pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Day by Day

Reading: John 12: 20-36

Verse 25: “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”.

Our passage today opens with some Greek Jews in town for the celebration of the Passover. They would like to meet this Jesus guy. We can only assume that they have heard something about Him. We do not know if news of Jesus has spread to where they live or if they have heard stories once they arrived in Jerusalem or if they were there for the triumphal entry and are curious.

Many people today are like these Greeks. They have heard of Jesus or have crossed paths with someone who follows Jesus and they’ve become curious. But often there is something else driving them to want to know more. Sometimes life takes a turn or twist and they are searching for understanding or peace or comfort or strength or… Sometimes one just arrives at a point where they realize that there must be more than “this”. For many other reasons, folks come looking for Jesus.

Jesus replies by saying that a seed must die in order to produce more seeds. This is a great analogy. If we remain centered on or just focused on ourselves, then we will remain just one seed. But if we are willing to surrender self, then we can live for much more. In verse 25 Jesus says, “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”. When we hold onto our earthly titles and possessions, then we love our life. When we do not cling to the things of this world then we focus in on eternal things and we find eternal life.

Jesus goes on to equate the idea if dying to self with serving and following Jesus. We must follow Jesus’example if we are to be a Christian, a disciple, a follower. Jesus’ example centered first on loving God with all of our being and, second, on loving others as He first loved us. Love was at the core of who Jesus was and it guided all of His decisions, words, and actions. The first question Jesus asked was: how can I love God fully today? The second was like it: how can I fully love all that I encounter today? Great questions to live by. May we do so this day and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me to love as you love. You are awesome and wonderful and loving and forgiving. You are easy to love. This day and every day, may that love grow. As I live out each day though, my struggle is in loving all I meet. Work on that in me, O God. Help me to die within to those things that limit my capacity and ability to love others as you love them. Day by day, make me more like Jesus. Amen.

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Surrender

Reading: Psalm 29

Verses 1 and 2: “Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”.

In the Psalm we get a sense of God’s wildness in nature. God’s voice is the thunder that rolls over the waters and earth, that shatters the cedars. God’s voice is the lightning that shakes the desert and strips the forest bare. There is power in God’s voice and it feels a bit wild because we cannot control it.

Even though we cannot control the forces of nature and even though it feels a bit wild, there is also a power and glory that draws us in. I love to listen to the rolling thunder and to marvel at the flashes of lightning during a thunderstorm. In truth, I even like to sit outside to better feel the power. The thunder and lightning scream God to me. I cannot control it, but I know the One who does. In those moments that become sacred I join the psalmist as I too “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”. In the storm I see God’s glory and strength and am led to worship.

The overall theme this week is baptism. Baptism can also reveal God’s glory and strength. It can draw us into God’s holiness and to a place of worship. But it can also be a bit wild. The Holy Spirit is a part of our baptism. Baptism is an incorporation into the family of God and into the indwelling presence of the Spirit. If we are open to and if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives, then it can get a bit wild. We can find ourselves in places and with people that are unknown and uncomfortable to us. Yet if we trust in the fact that God is in control, then we become an instrument of God as we serve the stranger and the other. It is through and in these experiences that we can meet and worship the Lord.

When we trust God, when we release our lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then we really experience verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”. May we each surrender to God today, living out the faith that we have, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking to be His hands and feet for a world in need. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, you are my all in all. Help me to trust and serve you with all that I am. Amen.


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The Light of God

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 5-6

Verse Five: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”.

In Jesus we receive the fuller revelation of God. In Jesus we get a witness to the love of God for humanity. In Jesus, God in the flesh, we witness what it looks like to love each other as God loves us. Through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we welcome His light to shine in our hearts, illuminating the path to walk as we follow Jesus in our daily lives. This light is the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”. Just as it was when Moses encountered God in the Old Testament, this light is the goodness and love of God shining out into the world.

It is the light of Jesus Christ inside each of us that shines out into the lives of all we meet. It is the light that guides us to preach and serve. Paul writes, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”. There is both words and actions in how we share our faith with others. With words we seek to share the good news if what Jesus has done for the world and what He has done in our lives. In those words we proclaim Jesus as the Lord of our lives and we invite others to do the same. We seek to do the same as we serve those we encounter each day. Through acts of piety and mercy we invite others into a relationship with Jesus. In doing these things we become the fuller revelation of God to others. We bear witness to the love of God for humanity. We testify to His love with our love. All of this is said and done “for Jesus’ sake” – to bring glory to God.

This idea of sharing our faith by both words and actions begs the question: to whom do we go? We are commissioned by Jesus to make disciples of all people. We are sent to the rich and the poor, the lowly and the esteemed, the educated and the illiterate, to those like us and to those who are different from us. Herein lies one of the greatest challenges of our faith. It is easy to share the love of Jesus with our fellow believers. It is even relatively easy to share Jesus when with a group serving at the local mission, for example. The difficulty comes in those moments when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable, in those situations when we encounter someone who is different than us. Even then – especially then – the light of God that shines in us must be shared. May we be willing to let that light shine out into the world. When we do we will find that it illuminates something familiar as we see the face of Christ in the new friend that we have met. It is then that His glory is revealed. May we be willing today and every day.


