pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Clear Priorities

Reading: Luke 14: 25, 26 and 33

Verse 26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father… mother… wife… children… brother… sister… even his own life… he cannot be my disciple”.

Two of three of today’s verses are really tough verses. Jesus says to the crowd and to us, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father… mother… wife… children… brother… sister… even his own life… he cannot be my disciple”. That is hard to read twice in such a short time. He then concludes our passage from Luke 14 by telling us that we must “give up everything” if we want to be his disciple. Jesus is using hyperbole today to make his point. He is addressing a large crowd. Those following Jesus has grown quickly and they all do not clearly understand the cost of following Jesus. Today’s verses are a bit of a reality check.

Jesus uses the word ‘hate’ today as a term to define our priorities in life. If asked what our priorities are, almost all of us would respond: God, family, work (or school). But a look into our week and our choices and decisions might not actually reflect that order. Jesus chooses his words today to drive home the point that faith must be our clear #1 priority. It must be so clear that we appear to hate our family, friends, and even our own self when compared to how much we love God. Jesus wants us to understand that there must be a striking contrast between the devotion we live and show to God and all other relationships and priorities in life. Jesus had strong relationships with his mother Mary, with the disciples, and with friends like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. ‘Hate’ would not describe any of these relationships. But his devotion to God never wanted – it was clearly Jesus’ top priority.

In verse 33 Jesus addresses the sacred cow of the secular world. Culture identifies and defines worth by what we have and by who we are in the power structures of the world. Again, Jesus is calling us to put all this worldly stuff a distant priority when compared to our faith. When we turn away and pursue the things of the world more than loving and serving God, we have lost focus on what really matters. Our priorities have been reordered.

Jesus says “Follow me” to us. That means living the priorities that Jesus lived. That means clearly committing to our faith as the most important thing in our lives and then living that commitment out. Yes, it is a hard commitment. Jesus is the only way. May he be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, at times walking a life of faith can be so simple and straight forward. At other times it can be a great struggle as the flesh inside me rises up and as the voices and things of the world call out. O God, help me to walk closely with you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Amen.

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The Way

Reading: Psalm 50: 1-8 & 22-23

Verse 7: “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you; I am God, your God”.

Within the 150 Psalms we find a variety of types or styles. Psalm 50 is a Psalm of judgment. We prefer the Psalms that praise God, that remind us of God’s love and care, that bring us comfort. Psalm 50 is a testimony against the people. Their sins have angered God and judgment is upon God’s lips. Verses one through six remind the people of who and what God is. God is in charge, God will gather the people, a fire is before and a tempest is around God. God summons the people to judge them.

In verse seven God opens the case against Israel. In this verse we read, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you; I am God, your God”. Prepare yourselves, Israel. It is about to begin. In verses eight through 21, which we did not read today, God lays out the case. In the first half, God addresses the sacrifices. Thank offerings are good, but otherwise – well, God has no need of animal flesh and blood. In fact, God owns all the animals, birds, cattle… anyway. Starting in verse sixteen God addresses the sins: the people ignore God’s words, they are thieves and adulterers, they speak evil. This section ends with, “But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face”. Judgment is coming.

When one looks at the list of sins in the middle verses of our Psalm, our first thought is ‘phew’! We think we are okay. But look a little deeper, search a bit more. You or I may not be thieves or adulterers and we may not ignore God’s words all the time and we do not offer meaningless sacrifices on the altar. But we are certainly not without sin. We are not without harsh words, gossip, maybe even slander. We struggle with pride and ego and selfishness… If we were Israel, we could not stand innocently before the Lord our God either. Thankfully, our story does not end here though.

Verse 23 speaks of “the salvation of God”. For the early readers of Psalm 50, this was a promise yet to come. Not so for us. Jesus Christ offers us the way of salvation. Through his gift on the cross we no longer stand condemned. Through his life we follow a Savior who shows us the way to live righteously in our world. In Christ we find forgiveness. In Christ we see the way. In all things may we bring honor and glory to his name.

Prayer: God, the judgment that we read about in Psalm 50 is so deserving. So too are my sins. Thank you so much for Jesus, the sacrifice for me and my sins. May all I do and say and think today bring honor and glory to you, my God. Amen.


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Living Faith?

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-15

Verse 11: “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”?

Our passage today has some pretty tough words for Israel. In verse ten Isaiah compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah – two towns that were so evil that God wiped them from the face of the earth. If that were not enough, God goes on to say, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”? It is just empty offering after empty offering after empty offering. God has had enough and finds no pleasure in such actions. The stream of offerings is compared to “trampling” in the temple. For a people and religion built upon the sacrificial system, it is quite a thing to hear God say, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings”.

