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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Child of God

Reading: Romans 12: 17b-21

Verse 17b: Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

In today’s passage Paul encourages us to live a holy life.  The model that he looked to was Jesus and that is the model we are called to emulate as well.  So let us remember how Jesus lived a holy life – He served all He could, He fed and healed and forgave whenever the opportunity arose, He had time for one and all, and love guided all of His words and actions.  This is our goal as Christians: to live Christ-like lives.

Paul begins today’s passage with these words: “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”.  To do right according to everybody means we strive to not offend or to be a stumbling block to anyone.  He goes on to encourage us to “live at peace with everyone”.  To do this means we avoid things that cause conflict.  That means we do not judge or condemn others, we do not gossip or slander others, we do not take advantage of others, we do not envy or covet…  Instead we are called to lead with love and grace and mercy.

Paul next addresses a natural tendency we have: do not take revenge.  He knows that at times we will be wronged or hurt or taken advantage of.  Paul says to let God deal with that.  “On the contrary” Paul says – feed your enemy if they are hungry and give them something to drink if they are thirsty.  We just need to keep pursuing holy lives.  In doing so we will “overcome evil with good”.

Paul’s invitation to holy living is not without its challenges.  It requires that we look past race, gender, economic status, sexuality, culture, religion, and any other thing that could be a barrier to loving the other.  To do so can be difficult.  So we must begin where Jesus began, seeing every person as they are: a dearly loved child of God made in the image of God.  When we first see God in others, then it is a natural next step to love and serve them as Jesus did.

All people are dearly loved children of God.  May we see each we meet this day as the loved child of God that they are.  And may we seek to love them with all we are.


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#1 Tradition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 18: The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.

Every year for Christmas my family gathers after church on Christmas Eve and we open one present.  The present is always the same: new pajamas.  For Thanksgiving every year we always have green bean casserole and chocolate chess pie.  It feels like we have been doing these things forever.

Our churches also have traditions.  Most churches do.  In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing one of these traditions.  It began like many of our church traditions did and has become almost law by this point.  One day long ago someone started something and soon enough it became tradition.  For the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing, these traditions were very important.  Many of their traditions or laws were based on generations of interpretations of the Bible.  Much of it therefore had come not necessarily straight from God but from man’s interpretation of the Word.  A good, modern day example would be baptism.  In the Bible we do have some examples of baptisms and some understandings of what it means and why one is baptized.  But there is no place in the Bible where it defines exactly how and when a baptism should occur.  Yet this topic causes division and differences and barriers between us.  The same can be said of communion.  I think this makes Jesus sad.

In today’s passage Jesus is dealing with a rule that creates a barrier.  Many of the religious traditions or laws created barriers to people because they kept people away from God.  Ritualistic and detailed handwashing became the rule for the Pharisees.  Eat without perfectly pristine hands and you know what happens…  But Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'”.  He is saying that what is in a person’s heart is what makes them spiritually clean or unclean, not the condition of their hands.  If evil resides in our hearts, then we are unclean spiritually.  If good resides, then we are clean.  To Jesus, a person’s heart is what mattered.

Jesus’ most important question is: “Do you love me”?  For Jesus love was always the guide and the first consideration.  That’s why He ate with unclean sinners and why he healed on the Sabbath.  Love triumphed.  Faith is not about the tradition or the laws or the unwritten rules.  It is about letting love lead and serving and ministering to others in love.

What traditions or ‘rules’ create barriers in our churches?  How do we make love the #1 tradition or the rule?


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See

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7 and 15

Verse 15: And I, in righteousness, will see your face.

The psalmist is confident that he will see God.  In his cry for an answer to his prayer there is evidence of a relationship that has been established that leads him to really believe that God will answer.  In a similar way, the psalmist believes that the faithful life he has led will allow him to see God.  In verse fifteen he writes, “And I, in righteousness, will see your face”.

As we live out our lives as Christians, we hope one day to see God face to face as well.  This influences how we live our daily lives.  We seek to be righteous in our living, but we are not always as holy and righteous as we would like to be.  This is one of the reasons that God sent Jesus.  Ultimately, Jesus came to die for our sins.  He also came to be an example.  In Jesus, we see God in the flesh.  We see God’s love embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus.  As we read the Bible and allow it to become part of our living, we begin to see God face to face.

We also have the opportunity to see God in each other.  As we go about our daily lives, there are moments where we can be the words and hands and feet of Jesus to another.  In these moments, they can come face to face with God and His love through us.  And sometimes we are the ones blessed to see the face of God.  Sometimes, when we are giving of ourselves and being a good follower of Jesus Christ, suddenly we see God in the face of the one we are talking with or serving.  We experience what it means when Jesus said, “Whenever you do this for one of the least of these…”

Yes, one day we hope to literally see God face to face.  But until then, may we see God in the Word and in the living out of our faith, as we seek to daily show God’s love to others.


