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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Remaining Faithful and Diligent

Reading: Luke 18: 1-8

Verse 8: “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly”.

Our God is full of love and mercy and compassion. Our God is righteous and holy and good. Our God stands for justice and equality and truth. Our God works for restoration and reconciliation and redemption. As we continue to work out our faith journeys, we should seek to grow in all of these things, becoming more and more like our Lord.

Today Jesus focuses on being persistent in our prayers as we seek justice. Justice, like all of the other qualities or characteristics listed above, are intertwined and interconnected with the others. For example, love, mercy, and compassion lead us to seek a justice that applies universally to all people. These qualities lead us to stand up and even to sacrifice so that the oppressed and marginalized experience the same justice as we and others experience. As we do this, we are a bit like John the Baptist, seeking to become less so that Jesus becomes more.

In our parable today Jesus acknowledges that there is some injustice in the world. This is not pleasing to God. It should not sit well with us either. In verse eight we read, “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly”. God will see that justice prevails – at some point. A good example of this is found in the story of Lazarus that comes in Luke 16. Lazarus had a very hard life but receives his comfort in heaven. God’s timing is a mystery to us. This leads us back to the other focus of the parable: be persistent in prayer. We do not fully understand all the ways of God. But we are called to place our trust and hope in God alone.

As we come to God in prayer, may we remain faithful and diligent, assured that God will hear and bring justice… at just the right time – at God’s time.

Prayer: Lord, listen to your children crying. Lord, hear the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized. Raise up the cries to the ears of your people. Lead us to be your heart and voice, to be your hands and feet, O God. Amen.


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Building God’s Kingdom

Reading: Jeremiah 4: 22-28

Verse 22b: “They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good”.

These verses for today are downcast. God laments that Israel does not know God, that they are fools. God notes, “They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good”. The nation of Israel has become exactly the opposite of what God intended. God’s response? Lay all its towns to ruin. Verses 23-25 are reminiscent of the beginning of the Bible – formless and void, no light, quaking mountains. These verses also feel similar to the day that Jesus drew his last breath. Yet God was not without hope. God knew the larger plan that was at work.

In Jeremiah’s day he was not the only faithful person around. With a quick glance it might have looked like it. This is why, in verse 27, God says that the destruction will not be complete. Even in exile leaders and people will rise up to keep the nation connected to God and to their faith. The towns laying in ruins and the time living in a foreign land will be a hard time. But it will also be a refining time for the Israelites.

The exile will end and a faithful people will rebuild. The nation will grow and flourish. But then the leaders will lead the people astray and the Romans become the new Babylon. Israel keeps some faith but the poor are oppressed, sinners become less welcome, religion becomes more exclusive and somewhat legalistic. In essence Jesus will raze the same criticism that we read today in verse 22, calling the religious leaders “whitewashed tombs” and hypocrites (Matthew 23).

This time God’s response is not exile but sacrifice. After Jesus sets us an example of what God’s love looks like when lived out in practical, tangible ways, he goes to the cross and grave to establish a new covenant. After rising from the grave, Jesus also fulfills his promise, sending the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit lives and dwells in all who profess Jesus as Lord, a presence that helps us to walk as Jesus walked. As we do so, following Jesus, we help that remnant to grow as others come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior too. As we share our faith, we help in building God’s kingdom here on earth. In all we do and say and think today, may we bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, you have ever been at work leading us away from sin and back into right relationship with you. Continue to do so in my life. Show me today how to best be your light and love so that others can come to know you or can come closer to you today. Amen.


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God Calls

Reading: Isaiah 1: 16-20

Verse 17: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”.

Verse sixteen opens with God’s admonition to “wash and make yourselves clean”. It continues the strong language of verses ten through fifteen. God continues on to tell his people to “stop doing wrong, learn to do right”! One can hear the frustration in these words. God set the law before them long ago, had led by example, has sent prophetic voices that have called the people back over and over. Once again, they have wandered away. Once again God seeks to call them back.

God does offer instruction on how to ‘do right’. In verse seventeen God implores the people to “seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”. These are common themes throughout the Bible. Moses dealt with it, Micah addresses it. In the New Testament Jesus addresses the cause of justice, care for the other… often. Jesus himself quotes from Isaiah 61, revealing how the oppressed, the widow, the orphan have a special place in God’s heart. God is clear that these should have the same special place in our hearts. Why is this?