To what would God compare this in today’s church? What motion or actions are we going through that feel to God as if it were meaningless? Where is our worship far away from our actual living?

A big part of what was driving God to make such a declaration was how the people were living out their faith. They were failing miserably. Yes, they were going through the motions of worship and sacrifices. Their hearts were far from God. It showed most in those easiest to neglect and abuse. The poor were being oppressed and the widows and orphans were being neglected. Those without power and those without voice were not being taken care of. These are the ones nearest to the heart of God. They are far from the hearts of God’s people. They were showing up on the Sabbath and they were checking the sacrifice boxes. And then they were leaving the temple and returning to the world where they took advantage of their workers, used unfair scales in the market, and ignored the cries of the needy. Today this would equate to those who leave church on Sunday to eat, drink, and be merry while swearing at the TV as their team loses or to those who use dishonest business practices to earn a little more profit. Do such as these show up on Sunday morning and then go out and neglect the poor and needy around them?

Verse fifteen ends with a tough indictment: “Your hands are full of blood”. If said today, what would God be referring to in our lives? What must change so that our worship leads us out the door and into acts of mercy and kindness and love?

Prayer: God, it can be easy to focus on self or to rush through devotions or worship to get on with life. Slow me down, soften my heart, attune my ears to their cries, and open my eyes to see their realities. Lead me to action, living out my faith in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen.


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Open to Others

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.

On its most basic level the parable of the rich man is about greed and the negative decisions it can lead to. In the parable a bumper crop triggered the man’s “mine” instincts. He decided he had to build bigger barns to store his new crop. He coveted his grain because in it he saw not only financial security but also a chance to take some time to enjoy life. He was very focused on self.

Possessions and wealth are not the only things we can feel greed over and can seek to covet. This morning I read about a small neighborhood church in a changing community that decided to take a chance and reach out. Instead of holding onto their church, they opened their doors and invited their new immigrant neighbors inside. They invited them in and began praying with them – to find homes and jobs and for comfort to their loneliness. The praying led to relationships and that small church grew as their new friends became brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some churches could see new faces as threats to what they have and know. In many cases immigrants are cast in an “us” and “them” scenario. And immigrants are not the only people groups that can be seen in an “us” and “them” framework. When we create perceived differences between ourselves and another group of people, we are denying that they too were created in the image of God. When we allow greed to put up a barrier between us and our neighbors, we are holding tightly to what we have always known or had and are not allowing God’s love to work in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world, or in our own heart.

The rich man was focused only on self. He could not see all he had to offer his neighbors. His greed prevented him from seeing beyond himself and from experiencing God’s love at work. In the end, what good did all that grain do him? Storing up and holding things for ourselves – goods, money, time, compassion, prayers, empathy, a place at the table – does not make us rich towards God either. May we all learn a little from the rich man and from the church that opened its doors to those outside. May we practice what we learn.

Prayer: Lord God, who is out there today for me to engage? Lead me to share your love with another today. Soften my heart and open my eyes, hands, and feet. Amen.


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All in All

Reading: Colossians 3: 1-11

Verse 1: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”.

Paul is writing to the Colossian church. He opens the letter in chapter one with prayers for the church, reminds them that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and that they have been reconciled to God through Christ’s death and resurrection. In chapter two Paul reminds them that they must claim their faith and that he is praying for them. In my Bible, today’s section is titled “Rules for Holy Living”. Understanding these ‘rules’ is a gradual and evolving process. For most of us, this is a slow but steady lifelong process.

When I first met David I had no idea who he had been. Maybe the long hair and slightly loud personality could have hinted at his story. David had church in his childhood but stepped away in his early adult years. His life had become one of fast cars, fast boats, and a fast life. David had money and became involved in the drug world. Soon he was always racing to stay a step ahead of the law. He wove into his story that his mom and grandma were always praying for him. Then one day, in a face to face with mortality and the finite nature of the life he knew, David reached out to God in desperation. God reached back. It began David on the journey to being a servant of Jesus Christ.

In Colossians 3 Paul writes, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”. The people in the Colossian church had died to the world and were raised to new life in Christ. In verse two Paul also encourages them to set things minds on the things above. In verses five and eight Paul lists several things to not do and lists things to be rid of. These are the things of the world. These are the things many people chase after.

