pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Losing One’s Life

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verses 38-39: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”.

Jesus’ words today are really about the cost of discipleship. Over the years, the cost has been varying degrees of suffering and sacrifice, depending on the era and location. In Jesus’ day, he and his disciples were oppressed by both the Jews and the Romans. Both saw Jesus and his small group of followers as a potential threat and as a people who were not worshiping the “correct” way. Beatings and imprisonment and death would become the norms for some time. Similar costs exist in places around the world today. But here in our nation and in most of the western world the cost of following Jesus is maybe a little rejection and perhaps some scorn or ridicule. At times our faith may cost us a job or some friends.

After explaining the costs to his disciples and followers, Jesus closes with these words: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. The cross is standing out from the world and giving instead of taking. It is to live in the world as Jesus lived in the world, offering all of himself before considering what he could get out of another. It was standing up for the ones without voice or power. This is the idea of dying to self, of losing one’s life for Christ’s sake. It is placing self after faith and family and others. It is being selfless.

In our modern culture, this is not an easy place to be. We are told that the way is narrow that leads to life abundant and eternal. The losing of self leads to community and connection, to deeper relationships with God and with one another. It is living for the building of the kingdom of God here and now. It is love itself lived out in all we do and say and think. May this be the sacrifice we each make day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, the opportunities are there. If I will but get outside of my comfort zone, outside of my walls. It is engaged with the world, giving freely of self, that life is really blessed and full of joy. May I humbly serve you this day. Amen.


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Lead in Love

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 19: “When the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and said, ‘Peace be with you!'”

Following his death the disciples gathered together in their small community and were present to one another. The recent events left them feeling powerless and vulnerable. There was a sense of fear hanging over them. If this could happen to him, it could happen to any of them. If the Jews, the ones filled with power and fears of their own, could flex their muscles and cause this to happen to Jesus, the disciples were well within their reach.

Fear is certainly present in our society today. COVID has created many: fear of dying, fear of sickness, fear or losing a business, fear of financial failure, fear of isolation… Fear is also very present right now in some of our cities and in some of our social groups. Another senseless death has sent another ripple of fear through affected communities. The ripple had become a flood of emotion and response in some places. Even though there is no place for hate in God’s kingdom, it remains something that humanity is struggling with in this world.

As the disciples gathered on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, locked behind some closed doors, he came and said, “Peace be with you”! They were overjoyed. Speaking directly into their fear he said, “I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus encourages them to walk into the world tinged with hate and oppression as people filled with love and power. The Spirit would be the source of love and power and strength and hope. It was a presence the disciples would need as they set out to transform the world.

The Holy Spirit continues to lead with love. It is a love for all people, not just for some. It is a love that leads to compassion and understanding and empathy and unity. It is a love that is both culture blind and colorblind. Just yesterday I read a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “Protest is the voice of the powerless”. Yes, often it is. The root cause is powerlessness. Feeling powerless leads to feeling hopeless and helpless. In moving forward may the disciples of Jesus Christ continue to allow the Holy Spirit to lead in love. We with power must choose to be voices for those without. For the healing of our communities and of our world, may God’s love lead the way. May it start with each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, the Holy Spirit empowered the first disciples to transform their world. It began with them loving you above all else and then spread to loving one another. The community was based upon love and grace and mercy and compassion and justice. Their love changed the world. Make it happen again, Lord. Empower your disciples today to be change agents once again, leading the way across divides and through barriers. Let love be our guide, bringing healing and restoration. May it begin with me, O God. Amen.


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Ears to Hear

Reading: Acts 2: 14-18

Verse 17: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”.

For the followers of Jesus Christ, the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was a game changer. After his death and resurrection Jesus appeared for forty days as he continued to teach. Those that had orchestrated Jesus’ death felt pretty good about the outcome. There were some rumors of resurrection and appearing again, but all seems quiet now. The followers themselves are in a wait and see mode. Ten days pass between the ascension and this day that they gather. Life and direction must feel very unsure for them all. And then the promised Holy Spirit comes powerfully and fills them all with the ability to speak God’s word to people from all around the world. By the time Peter finishes the sermon that we read part of today, almost 3,000 people will choose Jesus, showing that his Spirit is indeed alive and well.

