pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Service = Greatness

Reading: Mark 10: 41-45

Verse 43: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave to all”.

The ten are upset with James and John for their request. James and John want places of power and authority. What led them to make this request is unclear, but the ten assume the request is not coming from a good place. Because all twelve need a worldview adjustment, Jesus gathers them around and reorients their viewpoint.

Jesus begins by reminding them how the worldly leaders lord their power over their subjects. Those in places of worldly authority exercise it at will. The disciples probably first thought of the Romans who occupied their nation and then thought of the religious leaders who so often flaunted their power – both over their fellow Jews but especially over the Gentiles. Jesus often clashed with the religious leaders “do-as-I-say…” attitude that was far from how God viewed leadership. The disciples would have no shortage of examples of those who abuse their power and authority.

Jesus begins to counter this worldly understanding of power by saying, “Not so with you”. This worldview is is not the model for the disciples or for any follower of Jesus. Jesus offers a better way – a way that aligns with God’s worldview. In verse 43 He lays it out, saying, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave to all”. This viewpoint is totally upside-down from the world’s viewpoint. To further drive His point home, Jesus reminds them of the example that He is setting. God incarnate, the most powerful One in all of creation, took on flesh not to rule over others but to serve others. And not only that, but He also came to give His life up as a “ransom for many”. Jesus came to serve others and demonstrates this in His willingness to die so that others can find salvation and eternal life. Talk about being a slave to all!

This view of service and sacrifice as the goal of discipleship must have reoriented James and John’s way of thinking. It must have realigned the thinking of the ten. May it realign our way of understanding how we are to live out our faith in the world as well. This day and each day, may we seek ways to serve others, building God’s upside-down kingdom, bringing God all the glory.

Lord of all, help me to be humble, to willingly look first to the needs of others. Make me willing to seize the opportunities to be of service to all I meet. May my life be about giving and lifting others and their needs above my own. Amen.

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Majesty, Humility

Reading: Job 38: 1-7

Verse 1: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge”?

Job has been through a lot. All of his possessions and almost all of his family are gone. He has suffered terribly physically as well. His wife and three friends have been discouraging and even critical. Job has a lot of questions for God. He has remained faithful, but after all that he has been through, he has some questions. Today, in our passage, God speaks to Job as God Almighty, from a place of power and majesty.

Today’s seven verses are just a taste of God’s response to Job. God’s response fills all of chapters 38, 39, 40, and 41. Job’s response is a mere six verses at the beginning of chapter 42. God’s opening words set the tone for the four chapters of response: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge”? In essence, God is asking Job: who are you to speak?

We can probably think of many times in our lives when we thought we had all the answers, when we knew it all. We were an expert in all fields – just ask us. At some point, whether it was at 17 or 26 or 40, we come to that place where we realize that we do not know it all. It is always a humbling experience but it sometimes can be embarrassing or shameful as well. We gain a new understanding of our own limitations and we come to see the world differently after this moment. We better grasp our place in the world and we emerge with more empathy and more compassion for others. Our faith deepens. Such is the case with Job.

We can be asked the same question that Job was asked: “Were you there when I laid the earth’s foundation”? Through a series of similar questions, God establishes His supreme power, majesty, and greatness. In recognizing God’s place, like Job, we too are humbled by our smallness, by our powerlessness, by our dependence on God. Yes, we are humbled. But let us also praise and adore God for who He is and for what He has done and for what He continues to do in our lives. Hallelujah and amen!

God, help me to ever know my place in your world – a humble servant seeking to do your will. Speak into my heart, speak into my life. May your plan be worked out in my life each day. Amen.


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Humble Submission

Reading: James 4: 7-8a

Verse 8a: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”.

In our short one and a half verses, James gives us three pieces of advice. In James 4 he has just finished quoting Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. When we are proud and allow pride to guide our words and thoughts, then we have trouble with today’s advice.

