pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Trust Fully

Reading: John 6: 60-69

Verse 68: “Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life'”.

Our passage today picks up where we left off yesterday. Jesus has shared a teaching that was hard to accept. Some folks were having a hard time with the requirement that Jesus was placing upon them. Jesus has claimed to be of God and that to find true or eternal life, one must believe in Jesus. The proof of belief is daily living with Jesus – abiding in Christ. In response to the people’s grumbling, Jesus says, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life”.

Jesus states plainly that some there do not believe and that one can come to Jesus only if God enables it. Elsewhere in the Bible this idea is phrased “eyes to see” or “ears to hear”. It is a willingness that God must open in our hearts to accept Jesus for who He is. Many of the disciples are not at this point as the Word tells us that many “turned back and no longer followed Him”. They left and turned back to their old way of life or to their old belief system.

For most of us modern disciples, we too come to this same point now and then on our faith journey. We realize that we are not quite where God wants us to be and know in our heart that our full trust in Jesus is falling just short. In those moments, God is calling us deeper. He has led us, or ‘enabled’ us in this passage’s language, to the place of taking the next step. We have heard Jesus’ words of life and felt the invitation to take another step of faith.

In our passage, Jesus asks the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you”? Peter, the one who would become the “Rock”, answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. Peter knows that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Peter knows that Jesus us the Messiah and the only way to eternal life. He knows and is willing to take the next step with Jesus, wherever it might lead. This day may we join Peter in declaring that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, trusting fully in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. And this day or tomorrow or whenever it may come, may we be willing to take that next step of faith, trusting fully in the Holy One of God. May it be so.


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Missionaries

Reading: Mark 6: 6b-13

Verses Twelve and Thirteen: “They went out and preached that people should repent… They drove out demons… anointed… and healed”.

After a period of watching Jesus in ministry, the disciples are empowered by Jesus and are sent out two by two. Jesus is beginning to train them to be His replacement. Full of faith in Jesus, “they went out and preached that people should repent… They drove out demons… anointed… and healed”. The disciples are able to model the ministry of Jesus. They preach the gospel news of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. They encounter the demon-possessed and they drive out the demons. They anoint people and heal them of their illnesses and diseases. In all these actions, the disciples are restoring people to wholeness and into faith in Jesus Christ.

Each of these actions drew people to Jesus, depending on their need. These three things continue to be at the core of the ministry of the church. The sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ is still the central activity of the church and of all followers of Christ. This is usually the first step. Belief often leads then to restoration of the person – body, mind, and soul. It is through faith in Jesus that we all find healing.

The sending of the twelve (and later the sending of the 72) establishes the idea that all believers are sent out into the world to be Jesus to the lost, the lonely, and the hurting. Some are sent someplace on the other side of the world and some are sent right next door. All of us are sent. This passage also contains a reality. Although all believers are sent, not all non-believers are ready to receive. Some will not welcome us as we come in the name of Jesus. We offer Jesus as best we can and then we move on. Remembering that we once were lost too, we trust that other believers will follow as God continues to work at saving the whole world.

We go forth today, into our day and into our world, willing missionaries sent with the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. May we ever be faithful missionaries of the gospel. May our words and actions bring healing and wholeness, leading others to Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Small Seeds

Reading: Mark 4: 30-34

Verse 32: “Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants”.

Jesus begins today’s passage by setting the stage, asking, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like”? Before we start thinking of angels dancing around the throne, we need to realize that Jesus is speaking of the kingdom here on earth. He is speaking of the activity and reign of God in the here and now.

A mustard seed is the object lesson in today’s teaching by Jesus. It is a tiny little seed that grows into a huge plant, providing safe harbor for many birds. The idea of planting seeds connects back to what He just said in verses 26-29. There Jesus spoke of how we plant but it is God who makes them grow. Both of these teachings are, of course, not about real seeds. The parables are about planting seeds of faith.

Jesus was a great seed planter. He took twelve men and a small group of followers and He planted seeds of faith in them. He took time to plant seeds of faith in about everyone He met. It was just Jesus’ DNA. In turn, the disciples and followers of Jesus used the faith that grew from the seeds that Jesus planted and planted seeds in others. We are the continuation of this process. Someone took the time to plant seeds of faith in us and now that these seeds have grown into faith, we take our faith and go forth to be planters.

As we go out into the world today, may we be intentional about planting seeds of faith. Even though we plant seeds of faith as small as a mustard seed, God can grow that faith into something that one day may change the world. May we be faithful in our small role, trusting God with the rest. Amen.


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The Vine…

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse Four: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself”.

Today’s vine, branches, and gardener example is a great illustration of our relationships of faith. The illustration could have used a fruit tree or a blueberry bush or any number of other plants and still been a good illustration. But a grape vine is best, so that’s what God chose!