Peter begins by quoting from the prophet Joel. Writing about 900 years before Jesus’ birth, Joel prophesies, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”. It is significant that the Holy Spirit goes out to all people. Traditionally only prophets chosen by God held the power to speak for God. In the course of the Old Testament, there are only 55 prophets. But in the passage from Joel that has been now fulfilled and is quoted by Peter, the Spirit falls on sons and daughters, on young and old, on men and women, and even on servants. All are enlisted in the work of God. The religious leaders of the day would have certainly chafed at this idea and at what happens in the place that the followers are gathered. A large part of why they crucified Jesus was because he threatened their power. They control access to God. And now all sorts of people are being empowered to serve God, sharing the wonders of God in this case.

Understanding that the Holy Spirit is given to all people opens the gates. It means that all have gifts to offer for the building of the kingdom of God. It also means that those outside of the traditional power structures of the church have Holy Spirit voice. It still means that young and old, powerful and powerless, rich and poor, longtime members and those new to the faith, slave and free, black and brown and yellow and tan and white – all have voice. The big question is this: how can we seek to hear from and include all people in our churches and in the larger family of God? May we listen well.

Prayer: Lord, open my ears to all people’s voices. Help me to not only hear the traditional power holders but those on the edges too, for all have gifts to offer. Give me ears to hear, O God. Amen.


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Declaring His Praises

Readings: Acts 7: 55-60 and 1st Peter 2: 4-5 and 9-10

Verse 9: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood… that you may declare the praises of him who called you into his wonderful light”.

In the first passage for today we see Stephen dying for his faith in Jesus Christ. Being filled with the Holy Spirit he declares that he sees Jesus in heaven. This leads to his stoning. It is a willing gift to God, to declare this and then to go to be with the one he saw in heaven. While some may look at this as an act of bravery or of rebellion, I think it is a simple act of love. Having done and given all he can for the Lord, Stephen even offers grace to those who are now stumbling over the cornerstone that God has laid. Stephen chose to be a living stone, to be someone upon whom the kingdom of God could be built. His faith and witness will help others to grow in their faith.

What Stephen accomplished is the goal for all Christians. Peter reminds us of this in the opening verses of our second passage for today. He calls us to also be a part of the building of the kingdom, which he calls a “spiritual house”. To do so we too must offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”. Maybe some of us will do something extraordinary for God. Most of us will simply live lives that seek to build the kingdom here on earth, to continue the work begun by Jesus. In the second half of our second passage we are reminded of our daily role to be a “chosen people, a royal priesthood”. Day in and day out we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in ministry to the world. Peter encourages us to “declare the praises of him who called you into his wonderful light”. This simply means to share with others what Jesus has done for us. We are to tell the story of how we once walked in darkness yet now walk in his wonderful light. This is our salvation story. This day and every day may our lives tell the story of Jesus and his saving grace.

Prayer: Loving God, I rejoice and praise you today! I once was lost but now am found. I once was blind but now I see. I was wretched and broken but now in you I have found contentment and wholeness. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Out There

Reading: 1st Peter 2: 4-10

Verse 5: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, to be a royal priesthood”.

Peter establishes a connection in today’s passage between THE living stone and the followers of Jesus. He opens with these words: “as you come to him”. Our process of becoming like the living stone begins by establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must take the first step towards Jesus. As we choose to walk with the one who was precious and chosen by God, we begin to be transformed. As we come to Christ we are made more into his image. As we repeat this process over and over again, we grow to become closer and closer to who and what Jesus was and is. In this process we become the love, compassion, mercy, grace, and kindness of Jesus Christ himself. As we do so, as we are transformed, we also help to transform the world.

In verse five Peter describes this process. Here he writes, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, to be a royal priesthood”. Today we too easily see and make our churches into physical houses. We come inside the walls to worship and pray and to study. All of this is good but our faith cannot be something we revisit just on Sunday morning or on Wednesday evenings. Yes, Jesus himself taught and worshipped in the temple and synagogues. But that was a very small part of his ministry and faith. Most of Jesus’ faith energy was poured into people’s lives bringing healing and wholeness. This most often occurred outside the physical walls as Jesus sought to build the kingdom here on earth – a spiritual house, if you will. This is the type of a faith life that Peter is calling us to.

As I think about my own life, this challenge to be a living stone, to be a part of the royal priesthood outside of the walls of the church is difficult. When being honest I must admit that my ratio of inside to outside the walls is about the opposite of Jesus’ ratio. It is a challenge to all of us to live out more of our faith out there in the world. Today, may we each find a way to be like Christ out there in the world. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, there are people and places here in Winner that need to know your love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. Open my eyes to one today and lead my feet to that person or place. May it be so today. Amen.


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In His Footsteps

Reading: 1st Peter 2: 19-25

Verse 25: “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.

