pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Rich and Beautiful

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

Verse 11: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them to each one, just as the Spirit determines.”

We return today to 1st Corinthians 12, where Paul lifts up some of the gifts that the Spirit gives. There are many other gifts or “fruit” of the Spirit – qualities or talents bestowed upon people, all to enhance or further the work of the body of Christ. As I wrote about earlier this week, all gifts were given for the “common good.” At the same time, though, the varieties of gifts can cause division instead of unity.

Division and factions seem to be the order of our day. If you are not on our side or of our opinion or just like us, then you are bad, the enemy, evil. As a people – not just as churches or denominations or even nations, but as a whole – humanity has digressed, regressed, become less than we used to be and certainly less than God designed us to be. Under the banner of individualism we’ve forgotten that we as truly so much better together. Under the hammer of tolerance we have grown blind to the fact that all people (no matter their color, gender, faith, wealth, education, vocation…) are valued and worthy and sacred.

In our homes, churches, and society is a rich and beautiful diversity. It is just as God designed, created, and drew into being: “Through Christ all things were made; without him nothing was made” (John 1:3). Who or what are we to see God’s creation and then to draw lines, barriers, dividers? Whether gifts, service, or activities, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them to each one, just as the Spirit determines.” The Spirit works first in the way of love, leading out as Jesus led out. As followers of this Jesus, may we too use our gifts and talents to build each other up, to draw outsiders in, to let all people know they are loved by God and by those who walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

Prayer: Lord God, first gives me clearer eyes and a heart of love. Then create in me a more committed servant’s heart. Lastly, send me out into the world with a renewed love, using the gifts and talents that your Spirit blessed me with to be love poured out. Amen.


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God Answers

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 12-20

Verse 17: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

Photo credit: Jakob Braun

Hannah has prayed and prayed. She has prayed for years and years for a child. She remained barren. She has prayed and prayed for relief from Peninnah’s taunts and cruelty. The pain and hurt persists. Yet year after year she prays. It can be hard to continue to pray day after day, never mind year after year.

Back when I went into pastoral ministry there was a building that I would walk around and pray over. Originally it was a car dealership and most recently the hospital’s laundry facility. The hospital decided to build a modern laundry facility on the hospital grounds. The land-locked church that I was a part of was next to this building. I would walk along the building, running my hand along the bricks, praying for God to use this space for the church’s growing ministries. Day after day I’d walk and pray. Teams and other individuals from the church would also do prayer walks around the building. Eventually the new space was ready and the hospital began to vacate the building. The lead pastor and I were able to walk around inside the space, beginning to dream of what could be. Each day I would prayer walk around the building. The church even contacted the hospital to express our interest. Day after day, month after month, praying.

Hannah prayed and prayed. One day she is praying in the temple. Pouring out her heart would be more accurate. The priest Eli notices. After some conversation he is moved by her anguish and grief. He blessed her, saying, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” God responds to her prayers and to the blessing – she has a son. God’s timing aligned with Hannah’s prayers. God made a way forward.

One random day two men walked into the church. They let us know that they had bought the building and were going to start a new microbrewery. Gut punch. Hurt, anger, despair, doubt – these were the initial feelings. There might have even been a few sideways glances cast heavenward. Then the walking and praying resumed. As I walked along, touching the bricks, I prayed that God would one day use the space for ministry. I acknowledged that God’s plans are bigger than my plans, that God’s ways are higher than my ways. Although ministry has moved me on to other churches and other prayer focuses, when I’m back in the neighborhood, I sometimes still lift a prayer to God when I pass by that building and run my hand along the bricks. Our God still answers big, bold prayers. God did for Hannah. God will for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful and true, loving and generous. Continue to lead and guide the ministries of your church. Continue to lead us to dream dreams and to see visions. Keep us ever at work building your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Our Stories

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “He wrote to them to observe days and days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”

Photo credit: Etienne Girardet

Picking up the story again in Esther today, the threat has passed, God has rescued the Jews. To share this good news Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, records the event and sends letters to all of the Jews in King Xerxes’ kingdom. Mordecai wants all Jews to know how God has acted to save them. The decree had gone out to all the provinces – on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month all Jews were to be killed. Working through Esther, God saved the Jews from certain death.

Mordecai’s letter instructs the Jews to celebrate on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the twelfth month. They were to celebrate on the days after the day God saved them from. This is to be an annual celebration. On these days they are to “observe days and days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” The festival of Purim would become one of the annual festivals of the Jews. It is important to remember when God has acted in mighty ways to save God’s children. In the Christian world, this would be Easter – the day Jesus rose, bringing salvation to all who believe.

