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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Desert Places

Reading: Luke 3: 4-6

Verse 4: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord'”.

Photo credit: Mariya Tarakhnenko

Today we continue with the call to draw others towards Jesus Christ. Luke quotes from the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord'”. The one “filled with the Holy Spirit from birth” will “go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:15) to make ready the people for the coming of the Messiah. John preached into these prophetic words, bringing many to the place of being ready to “see God’s salvation.”

Today let us consider the desert places as we think deeper into our call to do what John did, preparing the way for Jesus Christ. The desert is often seen as a place that is dry and without life. When thinking of getting out there to share our faith we often see desert places as challenging places to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Some may see the homeless as such a place. Others see the fancy cigar bars and country clubs as such places. Some see certain professions as such places. Others see certain age groups as such places.

As we think about the charge to make disciples of all people, we realize that we are not all able or gifted to go to all places. Although everyone is born in the image of God, we are each also uniquely created. Our uniqueness is something that can draw us to another’s desert place. There we can offer the living water found in a relationship with Jesus. There our gifts and abilities can connect to the image of God within the other, helping to prepare the way for the Lord. As we seek out those unique places and people whom the Lord is calling us to, may we also trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide.

Prayer: Lord God, you created me just as I am, with unique gifts, talents, interests, compassions. Use these to guide me to those who need to hear of your love and saving grace. Amen.


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Size

Reading: Mark 12: 41-44

Verse 44: “They all gave our of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

The focus in the second half of this week’s passage from Mark 12 centers around the temple offering boxes. The first part of this week’s passage was about the showy nature of the religious leaders. As Jesus and the disciples begin to observe those giving to the temple treasury certainly some were like their religious leaders, waiting until just the right time to slowly drop in their gift, maximizing the attention drawn to their coins clinking down the funnel shaped receptacle. Were the disciples impressed by the clatter some big gifts made? Were they making gestures or exchanging glances about one gift being bigger that another or vice versa? It’s hard to read a person’s heart or motivation in this moment so judgment, both good and bad, comes at a surface level.

Then a poor widow comes along. How do they know she is a widow or that she is poor? What about her indicated poverty or age? Unless you know the person these are again surface level judgments. As the woman walks by she gives two small coins. The words Mark uses are loaded. The wealthy “throw” in their gifts while the woman “puts in” her gift. These words draw us towards considering the condition of the hearts of the givers. Jesus speaks, clarifying the differences.

Knowing more than we could ever know about people’s hearts, Jesus notes that the woman “has put more into the treasury than all others.” But it was just two small coins. Jesus points out, “They all gave our of their wealth.” Not so with the woman. Jesus continues, “She, out of her poverty, put in everything.” The woman put it all on the line, giving in a way that required great trust in a way that demonstrated her intimate knowledge of God’s love for her. This is the core lesson of Jesus’ teaching. This story is not about the size of the monetary gift; it is about the size of our trust in God’s love. May our lives mirror this story.

Prayer: Lord God, bend my heart to you. In times when you call me to give – whether financial or time or some other way – may I be generous. Lead me to trust fully into where you are leading me. Amen.


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Jesus Opened the Way

Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-14

Verse 12: “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”

In our passage from Hebrews we read more about our great high priest. In this week’s passage the author continues to develop this theme and role that Jesus plays. The priesthood and sacrificial system were central to the faith of the Hebrews. Ever since the time of Aaron, Moses’ brother, the priest was the connection point to God and the sacrificial system was the means to forgiveness of sins. At the time of this writing, the author was demonstrating how all of this changed because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

For the Jews the temple was the center of their faith. God’s presence resided in the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could enter this space and only once per year. The high priest would enter on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle blood on the ark of the covenant. The blood from the sacrifice would ‘pay’ for the sins of the people. Year after year the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place to atone for sins. All of this changed for the Jews through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In verse twelve we read, “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” As Jesus breathed his last on the cross the curtain was torn in two, opening access to the Most Holy Place. Jesus’ blood replaced the blood of the ram “once for all.”

Jesus opened the way to God. We no longer need a priest to offer sacrifices for our sin or for the sins of the people. We can go directly to God any time and any place. We can enter God’s holy presence, offering repentance as we confess our sins. Pledging a more holy walk with God, we are confident that the blood of Jesus washes away our sin. The redemption that Jesus offers is eternal, unending, forever. We can claim freedom from our sin through the sacrifice of Christ over and over and over. Thanks be to God for the grace that is freely offered through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for what you gave up for me, for us. Thank you for the sacrifice of your perfect Son for our sins, for my sins. It is such a wonderful gift to be able to come to you 24/7. You are always there for us all. What an amazing gift of love! Amen.


