pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Small Seeds

Reading: Mark 4: 30-34

Verses 31-32: “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed… it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants”.

Today we continue in Mark 4 with the planting of seeds. Yesterday we heard the call to scatter seeds of faith, trusting God to root, grow, and mature both our faith and the faith of others. Yesterday we heard that we are all called to plant seeds. Perhaps knowing that his audience then and that followers down through the ages would question or even balk at their ability to do this, Jesus continues with today’s parable.

Jesus begins by asking, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like”? Well, it is not what we or the world think. Jesus shares this illustration: “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed… it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants”. He chooses the smallest of all seeds. And yet the tiny seed produces a large plant which blesses the birds of the garden. Small gifts… big results. That is God’s kingdom at work. In the kingdom of the world, we think size matters. Larger bank accounts, bigger houses, fancier clothes – big seeds. But what difference do these things make in areas that really matter? None. It is the faithful, small gifts and actions that really build the kingdom of God. It is the many small words and humble actions of faithful followers that build the kingdom of God. Yes, you may hear a wonderful sermon today and you may be moved by the beautiful music. But if your time in church does not lead you to be Christ’s light and love in the world for the rest of the week, then how did worship matter?

The Holy Spirit gifts all believers. All of us have gifts to use in the building of God’s kingdom. How will you use the gifts and talents that God has given you to plant seeds for the building of the kingdom here on earth?

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to be a part of transforming the world. May I begin today with each I meet, pouring your love and grace into their lives. Amen.


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Big Plans

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah 49 begins with Isaiah’s call. Before he was born God called him. Prophet is his destiny. Isaiah was God’s voice – “a sharpened sword”. He was God’s servant, “in whom I will display my splendor”. He was filled with confidence and felt God with him. And then he experienced what Moses and other prophets experienced – the people were stubborn and willful. Beginning in verse four, we can see that Isaiah hit the proverbial “wall”. He sees no purpose, he feels like he has spent his strength in vain, “for nothing”. God did not leave Isaiah here. We too can feel spent and like we’ve been treading water, getting nowhere. Like Isaiah, we focus back inward, we begin our own pity party.

God does not leave his servant Isaiah here. He will not leave us there either. God’s plans are always greater. His plans so often exceed our vision or dreams. In verse six God says, “It’s too small a thing” to simply have Isaiah help restore Jacob and Israel. No, no. Continuing, God proclaims, “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. Yes, the prophet Isaiah will help lead Israel home, out of exile. But he and his words will also be a part of the salvation of the whole world. God’s plans go far beyond Isaiah and Israel. Ultimately, God’s love and saving grace will extend to the whole world.

Where are you feeling stuck? In what situation do you feel like you’re not having an impact? Our faith is often like Isaiah’s. We question, we doubt, we feel ineffective or adrift. And like with Isaiah, God will use us as a light to the lost and as part of bringing salvation to the broken and hurting. God is faithful. God has big plans for you and for me. We were born to be a child of God. May we step out in faith and trust, knowing that God leads the way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I question, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I doubt, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I fear, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I feel less than, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I am tired and worn, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Fill me, O God, use me for your glory. Amen.


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Listen and Learn

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 8: “Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy”.

On Monday I focused in on the call part of this passage. Just like Samuel, we all have a story of how God calls us. Samuel might not have known his call story if not for Eli. At this point, Eli is like Samuel’s father figure. Eli has raised Samuel since he was weaned from Hannah. Eli has been serving God a long time and has taught Samuel much, but “Samuel did not yet know the Lord”. Samuel knows who God is and knows a lot about God, but he does not know God. The head knowledge has not yet become heart wisdom. It is Eli that perceives that God is calling Samuel. Eli’s willingness to allow God to speak through another is a testament to his trust in God and to the love and trust that he has in Samuel. It is an example of humble servant leadership.

When Samuel does invite God to speak, the words are difficult to hear. Destruction will fall upon Eli’s household because Eli’s sons are “contemptible” and because Eli failed to “restrain them”. In the morning Eli presses Samuel, wanting to know what God said, probably sensing the bad news. Samuel speaks truth to Eli. Eli accepts the words, humbly acknowledging God’s goodness. I cannot imagine how hard it was for Samuel to say these words to Eli. Yet Samuel loves and trusts Eli enough to tell him.