Most of us are secure in life, confident in who and what we are. We have position and status that allows us to voice our needs, our thoughts… We also have people and a community around us that will listen, that will care for us. Through Isaiah today and throughout the Bible, God is calling us to stand with those who do not know these privileges. God is calling us to walk beside those who are powerless and who are often outside of community. God is calling us not only to stand with and walk beside these, but also to bring them into community, into relationship. God calls us to love as God loves so that WE can become more like him. The prophets and then Jesus echo this call over and over again. May we join them all as we seek to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, to release from darkness the prisoners, and to comfort all who mourn. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, break my heart for what breaks yours. Pour into me your compassion and love so that I may minister to the oppressed, to the poor, to the widow, to the captive among us. Grant me your heart, Jesus. Amen.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Isaiah 11: 1-5

In many places winter is settling in.  On the coldest of windy days, one just wants to hunker down inside with a good book and a cozy blanket.  In this way, one finds a little comfort and solace in a harsh world outside.  In today’s passage, Isaiah is offering a vision filled with words of hope and promise.  The people are in exile.  Their surroundings are secular, polytheistic, and oppressive.  To a degree, they have begun to ask God how long this season of exile will last.

Into this despair and a growing sense of abandonment, God uses Isaiah to speak a word of hope.  Isaiah speaks of a shoot that will come up.  Just like us looking for that first burst of green after a long winter, Isaiah tells of a time coming soon when hope and promise will rise up from the house of Jesse.  Isaiah goes on to describe this new King – He will reign with wisdom and understanding and power and knowledge.  To these Isaiah adds that the King will give wise counsel and will live with a fear of God.  And not only all of this, but the king will also stand for the needy and those dealing with injustice.  To a people living in oppressive exile, someone who reigns by righteousness and faithfulness would provide great hope and promise.

Many living today need to hear these words of hope and promise.  Many in our country and probably some in all of our communities need to find a little hope and promise.  Some in our congregations need to know hope and promise.  Hope and promise abound in this passage from Isaiah.  A king who loves and cares for the needy and oppressed, one who rules with justice and righteousness – this is a king many need.  This King comes to us again this year in a manger, soon to be celebrated in all of our churches.  In this season where we prepare to welcome again the baby Jesus, may we also share the King of Kings, the King of justice and righteousness with a world so in need.  May we each share the King’s hope and promise this day.


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Speaking, Shining

Reading: Philemon 1-21

In this short letter Paul is practicing what Jesus taught.  Paul is standing up for one of the least.  Paul is reaching out to Philemon, a good friend and fellow Christian, and asking him to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a fellow brother in Christ.  To help Philemon’s decision Paul offers to pay for whatever is has cost Philemon while Onesimus has been ‘away’.  Paul is truly living out his faith in no only speaking up for a slave but also by being willing to give sacrificially for him as well.

While we do not live in a time when there are actual slaves, we do have plenty of people who are marginalized and who are trapped by their situation or conditions.  We do live in a culture that excludes and leaves some on the outside looking in.  We do live in an economy where many are used and exploited.  So, no, we do not have slaves, but there are many without voice or power.  As Christians, we are called to “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and to break every yoke”.  Isaiah 58 goes on to call us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the wanderer.

Paul was able to speak for Onesimus because he knew him.  In our daily lives our paths do not regularly cross the paths of the marginalized, the hungry, the naked.  To speak and act for them we must go to where they are and seek to know them.  It is our call to love and care for the least and the lost.  Isaiah 58 reads, “then your light will break forth like the dawn, … your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard”.  This day may we seek places and ways for our light to break forth, bringing God’s glory and live to all people.


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Led Back

Isaiah opens with some tough words.  The prophet’s job, after all, is to call Israel back to God.  In verse ten Isaiah calls the Israelites Sodom and Gomorrah.  These two cities were famous for their wild and sinful lifestyle, typified by sexual immorality and idol worship.  No good Israelite would ever go to these places!  So Isaiah opens by telling the people of Israel that they are now just as bad as two of the most evil-filled places ever.  It is definitely a way to get their attention.

Isaiah then goes on to reveal how they clothe who they really are on going through the religious motions.  The people of Israel are still offering sacrifices at the temple and are still reciting their daily prayers.  The people do offer sacrifices but return at once to their sins.  So God rejects their hollow prayers too because their “hands are covered in blood”.  The people’s insides are still full of sin and evil.  Their empty religion is trying to mask this.

Today, are we still living this way?  Do we sometimes act like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Do we sometimes practice a fake or hollow religion?  Do we sometimes fall into sin?  I am afraid the answer to all of these questions is at times ‘yes’.

Sin is and always has been one of the realities of human life.  We are imperfect therefore we sin.  At times we go to church or a Bible study and our mind is consumed by something from work or from home.  We practice fake religion in these times.  We are there but we are not there.  Isaiah offers us a better option.

Isaiah calls us to seek justice, to encourage the oppressed, to defend the first fatherless, to plead the case of the widow.  He advises us to be a servant to others.  By doing the things God calls us to do we will be led back to God and to God’s ways.  This day may we seek to be in service to God, through loving the least and the lost, the poor and the oppressed.