Today our passage contains a reference to sheep and/or shepherds. This metaphor carries us through this week. Sheep were plentiful in Palestine. The landscape and climate were not well-suited to cattle; sheep were the primary source of both meat and wool. Sheep are funny critters. In that way, they are a lot like us. But the commonalities do not end there. Although generally good followers, at times sheep will wander. Although exclusively loyal to the voice of their shepherd, at times they do not understand or remember the words spoken. Although docile and timid in general, on occasion they become playful or rambunctious – depending on your perspective. Although not known as trouble makers, once in a while sheep will get into a spot or predicament that does require some maneuvering to get back out of. Some suffering may be required.

In 1st Peter 2 today we read about times of suffering for our faith. Peter reminds us, “to this you were called”. Peter is writing within the context of submitting to masters. He includes kings, governors, and slave owners in the list of masters. We would have different titles today, but the principles remain the same. We are still called to respect and submit to authority. In our lives Jesus has the ultimate authority. That is one of Peter’s points. In our day and age, being obedient to Christ can bring some suffering our way. In our land that usually looks like a little ridicule, maybe some ostracizing, and possibly a little self-denial. Once in a while our faith may lead us to take a stand or to enter into a situation that brings some adversity or a bit of discomfort. These are not situations that we step into lightly – especially the second or third or… times. They come with a cost. Yet this is precisely what Peter is calling us to when he writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps”. Whether it was injustice or oppression or false religion or unethical behavior, Jesus stepped in and confronted it head on. And there was always a cost. None of us have to look far to find an ill or a difficult situation that needs addressed. We are called to follow in the footsteps of our Shepherd. Instead of sheep simply going astray, may we boldly and courageously follow in Jesus’ footsteps. May we each shine light into the darkness, building the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Dear God, give me courage both to see and to act. Lead me into the darkness, that your light and love may be known. Gird me up, making me willing to pay the cost for you and for the building of your kingdom here in this place. Go with me, O God. Amen.


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Only in Surrender

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-31

Verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to address a division that has arisen. On one side of the divide are the Greeks. They love learning and discussing ideas. They look for and prize wisdom above all else. They want to know their way into believing in Jesus Christ. On the other side are the Jews. The Jews look for signs. This is how they had always recognized and identified the power of God at work. Way back the power of God was revealed in the manna and in the wall of Jericho falling down, just to name a couple of examples. More recently it shown as Jesus and the disciples healed and cast out demons. The Jews wanted to be awed into believing in Jesus.

Paul tells both sides that they are wrong. Both the Greeks and the Jews are looking in the wrong place if they want to find the power of Jesus Christ. In our opening verse Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. To the world the cross represents weakness and shame and wrong doing. To the world it was foolishness for Jesus to die on a cross like a common criminal. But the world is perishing. Paul instead reminds the Jews and Greeks that true power is found in the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus demonstrated servanthood and obedience. It was there that he became humble to death as he died to save us all. In his death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and paved the way for us all to experience “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Just as Jesus was humble, we too must be humble as we approach faith. We cannot think our way into believing. Nor can we argue another into faith. We cannot “genie” our way to believing either. We cannot try and force God to prove he is real. We find faith when we come to the point of kneeling before Jesus, aware of our sin and our need for his grace, humbly asking him to be the Lord of our life. Only when we surrender do we find victory in Christ. It is more of that upside-down kingdom. When we are weak, he is strong. May we walk in surrender to our Lord and Savior today.

Prayer: Loving Father, you took me as I was, broken and filled with so many sins and weaknesses. Just like a potter, you went to work reforming and reshaping me, guiding me to your purposes. I am far from perfect. I beg you to continue to be at work in me. I surrender all to you for your glory. Amen.


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Upside Down

Reading: Psalm 36: 5-11

Verse 7b: “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”.

We begin Holy Week today with a Psalm that is not part of the revised common lectionary but is often read this week. As I began reading the first two verses, a song leapt into my mind. These words form the opening verse of “Your Love, O Lord” from Mercy Me. It is so appropriate as mercy forms one of the central thematic movements of Holy Week.

Mercy is centered first in love and compassion. Love leads us to have compassion for those close to us. Compassion becomes mercy when it is undeserved or cannot be earned. To extend mercy or to offer mercy, one must have compassion for the other. This week will seem to draw to a close with an act of great mercy as Jesus goes to the cross, taking on the sins of the world – my sins and your sins. There is a vastness in the love that Jesus offers in this act. Yet we know that victory over sin is not the only victory this week!