Most Christians are rule followers. In general. Sometimes we follow the rules because of circumstances. For example, in my old truck I do not drive 80 miles per hour on the interstate. 80 is the rule. I could physically drive 80 and the truck can too, but the gas mileage plummets and I am cheap. Most of the time, though, I do follow the rules because it is simply the right thing to do.

Sometimes rules do not make sense or we know they are wrong. In the cases when the rule does not make sense, we struggle to follow it. But when the rules are wrong, as Christians, we must take a stand. Such was the case back in the 1960s, when rules excluded or denied or segregated based on race. These rules were broken by and protested against by people, bringing reform to a bad system. Although it is sometimes long and hard, what is right usually wins out in the end.

Today, James is advising us to follow a rule that is both good for us and is in alignment with our faith. James says to submit to God. Tying in the verse from Proverbs, we are to humbly submit to God. Yes, it is good and right to do so. No, we cannot argue or protest against this rule. Yet at times we struggle to follow it. The devil is always at work, trying to tempt us. It is precisely then that we must over God. When we obey God, we are resisting the devil. When we obey God, the devil flees. And then we receive the promise: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”. Come to God and He’ll come to you. Draw near and rest in His presence. Connect with God and live in His light and love. How could life be any better?

O Lord, my God, in humble submission I draw near to you. In awe, I come into your presence. It is a good place to be. Fill me up with your love and grace and mercy and compassion. Fill me to overflowing, so that you can flow out of me and into the lives of those I meet today. Amen.


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Solomon’s Request

Reading: 1 Kings 3: 3-14

Verse 5: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”.

Solomon is now King Solomon. He is the ruler of the nation of Israel. He inherits the kingdom from his father David. Israel has enjoyed a recent period of peace and prosperity under David’s leadership. Often, with a new king, the competing and rival nations around him want to test him and see if he really can lead. And although Solomon has worked hard to eliminate all possible and known enemies or threats within, one never knows who amongst your “friends” might be eyeing power. So when God comes and tells Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”, he could have easily and naturally asked to be king for “x” years or to have rest from his enemies.

Kings also often like to look “kingly” so Solomon could have asked for people to admire him. Or he could have asked for more wealth or a bigger kingdom… But Solomon does not ask for any of these worldly trappings. In essence, he asks for more of what it appears he already has. Solomon’s response to God’s offer: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”. This is such an interesting response!

First, notice how Solomon identifies himself: your servant. He is acknowledging God’s supremacy and defining his preferred role in their relationship. Solomon shows both great faith and also deep humility. Second, he asks for a “discerning heart”. Solomon is asking for eyes to see and a heart to feel. This is different from knowing. To know means that 2+2=4. This is a fact that we can know. Discernment is deeper – it adds the ‘why’ to the knowing. Third, Solomon asks for the ability to distinguish right from wrong. We cannot miss why this is important. This request applies on two levels: as a leader of Israel and as a follower of God. Not only does Solomon desire to lead the nation well, but he also wants to walk upright before the Lord. Verse 10 tells us, “This pleased the Lord”. God not only granted Solomon’s request, but He also blessed him in many other ways as well.

When we come to God with our requests, may we be as wise and humble and faithful as Solomon, seeking ever to please God, to bring God the glory, and to walk in His ways. Amen.


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Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”.

In a different season in my life I went backpacking once a year. The backpack was my existence for that week. The pack would carry the tent, my pad and sleeping bag, my food and cooking gear, the stove and fuel bottle, my clothes, my Bible and devotionals, my toiletries, a shovel and some toilet paper, and a water filter. Each of these was essential for my week trekking around the wilderness. If I discovered six miles into the journey that I had forgotten the fuel for the stove, I was in trouble. In a similar way, Paul describes today the essentials for our Christian journey. If we do not have all of these traits inside of us on our journey of faith, we are also in trouble.

