pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.

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The Call

Reading: Mark 1: 19-20

Verse 20: “Without delay He called them, and they left… and followed Him”.

I can remember times as a kid when I was out in the yard playing and a friend would ride up on his bike and tell me he was going someplace. I’d hop on my bike and off we’d go. Later in life I’d be sitting in my dorm room studying and some friends would be heading off to play soccer or basketball and I’d jump up and go with them. We’ve all had experiences where we have left what we were doing to go and do something else.

In today’s passage we have James and John doing a similar thing. As they sit in the boats working on the nets Jesus happens by and invites them to come along. In that culture the invitation to follow another would have meant more than my riding off on my bike. All rabbis had followers, so James and John would have understood that this call was a great commitment. It also meant that Jesus saw something in them that merited a call to follow. Usually a rabbi’s call followed years of competitive schooling and evidence of some solid gifts and talents. The most respected rabbis always got the best students as followers.

So here sits a couple of fishermen. For a spiritual call they do not appear to have any special gifts or talents. James and John were out of rabbi school long ago. Yet Jesus comes to them and invites them to become one of His followers. What was it about them that led Jesus to call them? By profession they are hard workers and ply their craft in all kinds of conditions. Fishing is a hard way of life and if they have hired hands they appear to be successful at their jobs. Commitment, hard work, the ability to persevere – sounds like disciple material.

We were all somewhere when Jesus met us where we were at and called us to follow Him. What we left behind was not everything, but it was our old self and our life of sin. We went through a transformation after we responded to the call. As we have journeyed with Jesus we have had experiences that allow us to help others hear Jesus’ call and to answer the call of Jesus on their lives. Like the Master, may we too meet people where they are as we seek to make disciples for the transformation of the world.


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The Lord Is Near

Reading: Philippians 4: 1-9

Verse Five: Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.

Paul has just finished writing about pressing on towards the prize for which God calls us heavenward.  He has spoken about those who believe in Jesus having a citizenship in heaven.  Paul has written of the glorious transformation that will come – the one that He and other believers eagerly await.  Our passage today begins with Paul’s encouragement to “stand firm in the faith”.

Paul quickly shifts gears to plead with two people who appear to be fighting.  Paul asks others in the faith community to help them solve their differences and to “agree with each other in the Lord”.  Paul then again shifts gesrs, maybe giving evidence if why we should be of one mind.  In verse five he writes, “Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near”.  As we rejoice in the Lord, it really should be evident to all.  And when we feel anxious or begin to worry or doubt, Paul reminds us to take it to the Lord in prayer.  He is near so we should quickly go to Jesus in prayer.  When we do, we will find that peace which passes all understanding.  To summarize: stand firm, be of one mind, rejoice in the Lord, pray often, live in His peace.

Sounds like simple steps.  They can be.  But at times these simple steps can be so hard.  My mind easily returns to that pile of to-do on my desk, to that person I need to visit, to that uncomfortable conversation that needs to happen…  At the core of it all is trust.  Do I trust God to lead, to give me guidance, to give strength, to give all that is needed for what is at hand?  Paul’s advice is good advice: pray.  In all things, turn it over in prayer.  When I do, I find His peace.

Paul concludes today’s Word with things to fill our minds with that remind us that He is near.  These are things that keep us close to God and that keep our gladness evident.  Paul calls upon us to think of whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable…  He is calling us to think of God in Jesus Christ.  When we choose to keep our minds on Jesus, we are ever reminded that “the Lord is near”.  When Jesus Christ is near, peace and joy are close as well.  This day, may we rejoice in the Lord!


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Therefore Go

Reading: Matthew 28: 16-20

Verse 19: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus came and stood among the believers one last time.  In that crowd were people with a range of faith.  Some were fully sold out and were ready to go and do anything Jesus said to do.  Some were simply full of doubt – was this really Jesus?  Does He really expect me to do this?  The bulk of those there that day in Galilee as followers of Jesus Christ probably fell somewhere between these two extremes.  And in reality, that is where most of us live out our faith lives each day.

It is important to note that Jesus did not talk to the group of believers and then call aside the few that were on fire to give the commission to.  He did not pull aside Peter, James, and John and give them special instructions or powers.  This same inclusiveness is seen on Pentecost when the Spirit falls on ALL believers.  So Jesus said to the whole crowd, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.  He said it to the doubters and skeptics and those new to the faith as well as to those who would give their lives for the gospel.  Jesus was building up a community of faith, not a group of church leaders.  Jesus knew that the people would be won to Christ one heart at a time.  Therefore, it will require all of the believers to bring the good news to all nations.

