pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Last First

Reading: Mark 10: 28-31

Verse 28: “We have left everything to follow you”.

The opening and closing lines of our passage really point out the counter-cultural nature of our faith. Peter declares, “We have left everything to follow you”. Culture today says more is better and bigger is better yet. Our society elevates the wealthy, the powerful, the supremely athletic, and the most beautiful. They have “it” and have climbed to the pinnacle of success. Culture tells us that these things are the goal for all people.

The call to discipleship is a call to the opposite. Instead of us wanting it all, the gospel asks for all of us. The call invites us to step into God’s upside-down way of thinking that places ourselves far from the focus, looking first to God and then to neighbor.

When we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see what this truly looks like. Jesus stood on the side of the woman caught in adultery – convicting all there of their own sins first and then offering mercy and grace to the one who was last. Instead of avoiding the sinners, the tax collectors, the Samaritans, the children, the lepers, the blind… Jesus engaged them, knowing that God’s kingdom includes those that society devalues and overlooks. The same healing, redemption, and restoration that Jesus offered when He walked the earth is still offered today. It is offered through all who will place self after God and neighbor.

Jesus assures the disciples that the reward will come – not in the ways that the world evaluates success, but in the abundant life that God has planned in the coming age. As we let go of pursuing wealth and status and popularity, we will be able to be all in as we work to bring God’s upside-down kingdom to reality. Our passage closes with Jesus saying, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first”. This is a radical thing we are being called to – considering first the orphan and the widow, the broken and the hurting, the sinner and the lost. May we be willing to give our all for those who are seen as last, elevating them as God does, to first.

Lord, help me to surrender all to you, all for Jesus. Give me a servant’s heart to see the last first, sharing with them the love and hope of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Serving God, Serving Others

Reading: Mark 9: 33-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”.

The disciples are arguing about something we can argue about from time to time. As kids, we all argued with our siblings about who was our parents’ favorite. As we got a little older, we discussed who was the teacher’s or coach’s favorite. As we entered into adulthood, the discussion took place most often in our heads. Whenever we did voice our opinion concerning someone being the favorite, it was usually a manner of complaint or gossip.

Unfortunately, most people want to be #1. Some express this by being large and in charge. Some simply want to be the one others look to. Deep down, we all want to be important, to matter. Society teaches us that worth is in our possessions, our titles, our status. This equates out to being the greatest. Faith runs counter to these values and ideas. Knowing what the disciples were arguing about, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”. If you want to be the greatest in God’s kingdom, be the last to consider yourself, be the first to offer yourself in humble service to one and all. How counter-cultural this is. What a radical way to consider greatness.

To drive His point home, Jesus has a child stand among them. In His day, children were at the bottom of the social and familial ladder. Jesus tells His disciples that when we welcome one of these – the least – we welcome Jesus and we welcome God into our lives. When we feed the hungry, visit the sick and the lonely, clothe the naked… then we are serving our needs last, we are being the servant of all. In the process, we often see the face of God in those we meet.

Lord God, this day may I seek to be last instead of first. May I be a giver and not a taker. May I be a person of humble faith, not a person of aloof religion. In all I do and say, maybe serve you as I serve others. May it be so each day. Amen.


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Good Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 21: “Get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you”.

Our passage from James opens with a good reminder as we start our week. James reminds us that God gives us good and perfect gifts. The unchanging God who is from everlasting to everlasting has given us good gifts. When I think of the gifts that God has given us, I think of God himself. The greatest gifts that we have as human beings are God’s best attributes. “Created in His image” comes to mind. God loves us without fail, always forgives us, always reaches out to us, and always cares for us. These are the good gifts from above.

God uses the Word of truth, Jesus, to give us new birth. Through Jesus Christ we become new creations, born of the Spirit. It is through Jesus and His life that we truly see how to take these gifts of God – love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy… – and to use them in our lives and in the lives of others. This is how we are the “first fruits” that James speaks of. We bear fruit both when we live out and when we share these good gifts with others. This is how we live out our faith.

In verse 19 we shift to some practical advise on how to best live in relationship with others. James tells us to listen, listen, listen. And, then, we are to listen some more. “Be quick to listen”. Why? So that we are slow to speak. Hear the other person. Really understand what they are saying and feeling. Being slow to speak begins with listening and then by not thinking of our reply or response until after the other is done speaking. When we practice these two ideas, it really is amazing how it affects James’ next piece of advice.

James advises us to also be slow to anger. When we have really listened to and understood the other, then anger is harder to muster up. When we do allow anger into our hearts, we are far from righteousness. To help with our anger management, James suggests that we first “get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent”. Thinking of myself, I easily think of ego, pride, the need to be in control, judging others as the filth and evil that must go. Perhaps you too struggle with these or maybe you have others. Whatever the case, may we also follow James advice in the second half of the verse too: “humbly accept the Word planted in you”. We do know how and why God wants us to live as first fruits of His grace, love, mercy, forgiveness… This is how we share the good news with others.

