Verse Nine: Go to the streets and invite to the banquet anyone you find.

Today’s parable is symbolic of God’s continuing invitation to all of humanity to come into the kingdom of God.  The original invitation began with God’s chosen people, but most rejected the invite – they did not see Jesus as the Messiah.  Still God invited them.  They abused and killed many who God sent to invite them – even killing the Son.  So God sent others out, saying, “Go to the streets and invite to the banquet anyone you find”.  In the Good News translation the Great Commission from Matthew 28 reads, “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere”, mirroring the invitation to all.  In God’s great patience, He will continue and continue to invite all into the kingdom.  Today, tomorrow, and on into the future God will continue to send out invitations to all who are lost.

The parable goes on to say that the good and the bad respond to the invitation, filling the banquet hall.  There are some who hear the invitation and come to see what it is all about.  Some come because a friend or family member received the invitation and they are going.  They come and they sit in the pew.  But they do not take the next step.  They do not become a part of the kingdom.  In the parable, the king comes to look over the guests.  He notices a man not wearing the right clothes.  The man did not fully accept the invitation.  He came to the banquet, but on his terms.  He remains stubbornly silent.  He is cast out into darkness.

This same idea occurs elsewhere in scripture.  In the parable of the sheep and the goats, for example, the goats are left wondering why they are cast out.  They knew who Jesus was and even did a few things He asked, but they did not choose to enter a saving personal relationship that changed their lives.  Today, many know who Jesus is, but they cling to their old self.  They appear to be at the banquet, but inside they are the ones in control, not Jesus.

To be a follower requires that we put off the old self and take on the new robe of righteousness.  We must not only accept the invitation, but we must allow it to reshaped us into the image of Christ.  We must die to self so that Christ can rule on the throne of our hearts.  Yet even then God continues to send us invitations.  He invites us to go out and live our lives as the salt and light the world so desperately needs.  He invites us to go out to the street corners and to invite everyone we see, helping them into the kingdom.  How will we do this today?


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Alive

Reading: Romans 6: 1b-11

Verse Six: We that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with.

Paul writes today of a willingness to die to self.  It is a willing choice to accept Jesus as Lord, to figuratively die with Christ, and to make the choice to kill the sins that live in our lives.  It is a lot of talk about death, but to die is necessary so that the new creation in Christ can live in us.  Paul was a man that did not avoid death.  He was a man who died over and over again to sin in his life and who literally faced persecution and threats of death.  Eventually he would be martyred, dying for the Jesus he loved.

Paul begins by reminding us that as we are baptized into Christ, we are also baptized into His death so that we can be raised to new life in Christ.  Paul extends the idea of new life here as a follower of Jesus to one day being “united with Him in resurrection”.  For Paul, dying to our old self first brought death to the “body of sin” that we used to occupy.  With this, Paul tells us that we are no longer slaves to sin but instead “we that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with”.  In Christ we are freed from the power of sin.  In Christ we live free from the entanglements and guilt and shame of sin.

For Paul, when we die with Christ we also share in His mastery over death.  In “dying with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him”.  In rising from the grave, Christ demonstrated that death has no power over Him.  Death is not the end of all ends.  It is simply the end of our mortal bodies.

Paul closes this section by returning to dying to sin.  Paul reminds us that Christ “died to sin once for all”.  In Jesus’ sacrifice He conquered sin for all people for all time.  This is the grace you and I live under.  No matter what sin we fall into, we can repent and seek mercy and find forgiveness.  Once for all.  Sin has no power over the believer.

We find freedom in choosing to follow Jesus Christ, dying to self so that sin and death have no power over us.  In this choice to follow we instead live into the joy of new life, resurrection life, and life in the Spirit.  Thank you Jesus for providing the way to be “alive to God in Christ Jesus”.