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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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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Walking with God

Reading: Mark 10: 23-27

Verse 24: “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God”.

Today we continue in the aftermath of the young man walking away sad. Remember, a part of him ran to Jesus to find out how he could inherit eternal life. Probably as he can still be seen walking away, Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven”. We can be rich in many things and in many ways. For example, an abundance of pride can be a great barrier to the kingdom. Looked at another way, in America we are all rich when compared to most people around the world. In this instance Jesus is talking about material wealth. This is a topic that Jesus teaches on frequently. Wealth or possessions often are people’s idols, over and above their faith in God. Money or wealth isn’t our only idols. To this point, Jesus perhaps turns the situation more general, saying, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God”. It is indeed hard. The road is narrow and the choices are challenging; there is a cost to discipleship.

Our pursuit of God is unlike our pursuit of money or status or popularity or anything else. With all the idols that we can pursue, the pursuit is intermittent. For example, we can work really hard for a time for that title that brings the recognition that we desire. Once we attain that, it only requires periodic maintenance. But in our relationship with God, our pursuit of God must be 24-7. We cannot take take away from being in a relationship with God to live as a person of the world for a time. God must be our sole focus, our sole purpose in life. The well-known ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD) question must be our filter for all decisions, situations, and experiences.

To pursue God 24-7 is difficult. The disciples were literslky with Jesus all the time yet knew struggle. They ask Jesus, “Who then can be saved”? It is a legitimate question. On our own we cannot be saved. Salvation is not about what we do. It is all about what Jesus had already done. Just as on our own we cannot be saved, on our own we cannot pursue God 24-7. There is hope though. Jesus speaks our hope today: “All things are possible with God”. With God we can do all things. If we are in a personal relationship with God, we can walk with God 24-7 because God is pursuing us too. God’s voice whispers out when we need a reminder, His Spirit prompts us when we need a nudge or a redirect. Walking with God all things are indeed possible. May we each walk with God today and every day.

Lord, I love you and want to walk with you always. In those moments when I am weak, I know you will be strong. Thank you Lord! Amen.


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Love, Bless, Value

Reading: Mark 10: 13-16

Verse 16: “He took the children in His arms, and He blessed them”.

Our short passage today is about many things. It begins with a desire for a blessing. It includes a desire to see the “real work” of God being done. It includes an invitation with a nod to having such simple faith. It concludes with welcome, love, and blessing.

The passage begins with parents bringing their children to Jesus. It was the norm to have the rabbi bless the child. This usually occurred at the temple, much as baptism occurs in many of our churches. To bring them to this itinerant rabbi was similar – except there was something special about this Jesus. As parents we all want our children to be blessed, so we can relate to their motives here.

But the disciples try to intervene. Children were at the bottom of the social ladder, of little worth in society’s eyes. This was part of their trying to ‘protect’ Jesus. The larger part, though, was that this would distract Jesus from the ‘real work’ of ministry: preaching, teaching, healing. This was the disciples angle, to allow Jesus to work. We can all relate here too. How often we ignore or wish we could have avoided those trivial or unimportant things or people. That phone call, that knock on the door, that email – yes, maybe distractions. But maybe opportunities to minister to another.

Preventing the children from coming to Him upsets Jesus. He elevates their status – the kingdom belongs to these – and He recognizes their inner value – examples of how to receive love and God and faith. To demonstrate this, Jesus takes them in His arms and He blesses them. I envision this being a robust hug and a personal engagement with each child. I imagine the blessing is compassionate and loving and focused on each child. It is dedicated and intentional time. It is how we too should see and receive and treat all people, especially those that society deems unworthy and of little or no value. To these belong the kingdom of God.

Father God, how you love the children! Help me to love them as you do. May I never be too busy or too selfish – for then I miss the opportunities to love and bless those you send my way. In your name I pray. Amen.


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For Us

Reading: Mark 9: 38-41

Verse 40: “For whoever is not against us is for us”.

Who is in? Who is out? What do I have to do to be a part of this group or organization? What are the rules?

These are the questions we ask. We prefer rule and order. We like to be around people who are like us, people who have similar interests and hobbies, people who see the world as we see the world. It is even the way of the natural world. Lions hang out with lions, chickadees with chickadees.