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As God Loves

Reading: Psalm 146

The psalmist advises us to put our trust in God alone.  God alone is worthy of our praise and adoration.  He alone will the psalmist worship all the days of his or her life.  We are invited to join in with our praise all the days of our lives as well.

The psalmist also warns us about trusting in earthly kings and rulers.  It is pointed out that they cannot save and that they too will one day die and return to the ground.  It is a bit grim but knowing the context of the Psalm helps.  The recent kings were not worshippers of God and led the people astray.  The result has been the very recent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  Those of worth were hauled off to exile in Babylon.  Our reality today is that here and all around the world there are good rulers and there are not so good rulers.  There are a few Christian rulers, but in general are the exception.

Perhaps the destruction and exile has something to do with the focus on the hungry, oppressed, imprisoned, blind, orphaned, and widowed.  All who had value were hauled off to exile.  Those left behind certainly needed God’s care and attention.  It was a tough, fend for yourself kind of time.

Today we have a population in all of our communities who in essence have been left behind or left out.  Our culture of me-first individualism and too busy lives have left many on the margins.  Many think the government or someone else should deal with those who are struggling, but here in the Psalm we are reminded that God really loves those on the edges.  If we truly love the Lord, we too will love those He loves.  In the opportunities He places before us today, may we love all as God loves all.


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Lenten Journey

Lent begins today!!  Lent is a season when we prepare ourselves for celebrating Easter, the day of Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin and death.  It is a season when we go to work so that we are ready to celebrate His victory.  Lent is a season when we look within more often.  We spend time in self-reflection to evaluate our faith.  In this process we repent of all that separates us from or keeps us from being closer to God.  We make sacrifices to draw closer to God.  Some fast to draw closer to God.  All of our practices in Lent must serve to draw us closer to God and to create in us that clean heart that will be acceptable in His sight.

The model we follow for Lent was established by Jesus.  At the beginning of His ministry, after being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness for a period of forty days.  In this time He fasted and prayed in order to prepare Himself for the testing that Satan would bring.  This period of prayer and fasting strengthened His faith and relationship with God so that He could withstand the temptations of the devil.  In our forty day journey to the cross, we too will be tempted.

In Isaiah 58 it speaks of fasting for the wrong reasons and lays out the correct reasons.  In Lent, each practice can be done for impure reasons.  All must be done to better connect to God and to prepare ourselves.  At the start of Lent we must examine our inner being to determine if there are things in our lives we need to repent of and let go.  In this period of self-reflection, sometimes we see that there is something we need to attend to more often as well.  Maybe this entails taking on a special Lenten devotional or prayer study.  Perhaps this means finding one more time to pray during each day.  Maybe it means fasting once a week during Lent.  Whether it is setting something aside or adding a new discipline, this sacrifice must draw us closer to God.

In Lent, as we go to work to draw closer to God, we must also draw closer to our fellow man.  It is an inevitable consequence of drawing closer to God.  As we grow in our love of God, our love of all He loves grows as well.  Isaiah 58 speaks much of loving those in need.  May our light too break forth as we seek to love those in need and to break the chains of oppression.  May we too be pleasing in His sight on our Lenten journeys.

Scripture reference: Isaiah 58: 1-12


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A Personal Connection

In His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus goes to the temple and teaches from the scroll containing the words of the prophet Isaiah.  Luke makes mention that many there are aware of and appreciative of Jesus’ teachings up to this point.  What He reads that day would be a well-known passage.  The ideas of bringing the good news to the poor, releasing captives, bringing sight to the blind, setting the oppressed free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor all were part of the Jewish mindset.  Heads would have been nodding their approval.  But then Jesus added one more thing.  He claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage.  He states that He is this Messiah.  He created discomfort and ruffled feathers.

Fast forward to now.  When one speaks of sharing the good news, of freeing people from whatever oppresses or holds them back, of giving spiritual sight to one who is blind, all of us nod our heads approvingly.  We too view helping others as worthy and as the calling of the church.  But sadly enough we have our “just hold on a minute” line.  It’s a wonderful idea to feed and care for the needy.  Could you just do it over there?  It is great to share the gospel with those who have not heard it.  But do they have to come and worship here at our church?  It is noble and godly to help people overcome addiction and sins in their life.  But does little Suzy have to see it played out in person?

Sorry, but yes, we need to minister to people in our churches.  Alas, we must sit beside those new to the faith, to love and mentor them, to help them connect to God.  Yes, it is messy.  Folks who struggle need help in the form of a personal connection.  We are to be Jesus’ hands and feet, touching their lives directly and walking side by side with those who are new to faith or who are struggling.  May we find a little discomfort, may our feathers get a little ruffled, and may we like it.

Scripture reference: Luke 4: 14-21