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Not Ashamed

Reading: Hebrews 2: 5-12

Verse 10: “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.”

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

In today’s section of Hebrews we are reminded of the supremacy of Jesus. Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor” as God “put everything under his feet”. All in this world is within Jesus’ reach. All in this world is within his control. All in this world is invited into his love. Many choose to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, becoming a follower, a disciple. But some do not choose Jesus. This is why we read “yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” in verse eight. Faith in Jesus Christ is a personal choice.

During his time on earth Jesus was subject to God. It too was a choice that he made. Jesus could have taken power for himself. He could have accepted Satan’s offer to rule all the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus could have kept all of his friends safe and protected. But he went with Mary and Martha outside of Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus was well acquainted with the sufferings and trials of this life. He felt pain and grief, loneliness and rejection. In verse ten we read, “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.” To be our Savior, Jesus needed to know our suffering. To give us victory over sin and death, Jesus had to give his perfect life. Willingly doing so he provided the way for the sinful and imperfect to be made perfect and holy. In many churches and places of worship we will remember and celebrate this gift in the sacrament of communion.

Knowing the trials and sufferings of this life, Jesus knows our struggles, our challenges, our temptations. He understands us and how hard this world can be. Because he can relate to this, Jesus is “not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.” Jesus welcomes and invites all into the family of God. This day may our grateful response be to help others hear the invitation.

Prayer: Lord God, you love even me. You love us all. In love you gave your Son for me, for us. Guide me to give back to you in humble service this day and every day. Amen.


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Purpose

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verses 15, 17, and 18: “She gets up while it is still dark… she sets about her work vigorously… her lamp does not go out at night.”

Photo credit: Lina Trochez

As we return to Proverbs 31 today, we look at these words as a pattern for the whole church, not just for one seeking to be the perfect woman of faith. The exemplary example set in this passage would be impossible for one person. Just look again at the quoted verses above. How could anyone work vigorously both day and night? It is impossible. But if we consider instead that these words are a collective pattern for the whole church, then it becomes possible for the body of Christ as a whole to do all things at all times.

All active, successful, and effective churches are build around the idea of each person having gifts and talents that are being used for the glory of God. In each healthy congregation there are ones who “work with eager hands.” This includes meals, projects, mission work, VBS, and much more. In all active churches there are some folks who get up early and some who work into the night. Some are reading and praying, some are leading a class or small group, some are arriving early so that all is ready, and some are staying late so that all is put away and tidy. In thriving communities of faith there are many different people filling many different roles. Such places of faith are thriving because collectively we accomplish more than we ever could individually.

Communities of faith, like all volunteer-based organizations, must help folks understand what their gifts are and to see how they can be used for the glory of God and for the making of disciples. Each individual must discover their purpose in the community of believers. Maybe you are active in the life of your church. If so, where have you found your fit? Please share this with us – you might inspire someone! If you haven’t found your purpose and place, what gifts or talents has God blessed you with? And, how can you take one step today to begin living into who and what God created you to be in the body of Christ?

Prayer: Lord God, together the body of Christ has so much to say offer to a world in need. Each of us have been blessed in so many ways. Open all of our eyes to see how we each elevate the whole. Turn our hearts towards generous service to you and to others. Use us as you designed us. Amen.


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Good and Perfect Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As we begin delving into the book of James, we begin a journey with the brother of Jesus and one of the early leaders of the church. The book of James will focus on two main ideas: putting our faith in action and being aware that our words have power. As we begin today, James reminds us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”. All good things come from God. Every gift, talent, ability… that we have is a gift from God. In the picture above, for me, the many rays of light represent the generous abundance of God’s gifts. For James, the first or primary gift from God is the new birth we experience through the “word of truth” – the Lord Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus we know that Christ is the greatest gift that God has given to humanity. In and through Christ we receive grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, salvation, eternal life… What an amazing gift Jesus Christ is to you, to me, to all people.