Both Eli and Samuel understood that there was something bigger than themselves. Both Eli and Samuel loved and trusted God, as well as each other, enough to listen and to learn from each other. To listen and learn from each other. To understand the bigger picture. How our land needs these skills today! Both sides are so polarized that they cannot even hear each other, never mind listening to one another. Listening is essential. It is the only way to discern a good and right way forward. Yes, we can continue to plod down the road we are on, filled with self and contempt and half truths and rancor. We can walk the road of Eli’s household. Or we can choose a better way, one covered in love and peace and trust. These things will not come easy. Surrender never does. Elevating other over self, walking the path of unity and compromise, fighting for our way not my way – all are the work of a humble servant. May it be so Lord. Heal our land.

Prayer: Lord, the wind is howling here in South Dakota. Things are shaking and groaning. It reminds me of our nation right now. The winds can fan the flames or they can usher in something new. Bring a new sense of humble servant leadership to the land, blowing away the chaff. Bless us, O God. Amen.


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A Big Love

Reading: John 13: 1-7 and 31-35

Verse 34: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.

Jesus has spent three years in ministry with the twelve men gathered around the table. They have been witnesses to God’s love being lived out. At times they have certainly been recipients of that love. For the disciples that has most often come in the form of teaching and sometimes in gentle redirection. They have seen Jesus love as he heals, teaches, and welcomes the outsider and the marginalized. This night, Jesus’ demonstration of love is drenched in humility. As they gather and settle in for the Passover meal, Jesus strips down and washes the disciples’ feet – all twelve. He washes the feet of the betrayer. Judas is included. Of course he is – Jesus is love.

This example of love is unique. Jesus did not have to take on the role of lowly servant washing dirty feet. But he did. It was an object lesson for the disciples. It is one for us as well – especially the way Judas was included. In this we see that love is not conditional. Just as it would have been easier for Jesus to stoop and was the feet of just the disciples who would serve him until their deaths, we too find it much easier to love and serve those we love and are in good standing with. But that is not Jesus’ model. That is not Jesus’ kind of love. His command is: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Jesus loved the faithful and the betrayer, the seekers and the doubters, the followers and the Pharisees, the women at the foot of the cross and the ones who put him on it. In his words and actions, Jesus says, ‘I loved them all’. As he speaks into our hearts each day, he says, ‘Go and do likewise’. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving Lord, you give a tall order: love as you loved. That is a big love. Open wide my human heart to be more like your divine heart. Shape and form and stretch it to become just like your heart – loving one and all unconditionally. May it be so in me. Amen.


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Right Relationships

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verse 24: “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”.

At the core of today’s passage is the call to live in right relationship with God and with one another. In each small section Jesus first reminds us of the “big” or obvious sins – murder, adultery, divorce, dishonesty. Then he digs deeper, looking at the “smaller” and easier to hide or rationalize sins that we struggle with more often. These sins are the ones that lead up to murder… Each of these sins are offenses against both God and one another.

In verse 23 Jesus invites us to consider if our “brother has something against you”. If this is part of our daily prayer life, the the Holy Spirit will reveal to us these sins that we have committed against another. This process requires a careful and thoughtful introspection. When our words or actions or looks have caused hurt – when we get an immediate reaction – then we know we have sinned and must seek forgiveness. The careful and thorough introspection must go deeper, searching our day for instances where our interactions caused harm.

Jesus even seems to place our human relationships before our relationship with God. He says that before offering our gift to God – whether a thank offering or a guilt offering – to“first go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”. Be right with one another first. I think Jesus offers this thought because we think we can more easily hide or overlook our sins against our brothers and sisters. We think that God sees all and knows all (and God does) so that we cannot slip our offenses past God. In these words, Jesus is calling us to first be accountable to one another and then to God. Tend to the smaller relationships then to the bigger one with God. This is yet one more example of God’s upside down kingdom.

May we be mindful of our interactions with one another today, seeking reconciliation and forgiveness when we should, seeking to live in right relationship with God and with one another. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, make me mindful of all I do, say, and think today. Send the Holy Spirit to bring sure conviction when I sin and to guide me in the ways of peace and reconciliation and grace. Elevate my relationships with each I meet today, leading to deeper fellowship with them and with you. Amen.