As we journey in faith we also experience times of salvation and redemption, of rescue and restoration. We all have our own personal ‘God sightings’ – moments when God acted on our behalf. While these do not become national or even denominational holidays or festivals, these experiences do become part of our faith story. And just as Mordecai shared this story and called for celebration, we too should tell our God stories and offer praise for these encounters. In doing so we help others to see how God could act in their lives too. As we cultivate this library of God stories we build up our own faith and prepare ourselves with these sharable moments that can help transform another’s experience of God. May we all know and share our God stories, bringing God the glory as we make God known.

Prayer: Lord God, you have touched our lives in so many ways. Each is a gift that we can share with others. Help us to know these stories so that we can build faith in others. Amen.


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Humble Connection

Reading: 1st Kings 3: 3-14

Verse 12: “I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart”.

As we continue in 1st Kings 3 today we see that Solomon’s burnt offerings and humble request were pleasing to God. Instead of asking for long life or wealth or the death of his enemies Solomon asks to be able to lead this “great people of yours”. Solomon recognizes both the role he has been called to play and the significance of God’s people among the nations of the earth.

Each of us has a call upon our lives. For most of us it is not to lead nation or even a huge organization. Yet we are each called to lead and to exert influence on the people around us. David was “righteous and upright in heart” – he led Israel this way and passed this faith along to Solomon. As Christians we too are called to lead by example. Whether our families or a business, whether our circle of friends or a church – we all have spaces that can and should be influenced by our faith. Understanding that, what are the offerings and requests that we bring to God?

In our areas of influence, are we giving of ourselves? Are we generous with what we offer to God and to those around us? When others are blessed by our presence in their lives, then we are bearing witness to the love of God within us, then we are shining the light of Christ into the world. To parallel David’s and Solomon’s hearts for God, are our requests in alignment with God’s heart? Do we pray for guidance and direction in the building of God’s kingdom here on earth? If these are the humble prayer requests that we bring to God, then God will use you and me for his purposes. Our lives will be a pleasing and fragrant offering to the Lord our God.

In verse twelve God responds to Solomon’s humble request with these words: “I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart”. As we walk in humble connection to God this day may we seek to live with an upright and righteous heart, pleasing God and lifting up our neighbors in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, to acknowledge the call and to accept the role can be scary and intimidating. All things are possible with you. Nevertheless, I humbly bow and offer all of me to you. Use me as you will, O God. Amen.


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Building Up

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 7: “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”.

As we continue in Ephesians 4 today Paul speaks about unity and some about diversity. Paul begins this section reminding us that “grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. Grace is the starting point. Grace allows us to see and walk alongside others just as they are. Grace is what allows us to sit at the table in fellowship with those who don’t see this or that exactly as we do. Grace opens the door to love.

Starting in verse eleven Paul speaks of some of the diversity of gifts folks in the church have: apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers. Not all are the same. This list is far from complete yet it demonstrates the diversity necessary in the body of Christ. Each person is gifted to “prepare God’s people for acts of service”. As the church lives out its faith in the world, the body is built up towards a “unity of faith”. Spiritual maturity – “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” – is what enables the church or the body of Christ to be of one heart and one Spirit. Growing closer and closer to Christ, grace and love abound more and more.

In verse fifteen Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow up into him… Christ”. This truth is not my truth. It is not your truth. It is not any human being’s truth. Jesus boiled the truth down to loving God with all that we are and reflecting that by loving our neighbors as Christ loves us. Covered in grace and love, Jesus set for us the example of what it looks like when we allow our lives to speak truth. May we follow Christ faithfully, being built up and building others up in love and grace, in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, may your grace and love abound in me. When I am less than you call me to be, gently whisper your will into my heart and mind. Lead me to walk steadfastly in the steps of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Unity in Christ Jesus

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”.

Returning to Ephesians today our focus moves past tearing down walls to the purpose of doing so. Without walls or barriers in place, greater unity is possible. Think of a house remodel. Without some of the old walls a new and open space is created. People in the new space can see and talk and relate to one another in a better way. Yet ‘open concept’ living has its limits too. None of us wants a bathroom without walls (or without a door!)

Paul reminds the church of what they once were – two peoples. For the Gentiles, that meant that they were separated from Jesus Christ. They were “foreigners”, without the covenant promise and without hope. But all that changed. In verse thirteen we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”. Through his blood Jesus made a way for all people to live and be in right relationship with God. Doing so, he reconciled Jew and Gentile, preaching peace and blessing all who believed with the gift of the one Holy Spirit.