Jesus is the vine. The vine begins in the ground, with lots of roots soaking up water and nutrients needed for the branches to be healthy and to bear much fruit. The vine is the thickest and strongest part of the plant. Jesus’ words and the rest of the Bible are the life blood of our faith and our growth. They provide what we need to grow and be healthy in our faith.

You and I are the branches. We are connected to the vine and get all we need through the root – Jesus. Whereas the vine is stable and rooted, we the branches can grow this way and that. We often intertwine with other branches. In our faith journey we live and grow in community. Like a branch, as we grow and mature, we begin to produce fruit. Fruit is acts like loving our neighbor, helping those in need, offering forgiveness and mercy…

God is the gardener. He tends the soil and cares for the plant. Sometimes the gardener must add support to a new branch so that it can grow well. In our faith journey, at times we come alongside each other offering support and encouragement. At times God also prunes the branches, removing things that inhibit the production of fruit. As a branch, at times I can get going a lot of different directions. In those times, I need God to prune away some things so that more of my energy goes into producing fruit.

In order for this to “work”, for us to continue to grow in our faith and to produce fruit for the glory of God, we must stay connected to Jesus. In verse four we read, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself”. In this passage we see what happens when we disconnect from Jesus: we wither and are thrown into the fire. This cannot be! My fellow branches, stay connected to life, to Jesus. In doing so, may you bear much fruit!


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To Belong Fully

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 29: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

John and Peter have seen the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene has seen and spoken with the resurrected Jesus. This much all the disciples know. Yet the way forward is unclear. Jesus is not in the grave and He has conquered death, but He is clearly not coming back to live amongst them either. So on that first Easter Sunday, they gather behind locked doors. It is into this room still heavy with doubt and fear that Jesus comes. He shows them His hands and feet as proof of who He is. The disciples are overjoyed.

Jesus then announces the plan: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. He then breathes on them the Holy Spirit and commissions them to forgive sins. This was a big deal between Jesus and the religious leaders. Jesus was questioned about this and healed a lame man to prove that He had power and authority from on high. And now Jesus gives this power to His disciples. They were there and witnessed the conflict and anger that the forgiving of sins had caused, so they must know that their road ahead will be hard too. Jesus breathes this same Holy Spirit on you and me. It also empowers us to overcome our doubts and fears and will lead us to help people find a relationship with Jesus Christ that will heal them of their sins.

In the second half of our passage today we focus in on Thomas. He was not there for Jesus’ first visit. When told about it, he says, “Unless I see…”. He too wants to experience what the others experienced. He too wants to see Jesus. A week later Jesus appears again to the disciples and invites Thomas to put his finger in the wounds, to touch and feel that this really is Jesus. For Thomas and all of the disciples it was hard to come to believe. But Thomas does when he sees Jesus for himself. Predicting the many who will come to know Jesus without ever seeing Him, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. It is just the reality for the church as it moves forward without the physical Jesus.

Part of Thomas’ story that we cannot miss is his need to belong. He wants to experience what his friends and future co-workers for the gospel experienced. He wants to be fully included. It is a desire we all have – to know we really belong. As we live out our faith this day, week, and life, may we always seek to help others to step inside the story, to help them know that they belong fully to Jesus as well. May it be so.


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Opportunity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 7: 29-31

Verse 31: “For this world in its present form is passing away”.

Paul believes Jesus Christ will return at any moment. This is the general view held by almost all Christians in the time immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul’s words in these verses may be a little confusing at first read. Paul’s focus is on God and the people’s relationship with God. There is some urgency to Paul’s words as he states, “the time is short”. Taken in this light, Paul is encouraging his readers not to be too concerned with the things of this world – their relationships, their status, their possessions – but with the coming of Jesus. Paul is not saying to abandon all of these earthly things but instead he is saying to not make them the priority. He wants his readers to first focus on God.

In general, the perspective on the proximity of Jesus’ return has changed. Although it could be today, for the most part we do not necessarily live like it could be. For many folks, Christians and non-Christians alike, the idea of getting to their faith one day – really getting serious – is much the same. Today would be okay but tommorow or, better yet, the next day would be better. Just so busy now.

In spite of this prevelant attitude, Paul’s words are as correct today as they were when he first spoke them: “For this world in its present form is passing away”. Jesus’ return is closer today than it was yesterday and each day that passes we all come one day closer to the day we meet Jesus. Herein lies the urgency for us as Christians. Too often our primary focus is not on God but on the things of this world. This is on a personal level. On the corporate level our mission is just as urgent. In our commission to make disciples we never know when our words or actions may be what finally brings a lost soul to Christ. We may just be planting more seeds, but one never knows. What I do know is this: all should have the opportunity to meet Jesus Christ before they stand before the judgment seat. Who will you introduce today?