pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God’s Abundance

Reading: John 6: 1-13

Verse 13: “So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten”.

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

As our story gets going Jesus poses a question to one of the disciples. He asks Philip but I bet he asked loud enough for all twelve disciples to hear the question. Philip responds that it would take a lot of money to feed the large crowd gathering to see Jesus. Most of the other disciples were probably thinking along these lines. Andrew offers up sort of a solution – a boy with five loaves and two fish. Even Andrew wonders aloud how far that would possibly go “among so many”.

When the Holy Spirit places us in a similar situation or prompts us to step out in faith, how do we respond? Do we see limitations or the scarcity of potential resources? Or do we see and step into the possibility of what God might do?

After having the crowd of 5,000 men (plus women and children) sit down, Jesus gives thanks and begins passing out the loaves and fish. Was it 10,000 or 15,000 that ate their fill that day? Would there have been any limit? Not this day. When the meal is over, Jesus has the disciples gather what is left over. There are twelve baskets filled with leftovers – one for each disciple. I wonder if Jesus had them each carry their full basket around for a few days as a tangible reminder of God’s abundance.

This story reveals one of the truths of God’s kingdom: there is more than enough. There is more than enough love, grace, mercy, kindness, and even food. Do we trust God enough to generously share what we have, knowing that God can and will do amazing things?

Prayer: Lord, give me hands that offer instead of fingers that grasp. Grant me a heart that lives into your abundance, blessing others on the journey. Amen.


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Good and Pleasant Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity”.

Psalm 133 speaks to and of the community of faith. David identifies unity as something that is “good and pleasant”. It is God’s desire that all his children live in unity and peace. In the Psalm David is writing to the nation of Israel but his words also speak to the whole community of faith and to the local church. Unity draws others in, enabling the body of Christ and the individual believer to grow and flourish.

David uses the yearly anointing of the high priest as his illustration of the blessings of unity. Once a year the specially formulated oil of blessing would be poured over the head of the high priest, symbolizing God’s blessings flowing down over the representative of God’s connection to the people. This act also expressed unity – unity between God and his people. The visual of the oil running down Aaron’s face and through his beard and down onto his robes is a reminder of the abundance of God’s blessings on the faithful.

The Psalm closes with “there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore”. “There” are the places of unity and harmony. In and through the community of faith is where we find “life forevermore”. So this day and every day may we each do our part to build up the unity of the body of Christ, experiencing God’s blessings and favor as we do so.

Prayer: Lord, it is so good and pleasant when we gather in worship and fellowship to praise your name and to serve one another. Build up our love for one another, raise up a humble servant’s heart in each of us. In all we do and say, together may we bring you the glory and honor. Amen.


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Abundance

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 17: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”.

Today’s passage is one of abundance. It begins with an abundance of grief. Hearing that John the Baptist has been murdered by Herod, Jesus is overwhelmed with an abundance of grief. He withdraws by boat to a solitary place, seeking to grieve and pray. But an abundant crowd comes out from all the nearby towns and follows Jesus to the place that he comes ashore. Instead of sticking to the plans and mourning the death of his cousin, Jesus pours out abundant compassion and healing mercies. As Jesus works his way through the crowd of at least 10,000 the day turns to evening. The disciples, aware of the hour and the remoteness of this place, ask Jesus to send the crowds away to find food in the nearby villages.

In a demonstration of abundant love Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowd “something to eat”. They have a meager offering to give: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”. They see scarcity. Jesus sees abundance. In abundant love, Jesus shares the reality with the disciples. All they think they have to offer is a child’s meal. Jesus has already worked through the huge crowd, giving them what they came for: healing. And now, in abundant love for the people, he is about to go beyond even what they came for. Jesus gathers the meager meal, instructs the crowd to be seated, blesses the food, and then gives the food to the disciples. With their own hands they will be the ones to give the crowd “something to eat”. In his abundant love, the food never runs out. The baskets seem to always be full. All eat their fill. All are satisfied. The leftovers amount to twelve basketfuls of broken pieces. A basket for each disciple to carry as a reminder?

