pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Good and Evil

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 5: “God is present in the company of the righteous”.

Photo credit: Tech Nick

Today’s Psalm is attributed to David. It speaks of the evil and corruption in the world. They seem to be in control. Yet over and throughout it all is God. Connecting to yesterday’s passage from 2nd Samuel 11, could David be reflecting upon his own behavior as he writes these words? In his secret heart could he be hoping that God is with Bathsheba?

The Psalm opens recognizing that the fool says, “There is no God”. The fool says I can do whatever I want – I am god! The fool is corrupt and vile. Didn’t someone ask if that wasn’t Uriah’s wife? In verse four David acknowledges that evildoers “devour” God’s people “as men eat bread”. Sexual appetites can certainly devour others like common food. A most powerful man can have his way and then dismiss his victim like she was a common peasant.

And yet David knows in his heart of hearts that God is bigger than the evil of the world and the evil inside of him. In verses five and six he writes, “God is present in the company of the righteous” and “the Lord is their refuge”. Even though evil has been done, David hopes that God is present to and comforting Bathsheba. Yes, the Lord draws near to all who are abused and oppressed, to all who endure injustice and violence.

The part of David still connected to God can still long for salvation to come to Israel. He can still long for a better world even though his ‘secret’ actions work against it. I too have been here before – doing wrong in the present yet still hoping for God to make me right in the end. Even then God is our ever present refuge. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I must admit that I, like David, am never too far from sin. The fleshy part of me is ever seeking glory or power or possessions. Yet the divine within me is always drawn to you. Thank you for the Spirit within. Raise up that voice in my heart, O Lord. Amen.


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Jars of Clay

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 5-12

Verse 6: “For God… made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of… Christ”.

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In our passage today Paul works out the idea that we have “this treasure in jars of clay”. Paul is using a metaphor that would have stood out and caught his audience’s attention. Clay jars were common, everywhere. It was the every day container for storing all sorts of things. Clay jars were cheap, easily replaced. So who would put their treasure in a jar of clay? It could be easily smashed, the treasure removed quickly.

In the metaphor we are the jars of clay. Our faith is fragile – easily broken by the cares of this world and by the temptations of the evil one. We are over seven billion strong – commonplace and too often treated as easily replaced. Just as no one would put their valued treasures in clay jars, why in the world would the God of the universe place his treasure in us human beings?

Well, the treasure is not gold or any other temporal, earthly thing of value. The treasure God places in our heart is the Spirit of his Son, Jesus Christ. Paul puts it this way in verse six: “For God… made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of… Christ”. This “all-encompassing power”, this treasure, gives us strength when hard pressed – so we are not crushed. It gives us the wisdom of God when we are perplexed – so that we will not despair. It gives us courage and support when we are persecuted, reminding us that God never abandons us. It keeps hope alive in us when we are struck down, whispering into our heart that nothing in all of creation can destroy our place in God’s family – here or in the time to come. This is but a short list of what the all-surpassing power of God does in our lives.

As we rejoice in what the power of God’s Spirit does in our lives, let us also pause to think of those we know who are jars of clay – perhaps a bit broken, definitely fragile, maybe seen as worthless or commonplace at best. As we think of these, how can this “light of Christ” within us shine into their lives, bringing that same strength, wisdom, courage, support, hope, sense of belonging… that we treasure?

Prayer: Lord God, I am so grateful for your presence in my life. The ways you touch and are present to me make walking a life of faith possible. May your light and love shine out of me, revealing your glory for all to see. Amen.


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In Solitude and Prayer

Reading: Hebrews 5: 5-10

Verse 7: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions… he was heard because of his reverent submission”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

Our passage today reminds us of how Jesus was like us and calls us to be like him. In the first verse we are reminded that Jesus did not come as a high priest. Jesus could have been born into the tribe of Levi and could have assumed the role of priest after finishing all his formal training. He would have then served in the temple or maybe in a local synagogue to start out. In this role Jesus would never have gone out to engage the world. He would not have crossed paths with Gentiles and lepers and prostitutes and the many others that he did heal and bring back into community. Most Jews saw themselves as a people set apart from the world and the priests were a group within this people who were even more set apart and isolated.

Jesus was born into the family of a common laborer – a carpenter. After the miraculous birth and exile in Egypt, Jesus was raised as an ordinary kid in a small town. Jesus learned the family business and spent years in the profession. His parents were good Jews and family was where he first found love and belonging. When Jesus began his ministry at about 30 years of age, he had experienced the good and bad, the hard and joyous of life. Once Jesus stepped into the role of Messiah he did not hunker down in the temple, waiting for folks to come hear his great wisdom. His ministry was radical for the time. It remains radical for today. Jesus traveled the country, teaching, healing, preaching, feeding, reconciling… In all he did, Jesus exhibited a love for and devotion to God. If anyone deserved to be the high priest, it was Jesus. Instead, he lived as one of us.

