pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Come and Follow

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Jesus was quite the radical in His day.  He called a group of men to be His disciples not from within the elite of the pre-Rabbi schools but out of ordinary life.  He did not spend all of His time in the temple but was out in the towns and villages eating and teaching the sinners and the lost.  Jesus did not simply read the scriptures and proclaim the word, but He also rolled up His sleeves and served others as a mean to show them God’s love.  He lived this way so that we would know what it looked like to live as a Christian.

In today’s passage we hear these words: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.  The first step is to deny self.  Society teaches us to first look out for #1, but Jesus says to put self last.  Jesus loved God with all He was and then next loved all of His neighbors more than He loved Himself.  He first sought to serve God and neighbor and only then did He consider His own needs.  In doing so, Jesus met people’s basic needs, sought equality for all, showed love and forgiveness and compassion, and lived a humble and simple life.

The next part involves taking up our cross.  On the cross of Calvary, Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice.  When Jesus calls us to take up our cross, He is asking us to die to self, to be willing to live with less so that others may have some, and to be a servant to all.

And then He says, “Follow me”.  Jesus calls us to do what He did, to follow His example.  Get out there into the ordinary of life – get outside the walls of the temple and our homes and our comfort zones.  Spend time with the lost – the sinners and the atheists and the non-believers.  Eat with them, talk with them, share Jesus with them.  Find ways to serve others, to meet people’s basic needs, to lift them up, and to bring them hope and justice.  In all this, we follow the One who lived God’s love out loud.  May we come and follow, showing the light and love of Christ to all for the glory of God.

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Holy and Pleasing

Reading: Romans 12: 1-8

Verse One: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.

Paul opens today’s passage by urging the Christians in Rome (and us) to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”.  When we offer of ourselves – our time, our gifts, our resources, our talents – and give them to God and for God’s glory, it pleases God.  Just as with any relationship, when we take time for the other, when we consider the needs of the other, when we give of ourselves, it builds the relationship up.

John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer echoes this idea.  It begins with these words: “I am no longer my own but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with who thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering”.  It is a prayer that says no matter what, no matter when, no matter how, use me God.  It is a prayer that cedes all personal rights and gives self fully to God.  It embodies what it means to be a living sacrifice to God.

In verse two, Paul goes on to address what it is that allows a Christian to live this way.  He first says not to be conformed to this world.  This world is temporary, it is of the flesh.  Paul then goes on to encourage us instead to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind” as we grow in our relationship with God.  When we seek to transform our mind into God’s mind, we enter the next step in our relationship.  We transform our mind by studying the Word, by spending time in prayer and fasting, by worshipping and fellowshipping with fellow believers.  The more time we spend with God, the more we are transformed.  The end result is that we come to know and live into God’s “good, pleasing, and perfect will”.

For Paul, the transformation and renewing of our minds brings our thinking into alignment with God’s thinking.  Paul believed that behavior would follow thinking.  As we become more aligned with God, our behaviors become things like serving obediently, living humbly, and giving generously.  We begin to live as Jesus lived – taking time for the other, meeting the needs of the other, giving of self, loving all.  This day, may we reflect Jesus to all we meet, offering ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.


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Thanks and Gifts

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 19: He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people.

This morning is the last day of a middle school youth mission trip.  We have spent the past week in a large city.  We have learned about poverty and homelessness.  We served food to men and women in need.  We sorted and stocked food in a free pantry.  We worked in a gigantic warehouse sorting and packing food that goes to many agencies who feed people.  We spent two afternoons at a large thrift store sorting about anything you can imagine and preparing it for resale.  The profits all go to people with disabilities in the state.

Through all of these acts of service, we learned about the great need that exists in our world.  It exists in many of our communities and maybe even in our own neighborhoods.  Prior to this trip our youth were unaware of the poverty many face each day.  Yes, they new some lived with very little.  But learning that some parents must choose between paying for their child’s field trip at school and putting gas in the car so they can go to work was a new reality for our youth.

