pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Like Him

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verses 6-7: “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”.

Today’s passage is at once both awesome and humbling, inspiring and challenging. It is awesome and inspiring because the divine chose to become human. Jesus stepped out of heaven and became one of us. This is a deep, awesome display of love. That Jesus would take on flesh and dwell among us is hard to fathom. Then to look at how Jesus lived, that is inspiring. Paul encouraged the Philippians and encourages us to have the same attitude. He writes, “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”. Jesus set aside His divinity and lived as a servant. He let go of divine power and grasped the role of a servant instead.

Jesus could have summoned a legion of angels or done a little wham! and bam! and been rid of the Romans, the religious leaders, and the whatever else was inhibiting a fuller understanding of God’s kingdom. He could have placed Himself as the next great king, ruling from Jerusalem like King David used to do. Instead, though, Jesus taught little groups, small crowds, and mostly individuals. He met and ministered to people right where they were at. For some this meant a story or a teaching that called them to a better walk with God. For others Jesus healed them of whatever it was that bound them or kept them from community or relationship with God and others. In all He did and said, Jesus modeled God’s love.

If Jesus were a powerful political king up on a big throne, you and I and most people would think we could never do that. And we would be right. So here is where it gets humbling and challenging. Jesus became one of us. Yes, a perfect and far superior one of us. But in many, many ways Jesus was a common person – a basic human being. This means that we can be like Jesus. We can’t be Jesus, but we can be like Jesus. The divine took on human flesh. This human flesh that we are can take on the divine. We can be Christ-like servants living out God’s love. To understand this is both humbling and challenging.

Jesus became like us so that we could become like Him. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me an example that I can try and live into. I fail often and I don’t always have a servant’s heart. You are divine with a little flesh. I am a lot of flesh reaching for the divine. Please make me more and more like you, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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Divine and Human

Reading: Mark 11: 1-11

Verse Two: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”.

Today is Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem amidst a cheering and excited crowd of supporters. It is a proclamation of hope and longing by the people. They so want someone to free them from the Romans. For the most part, over the past three years, they have clearly missed seeing the type of kingdom that Jesus is building. It is not a kingdom of might and military power but one of grace and love and mercy and forgiveness and community.

Today’s first clue comes in the mode of transportation. Jesus does not select a fine warhorse to ride into the city. Instead He gives these instructions to the disciples: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”. Jesus chooses a meek and young animal. That He is able to ride the colt amidst all the noise and celebration testifies to His quiet power. But at the time only His inner circle of disciples would marvel at this. The masses ignored the colt because they wanted and could only see one thing – a possible Messiah to save them from the Romans.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, He goes to the temple. Many probably followed His there, presuming that He would raise His hands to quiet the crowd before giving a rousing speech to stir up the people even more. But Jesus enters the temple and simply looks around. He then quietly exits the city. Perhaps Jesus was just taking stock of the state of the temple and beginning to formulate a plan for His last week.

Jesus and His disciples quietly clip out of town and go to Bethany for the night. No crowds follow, eager to see what is next. We know that Jesus and company often take rest when they visit Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, so we assume this is where they went to spend the night. Their home is a place that is special to Jesus. It is a place where He finds rest, peace, and community, surrounded by people He loves and that love Him. With the week that lies ahead it is a good place to be for a night.

In the small details of the passage today we get a glimpse into both Jesus’ obedience to God’s plan and into His humanity in needing to surround Himself with a loving community. One shows His strength and true power and the second shows a humble need to be loved and to belong. The divine and the human in one. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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To the Cross

Reading: Luke 23: 33-38

As we draw near to the end of our season in the Gospel of Luke, we come to the cross.  In a way it is odd to come to the cross as we prepare to celebrate Advent, a time when we remember Jesus’ birth.  Yet it serves to remind us of why Jesus needed to be born and to live among us.  After all, Jesus came to die.

Oh how the people wanted to have a Messiah who would rid them of the oppressive Romans.  They were looking for a new King David.  During Jesus’ ministry He brought much healing and offered some great teaching on how God really wanted humanity to live together.  For all who saw and heard Jesus or even just the stories, they all knew that Jesus was something special.  But Jesus was not the kingly Messiah they wanted so they mocked Him on the cross.  He did not meet their expectations so they ridiculed and abused Him, releasing some of their own frustrations with their current situation.

It would have been so tempting to lash out from the cross and maybe even to really save Himself.  But Jesus came for a far greater purpose.  To save Himself would have been selfish.  Jesus always placed God first, others second, and Himself last.  To save Himself would have gone against all that Jesus was and is.  Instead, Jesus chose to give Himself.  Instead of releasing His human form from the cross and wiping out the Romans, Jesus unleashed His divine self and defeated an enemy far greater and much stronger than any human empire.  On the cross and in His resurrection, Jesus defeated sin and death.  Sin and death had been ruling since the first sin entered the world through Adam and Eve.

This is why we come to the cross just before we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  It is the greatest gift mankind has ever been given – the freedom from sin and death.  Thank you Jesus.


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Good

Reading: Jeremiah 4: 11-12 and 22-26

As I read Jeremiah today, I wondered how similar the world today looks to God.  I wonder how much of the earth seems to be filled with people who do not know God and who are skilled at doing evil.  From God’s perspective, is the world still a good place?