A regular practice of Jesus’ life was solitude and prayer with God. In verse seven we read, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions… he was heard because of his reverent submission”. In times of need, Jesus turned to God for comfort, strength, peace. This too should be our practice: to turn to God in our times of need. In our moments of need, we too want to know that we are beloved children of God. We too want to know that God cares for us. We too want to rest in his presence, in our place in the family of God. As we seek to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, may we be like Jesus, ever seeking the loving presence of our life-giving God.

Prayer: Lord God, hear our cries, alleviate our pain and suffering. Draw us near when we seek you; assure us of our place of belonging. Lead us to bring all things to you in prayer, guide us to rest in your presence. Walk with us all of our days. Amen.


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Ministers of the Gospel

Reading: 1st Corinthians 9: 16-23

Verse 19: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Our passage today begins with a part of Paul’s call story. Because of his encounter with the risen Christ he has a clear mission to preach the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. In Acts 9 it is revealed that Paul is Jesus’ “chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel”. This is why Paul is “compelled to preach” the gospel. Although most of us do not have the singular, radical life changing moment like Paul had, as people who declare Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we fall under the great commission that Jesus gave in Matthew 28 to “make disciples of all nations”.

Some are called to be preachers, some to be teachers, some to be worship leaders, some to be ushers, some to be worker bees… All are called the be ministers. Under the great commission we are all called to minister to the world, sharing the good news with a world in need. While most of us are not evangelical missionaries like Paul was, all of us have a story of faith and all of us can share our love of Jesus with others. Some of us will share through formal roles in the church, some will share through volunteer roles, some will share through specific encounters with friends and neighbors. All of us should share our faith in the ways that we live our day to day lives.

Paul was one who lived out his faith in all he did and with all he met. It was an intentional choice he made after Jesus worked a 180° change in his life. This radical change led Paul to spend the rest of his days telling others about the Lord. In verse nineteen we read, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible”. A slave was the very bottom of the social order. It was a place of total subservience. Paul was willing to be a slave to Jesus in order to save as many people as he could. Paul would become like his audience so that he could best communicate Jesus’ saving power to them. With the Jews, for example, Paul drew on his Jewish upbringing to help the Jews come to Christ. He found common ground. This is the most natural and comfortable way to share faith with others. Today, for example, a young Christian mom would most naturally share her faith while spending time with another young mom. Similarly, a recovered Christian alcoholic would most comfortably share his or her faith with a seeker just beginning the path to recovery. Common interests, shared experiences, similar places in life… provide great opportunities for natural gospel conversations.

Knowing why Jesus matters in our lives is the beginning of being able to share our faith. Step two is a willingness to have the conversation when the Holy Spirit nudges us and provides an opportunity. We are all called to be ministers of the gospel. Do you know your story of faith? Are you willing to share the story of what Jesus means to you? It is our call. May we all choose to be willing slaves of Jesus Christ, seeking to “win as many as possible” by sharing our love of Jesus Christ with the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I am not too sure where I would be without you. With you, I know my days and my future lie in your hands. Make me a willing slave, willing to share my love of you whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit gives opportunity. As always, use me as you will. Amen.


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A Story of Love

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6 and 37-45

Verse 40: “They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven”.

Today’s Psalm passage is part of a larger Psalm that tells the early history of Israel. In the verses we did not read it speaks of the covenant and of God’s protection when they were small in number. It also speaks of Joseph and of the plagues that led to the exodus. Our passage today picks up the story of the actual exodus and of God’s saving acts out in the wilderness. The Psalm would have been sung on the way to worship or in worship. It would have been heavy in the song rotation in the period after returning from exile in Babylon.

As we reflect on our days reading from Exodus 16 this week, we get a different feel for the story. In the Psalm we read, “They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven”. This is much different from the repeated grumbling directly against Moses and indirectly against God. The story has been polished up a bit. But that is a common practice. When we, for example, tell of how God answered our prayers during a hard time or season in our lives, we do not include much about the days of doubt and frustration or anything about our anger at experiencing said trial or suffering. We don’t tell the story as one of weak or faltering faith and of God finally answering. Why do we tend to do that? Why did the psalmist?