It is hard to set these aside and to always put on the things above. It is, in fact, impossible to do on our own. In verses nine and ten Paul shows how God makes it possible. In Christ we can take off the old self and put on the new self. The new self is renewed day by day. This is part of our lifelong faith journey. Paul concludes our passage today by writing, “Christ is all and is in all”. That became true for my friend David, it is becoming true for me, and it can become true for you. May it be so.

Prayer: God, I am far from perfect but I strive to become more like your perfect son every day. Fill me more with Jesus day by day, making Christ my all in all. Amen.


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Rooted, Built Up, Established

Reading: Colossians 2: 6-19

Verse 6: “You therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him”.

In our passage from Colossians, Paul reminds the church that they are to look to Christ for all they need. In the opening verse Paul reminds them that they are “rooted and built up… established in the faith”. After the first of two brief warnings against the philosophies and teachings of the world, Paul goes on to unpack verse 6.

Paul describes what it means to be established in Jesus Christ. He first speaks about a “circumcision made without hands”. This is the process of dying to self, of surrendering one’s own will to God’s will. Paul then reminds them that they are “buried with him in baptism”. This ties into the idea of dying to self, when one is immersed in the water, and also into the idea of being made into a new creation in Christ when one rises from the waters. Just as Christ rose from the grave to new life, so too will the Colossian Christians and so too will we one day triumph over the world.

Paul uses two interesting words to describe a life lived in Jesus Christ. The first is “rooted”. Paul is using a tree analogy here. A tree is only as strong as its roots. A pine tree, for example, has a shallow root system. The roots do not go down very deep into the soil. In the wind, a pine will sway back and forth. In a really strong wind, a pine tree can be uprooted and toppled over. Trees like oaks, on the other hand, have deep root systems. Their branches and leaves sway in the breeze, but the trunks are solidly rooted deep in the soil. They can withstand a much greater wind. Our faith parallels this idea. If we have a shallow faith it sways more easily – it is more easily influenced by the cares and worries of the world. Temptations and trials and sufferings in life can overwhelm our faith if it is not firmly and deeply rooted in Christ.

Paul also uses a building analogy that is equally applicable. A building is only as sure and secure as its foundation. We must build our faith upon a solid foundation. Jesus Christ is the only sure foundation. When all we do and say and think is built upon Jesus’ teachings and example, then we have a solid base to stand upon and to build upon. Then we are able to “hold fast to the head”, Jesus Christ. May our faith be deeply rooted and solidly built upon Christ. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to be rooted and established in Christ. Help me to invest time and energy to sink deep roots into Jesus Christ so that he will always nourish my soul. Make Jesus my firm foundation, my rock. In his name I pray. Amen.


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Love Like Jesus

Reading: Luke 10: 25-28

Verse 25: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

An expert in the law comes to test Jesus and to justify himself. The lawyer wants to be right and to make Jesus look wrong. The man’s question is focused on something almost all people wrestle with: eternal life. In verse 25 he asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. Instead of giving an answer, Jesus draws the lawyer deeper into the heart of the issue. Jesus doesn’t want to just give an answer, he wants to be able to unpack the answer as well. Jesus asks the man what he thinks. The self-righteous, arrogant lawyer takes the bait and he has the right answer. In the culture of the day, a young Jewish child could easily come up with this answer.

The man’s answer is our answer as well. The first step towards inheriting eternal life is to love God completely. One must love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. Once filled with the love of God, one is led to step two. One is naturally led to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus would go on to amend this too. In John 13:34 we are directed to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Jesus’ standard for love is one that is complete and unconditional. When one invests time studying Jesus in the Gospels, one finds the example of selfless and sacrificial love. Jesus loved and ministered to every single person who came to him, from the lawyer in today’s passage to the prostitute to the widow to the tax collector to the hungry crowd to the lame, deaf, mute, leper… Not once did Jesus place his wants or needs ahead of another’s needs.

The lawyer’s question is personal and selfish: what must I do? He knows the two commands but is focused on self. The two commands do not involve the word “I”. Neither did Jesus’ understanding of loving God and loving neighbor. At times I can find myself asking the same selfish question as the lawyer. In those moments my concern for the other is minimal at best. My culture and my nature tends towards the selfish. The call, though, is to love God and to love neighbor. Daily the self must die so that I can love God and others unconditionally. As Jesus said, “Do this and you will live”. May it be so.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, your model of love is the one I strive for. Help me, through the power of your Holy Spirit, to love God and to love neighbor fully and without hesitation. Kill the fleshy man within me. Build up my love for God and for others. Amen.