That day in Galilee, there were certainly some names we know present.  But there were dozens and dozens there whose names we will never know.  All there that day were commissioned.  Why?  Because all who were there knew the love of Jesus and that is all one needs to share Jesus with others.  That is why the commission falls to us as well.  All who know the love of Christ in their hearts are called to go and make disciples so that all nations can be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This day and every day, may each of us seize the opportunities we have to share the good news of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.


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Righteous Anger

Reading: Luke 9: 51-62

As God incarnate, as human flesh fully alive in this world, it makes sense that Jesus got angry.  Being divine did not keep Jesus from weeping a tear for Lazarus, from being joyful over a lost sinner being saved, or from being moved by a poor widow’s offering.  So why should we be surprised that at times Jesus got angry too?  Too often we want Jesus to be only the warm and fuzzy and loving.

The reality is that Jesus exhibited anger at times throughout His ministry.  He gets angry at the Pharisees and Sadducees and even at His own disciples.  And I am sure that He gets angry at me and at you from time to time as well!  In this story today, what lies ahead in Jerusalem has surely put all on edge; Jesus is probably as likely to break into tears as into a rant.

As disciples of Christ, we are ever seeking to become more and more like Him.  Jesus felt all emotions, as do we.  We should.  Anger has a place.  We might be angry over an injustice and be moved by our anger to intervene.  We might be angry at ourselves for falling into sin and the emotion may lead us over the stumbling block to a place of change and transformation.  Anger is also present in our prayer life.  In times of deep emotions we may need to rail at God out of the depths of our pain and suffering.  God can take it.  He desires an open and honest relationship.  This day may we offer all to God.  May we offer all that is inside of us – joy, pain, praise, anger, love, adoration.  May our relationship with God be all it can be.


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Faith of a Centurion

Reading: Luke 7: 1-10

The centurion is a man of authority.  He has absolute command of the soldiers under him.  He tells one to go and they go; he tells one to come and they come.  He understands power.  The centurion has heard of Jesus and he recognizes that Jesus too has power.  The stories he has heard have been enough for the centurion to recognize the power Jesus wields.  The centurion also understands though that Jesus’ power is different than his own earthly power.  He sees that not only is it a different kind of power but it is a superior power.  The centurion who knows he has a lot of earthly power acknowledges that he is not worthy of being in Jesus’ presence.  The centurion is a powerful man with a lot of humility.

Jesus in turn credits the centurion with having great faith.  He goes so far as to comment that He has not yet seen such faith in Israel.  That is a pretty strong statement for Jesus’ followers and for the religious authorities to hear.  This Roman soldier has a faith superior to ours?  It would be a difficult question for them to wrestle with.

It is a difficult question for us to wrestle with too.  We say that God is all-powerful and can do anything, but do we really trust Him to do so?  We’ve heard the stories just like the centurion did, but do we have absolute confidence that Jesus can still act?  He brought healing to a sick servant who was miles and miles away without uttering a word.  Surely this kind of power can still heal and transform lives.  But do we have the faith of the centurion?  This day may we call upon the mighty and powerful name of Jesus to enter into our lives to bring us spiritual, physical, and/or emotional transformation.  In Jesus’ name there are no limits.  May we live faithfully today, trusting in this truth.


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Growing

In our relationship with Jesus Christ we can be doing one of three things: we can grow to be more like Him, we can stay where we are, or we can become less like Him.  In Revelation 3:16 Jesus warns us that if we are lukewarm, He will ‘vomit’ us out.  Another word for lukewarm would be stagnant and no one wants to be stagnant.  The path of becoming less like Jesus is the path of sin and that only leads to death and destruction.  Paul instead urges us to seek to grow from “one degree of glory to another” as we strive to grow in our faith.

As Moses’ face reflected God’s glory, our lives should also reflect God’s glory that is within us.  The love that Jesus has for us is the love that we should reflect to others.  He challenges us to love others as He first loved us.  As we grow in our faith and in the depth of our understanding of Jesus, we come to know more and more how deep and vast and wide His love is for us.  As we grow in this way, we are in essence moving from one degree of glory to the next as our lives come to reflect His love more and more to those around us.

This transformation that is occurring in us should be noticeable to those in our lives.  If we are growing in our faith, others should see this.  The love and compassion we exhibit should slowly grow.  The care and understanding we offer should slowly become greater and greater.  The depth of mercy and forgiveness we extend should be ever-increasing.  In all aspects of our lives we should be seeking to become more and more like Christ.  This day may we strive to grow a little more in our faith, growing so that we may know Jesus more, reflecting His glory in increasing measure.

Scripture reference: 2 Corinthians 3:17 to 4:2