The point of the story is not to recount our human weakness or failures but to tell of God’s love and care, of God’s investment in our lives. For the Israelites, this story played out in the covenant and the Law. For us, it plays out in our saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Both are great stories to be told. What song can or would you sing, telling others of God’s love for you? May our lives be that song today.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the story of my life. It is of your love and care, of your guidance and direction, and even of your correction and protection. It is not always pretty. It is not always neat and tidy. But it is the story of your love for me. Thank you. Amen.


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Night Light, Table Lamp, or Ceiling Fixture?

Reading: 2nd Peter 1: 16-21

Verse 19: “Pay attention to it… to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart”.

Is the light of Christ like a night light plugged into the receptacle or is it like the table lamp in the corner or is it like the fixture in the center of the ceiling? It resembles none of these if the power is out or if the switch is “off”. To really answer the question one must assume that the power is on and the light is operational. Assuming both to be true, how would you answer the question? Night light, table lamp, or ceiling fixture?

Light is a necessity today. There is much darkness in our world. Satan seems to often be winning the overall battle. Wars and civil unrest rage, disease and plague-like locusts creep across the earth, modern politics seems to lean more and more into fragmentation, the wealth gap continues to widen in our society. As a whole we seem to have lost the gift of civil discourse and the art of compromise. In our culture the opinion or belief of the individual has often triumphed over the ideal of the common good and the dream of common ground. While we as individuals cannot address or affect all of this darkness, we certainly can address and affect some of it. Is the light of Christ within you shining into those places of darkness within your sphere of influence? Would others say your light is shining like a night light, table lamp, or ceiling fixture? Would they question if the power is even on?

Do not just read on. Ponder these two questions. Not yet. Ponder, wrestle, look deep. Read on when you’re ready.

We can make a difference in our world only when Christ is making a difference in our lives. Jesus Christ is the power, the juice that gives us light. Peter writes, “Pay attention to it… to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart”. Dig deep into Jesus Christ. Understand his message of love and grace and mercy. Allow him to fill you up. Accept no other as your source of light and love. Be a person filled with Jesus so that his light shines like the sun in and through you. Then look at your world around you and go be the light to those living in darkness.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to shed your light and love abroad in the places I inhabit. May all I do and say and think be ways to share the light and love of Jesus Christ with others. Amen.


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Each a Beloved Child

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

Verse 29: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”.

In our passage today Lazarus is a person in need. He is a person in need of food and medical care. These are his immediate physical needs. If we are willing to go to certain places and to engage certain folks, we can find people like Lazarus – people with basic needs. Food, shelter, clothing, medical care – people in our land of plenty lack many of these basics. The rich man lived in luxury. In ths life, he never once thought about Lazarus and his needs.

Lazarus also had emotional needs. To be ignored, to be passed by every day, creates a sense of isolation. To know others are avoiding you, averting their eyes to not even make eye contact, negatively impacts one’s self-image. It is hurtful and harmful to have one’s need for companionship, compassion, and conversation to go unmet. Lazarus was a man in need of relationship. We all need to belong.

For many years I was like the rich man. I tried to avoid and ignore those struggling with poverty and homelessness. I’d move to try and walk on the other side of the street. I’d look the other way if I couldn’t avoid the person. I allowed a gap to exist between myself and those who were not like me. In terms of sharing my faith, I thought, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”. They can read the Bible. They can come to church if they want to know about Jesus. How wrong I was.

Then one day I met Dee and Joel. Soon I met Pat and Rob and Georgia and… I got to know a few who were like Lazarus – people who were like me in so many ways. They all had a story to tell. They all had moms and dads and many had children. We had so much in common. Most of all, I learned that they too were each a beloved child of God. We became friends. It was from this place that not only physical and emotional needs could be addressed, but spiritual needs as well. Once we were friends, Moses and the prophets and Jesus could become part of the conversation.

Those living without Jesus don’t have to end up like the rich man. They can, but they don’t have to. May we each be willing to step across those barriers, real and imagined, to engage our fellow children of God, sharing our hope and Jesus’ love with them.

Prayer: God, thank you for continuing to work on me. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart to those is need. Continue to lead and guide me to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to speak your word, to meet needs as I can, to be a light shining in the world. Amen.


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Extraordinary

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Fill the jars with water”.

At His mother’s request, Jesus takes action. The six empty jars – the ones used for religious rituals – are standing nearby. Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water”. I do not sense any hesitation on their part. In fact, our Bibles tell us that “they filled them to the brim”. They do not just put some water in the jars. There is an expectation of something here. Maybe they could sense it in Mary and Jesus’ conversation.

The water that was placed in the jars was just ordinary water. It was probably drawn from the local well – from the well that all the people and animals living in and around Cana drink from every day. But once inside the jars the water becomes something extraordinary. Not just wine, but really good wine. The master of the wedding banquet notes, “you have saved the best until last”.