As I read the passage for today, the second half of verse seven clung to me. The ideas and emotions contained therein are near and dear to my heart. The verse reads, “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”. This verse shouts to me the vastness and wideness and inclusiveness of God’s love. Both the high and the low. Both men and women. Both the elderly and the children. Both the Black and the white and the Native and the Asian and the Mexican and the immigrant and the refugee. Every single person falls within the scope of God’s love. Every single one. And it does not stop with humanity either. The promise is to one day restore all of creation – a new heaven and a new earth. God’s love seeks to draw all of creation in.

The psalmist also writes of feasting on the “abundance of your house” and of drinking from God’s “river of delights”. This is God’s perfect plan – for a future day. As I look at the world it is plain to see that not all feast and not all drink. That is not the way of the world. As followers of Jesus Christ, it is here that we find one of our primary missions (see Matthew 26: 31-46). We are called to build God’s upside-down kingdom here on earth. That is the one where there are no rich or poor, no fed and hungry, no slave or free… In doing so we help the least and the broken and the lost to begin to experience verse nine: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I hear the call to action. Lead me to be a builder today. May your mercy and love flow in and through me. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Filled to Love

Reading: Matthew 17: 1-9

Verse 5: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him”!

Leading into chapter seventeen Jesus has just finished speaking about his impending death. Peter speaks quick words once again, saying, “This will never happen to you”. Jesus rebuked him, explaining that one must deny self and take up the cross. This chapter draws near to a close as Jesus says, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul”? In humility and obedience to God, Jesus will do just the opposite on the cross.

Six days later Jesus takes Peter, along with James and John, up the mountain and is transfigured before them. The light that surrounds Jesus is a peak at resurrection light. There will be no sun or moon in the new creation – the light will shine forth from the one who sits on the throne. This moment affirms what dying to self and finding true life looks like. God also offers affirmation of Jesus and the path ahead, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him”! Love. Humility, obedience, dying to self, losing one’s life – all require love. Love of God and love of one another lead and guide these actions. Ultimately love leads us to listen to Jesus and to do what he says and does. When we love as Jesus first loved us, the light of God shines within us too.

When we are filled with the light and love of God, that love flows out of us and into the lives of one another. When we love as Jesus loved, we offer forgiveness, care, comfort, presence, support, understanding… In doing so we experience a little bit more of heaven here on earth as we seek to build the kingdom here. When we choose to live a life of love and self-sacrifice we choose to be used by God. In doing so we are also pleasing in God’s sight. This day and every day, may we listen well to Jesus, filling ourselves with his light and love, being prepared to go forth to share these with the world.

Prayer: Father God, Jesus touched the disciples and said, “Do not be afraid”. Touch me too Lord and whisper those words to me. Send me out with courage to love and live boldly for you. Fill me with your light and love, then empty me, pour me out into the world. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Right Relationships

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verse 24: “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”.

At the core of today’s passage is the call to live in right relationship with God and with one another. In each small section Jesus first reminds us of the “big” or obvious sins – murder, adultery, divorce, dishonesty. Then he digs deeper, looking at the “smaller” and easier to hide or rationalize sins that we struggle with more often. These sins are the ones that lead up to murder… Each of these sins are offenses against both God and one another.

In verse 23 Jesus invites us to consider if our “brother has something against you”. If this is part of our daily prayer life, the the Holy Spirit will reveal to us these sins that we have committed against another. This process requires a careful and thoughtful introspection. When our words or actions or looks have caused hurt – when we get an immediate reaction – then we know we have sinned and must seek forgiveness. The careful and thorough introspection must go deeper, searching our day for instances where our interactions caused harm.

Jesus even seems to place our human relationships before our relationship with God. He says that before offering our gift to God – whether a thank offering or a guilt offering – to“first go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”. Be right with one another first. I think Jesus offers this thought because we think we can more easily hide or overlook our sins against our brothers and sisters. We think that God sees all and knows all (and God does) so that we cannot slip our offenses past God. In these words, Jesus is calling us to first be accountable to one another and then to God. Tend to the smaller relationships then to the bigger one with God. This is yet one more example of God’s upside down kingdom.

May we be mindful of our interactions with one another today, seeking reconciliation and forgiveness when we should, seeking to live in right relationship with God and with one another. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, make me mindful of all I do, say, and think today. Send the Holy Spirit to bring sure conviction when I sin and to guide me in the ways of peace and reconciliation and grace. Elevate my relationships with each I meet today, leading to deeper fellowship with them and with you. Amen.