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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The Struggle Within

Reading: James 4: 1-3

Verse 1: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”?

So far in the book of James, he has built the argument that the things in our heart and mind are what guide our actions, control our tongues, and directs our decisions. In chapter four, he turns the discussion towards the disagreements and arguments that mankind often enters into. One only has to watch the nightly news for a short time to see plenty of examples.

James opens chapter four with two great focus questions: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”? Once in a while we fight and quarrel for other reasons, but most often the battle begins with an internal issue or struggle. Maybe it is something that happened in our past that we haven’t gotten past or let go of yet. Similar events trigger us, pushing that button that leads us to desire to fight and quarrel. Maybe our desire to enter the battle comes from some perceived need or want and our envy or jealousy flares up. Sometimes it has to do with a lack of maturity. I can remember times in my greener years when I’d argue for the sake of arguing and times when I would argue long after I knew I had lost the argument. Pride was definitely at work.

When we come to the edge of a fight and quarrel, James suggests a few filters. We should ask ourselves questions such as these: What am I about to fight about? Is this about getting even? Are these feelings even connected this actual person or situation? Am I being stubborn or prideful? Again, in most cases the urge to fight and quarrel is driven by a struggle or issue within us. When we allow these to linger, they inhibit our relationships with God and with others. Only when we make peace within will we have peace without. James has a suggestion here too: seek God’s help with the right motives. Pray for help with the struggle within. God is faithful. He will rain down mercy, grace, forgiveness, and healing.

Prince of Peace, pour out your peace upon my inner being. Guide me to those that I need to reconcile with. Lead me to speak words of unity and healing. Wipe away all unrest and discord that is within. Help me to freely offer mercy, grace, and forgiveness so that I may receive them from you and from others. May I model your love each day. Amen.


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The Healing or the Healer?

Reading: Mark 7: 31-37

Verse 36: “Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it”.

In today’s passage, Jesus returns to Galilee and performs another miracle. He heals a man who was deaf and mute. He does so away from the crowds. Jesus instructs, no, commands, the man and his friends “not to tell anyone”. Apparently the initial command is not followed as the verse goes on to say, “the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it”. It seems that they cannot keep quiet about what Jesus did. I wonder how long this lasted.

For the man and his friends, the encounter with Jesus is all about the healing and not about the healer. As such, they miss the opportunity to really connect with Jesus. Many today are like this. They want the healing and not the healer. Folks pray to or even beg Jesus to heal their parent or their child or their friend or themselves. But they do not desire to have a daily relationship with Jesus. It is almost as if Jesus were a drive through window. Hello – here for a quick healing. No time to come inside to sit down and to spend some time together.

It is curious to me that the friends say, “He has done everything well”. They recognize that Jesus has some power, even extraordinary power. But not extraordinary enough to lead them to follow the healer, to believe in the healer. Lots of folks todsy are in this boat too. In a way, even some Christians struggle with true belief today. We pray to Jesus thinking He could do what we are praying for but not fully believing that He will.

To want the healing and not the healer? To be a believer and to pray with some doubt? It reminds me that we are all falling short. Some have begun our walk with Jesus. Others have not yet begun. Today, may we all get one step closer to Jesus, the healer.

Lord, may I come closer today. May my faith grow deeper and more assured. In this process, may I help another to begin a relationship with you today. May it be so today. Amen.


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This Anointed King

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 and 6-9

Verse 2: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever”.

Today’s Psalm has the description “a wedding song” in the heading. It is a celebration of a royal wedding. Although we only read a handful of the verses that comprise this Psalm, we do get the flavor of the occasion. There is a king and his royal bride, a palace, an anointing, music, and the guest list includes daughters of kings. The clothes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia and are woven with gold. We get quite a picture of what the events looks and feels like.

Depending on who and when this Psalm was read or recited, one might have envisioned David’s royal wedding or perhaps Solomon’s or some other king of Israel. Maybe one’s mind even slips to a more recent royal wedding with all of its pomp and circumstance.

The Psalm can also be read another way. Like the author of Hebrews, we can read this Psalm and envision Jesus as the king. In Hebrews 1, this Psalm is used to point to Jesus. It is one of about 8 Old Testament passages that the author uses to connect the words that “God spoke to our forefathers” to the “words spoken to us by His Son” in the last days. This connection plays well with our modern understandings of the New Testament being the fuller revelation of the Old Testament and of Jesus as the fuller revelation of God.

When read from the perspective of Christ as the King, verse 2 has a whole new meaning. Hear Christ in this verse: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever”. Yes, Jesus is the most excellent example – He who was without sin. And, oh how Jesus’ lips were anointed will grace. The words of healing and forgiveness that Jesus spoke and continues to speak to us today flow with grace. And, yes, Jesus is the one blessed forever. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus is forever King.

Lord God, may this anointed King, this King with grace anointed on His lips, may King Jesus reign in our hearts each and every day. Amen.