On one level, in the here and now, this story tells us to look for and to expect God’s abundance in extraordinary ways. The jars are filled to the brim. This is how God wants to fill us. God does not want us to experience some of His love, grace, mercy,… He wants to fill us so full that it even overflows! What is inside the jars is extraordinary because of Jesus. This too is God’s desire for all who follow Christ. When Jesus is in us, we are ‘in the world but not of the world’. We belong to heaven. In this world, we stand out and we are called to be a glorious witness to God and His coming kingdom.

This is the second level of our extraordinary abundance. The passage points to the eternal. Like the wine at the banquet, our best is yet to come. We begin to experience what is to come in our earthly life. God is ever at work in us, sanctifying us – making us more and more like Jesus, living more and more in His image. Through this process we grow in our faith and life is better. Yet this life is just a small glimpse of heaven – not even a little peek. It is just the beginning of a taste. We await a far more exceeding time in glory. This too will be extraordinary!

Prayer: God, thank you for walking with me through this life. In the blessings and in the trials, I know you are there. You have so much more for me than I can even imagine. Help me to trust, to step where you lead, allowing me to spread your love and to help build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Gifts

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 1-11

Verse 7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”.

Our youth group decided to have a pot luck dinner before we met. Everyone was to bring their favorite dish. The kids were excited and talked about what they were going to bring. I got busy that day at church so I grabbed a bag of chips. All kids like chips, right? Stacy, our adult volunteer, had to visit a sick friend that afternoon, so she just stopped on the way to church and grabbed a bag of chips. One youth was in wrestling, a few were in basketball, a couple were in the play, some had a lit of homework to do – and they all brought chips. Would you like to come to our pot luck?

I make a really good scalloped potatoes and ham. Stacy, she makes the best chocolate cake ever. Tom works part-time at the Greek restaurant and make a great antipasto salad. The twins, Ann and Stan, are competitive and have each developed their own unique but awesome spins on carrot dishes. Been loves to bake with his mom and makes these buttery and flaky croissants that melt in your mouth. In fact, all of our youth have dishes that they can each make that are pretty outstanding. Would you rather come to this pot luck? I would!

We can play this scenario out in our churches. We can say we are too busy to offer our gifts to God. We can even deny having a gift. Paul writes about gifts or manifestations in our passage today. Paul begins by reminding us that although we are each different in our gifts, service, and works, we all belong to the same God, Lord, and Spirit. Our common faith is what connects us together. In verse 7 Paul writes, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”. We all have gifts that have been given to us. These gifts – wisdom, knowledge, healing, prophecy, … – are given for a purpose. We are each gifted for the common good. Our churches are better pot lucks when we each bring and use our gift that the Spirit has given us. What is your gift? How are you using your gift to make your church and world a better place?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gifts your Spirit had given me. May I be faithful in using them to bless my church and those I meet out in the world. Amen.


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Reverent Submission

Reading: Hebrews 5: 5-10

Verse Seven: “He offered up prayers and petitions… He was heard because of His reverent submission”.

When Jesus was in ministry here on earth He was more like a common person than a religious leader. He walked and talked and related to people like an ordinary person. He wore common clothes and interacted with all sorts of people. He did not take on the formal office of a religious leader or wear fancy clothes that set Him apart. Jesus was not into titles either. To most people He was simply ‘Jesus’; He was Messiah to only a few until after the resurrection.

Even though in many ways He was common, Jesus also had great authority. As God in the flesh, Jesus could heal and raise from the dead. He could cast out demons and speak from someone’s past and into their future. Any question the Pharisees or other leaders posed was met with amazing insight and wisdom. To do all of this, prayer was essential. Prayer was Jesus’ connection to God. It was His source of power and authority. Paul reminds us that it was not the volume of Jesus’ prayers, but the way in which He prayed: “He offered up prayers and petitions… He was heard because of His reverent submission”. Jesus prayed with a reverent submission. All came from God and Jesus recognized and lived by this.

We too could offer up prayers and petitions that are full of reverence and submission. At times, I am sure we do. But too often I think our prayers are rote and without much conviction. If I were to write, “Our Father who art…” you would almost certainly jump in with “in heaven, hallowed be…”. Even in our meal graces and in my morning prayer time sometimes it feels like the same old, same old. It takes a focused heart and mind to really pray to and connect to God rather than simply going through the motions.

Lord God, this day may we connect in a reverent and holy way as we gather with you for worship. This day may we submit to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to touch us and to draw us into an intimate connection with you. This day may we worship you with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength in a new and fresh way. Bless our worship this day, O Lord. Amen.