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Free to Love

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 13-15

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”.

Paul speaks a lot of freedom. While it is true that in Christ we find much freedom, it is a freedom that is bound by love. We are free to live a full and wonderful life, but Paul is clear that there are lines that we are not to cross. In Paul’s way of thinking, we are free to love others. Paul describes the love we are to have for one another as “becoming slaves to one another”. That means we place the needs of others far ahead of our own needs.

In verse 14 Paul makes an important statement. He writes, “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”. This is a big and bold statement. As Saul, he would have never made this statement. The law and keeping every letter of the law was very important to the former Pharisee. For most Jews, the law was a key focus and was the underpinning of life. Paul has come to understand what Jesus meant when he talked about love. It was a complete and sacrificial love that gave all for the other.

When we are willing to live out this sacrificial love for the other, we are building up or pouring into the other. Instead of giving ourselves away and emptying ourselves, we find that we too are filled up and we feel more freedom to love others. As we give ourselves away, we gain more and more. Our freedom in Christ abounds!

Prayer: God, grant me the opportunity to pour into another today. As I do so, thank you for your giving love that overflows my heart. Amen.


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Fill Us, Holy Spirit

Reading: Acts 2: 1-4

Verses 3-4: “… tongues of fire… came and rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”.

Tomorrow we celebrate Pentecost Sunday in many of our churches. It is thought of as the birthday of the church. Two different groups were gathered in Jerusalem for two different reasons. The disciples of Jesus were gathered, waiting for the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit. Jews were also gathered, there to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. This annual festival fifty days after Passover was known as “Pentecost” in Greek. These two groups would be gathered under one roof as the loud noise, sounding like a “violent wind”, draws them together.

For the disciples who were gathered, they experienced something extraordinary. In verses 3-4 we read, “… tongues of fire… came and rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”. With a tangible and very visible sign, that which Jesus promised arrived. The gift that will teach and remind also gives the gift of speaking in many different languages. This remains one gift that the Spirit gives to those who follow Jesus.

I am currently at Annual Conference – the yearly gathering of United Methodist churches. My Annual Conference consists of the UM churches in South and North Dakota. Last night we had our “Celebration of Life in Ministry” service. In worship we celebrate the ministry of those no longer with us. We celebrate those who have graduated and those becoming provisional members and those being ordained as elders or deacons. It is a wonderful night of celebrating ministry. It begins with a welcome from a clergy from another denomination. Last night it was an Episcopal priest that our Bishop met while visiting the Standing Rock Reservation. This special guest represents our ties as the larger body of Christ, together under “one roof” as the Bishop put it in his message. Near the end of worship our Bishop always invites those whose hearts have been warmed, those perhaps feeling a call to ministry, to come forward.

As the Bishop prepared to give the benediction, the Episcopal priest asked to speak. He spoke of how our two denominations are close – Methodism was “birthed” by the Episcopals. And he spoke of how his heart was full and was warmed by this movement of the Holy Spirit among us and in our hearts. He spoke of how we are under one big roof – drawn together by God. Yes, God was once again at work in a very tangible and powerful way, speaking once again into our hearts. This day I look forward to having the Holy Spirit speak in my heart once again. May it be so for you as well.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for filling my heart as well last night. Thank you so much for loving us so much that you work on being in relationship with each of us. Fill me up again today, Lord. Amen.


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Childlike

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-4

Verse 2: “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me”.

In our Psalm today, as in many of the Psalms, there is an honest cry to God for help, for rescue, for refuge, for deliverance. The psalmist cries out to God almost like a child would cry out for help… Verse 2 reads, “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me”. There is an honesty and a trust that reminds me of how a child asks their human parent in times of need. The child has an almost unshakable belief that the parent will come through.

Jesus encourages us to have the faith of a child or to have childlike faith. It is a faith that comes openly and honestly to God with our sincere requests as well as our grandiose dreams. It is a faith that says and believes that God can do anything – no request is too big for God. It is a faith that comes with no pretense and with no agendas. It must be refreshing to God when we come to Him like a child, like the psalmist, with this pure faith.

