pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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The Foreigners

Reading: 1Kings 8: 41-43

Verses 41-43: “As for the foreigner… who has come from a distant land because of your name… when he comes and prays… then hear from heaven”.

Solomon is making a request that we all want to make. He hopes that God’s name spreads and that people outside of his nation will come to pray to God. His request of God is to hear their prayers so that foreigners know and fear the Lord. I am not sure, but I’d guess Solomon’s hope comes more from the perspective of more people knowing God than from God’s name becoming famous or from enlarging the nation.

In our lives we all want to think that we welcome in the foreigners and strangers amongst us. We want to think that the least, the lost, and the broken, the poor and the fatherless – when they get up the courage to step inside our churches – that they will feel welcomed and loved. We, like Solomon, hope that God hears their prayers and answers them so that a relationship with God begins to form. And then, if they are to come back the next Sunday and seem inclined to become a part our community of faith, then we expect them to be and look and act just like us that next week. So when the foreigner returns next week they still look a lot like a homeless man or an addict or a teenage single parent or… and we realize that this could be messy and hard. The welcome becomes just a little less welcoming.

Yes, in our heart of hearts, we want all people to come to know God and Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yes, we want all people to find a community of faith where they can find fellowship and a place to worship God. We are just not always sure that we want it to be at our nice and tidy church and in our fellowship of perfect sinners. It is difficult to really pray this hope that Solomon expresses for those in our communities who are the foreigners to us. It is even harder to live it out. Yet when we look to our example, to Jesus, we see this is exactly how He practiced ministry. To all who came, Jesus offered welcome and love and a place at the table. To all who came, Jesus ministered to their needs. To all who came, Jesus extended relationship. It did not matter who the foreigner was – tax collector, prostitute, Samaritan, demon possessed, adulterer, thief… As we strive to live out Solomon’s hope for the foreigner, may we follow Jesus’ example, loving and welcoming all.


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Going Out

Reading: Acts 1: 1-11

Verse Eleven: “Why do you stand there, looking into the sky”?

The book of Acts opens with a brief recap of the forty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It reviews how Jesus offered “convincing proofs” that He was alive and it reiterates His promise to send the Holy Spirit. The disciples then ask when Jesus is returning to restore the kingdom of Israel. Yes, they are still thinking of earthly kingdoms instead of the heavenly kingdom. Again, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus is taken up into heaven and the disciples stand there staring up. Two angels appear and ask, “Why do you stand there, looking into the sky”?

The angels indicate that Jesus will come back. But the implication in the question is ‘stop staring, it is time to get to work’. There is much to be done, so let’s get busy. Much needs to be accomplished before Jesus returns, so let’s get to work. Quit standing around staring at the sky.

I wonder how often God thinks thoughts like these today. How much of our time is spent staring up at heaven instead of engaging the work that needs to be done down here? How much time do we spend each day in prayer and personal study and how little time do we devote each day to the acts of mercy that Jesus so often called His followers to?

Nothing builds itself. While it is wonderful that we Christians spend our “alone time” with God each day, we must spend at least that much time spending “face time” with the lost, least, and broken of this world. No one will come to faith and experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promises without someone first introducing that person to Jesus Christ. It is essential to go outside of our churches to find those who need a saving relationship with Jesus. They are not coming to us. We must go to them.

Each and every day may we look down and around us, seeking to be kingdom builders, going out into the world to share the light and love and hope if Jesus Christ with a world in need. Amen.


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Serve

Reading: John 12: 20-36

Verse 26: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be”.

Today’s passage from John is about sacrifice or giving of oneself. Jesus begins with the familiar illustration of the wheat kernel. If it remains on the stalk it remains just a single seed. If it is picked it is ground and becomes flour. Only when it falls into the ground does it die and produce more seeds. This is the natural cycle of life for seed-bearing plants. It is the cycle of life that mankind has observed for years. This concept is very familiar to Jesus’ audience and even to us in the ‘modern’ world.

Once Jesus has us at a good level of understanding, He goes on to parallel this with our faith journey. He basically says that if we hold tightly to life in this world, eventually we will lose it all. But if we are willing to allow self to die to the things of this world, then we will find true and eternal life. It is similar to the seed’s journey. Only when we are able to live life beyond ourselves and this world and its desires for we gain real life. Jesus goes on in verse 26 to say, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be”. When our lives focus in on serving Jesus as His followers, then we are ever with Him. This is a here and now as well as a forever promise.

When we live as a servant in the here and now, we experience Jesus all the time. Sometimes it is as we are His hands and feet, doing for others, that we sense His presence in us. And once in a while we are blessed to see Jesus in those we serve. It is a beautiful reminder that we are all God’s children. It is a wonderful reminder that as we do for “one of the least of these”, we do it for Jesus himself.

Jesus sets for us the ultimate servant’s choice this week. Later this week, on Good Friday, Jesus will give His life for us. He will fall into the tomb. But He will not remain there. On Easter, Jesus rises and walks out of the grave. He defeated the power of death and invites us to do the same. Through faith in Christ we too can gain eternal life. It is a glorious invite. Until we receive our final call, may we love and serve Him in this world. Verse 26 finishes with, “My father will honor the one who serves me”. May it be so for each of us this week!