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Trusting

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7

Verse One: Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry.

The psalmist cries out to God for an answer to his prayer: “Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry”.  He asks God to “give ear” to what he requests.  Then he adds a reminder to “see what is right”.  He wants God to not only listen and to pay attention but to see it his way as well.  This is a familiar prayer pattern for most of us today.  We want God to hear our prayers and to answer as we have requested because, as you can see God, we are right and correct in what we are asking for.

To back up his case and to help God act on his behalf and in the way that he desires, the psalmist builds his case.  He invites God to examine him and to test him.  He is confident that God will not find any sin in his life.  He reminds God that he has kept “the words of your lips” and has not followed the ways of the violent.  The psalmist reminds God that he has “held to your paths”.  Some of the time we also add similar reminders to our prayers.  We add things like: went to church each Sunday, read Bible every day, served at the rescue mission last month… We remind God that we have not gossiped or caroused too much.  We also build our case and on occasion we may even pray the “if You’ll only…” prayer.

The psalmist closes this section by again asking God to hear and answer.  He requests that God would “show the wonder of your great love”.  It’s almost as if he were reminding God of how much God loves us as a way to prompt God to show it by answering his prayers.  It is an “if you really love me” kind of prayer.  We too go here once in a while.  We too imply that because God loves us, He should answer as we desire.

All of this seems to both bring God down to our level and to elevate our needs above God’s understanding.  God knows our needs.  God has plans to prosper us.  May we bring our humble and honest prayers simply to God, trusting that He will hear and trusting that He will act according to His will and to His plans for us.


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A Cup of Water

Reading: Matthew 10: 40-42

Verse 42: And if anyone gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple…

After reading today’s passage, I think about how we sometimes wrestle with who we serve.  In Jesus’ words we hear that if we receive Him, we receive God – the one who sent Jesus.  But if we only see Him as a prophet or teacher or just some good guy, then that is all we receive too.  Then the last line shifts as Jesus speaks of offering a cup of cold water to another.  When we extend the love of Christ to others, we are told that we will not lose our reward – eternal life will remain ours.

The closing verse today reads, “And if anyone gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple…”. Today I am on a bus headed home from southern Texas.  Our six teams of high school youth and the adults with them served six families in need.  Each family was a victim of a natural disaster and did not receive government assistance for a variety of reasons.  All were immigrant families so language was a barrier.  All are barely getting by.  Three teams put new roofs that these families could not afford in a thousand years.  One team hung, finished, and painted new drywall.  One team ran new wire then hung and mudded new drywall.  The sixth team did a myriad of projects.  It was offering a cup of cold water to these families in southern Texas.  The materials and labor were certainly a huge blessing to each family.

But the deeper blessing comes to the ones who extended the cup of cold water.  Being exposed to and becoming aware of the needs of others opens us up to so much more than we know in our sheltered worlds.  We learn to love others more and to value what we have less.  A simple question about what to do with a dollar we found in the parking lot on day one blossomed into $150 gift cards for five families and a new stove for the sixth.  It is indeed a deep blessing that we were changed ourselves as we chose to extend the love of Christ to others.  As Jesus said, now go and do likewise.


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I Am Sending You

Reading: Matthew 10: 1-23

Verse 16: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.

Jesus is sending out the twelve to “drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease”.  In this passage today, they are being sent to fellow Jews.  Jesus calls these the “lost sheep” – tying back to why He had compassion on the crowds in Matthew 9:36.  The twelve are first to preach that “the kingdom of heaven is near” and then to heal diseases, raise the dead, and drive out demons.  The authority Jesus gives them to perform miracles will lend credence to the message they bring.

As we go out into the world, we go for the same reasons.  We go to share the good news of Jesus Christ as we work to heal a broken world.  Each of us who knows Jesus as Lord and Savior has a story to tell that will be good news for others.  Each of us can love and serve others too.  We may not be able to work miracles, but by caring for basic needs and by giving of our time and talents we do bring healing.  It is through our loving acts of service that we too gain footing to share Jesus with the lost.

Jesus warned the disciples: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”.  There is a defenselessness that comes to mind with this statement.  It requires trust in the Shepherd.  He goes on to advise them to be on guard against men.  Jesus warns them that persecution is going to be a part of the journey.  He also tells them that the Spirit will be with them.  The Holy Spirit will give them the words to say.  And then Jesus encourages them, stating that “he who stands firm to the end will be saved”.  Keep the faith, I am with you.

We too are sometimes sent to people or places that make us feel like sheep among wolves.  We too must trust into the lead, guidance, and protection of the Holy Spirit.  In those uncomfortable or outside our comfort zone times, if we keep the faith the Spirit will give us just the right words to say as well.  May we be like the twelve, trusting He who sends, going forth to share the good news and to bring healing to our broken world.  May our light draw others in to Jesus Christ – the One who saves.