In today’s story Jesus teaches that even something small and seemingly insignificant – a child’s meal – can provide abundantly when given to God. Today – a small act of kindness, the loving presence to a hurting friend, a generous spirit towards one in need – how will God use one of us to be love and compassion to another in the world? May we each offer what we can to God’s purposes in the world, revealing his ever abundant love.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me forth with eyes and hearts wide open. Guide me as you need me to go. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Thanks and Restoration

Reading: Psalm 66: 8-20

Verse 10: “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver”.

The opening stanza in today’s Psalm feels a lot like life: times when I feel assured of God’s presence and times when I feel like I am being tested. In verse nine God preserves life and keeps feet from slipping and in verse ten we read, “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver”. In verse eleven and the first half of twelve there is prison and burdens and hardship; in the second half of twelve God brings them “to a place of abundance”. Sometimes I wish every day were a good day. But the reality is that I need a day of struggle and testing and refining now and then. Both kinds of days remind me of God – one of my need for God and one of my gratitude for God’s blessings and love.

I appreciate the psalmist’s response that we find in verses thirteen through fifteen. It was the custom then to brings animals to offer on the altar to fulfill various responsibilities and to seek to be made right with God. The psalmist will offer rams and bulls and goats to God. Although we do not practice animal sacrifice, it is good to consider what we bring to God to offer our thanksgiving and to seek to restore our relationship when we have created separation due to sin. Giving time and efforts to both of these practices is good spiritual discipline. Giving can come in the physical form of a tithe or other support or it can come through service to the church and it’s ministries. We must also set aside time to address thanksgiving and restoration personally. Whether morning, noon, or night each day should include some time set aside to thank the Lord for specific blessings in our day and in our life as well as giving time to the acts of confession and repentance. Both practices remind us of our connection to and of our dependence on God. May we all do so today!

Prayer: Lord God, each day has moments when you intercede, when you guide, when you bless, when you convict… Each works to shape me more into your son’s image. Thank you for your ever-present hand, voice, nudge. May they always show me the path you seek for me to walk each day. Amen.


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Marching Orders

Reading: Isaiah 65: 17-20

Verse 19: “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people”.

In today’s reading God lays out a beautiful future. In verse 17 God promises, “I will create new heavens and a new Jerusalem”. To the Israelites, this would be music in their ears. To think of what God could create would bring needed joy and hope and encouragement to the people. Jerusalem, a term representing all of God’s people, will be God’s delight. God says, “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people”. This vision is a wonderful image to hold in one’s mind and heart.

Today, on Veterans Day, we remember the many men and women who have served our country. Scores upon scores upon scores have served our nation and many gave life for our freedom. The idea of a new Jerusalem ties in. War is a hard thing. War is sometimes necessary. In our nation’s history, war has been fought to make the world a better place. A world without slavery or fascism or genocide or terrorism is a better world. Today we recognize and honor the many men and women who have been a part of making the world and our nation better. I appreciate their service to a nation founded and still guided by faith. The ideal of world peace remains the ideal. I am grateful for those who have served and for those who still serve to protect our nation and this ideal.

In the second half of verse 19 and in verse 20, God fleshes out the picture of a new heaven and earth. There will be no more weeping or crying. Life will be long-lived. God’s vision for what will be is a glimpse of heaven on earth. Today many long for a taste of this vision. This paradise is not a reality for lots of people. Yet for many of us it is a reality. We live in peace with relative abundance. We have both the means and the ability to help others experience more of a new Jerusalem. Whether that involves generously sharing our blessings and talents or guiding them to a faith that brings hope and encouragement in this life, as followers of Jesus we too have our marching orders. Jesus was clear in his call to go to the poor and blind and lonely and lost and broken. The gospel imperative to feed and visit and care for and to teach others about Jesus is clear. May we each joyfully and willingly accept the call of Jesus Christ to be his hands and feet, his light and love in the world.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you first for the many who serve and have served our nation. Bless them and their families, O God. Guide and encourage me to serve you well, bringing your love and hope to all who need it today. Use me as you will. Amen.