Paul encourages us to be completely humble, to be patient, to bear with one another in love. He also encourages us to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. At times our journey is not always easy. To represent Christ well, it requires humility and patience and love and peace. In the good and especially in the bad these traits are essential because they help us through and they are the things that others notice. The peace in the suffering, the patience in the trial, the love for the unlovable or the unloved – these are some of the marks of the Christian. When we fail to love the other or when we demonstrate arrogance instead of humility, then we do harm to our Christian witness. We must carry all of these traits with us all of the time if we are to live out our faith well as we interact with the world.

Paul closes this section with a great reminder of what unites us as people of faith. He writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”. We are all one body of believers throughout the world. We are all connected to and through the head, Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we find humility, patience, love, and peace. May others see these traits in us today as we bear witness to our faith in Jesus Christ today.


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Seek the Lord

Reading: Psalm 9: 9-20

Verse Ten: “Those who know your name will trust in you; for you, Lord, have never foresaken those who seek you”.

Today’s section from Psalm 9 begins by reminding us of God’s love and care for us. David begins by reminding us that God is a “refuge for the oppressed” and is a “stronghold in times of trouble”. At times in our lives, God has certainly been these things for us. We can each recall times when God walked through the valley with us or when God brought relief to our trials or persecutions. God has been our protector and our defender at times.

David goes on to write, “Those who know your name will trust in you; for you, Lord, have never foresaken those who seek you”. This is almost an if-then statement. Those who know God will trust in God. Those who seek God will find that God is right there. The first verse, verse nine, helps us to these if-then statements. When we recall experiences where God was our refuge or when God was our stronghold, then we are more likely to trust and to seek God in our times of trial and suffering. While no one desires or tries to find testing or hardship, they are part of life. It is in these valleys and dark times that our faith resolve grows and our walk with God gains strength.

In our Psalm we also see David’s response to these moments when God has been there for him. He sings praises to God and proclaims to the nations what God has done. Thanksgiving recognizes that it was God who brought us through and proclamation allows or helps others to know about this great God. Thanksgiving keeps us humble and proclamation models God’s love for others.

Psalm 9 ends with a reality check of sorts. “Arise, O Lord, let not man triumph”. David knows our tendency towards being independent and self-sufficient. He closes with, “let the nations know that they are but men”. We are only human and God is God. It is a good reminder. This day may we who are powerless and weak turn quickly to our God who can do all things and whose strength is beyond measure. May we seek the Lord our God today and may we share the good news with all we meet!


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Prayer for Disciples

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verse Fifteen: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”.

Today’s passage is Jesus’ prayer for His disciples after He finally ascends to the Father into heaven. He has walked through the past three years with them, building up both their faith and also a personal relationship with each of them. Along the way He has prepared them for the day when He is no longer present. He has modeled what it is to be a humble servant and to love God with all one’s being. Jesus has sent them out on training missions to get a taste of what ministry without Jesus present.

In these things, Jesus reminds me of parenthood. As we raise our children, we model the behaviors, actions, and choices that we want them to make. We teach our children how to love God and others, how to be willing to give of oneself for the other. We allow them to swim a little on their own, celebrating when they succeed and picking them up when they fail. At some point it becomes time for them to be out on their own and we too pray over and for the next stage in their journey. And we keep praying for our children, just as Jesus does today as He intercedes for us all.

Jesus prays for His disciples as their work continues. Jesus realizes that they now belong to God and not to the world, just as He does. But there is still work to do, so Jesus prays, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”. He knows they must remain in the world to accomplish the plans that God has for them and His new church. Yet Jesus also knows the challenges that lie ahead so He prays for God to protect them. Jesus knows that just as Satan tempted Him in the wilderness with the things of the world, so too will Satan try and lead the disciples away from the truth.

This is why Jesus closes the prayer by asking God to sanctify them – to make them holy. Jesus knows that if the disciples live a holy life then it will protect them against the slings of the evil one. Jesus knows holiness is rooted in the truths found in the Bible, so He asks God to sanctify them by the truth. He is asking God to put the Word in them. It is by the truth found in the Word that they are made holy. By this same Word we are made holy. This day may we be disciples grounded in the Word, loving God and others with all we are.