If one reads the headlines of the world news feed, the stories of violence and evil certainly dominate the news.  But, in general, I believe they involve a very, very small percentage of the world.  For example, on a day when terrorists strike and kill scores of people, there are billions and billions of people not doing evil.  While evil in all forms must be and is addressed, those perpetrating violence and evil acts are still in the very small minority.

While most of the world’s seven billion plus people are not Christians or other God-believing people, I do believe the spark of God resides in all humanity.  In each human being is the inate sense of good and evil.  Some choose to do evil for a variety of reasons, but there is still that twinge of good in all but the rarest of people.  Because if this spark of the divine, most people seek to be a ‘good’ person.  Most people will not intentionally harm another person and will feel remorse when they do so.  Most people will try and treat their ‘neighbor’ well and will help another when presented with the opportunity.

Through the New Testament we understand our call as Christians to be to bring the good news to all people of all nations.  This is both a collective and individual charge.  Some are missionaries in far corners of the world.  Some are translating and providing Bibles to people all around the world.  But for most of us, the charge is right here in our own family, right here in our own neighbor, right here at our job or school.  Today, each of us will have opportunity to do good and to be the gospel lived out.  May we make the most of our opportunities today.


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Pray

‘The prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective.’  Elijah prayed and held the rain off for three and a half years. Then he prayed and it rained right then.  Mordecai and Esther prayed for the deliverance of the Jews from Haman’s plot and they were saved.  The people cried out to God in the desert and manna fell from heaven.  Since these example of prayer were lifted up and answered, people have continued to pray and God has continued to answer.

For each of us, part of our divine appointment is to pray for one another.  We are to confess our sins and struggles to one another and then to lift each other up in prayer.  We are to share our burdens with one another so that we can share the load and also pray for one another.  We are to share our joys and good news as well so that we can lift up prayers of praise and thanksgiving to the giver of all good things.

Our prayers must also extend to those outside of our small group or church community.  We are to pray for victims of violence and social injustice both near and far.  When we read or hear of these things, pray for them.  We are to pray for the family who lost their home in a fire, for the parents who suddenly and unexpectantly lost a child, for the person struggling to feed their family, and for all others in need.  Our prayer for the ‘stranger’ can be just as effective and powerful as the prayer for our own family.

We ar called to pray.  And to pray and to pray and to pray.  Pray without ceasing.  Take everything to God in prayer.  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  Pray.

Scripture reference: James 5: 13-20


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Willing, Trusting, Obedient

When danger or death is on the horizon it brings up feelings of fear and doubt and sorrow in many.  It can be almost paralyzing.  In a few it stirs up courage and determination and focus.  No matter what your first reaction to the realization that life hangs in the balance, the second must be to connect to God in prayer.

When Haman secured the decree to blot out the Jews, Mordecai put on sackcloth and went to the city gate to fast and pray.  He invited other Jews to join him.  Esther got word of this and sent him clothes.  He rejected them because he know this was a time of great need.  He also realized that God had called upon him to stir up Esther so that she may see her role as well.  He knew that the time of her divine appointment was upon her.

When Esther came to terms with the fact that this was indeed the moment for which God placed her in the palace, she accepted her role.  She set her mind on fasting and praying for three days and invited all the Jews in the city to join her.  Esther did not want prayers for someone else to step up or for God himself to intervene.  She wanted prayers that her role in this would be blessed by God.  In Esther there was no fear because her hope lay in God alone.

From time to time we are each faced with something that puts us to the test.  It may be concerning health or employment or family relationships.  There will also be times when we are not directly affected but do have a hand in the situation and its solution.  In today’s text we see an example of willing servants who trusted their very lives into God’s hands.  Because of their relationship with God they did not fear any outcome.  Each walked into their divine appointment fully trusting God.  Lord, instill in me such a willing heart, such a trusting soul, and such an obedient mind.

Scripture reference: Esther 9: 20-22


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The Only Way

Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ grim news is understandable.  If we had been training under and serving alongside someone like Jesus for three years, the news that he was going to have to die would be hard to take.  Perhaps we too would have never heard the part that came after “rejected, killed, …”

Peter’s reaction is purely human.  It is where we live most  of our days as well.  Peter did not look far enough ahead and was just concerned with ‘now’ and how not having Jesus around would affect ‘tomorrow’.  We preoccupy and worry over how we fit in, how we are though of, what tomorrow will bring, and so on.  It was hard for human Peter to see divine Jesus’ bug picture.  Sometimes we fail to live with an eternal focus too.  Sometimes our eyes are fixated on the here and now.

Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”  What a reality check; what a wake-up call.  Imagine of you heard those words spoken to someone in your small group or during a meeting at church.  Imagine if they were spoken to you!  Yet in reality these are words we need to use personally with ourselves all the time.  When we begin to veer off the path or when we go astray or when we just begin to feel temptation, we need to shout these words in our hearts and minds: get behind me Satan!

We are much like Peter.  We live human lives quite often.  We stumble and fall.  Often.  And, like Peter, we too have the cross and the promise of life eternal.  In that cross we seek and find grace and love and forgiveness.  Because of this each day we can deny self, take up our own cross, and seek to follow Jesus.  It is the only way.

Scripture reference: Mark 8: 31-38