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Love Pure and Unending

Reading: Jeremiah 31:34

Verse 34b: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”.

God’s love, of course, is much greater than our love. It is greater not only in volume, but also in quality. It is a love that we cannot begin to see the bounds of. In Jesus, we see that God’s love is a love for all people, especially the least and the lost and the broken and the marginalized. God’s love is something that binds us together with God and with each other. It is a love that sees beyond faults and stumbles to always say, “I love you”.

In today’s passage, God is saying that His love will lead mankind to know Him in such an intimate way that one day we will no longer have to teach about God and His ways. As we look at the world that say seems a long way off. Yet within this is also revealed God’s patience. Jesus could have returned long ago and made all things new. But I think the delay shows God’s patience. He is saying, “Just one more. Let’s save just one more” over and over. This patience, of course, comes from His great love.

Our passage today concludes with this line: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”. Just more proof of God’s vast love. Not only does God offer forgiveness, but He does not remember our sins. Forgiven and forgotten. How I wish I was more like God in this way! It is easy to forgive someone that feels truly repentant. But if it feels shallow or if they turn around and do the same thing again, I can easily withhold forgiveness or place another mark on the chalkboard in my mind. The same mentality that leads us to feel like we need to return the favor or the compliment leads us to think we should keep track of wrongs and hurts.

This is not the love and forgiveness we experience from God. It is not the love and forgiveness modeled by Jesus. In Psalm 103 we are told that God removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. In John 12 Jesus reminds us that He did not come to judge or condemn the world but to save it. Faith is all about love. Love conquers all things. May God and Jesus’ love in me conquer my penchant for keeping score and may my love God and others be pure and unending, just as is His love for me. May I love as He loves me. May it be so. Amen.


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Breaking Chains

Reading: 1st Peter 3: 18-22

Verse 18: “For Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”.

Noah was saved because of his righteousness. Because of this, he was chosen by God to survive the great flood. Out of the flood came God’s covenant to never again destroy the earth by water. Instead, God will have mankind’s best interests at heart. And then, at just the right time, God sent Jesus into the world. Instead of the rains, God sent love.

Christ came for two main purposes. The first was to show us what God’s love looks like when lived out to perfection. Before He died, Jesus made it abundantly clear that all Christians are to do the same – to live God’s love out into the world. The second and main reason Jesus came was to save mankind. Through the purchase of His blood, Jesus made atonement for our sins. Peter sums it up this way in our reading today: “For Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”. For us, the unrighteous, Christ died to bring us to God.

Peter connects this gift from Christ to the waters of our baptism. In our baptism, the waters symbolically wash away our sins and our old life. In baptism, Peter also says we receive the “pledge of good conscience”. In simpler terms, this means that we are led to act and live righteous lives as we walk out our faith as a new creation in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit in us, which marks us as a child of God in our baptism, that leads us to walk out our faith, sharing God’s love with a world in need.

Peter refers to Christ, being made alive by the Spirit, going and preaching to “spirits in prison”. He went to hell to save some lost souls. This too is one way that we can live out God’s love. We can go to the lost and the broken and share the good news of Jesus Christ. We can lead them to the waters of baptism so that they too can be made clean and can receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, walking ever more as a beloved child of God.

As Christ’s light and love lived out in the world, may we be led by the Spirit to help the least and the lost break the chains of sin and death, freeing them to live a life in Christ. May it be so today and every day. Amen!


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The Only Question

Reading: Matthew 25: 45-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we come to the end of Matthew 25, to the end of the parable of the sheep and the goats.  For me, it is one of the most difficult passages of scripture to read and ponder.  It often leads me to the question of whether or not I am doing enough for the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God and His justice are not about keeping score, but I often feel conviction when I read this passage.  I fail on both ends of the spectrum.  There are times when I see hunger or loneliness or some other need and I fail to act.  There are times when I do act but not for the right reasons.  I do meet a need but it was not for the building of the kingdom of God but it is for a selfish reason that I served.  So when I read, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”, the word ‘whatever’ looms large.  It seems that I often fail Jesus and the ones He loves and the ones sent my way.

I also often try and rationalize things in my mind to assuage my guilt.  I make excuses or I rationalize why I should not give this person money or I try to convince myself that I do not have the time…  I judge and try and make the one n need unworthy of love in my mind, helping my inaction to feel a bit better.  And when I do all of these things, they eventually bring on their own conviction and sense of guilt.  This sometimes leads me to try and do something for someone, but soon enough I am made aware that my motivation is in the wrong place and I am a goat in the parable.

It is a tough parable to wrestle with.  I do not like where it often leaves me.  Yet in the end, I realize that it is not a giant scoreboard that Jesus keeps, ever balancing my times when I did meet Jesus in the service of another against those times when I did not serve or when I served for the wrong reasons.  Instead Jesus keeps an overflowing well of mercy, grace, and love, offering me chance after chance to love as He loved, to serve as He served.  In the end, I believe the only question that will matter is this: do you love me?