In humility, I bow and ask you, O Lord, to purge me of all evil and wickedness. Fill me with your good gifts and use me to share these with others. May I be a first fruit today, bringing you and your good gifts to all I meet today. Amen.


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Good Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 21: “Get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you”.

Our passage from James opens with a good reminder as we start our week. James reminds us that God gives us good and perfect gifts. The unchanging God who is from everlasting to everlasting has given us good gifts. When I think of the gifts that God has given us, I think of God himself. The greatest gifts that we have as human beings are God’s best attributes. “Created in His image” comes to mind. God loves us without fail, always forgives us, always reaches out to us, and always cares for us. These are the good gifts from above.

God uses the Word of truth, Jesus, to give us new birth. Through Jesus Christ we become new creations, born of the Spirit. It is through Jesus and His life that we truly see how to take these gifts of God – love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy… – and to use them in our lives and in the lives of others. This is how we are the “first fruits” that James speaks of. We bear fruit both when we live out and when we share these good gifts with others. This is how we live out our faith.

In verse 19 we shift to some practical advise on how to best live in relationship with others. James tells us to listen, listen, listen. And, then, we are to listen some more. “Be quick to listen”. Why? So that we are slow to speak. Hear the other person. Really understand what they are saying and feeling. Being slow to speak begins with listening and then by not thinking of our reply or response until after the other is done speaking. When we practice these two ideas, it really is amazing how it affects James’ next piece of advice.

James advises us to also be slow to anger. When we have really listened to and understood the other, then anger is harder to muster up. When we do allow anger into our hearts, we are far from righteousness. To help with our anger management, James suggests that we first “get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent”. Thinking of myself, I easily think of ego, pride, the need to be in control, judging others as the filth and evil that must go. Perhaps you too struggle with these or maybe you have others. Whatever the case, may we also follow James advice in the second half of the verse too: “humbly accept the Word planted in you”. We do know how and why God wants us to live as first fruits of His grace, love, mercy, forgiveness… This is how we share the good news with others.

In humility, I bow and ask you, O Lord, to purge me of all evil and wickedness. Fill me with your good gifts and use me to share these with others. May I be a first fruit today, bringing you and your good gifts to all I meet today. Amen.


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Love First

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse Eight: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”.

Each day and each encounter provides us with an opportunity to draw close to God, to worship God. Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise from King David. It praises God for His love and faithfulness. It encourages us to “sing of the ways of the Lord”. It speaks of God preserving our lives when we walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalm is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, His dear children.

These few days at Annual Conference have been filled with worship. Sometimes the songs and worship have been slow and reflective. Sometimes the songs have been upbeat and energetic. Sometimes the music has been loud and passionate. Our worship has also included much besides music. We have shared scripture and been blessed by the proclamation of the Word by several gifted pastors. Through each of the messages and the conference itself, the idea of “love first” has been the focus. To me, this is what our worship should do. In all of our styles and in all if the components of worship, our worship should first express our love of God.

Verse eight today reads, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”. When we offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God’s love, then we experience a love that lasts forever. When we surrender our lives to God, we begin to live into and to live out an everlasting love. In doing so, we discover the first half of our verse: our purpose. We are all created to love as Jesus first loved us: fully and completely. There is no greater love than the love we see modeled by Jesus. May our lives today be living acts of worship, overflowing with the grace and mercy of God, as we seek to love first. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.


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Sufficient for Us All

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 21: You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.

Today’s parable is challenging.  It has been prompted by Peter asking Jesus what the disciples will receive for following Jesus.  After all, they left everything behind to follow.  Peter’s question is prompted by the response Jesus gave to the rich young man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.  If we recall, the young man went away sad because Jesus asked of him more than he could give at the time.  Peter is told by Jesus that they will be by His side in eternity.  In fact, Jesus says that all who leave things or people behind will inherit eternal life.  Jesus ends this response with, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”.  From here, Jesus tells today’s parable.

In short, workers are hired throughout the day to come to the vineyard to help with the harvest.  The owner of the vineyard promises each of them the same thing: a fair wage.  They work and line up at the end of the day to receive their pay.  Some had worked all day, some just an hour.  The last are paid first and all receive the same pay: a denarius.  Those who worked the longest are upset, saying to the owner: “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day”.  The landowner responds with this: “Or are you envious because I am generous”?

In life, Christians come to faith at different stages in life, each joining in in the building of the kingdom.  The Lord of the harvest promises the same reward to each of them: eternal life.  They go to work and then line up for the reward at the end of their lives.  Some labor for all if their lives, some for just a short time.  The lifers and the new converts receive the same pay.  Those who have been faithful all of their lives can be tempted to say, “Lord, you have made that person who just accepted you equal to us who have served you all of our lives”?  The Lord of the harvest will respond with words of grace and love and invitation.

Yes, God loves us all.  He loves the saints and the sinners.  He loves the saved and the lost.  Heaven rejoices each time a lost soul becomes a part of the family.  His grace is sufficient for us all, whenever and however we come to faith.  The promise is the same: love God and claim eternal life.  Thanks be to God!