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Filled with Joy

Reading: John 15: 9-11

Verse Eleven: “…so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”.

Jesus loves you. Jesus loves me! He invites us to remain in His love. It is a wonderful place to be – in Jesus’ love. Jesus tells us that to remain in His love we must obey His commands. Jesus obeyed God’s commands and remained in God’s love. He invites us to do the same. Why is Jesus telling us this? “…so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”. Love brings joy. Jesus loves you and me.

Love brings joy primarily two ways. One way is by feeling loved. As children, when we felt especially loved by our parents, we felt joy in our hearts. The first time you kissed your first love, you felt joy in your heart. When we experience the love of God in the ways He interacts with and intercedes in our lives, we feel joy in our hearts. For example, today when we partake in communion and once again remember the love that Jesus poured out with His life, we will feel joy in our hearts.

The second way we can have our joy made complete is by being Jesus’ hands and feet, by bringing His light and love to others. When we take time to stop our busy lives to love and serve another in need, the Lord fills our hearts with joy. This happens frequently for me on mission trips. It can be through the changes I can see happening as God goes to work in that young person’s life. It can be in the absolute gratitude expressed by someone we have blessed with a handicap ramp or new roof. And sometimes this joy sneaks up on you. It happens when someone you have not seen in a while comes up to you and says, “Do you remember the time when…?” and goes on to tell you how much what you did or said meant to them. They say it made the difference. Your heart is suddenly filled with joy.

Jesus’ command was to love as I have loved you. His love was limitless and knew no bounds; it was given to all. Jesus loves you and me. May we go forth and love as He loves you and me. Amen and 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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Round and Round

Reading: Romans 4: 13-16

Verse Sixteen: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”.

In our culture we generally like to feel we are at least ‘even’ with each other. If someone brings us a plate of cookies, for example, we feel we need to return the favor by bringing them a cake or plate of cookies or treats. If we ask someone to help us move, then we feel obliged to show up when they are moving. If wr have someone over for dinner they drive home contemplating when they can have us over for dinner. We go round and round.

Sometimes I think we feel faith is like this too. We try to do good things to gain or earn God’s favor. We pile on more when we have sinned and feel the guilt or shame. We try and check off all the boxes to meet what we think God and others expect of us to be considered ‘good’ Christians. So we go to church and to that pot luck and to the small group and to the rescue mission to help serve the meal and… We go round and round.

Lent is a good example of this idea. The concept behind a season of preparation for Easter is to be ready spiritually to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. What do we do to get ready? We give something up for Lent, wr join another Bible study, we go to that special Lenten small group, we read an extra devotional, we… Sometimes it feels like we are going round and round instead of connecting more deeply to God. But we can’t quite avoid it either. If I were to just say “Stop!” all this and just get closer to God, I would feel inclined to follow it up with advice to just pray more or to just read your Bible more. And we go round and round.

God knows. He knows. In verse sixteen we read,”Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”. We are saved by grace alone. No matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or don’t say, God’s grace is always sufficient. This removes our need to check boxes or to give up this or to add in that. This need is within us, in our minds, maybe even in our hearts. God says enough, my grace is enough. If abstaining from chocolate or whatever helps you feel closer to God, then do it. If reading an extra devotional or being in a small group helps you grow closer to God, then by all means enjoy your time. In the end, though, may we all rest upon the promise of salvation by faith alone. In this promise, grace is sufficient. It is all about God. This we know. May it be so.


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Narrow and Hard

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s passage is all about commitment, dedication, obedience, discipline, and, ultimately, transformation. This call to discipleship is hard. That is why Jesus said the way is narrow in Matthew 7. Faith is just like all other things of great value – it requires a great deal of effort to attain our goal.

Jesus begins today’s key verse with, “if anyone would come after me”. He is implying the first thing about faith is a choice. All people everywhere have a sense of God one way or another. Some sense a higher power, some sense God in the created world, some sense God in the “there must be more to life than this” feelings. Faith begins with the inner urge to live for and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Beginning a relationship is the first step.

Next Jesus turns to those big words I opened with, saying, “he must deny himself”. Denying self and our own wants and desires is the beginning of living out our faith. When asked, Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. When we truly do this, there is little room for self. In denying self, the transformation process also gets under way. The study and practice of our faith through prayer, worship, Bible study, … is what begins to transform our hearts and minds so that we begin to see and feel and think as Christ did.

Then Jesus turns to our calling. He next instructs us to “take up his cross”. As we are transformed more and more into His image, we come to discover that special blessing or talent or gift that God has given us to serve His will. Some teach, some preach, some feed, some clothe, some visit, some sing, some clean, some sew, some lead, some transport, some… The cross represents Jesus and our gift or talent is how we share Jesus with others. Our “cross” is what helps others to connect to Jesus.

Once we have been drawn into relationship, once we have been transformed to love God and others more than self, once we have found our niche in serving God, then and only then can we say we follow Jesus. May we all choose the hard and narrow way of Jesus today. It is through the Lord that we find the life truly worth living. Blessings on your journey.