As adults we struggle to have this kind of faith. We like to pretend that we have it all figured out and to act as if everything were under control. This makes it hard to ask for help. It is hard to ask our spouse or co-worker or boss for help. Ask God for help?! To admit we are in need of help, to cry out to God in our times of trial – well, that is just childlike. And it is exactly what God wants.

Like the psalmist, this day and every day may we seek to have a childlike faith, coming to our loving heavenly Father with and and all prayers. May we bring God our greatest joys and our most heartfelt sorrows. And like a child, may we trust our heavenly Father with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord, grant me an honest and humble heart. May I come to you ever open and always honest, trusting in you alone. Amen.


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Embrace Your Role

Reading: Luke 1: 76-79

Verse 76: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for Him”.

Zechariah, like every other person living in Israel, was awaiting the coming of the Messiah. The Jews had been living under the thumb of the Romans and the harsh leaders they appointed. They long for a Messiah King to come and set them free.

When I think of bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ, I think we all want to be the closer. We want to be the one that hits the walk-off home run, the one who inks the big deal, the one who prays for the first time with one who has given their life to Christ. But for most of us, wr are the kids that shags the foul balls, the gal who ran off the copies of the big contract, the humble servant who lives a life that simply bears witness to the love and hope of Jesus Christ.

Zechariah had drawn the life time opportunity to go into the inner temple to burn the incense at the altar. When he was in the Holy of Holies the angel of the Lord appeared to him. “You will have a son!” was Gabriel’s message. The faithful and blameless but old and barren couple was to have a child! Clean-up batter is walking to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. The pitcher throws a curve ball that doesn’t break. The pitch floats in, almost hanging there, right over the heart of the plate. The batter’s eyes get big. Nope Zechariah, not this time. Your boy, John, won’t close the big deal. He will not be the Messiah that you and so many are longing for. He will be the set-up man.

Zechariah embraces this role. He knows the Old Testament story. There has to be a voice calling out in the wilderness. John may not be the One, but his role is still super important. John will be “a prophet of the Most High”. Zechariah prophesies, “You will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for Him”. Read that line again: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for Him”. This too is our role. We too are called to be the humble servant who lives a life that simply bears witness to the love and hope of Jesus Christ. Embrace your role. Live into your role today. That person you encounter today may never meet the Lord Most High if you don’t introduce them today. Help prepare a way for the Lord.

Prayer: Lord, may I be a great set-up man today. May all I meet be inched a little closer to knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior today. May it be so. Amen.


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Close to a Big God

Reading: Mark 10: 35-40

Verse 37: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”.

James and John’s request can be heard two ways. Their bold request is generally viewed as over the line when one includes the reaction of the other ten disciples. When James and John say to Jesus, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”, it can be seen as trying to elevate themselves over the other disciples. James and John have clearly heard that Jesus will soon return to His place beside God in heaven and they want to secure their places too. On the right and left would be two pretty good places. Jesus then asks them if they think they can walk the path that He will walk and they respond affirmatively. Jesus acknowledges that they will walk the path but concedes that it is God who has determined who will sit at the right and left.

Perhaps, though, James and John are not asking for selfish purposes. What if they are asking simply because they have heard Jesus’ plan and have caught His portrayal of heaven? What if they are just asking to go with Jesus when He goes, rather than to remain on earth? Maybe staying close to Jesus is their focus. Maybe Jesus’ answer to them is affirming the desire to remain with Him with a bit of “not yet” added on. Jesus does indicate that James and John will remain faithful and will indeed suffer for their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Whichever was the case, whatever the motivation was that led to the request, James and John wanted to remain close to Jesus, no matter the cost. They were bold enough to ask a big thing of Jesus. May these be the examples we take from our passage today. First, may our primary focus be on remaining close to Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Second, may we have a faith big enough to ask bold things of God. James and John were bold for their faith. Let us follow their example as we walk out our journey of faith.

Lord God, help me to always seek your presence, to always be willing to walk closely with you in this life. And when I drift, may the Spirit’s voice be loud and insistent. Open my eyes to see you as you are – almighty, without limit, fully able. May my walk and my faith reflect who and what you are. Amen.