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So Others May Simply Live

We often struggle with the question of “How much?”  It is a question that goes both ways.  How much do I keep for myself, storing it up in the bank?  How much should I give to the church and other charitable organizations?  It is a fine line that is difficult to define or explain.

Could one pay their bills and give the rest of what one has left away at the end of each month?  I suppose one could but it would cause problems when one needs new tires or when a child hits a growth spurt and needs new clothes.  But on the other extreme one does not need millions in the bank either.  In reality, most of us live between these extremes.

Another reality is that most of us live with much more than we need.  We live in abundance.  We live with an excess of food, cars, televisions, clothes, bedrooms in our homes, and on and on and on.  Can we learn to live with enough so that others may simply live?

To do so requires trust and living in community.  We must trust God and each other.  We need to learn to live relying on God to provide and trusting that others will come along side us when we need them to.  We must learn to live in true community, being sensitive to and responsive to the needs of others in our communities.  We must be OK with saying ‘no’ when it is appropriate or when we have nothing to give but still be willing to offer empathy or to help another to other resources.  May we learn to live with less so that others may simply live.

Scripture reference: 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15


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Loving Generously and Freely

“God loves a cheerful giver.”  This is true.  It is not true because it puts money in the church coffers.  It is true because of the spirit it instills in us.  When we are willing to be abundant without strings attached and with no expectations involved, then we are truly giving as God gives.

When we are willing to be generous with all that God blesses us with, we see things as God’s and not as ours.  He owns everything we have.  If that is the perspective from which we operate, then we are so much more willing to give to others.

As Advent nears and Thanksgiving Day dawns, can you feel the call to slow down and focus on the things and ways of God?  Do you feel the call to be generous instead of greedy?  Do you feel the urge to give thanks and to express your gratitude by blessing others as well?  May our lives reflect God’s way of loving generously and freely!

Scripture reference: 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15


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And so they ate…

In the Garden Adam and Eve had all they really needed – food, each other, God’s daily presence.  Yet there was one thing that they did not have.  It wasn’t that they needed it – they just did not have it.  And so they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  It is not that they needed to know about good and evil.  But their desire to have more got the best of them.  Eating the fruit gave them the one thing they knew they did not have.

Aren’t we often the same?  We so often want to have more than we have. We are so blessed in so many ways yet we see a better position, better pay, more recognition, a newer car, a bigger house, a more beautiful spouse, … and we “want” it.  The want has nothing to do with need or necessity.  It is much like the fruit of the forbidden tree.  We think, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to…’ and off we go!  And God looks down and says ‘All you need is right here.”  Yet we can be so busy in chasing after the next ‘x’ that we don’t even hear Him.

We treat the control over our lives the same way.  God will do a fantastic job of leading our life.  Yet we are constantly wrestling with him over the steering wheel.  If we can only see that life is always best when God is driving the bus.  We want to set the course and call the shots.  We are blessed in so many ways yet how often Satan whispers, “Hey, look over here” and he instantly has our attention.  Satan doesn’t much tempt us with fruit but his offerings are vast and shiny and make us take notice.

As we prepare to enter into this holy season of Lent, may we do so fully acknowledging God as the provider of all good things.  I’ve heard that He is an excellent driver too.  May we come to trust in Him and to be content in the rich blessings that He so graciously gives.  May our thanks to Him flow out of us abundantly so that we may see God for who He truly is: a loving father who wants to give His children all they need.  When we do, He is faithful and will fill us with joy, peace, and contentment.  May we eat fully of His abundance.