This gift is not one to be received and cherished, put up on the shelf to be admired from time to time. No, we are to be “first fruits” – we are to live as an offering to others, as a conduit of the gifts we have received from God, sharing these gifts with the world. We are to be the living examples of Jesus Christ’s grace, mercy, love, forgiveness… In order to help us live this way, James gives us some practical advise: “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger”. These three guidelines are effective tools for using the power of our words for good instead of for evil. When we are quick to listen we are giving value and worth to the other. We are taking the time to invest in them and in the relationship. We are seeking to better understand the other. When we are slow to speak we measure and weigh our words. Words of encouragement and affirmation become more genuine and heartfelt. When our thoughts or opinions differ, being slow to speak allows our words to be filled with consideration and meekness. Love is still present even though we disagree. Both of these tools or practices help us to be slow to anger. When we think more of the other than of self, not only are we fully present, but we are less likely to be angry or hurtful in our conversations, whether in person or online.

Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger reveals the condition of our heart. James’ advice to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” improved the condition of our hearts. If we guard our hearts against the filth and evil of this world, then we are better able to be quick to listen… If we “humbly accept” the word of God into our hearts, then the words we speak will be filled with love and grace and mercy and kindness and humility and… Simply put: what we fill our hearts with is what will overflow from our hearts and mouths out into the world. May God’s righteousness and love guide us today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many, many blessings – those good and perfect gifts that you rain down from above. Most of all, thank you for the new life in Christ available for all people. Open my ears to hear as you hear, open my mouth to speak your words, and work within my heart to temper my anger. Fill me with your generous love. Amen.


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Seeking to Love

Reading: Song of Solomon 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

Song of Solomon is a book of beautiful poetry that creates images and thoughts around being in love. On the surface it is a love letter from Solomon to his lover. And boy are they in love! Chapter two is filled with invitation and appreciation of one another. They are in the serious stage of courting, of wooing one another. In our passage today the young man comes and invites his lover to come with him, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. Spring is in full blossom, the flowers are budding! What a beautiful scene for an adventure with the one you love.

These words can guide us in our relationships – not just with our spouse or future spouse but in all of our relationships. The love modeled here comes from seeing and appreciating the unique gifts of the other and from finding their worth as a child of God. The hearts of these two people are bent towards deepening their love for one another. The words they speak flow from these hearts bent on love. Imagine how our world would be if we practiced these things in all of our relationships. Elevating the value and worth in all people, speaking from a place of agape love, we could live in a radically different world.

With this understanding some will read Song of Solomon and see a model for the love between Jesus Christ and the church. Jesus often used bride and groom language when describing his hoped for relationship with the church on earth. The perfecting of this love is found in the passages that detail the new creation that will arrive when Christ returns. In the interim we have been called by Jesus to love God with all that we are and to love neighbor as he first loved us. The language in our passage today could apply to these relationships and to our relationship with Jesus. It is not hard to imagine Christ saying to us each day, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

This day and every day may we rise, hear his call, and go forth into the world with Jesus in our heart, seeking to love as he first loved us.

Prayer: Lord God, above all, there is love. In love you call us into relationship. You lead us to know what love really is through the example of Jesus Christ, your son. Guide and use me today to be love lived out in the world. 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.


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A Gift from God

Reading: Mark 4: 26-29

Verse 28: “All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

In today’s parable Jesus compares the growth of faith to the planting and raising of a crop. In faith and trust we scatter seeds of faith through our words and our witness. We hope that the seeds take root in our children, in those we share faith with, and in the strangers we meet. In the literal sense we also plant seeds. In the back yard we planted seeds in beds and large tubs and pots. We hoped that plants would grow, yielding carrots, lettuce, potatoes… It is a small labor of love. We go out each day to water, to weed, to tend the plants. And they grow!

One small row is beans. Of the dozen or so seeds that I planted, about half are now tender young plants. My beans are a good reminder of two things. First, not all seeds take root and grow. Second, I am not responsible nor can I take the credit for the growth. The same is true when we plant or scatter seeds of faith. In verse 28 Jesus says, “All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head”. There is a mystery to seeds of faith taking root in someone; there is a miracle when God grows that faith into maturity. All is a gift from God. While we do and must play a role, it is God who starts, develops, grows, matures, and sustains our faith. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving and tender God, thank you for the gift of faith. Yes, you call me to sow seeds and may I ever be faithful. Yet you alone are the giver of life and faith, of growth and relationship. Use me today Lord to scatter seeds of faith. Amen.