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Hard Teaching

Reading: John 6: 56-60

Verse 60: “On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching, who can accept it'”?

The miracles and the healings attracted people to Jesus. The thought of being able to see or to walk brought many. The idea of being freed of a disease or illness or of the demons inside brought others. Jesus’ touch offered wholeness and welcome back into community. The latest miracle involved food and the crowd returns the next day looking for more bread. But this day Jesus offers a different kind of bread.

Jesus reminded them of the manna – the bread that God had sent down from heaven to feed His chosen people in the desert. It offered the people sustenance, but it was just food. Jesus tells them that He too was sent down from heaven by God to feed the people. Jesus parallels himself to the manna in the sense that it must be eaten to receive life. To “eat” Jesus is to take in His teachings, to follow His way of love, to absorb who and what Jesus is so that one receives spiritual life, eternal life.

Many in the crowd struggled with this. Today we read, “On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching, who can accept it'”? Many had just come for some more bread. Some probably just came in search of healing. But this? And this certainly is not the first or last hard teaching that Jesus will give. He speaks the truth and sometimes the truth is hard to hear.

Today some people are just like these in the crowd. They just come when there is a need. They cruise through life until a crisis arises and then Jesus is their best friend. Until the crisis passes. Others discover Jesus and dive into the relationship. But they come to a point where the teaching is hard. They love that thing more than they love Jesus and they walk away.

As followers we too know these struggles. Staying true in our walk with Jesus has its hard moments, when that “hard teaching” hits home and requires something inside to die to self. In those difficult moments may we remember the promise: “he who feeds on this bread will live forever”. May we ever feed on the Word made flesh, ever drawing strength for the journey. Amen.


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Compassion

Reading: Mark 6: 30-34 and 53-56

Verse 34: “He had compassion on them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd”.

When I think of Jesus, I usually think about love. It is the one word I would use to describe Him. Today’s key verse reads, “He had compassion on them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd”. I think compassion would be a good word for Jesus too. After all, it is closely related to love.

The primary efforts of Jesus’ ministry we’re teaching and healing. They really went hand in hand. All that Jesus taught revolved around a handful of key themes: love God above all else, love others as Jesus first loved us, care for those in need, and worship God in all we do and say. The healings also revolved around a handful of themes: restoring a person to wholeness, returning people to community, breaking down barriers. All of Jesus’ teachings and healings point to the ideal world that God created and is ever at work to bring into being.

The powers of Jesus’ day heard Jesus’ teachings and saw the purposes of His healings. Both threatened their power and they found a way to be rid of Him. Jesus had very little wealth or material possessions. He encouraged His followers to be the same way. He knew that greed and jealousy were the enemies of love and compassion. The ideas of having less and caring for the other run very counter to culture today. Even the most faithful of Christians gets a little uncomfortable when they really wrestle with the idea of just having enough so that all can have some. This is the heart of caring for those in need. Not all people we meet are good and kind and sometimes people make poor choices. These things all challenge our call to fully love all people as Jesus loves them.

To live a life that emulates the compassion of Jesus is really hard. To teach others by our example and to heal the brokenness of our world is a daily struggle because it always calls for less of us and more of Jesus. Although difficult, it is a calling worthy of pursuing. Although we will stumble and fail, it is a narrow road worth walking. May we all ever seek to live out the compassion of Jesus this day, being a fragrant offering to all we meet. May it be so for me and for you.


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The Powerful Name

Reading: Acts 4: 5-12

Verse Ten: “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who you crucified… that this man stands before you healed”.

Leading into today’s passage, Peter and John have been arrested by the religious leaders for preaching about Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. They had healed a crippled beggar and the man danced joyously in the temple, drawing much attention. This drew an audience for Peter to preach to. Verse four reports that the number of believers grew to about 5,000 men that day. The healing and preaching we’re powerful and effective.

The leaders begin by questioning Peter and John, asking, “By what power or what name did you do this”? Peter must have sensed that he had the advantage. This question leads into his strong defense. He asks if they are being called into account for showing kindness to a man who had long been crippled. Well, certainly not. Who would ever think this a bad thing to do? As he reels them in, Peter discloses the name by which the crippled man was healed: Jesus of Nazareth.

The evidence is overwhelming: clearly the crippled man is healed. It is rock solid evidence. So the leaders cannot argue with Peter’s claim as to the source of the power. It is a power that continues to do amazing things to do this day. It is a power that is at work in our lives as well. Just as the Spirit led Peter and John to engage the crippled man that day, so too will the Spirit lead us to those in need of Jesus.

When we attune ourselves to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit, then we too will experience the power of Jesus at work. Our words of comfort may bring peace to a hurting soul. Our acts of service may help someone to find hope in their lives. Our story of faith may help another to seek a relationship with Jesus. Our touch and prayer may even bring healing and wholeness to a broken person. As we go forth this day may we call upon the mighty and powerful name of Jesus, allowing Him to work in and through us. Doing so, may we bring much glory to God. Amen.