Jesus lived a life of compassion.  He spent time in and among the poor and needy of His day.  They needed Him most.  In our passage today, He begins by healing many.  Then He feeds many.  We read, “He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people”.  There are two important lessons in today’s passage.

First, Jesus gave thanks for the gifts that God has given Him.  Second, the disciples used the gifts Jesus gave them to also be a part of this miracle.  In faith and trust, they were part of the feeding of the thousands.  Our group learned the first lesson well this week.  We are going home to nice houses with an excess of food, clothing…  We do not know true want.  We are truly thankful for the many, many gifts that God has given us.  We began to learn the second lesson this week as we saw how God can use each of us to make the world a better place by sharing His love as we serve others.  It is a great gift that we have to offer.  This day, what will we offer to meet another’s physical or emotional or spiritual need?  May we remember that gifts that God has given us, may we be truly thankful, and may we seek to share them each day for the building of God’s kingdom here on earth.


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Compassion

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 14: When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Jesus always seemed to be in demand.  Once He began to teach and heal, there always seemed to be a group or a crowd gathered around Him.  He had interesting and sometimes challenging parables and His interpretation of the Scriptures and what it meant to have faith all seemed to center around love and hope and forgiveness.  There was a hunger for these things and Jesus offered them.  For each, there was draw to Jesus.  This day, many are seeking healing.  The people are seeking Jesus’ touch to heal them physically or spiritually or mentally.  So this day is no different than all the others.  Jesus is tired and seeks to withdraw to a solitary place, but the people follow along on shore.

“When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick”.  Instead of being mad or getting back in the boat and heading off someplace else, a tired Jesus has compassion.  He gets out of the boat and starts healing them.  We do not know how or what He healed them of, but we do know that He healed many because as evening approaches, the disciples come to Jesus with a practical concern.  Feeding the people – one more way to care for them.  But Jesus’ response challenges the disciples: “You feed them”.  Their answer: but, but, but.   Our answer would have been the same.  What can we do, Lord?

Instead of being angry with the disciples or seeking to walk away from them, Jesus has compassion.  He solves their problem too.  With five loaves and two fish, Jesus feeds the multitude.  His compassion never ends.  Even though tired and seeking solitude, Jesus heals many and as the day draws long, He feeds them too, tending to a physical need of the people.

Jesus continues to do all of this today.  In those times of hurt and pain, Jesus heals our brokenness.  He heals our physical or spiritual or emotional hurts.  He also provides for our needs – our daily bread and so much more.  Jesus offers us Hope and love and forgiveness today as He has compassion on us.  Whatever our need or our hurt, Jesus says to us, “Bring them to me”.


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Steps

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-2

Verse 2: He makes me like down in green pastures… He restores my soul.

David opens the Psalm by declaring God to be his shepherd.  Because of this, David knows he shall not be in want.  Above all else, he has learned that God provides for him.  Whether dealing with a bear while tending sheep or facing a giant on the battle field or avoiding the insane king, God has provided for way more than David’s basic needs.  But God has provided for them as well, so David has a deep and abiding trust in God.  It is a trust that had grown with experience and practice.  It is one we can enjoy too if we are willing to “let go and let God”.  But it is sort of a two-edged sword you see.  If we never trust God enough to face our giants, then we never truly understand just how great our God can be.  Deep and abiding trust requires us to take another step.

David goes on in verse two to another way that God cares for him and us: rest.  God knew since the beginning how important it was for us to rest.  God himself rested on the seventh day and made Sabbath rest one of the ten commandments.  It is a practice that is deeply ingrained in the lives of Orthodox Jews to this day.  David writes, “He makes me like down in green pastures… He restores my soul”.  David is so in tune with God that he feels God leads him to a place of rest.  David’s place is out in nature, the place of his youth.  The green pastures and quiet waters are calling and David finds restoration for his soul in this place.  It is a place that God invites us to as well.  It is a space that requires deep and abiding trust as well.  It requires that we trust God enough to rest.  This means that we trust God can and will take care of tomorrow – with all of it’s requisite work and worries.  This is also a “let go and let God” practice.  It is also a means of trusting all that we have and all that we are into God’s hands.  To trust in this way also requires another step – another step towards God and away from the world.