Uniting all believers with the same Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ made the foreigners into “citizens”, creating a new “holy temple”, a church for all people. Jew and Gentile would now be “built together”, becoming the dwelling place of God who “lives by the Spirit”. What a beautiful vision of faith and love, of community and hope! May we each do all we can to build and be such a church in our time and space. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making all believers one through the indwelling Holy Spirit. By sharing this common core we are all part of Christ’s universal body. In and through that Spirit, continue to draw us together Lord. Amen.


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Unity in Christ Jesus

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”.

Returning to Ephesians today our focus moves past tearing down walls to the purpose of doing so. Without walls or barriers in place, greater unity is possible. Think of a house remodel. Without some of the old walls a new and open space is created. People in the new space can see and talk and relate to one another in a better way. Yet ‘open concept’ living has its limits too. None of us wants a bathroom without walls (or without a door!)

Paul reminds the church of what they once were – two peoples. For the Gentiles, that meant that they were separated from Jesus Christ. They were “foreigners”, without the covenant promise and without hope. But all that changed. In verse thirteen we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”. Through his blood Jesus made a way for all people to live and be in right relationship with God. Doing so, he reconciled Jew and Gentile, preaching peace and blessing all who believed with the gift of the one Holy Spirit.

Uniting all believers with the same Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ made the foreigners into “citizens”, creating a new “holy temple”, a church for all people. Jew and Gentile would now be “built together”, becoming the dwelling place of God who “lives by the Spirit”. What a beautiful vision of faith and love, of community and hope! May we each do all we can to build and be such a church in our time and space. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making all believers one through the indwelling Holy Spirit. By sharing this common core we are all part of Christ’s universal body. In and through that Spirit, continue to draw us together Lord. Amen.


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Pleading Earnestly

Reading: Mark 5: 21-24

Verse 22: “Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

Today we begin to enter into this week’s passage from Mark 5. Jesus returns to the Jewish side of the lake and is greeted by a large crowd. A man named Jairus is in the crowd. He is one of the leaders at the local synagogue. He has encountered Jesus before. Now he comes to speak with Jesus. In verse 22 we read, “Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him”. What causes us to fall at Jesus’ feet, to plead with Jesus?

For Jairus, his daughter is dying. That would cause any parent to plead earnestly. In the same situation we would pray and pray and pray. And then we would pray some more. We can assume that Jairus has tried everything else to save his daughter. Why else would a respected, well-known Jewish leader come to this Jesus? Jairus is desperate. Jesus is his last and only hope. At least a small part of him believes and hopes that Jesus can “put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live”.

When we get to this point – to the place of desperation – have we tried everything else but deep, intense prayer? Only then do we come to Jesus with belief and hope? Do we approach him, fall at his feet, and plead earnestly? Yes, at times our prayers do get ratcheted up to this level. Yet a faithful walk with Jesus is at its best at a steady, daily, regular pace. May this be the routine of our prayer life, building us up for those times of intimate, powerful, intense prayer. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, may my daily time with you be strengthening and encouraging each day. In steady faith, may I grow in you and in my trust in you. In those moments of great need, may I really lean into you, kneeling upon my rock and my hope. Amen.


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Faith Over Fear

Reading: Mark 4: 35-41

Verse 40: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”?

Our passage today comes after many days of healing, teaching, and traveling. Jesus decides to cross the lake. In a boat with several others, they set out. Being tired, Jesus rests. It is natural for the fishermen among them to navigate the waters. A “furious squall” comes up and soon Jesus’ companions are fearing for their lives. They wake Jesus and say, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Their faith and trust is gone. Fear has set in. They question if Jesus even cares.

Back in my teaching days and even as a pastor, I would come home upset or bothered by something at work. At home, where I was comfortable, I would let out the emotion, usually not in a healthy or good way. The fear or anger or whatever other emotion I was struggling with would cloud my heart; it would affect how I treated my wife or kids. I would not take it to the Lord in prayer. I would not read my Bible for divine wisdom. I would unload on someone who had nothing to do with the situation.

The disciples turn to Jesus and say, don’t you care?! Turning to him and blaming him, they allow fear to speak. Jesus quickly addresses the source of their fear and then turns to the root of the problem, saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”? I have been here. I’ve allowed fear and other negative emotions to seize the day, even though I knew Jesus was right there. I’ve let it build up until I’m at the point of crying out. When I could not go any longer and finally cried out to God, I too heard these questions. Later, after some time, like the disciples I too realized that I should have turned to my faith long before my fear won out. It is a moment of growth, a reminder to pray sooner, to delve into my Bible quicker, to lean into the one who is always present, right there in my little boat. May this be the choice made each time: faith over fear. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when fear or worry or stress or anger or… begin to arise in me, remind me of the depth of your love, of the wideness of your grace. Remind me that you are always right there – close as a whispered prayer, nearby in the words of life that I can read. Turn me ever to you. Amen.


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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.