In today’s passage, John asks Jesus about a man they do not know. This man was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. The disciples initial reaction was to tell the man to stop because he is not one of them. Who could walk into the church tomorrow morning and draw a similar reaction?

John is struggling with the opening questions that I posed today. This man is out, he is not part of their group, he is not following all the right rules. To John, one must be part of the group that follows Jesus 24-7. If you do not follow this rule, you better not be doing miracles in Jesus’ name. Jesus does not see it this way. Not even close. Jesus says to John and the disciples, “Whoever is not against us is for us”. Here we see Jesus once again being inclusive instead of exclusive.

If Jesus were the pastor left in our church tomorrow and “that” person or persons walked in, He would welcome them, introduce himself, help them to find a good seat, and would make sure they got coffee and cookies after church. He sees this man driving out demons as being for the kingdom. He wants His disciples to see people this way too. If you are not against us you are for us. For Jesus, all are welcome in the kingdom, all are invited. May we see all people this way too.

Lord, help me to be inclusive and welcoming and open to all people. When my heart or mind begins to erect barriers, smash them down. Give me eyes to see as Jesus saw and a heart to love as He loved. Amen.


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The Good…

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verse 20: “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”.

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is seen as the groom and the church is His bride. I encourage you to read again the passage from Proverbs 31 from this perspective. Re-read the passage and think of the church as the wife or bride of Christ.

A good church is worth far more than rubies – it has eternal worth as it helps people find salvation. A good church does bring glory and praise by honoring God in all it says and does. All of its efforts are aimed at building the kingdom here on earth.

A good church gets up while it is still dark and spends time in the Word, in meditation, and in prayer. A good church gives spiritual food to those who hunger and thirst. A good church does work hard – both for its members and for its community. It is strong for the task at hand, whatever that may be. Because of this, the lamp does not go out at night. The good church is ready to answer the call at 2 AM or whenever because God’s love is always at the ready.

A good church “opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”. A good church cares all members of society, regardless of race or religion, regardless of social class or standing. A good church offers food or clothing or a listening ear or whatever it can in a time of need.

A good church is clothed in strength and dignity. As it does the Lord’s work, it is assured of the path that it walks. A good church can even laugh at the days to come – it trusts and rests in the Lord. A good church receives faithful instruction, keeping it focused on a life of faith. It is to be praised because it fears the Lord. And the reward is found in leading others into a relationship with Jesus Christ. The good church is God’s body at work for Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for all the good churches out there.

Lord, may the church ever be Christ’s bride, bringing joy and hope and peace to a world in need. May it ever give to those in need, love all people, and draw all to Christ. Amen.


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Living Wisely

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-17

Verses 15… 17: “Live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity… understanding what the Lord’s will is”.

Today’s words about living wisely fit well with yesterday’s words from Psalm 111 concerning wisdom. Today’s focus is not so much on gaining God’s wisdom but on applying it to our lives. A summary of today’s passage reads, “Live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity… understanding what the Lord’s will is”. Paul’s basic admonition is to live wisely. To me, this begins with choosing well. Usually most decisions we make have a pause point where we consider our options. Second bowl of ice cream or not? Give her a second glance? Say the sarcastic comment? “Forget” to report that income? Help with that event next weekend? Life is full of moments when we come to that point. Paul’s advice is to choose well. That means choosing according to the good and pleasing will of God.

The second hurdle is making the most of every opportunity. What does it look like to “make the most”? It means going above and beyond. It means going a little deeper. It means not just giving the needy mom some formula and diapers, but also talking with her to see how we might help improve her situation, to see how our community of faith might surround and walk with her. It means saying “yes” to the whispers and nudges of the Holy Spirit.

When we choose wisely and according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, I think we are closing in on Paul’s third encouragement: understanding the will of God. When we choose to follow, we naturally gain understanding of God’s plan. Choosing not to sin or choosing to live life closely with another both connect us to God and deepen our understanding of how to best live out our faith. In doing so we also help others to understand who and what God is like and to see how faith could make a difference in their lives too.

Each day may we choose to live wisely in alignment with God’s will and purpose for each of us. May it be so to bring glory to God and to build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.