This day may we step a little further in our trust in God, entering deeper into His love.


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Lead

Reading​: Exodus 17:1-7

The Israelites have Moses as their leader.  He was sent by God to free the people from slavery in Egypt and to lead them to the Promised Land.  Through the signs and wonders it is clear that God is with Moses.  As the people begin this journey, the memories of slavery are surely still in their minds.  Yet they grumble and complain pretty guickly against Moses when their needs are not met.  They are free, yes, but they have been promised a new homeland.  They envision arriving, not being tested out in the desert.

Initially, Moses was a very reluctant leader.  In fact, he tried to talk God out of choosing him.  But Moses did accept the position and has been a good leader.  He has grown into the position and has worn the title well.  Even though Moses’ patience is tried now and then by the people, he functions well as their leader.  He deals with the daily decisions, hears the daily cases and complaints, and continues to lead.  So it is natural for the people to go to Moses when there is no water to drink.  When the people have a vision for the Promised Land, it is hard to die of thirst out in the desert.

Moses, as leader and intermediary to God, intercedes on the people’s behalf.  God responds to the people’s needs by making water flow from the Rock at Horeb.  God provides and Moses continues to lead.

Almost all of us are leaders.  For some it is with our families, for some it is at our jobs, for some it is on our teams, for some it is where we volunteer, for some it is in our circle of friends.  As leaders, we try and set the example and try to lead in a way that brings honor and glory to God.  And at times, like with Moses, the ‘people’ will complain or grumble to us as the leader.  May we each follow Moses’ example, hearing the people and then going to God for the solution.  We can choose to lead by following God’s voice and direction, or we can try to lead on our own.  Things worked out pretty good for Moses.  May we also choose to lead wherever we are planted with God out in front.


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Trials and Temptations

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Jesus prepares for His ministry with a period of testing.  He fasts for forty days and is physically weak.  Satan comes then and tempts Jesus with food, trust, and power.  Food represents both our basic needs and our desires.  Is our life about pursuing these things and then giving what’s left to God?  Or do we first give to God, knowing that He loves us and will provide for all we need?  The second temptation partly involves trust.  We we step out or step forward, trusting that God will have our back?  And perhaps before this first step, did we seek God’s discernment and direction or did we just make our own plan?  When seek God’s will and when we obey His lead, there is no fear or lack of trust.  Power is the third temptation.  Worship Satan and all the world is yours.  We like to be in charge.  What a temptation!

In our own journey of faith, we are often tempted and often out to the test.  In our giving, do we obediently give our tithe or volunteer for that cause that pulls at our heart strings?  Or do we focus on what “has” to be done first or pay all the bills and then see if we have time or money left for God?  In those moments when the Holy Spirit nudges us to get involved or to offer our talents or to engage the stranger, do we trust that God will give us the words to say or will show us what to do?  Or do we apply excuses or rationalize away the opportunity?  And when we look at our priorities, do they reveal that God is #1 in our lives?  Or does ‘God’ fall somewhere down the list?  If one looked at our lives, they should see how we are investing our lives in God’s work in the world and in growing our own personal faith.  Is that what they would see?

Just as Satan tempted Jesus to rely on something other than God, he will also tempt us.  How we respond to or react to the above questions and scenarios indicated how successful Satan may be at drawing us away from God.  In this season of Lent, where we too are preparing ourselves for ministry, may the Lord our God strengthen and encourage us each day as we strive to walk as disciples of Jesus each and every day.