pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Will Not Give Up

Reading: Jeremiah 2:10-13

Verse 11: “My people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.”

As God outlines the case against Israel, they are invited to go to other tribes, to see how nomadic people live as they worship their idols. It is an image of what Israel could become. It is also a reminder that God chose Israel, leading them out of the wilderness and into a place of abundance and security. I too have had times of wandering in the wilderness. It is good to remember that God was faithful and led them and me to something far better.

God then poses a rhetorical question: “Has a nation ever changed its gods?” The implication is that even wild nomadic tribes keep their same gods. Continuing on we hear God’s response to the question: “My people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.” Israel has turned from the glory of God and of living in right relationship with God. They exchanged that for idols. This is the first step towards living in the wilderness. It was chasing after popularity that began my journey into the wilderness.

Calling on heaven to be the witnesses, God names the people’s 2 primary sins. First, they have forsaken the living God, the spring of living water. Second, they have dug holes in the ground, trusting in cisterns that can’t even hold ordinary water. What a sad choice the people have made. Yet God will not give up. Jeremiah will be sent over and over, seeking to draw the people back to God. The same is true for you and me. God will not give up. God sends the Holy Spirit and other voices to keep calling us back to faithful living. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are so faithful. Even when I wander, you are steadfast. Even if I wander off to spend time in the wilderness, you are still right there, whispering my name, reaching out to me. Thank you for your abundant, endless love. Amen.


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Heart Revelations

Reading: Luke 12:32-34

Verse 34: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus begins today’s passage by saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” It brings God joy to see people becoming part of the kingdom of God. This verse also touches on how God loves to care for and give to those in the family of God. (This aspect connects back to what Jesus is saying in the previous section.) God is happy to have you and me in the family!

In verse 33 Jesus encourages us to sell our possessions, giving the proceeds to the poor. Taken literally and completely, this would be very challenging to me. If honest, I’m not quite to that point. Maybe some day I can get to this point. In the meantime I’ll continue to work on not being closely attached to my things. In doing so I’ll become better at giving to those in need.

Jesus speaks of storing up treasures in “purses” in heaven. These items, of course, are not tangible things like money or cell phones or jewelry. What then do or can we store up? I think Jesus is talking about our godly actions and the relationships affected by these actions. As is the case in about all Jesus says or does, there is a connection here too. For example, when I am willing to be generous with my time, I can form a relationship with someone. Maybe it is helping someone who struggles with money to make and keep a basic budget. This process can lead to a relationship that allows me to share the good news, guiding them to accept Christ. The treasure is one day rejoicing in heaven together.

Our passage closes with these words: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If we were to mentally review each day’s choices and actions, what would be revealed about what we treasure in our hearts? Would our heart reveal a deep and abiding love for God and for all of God’s children? Day by day may our hearts belong increasingly to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you challenge me to grow day by day in my love for you and for all I encounter. It is a challenge I desire to meet. Show me the way. Amen.


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The Baton of Faith

Reading: 2nd Kings 2:7-15

Verse 13: “He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.”

Continuing to walk with Elijah and Elisha, we come to the Jordan River. 50 prophets stand at a distance as we hear Elijah and Elisha’s final conversation. Elijah parts the Jordan with his cloak and the two cross over on dry land, just as Joshua and the Israelites had done many years before. Elijah, the mentor, asks, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Seemingly without hesitation, Elisha requests “a double portion of your spirit” from Elijah. Likely smiling inside, Elijah gives him the conditions of receiving this request.

As they continue to walk and talk Elijah is taken up into heaven. Elisha cries out in sorrow and tears his clothes as an expression of grief. Then we read, “He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.” This is a passing of the baton. Testing out how it feels in his own hand, Elisha inquires of God’s presence and touches the water with the cloak. Once again it parts. Clearly Elijah’s spirit is upon Elisha.

How have people in your life passed along the baton of faith? In my life I had parents who served the church. Their willingness to volunteer instilled that same spirit in me. Older pastors and congregation members that I’ve worked under and with have modeled leadership and faith, teaching me about maturity in these areas. In turn God has blessed me with opportunities to pour into youth and elders alike, building up their faith as we’ve walked and talked together.

I’m grateful for the ways that I have and will continue to both give and receive in the family of God. Join me today as we pause and give thanks for the people and the ways that God has and will work in our lives, both passing and receiving the baton of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, I am so thankful for the great cloud of witness in which I walk day by day, for so much freely and generously given and received. Continue to surround me with a great big community of faith. Amen.


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My Peace I Give

Reading: John 14:23-29

Verse 27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In our passage from John 14, Jesus speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the indwelling presence of the risen Christ living in our hearts, leading and guiding, teaching and convicting, assuring and comforting us. Because of all that this constant presence brings and gives us, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”

Jesus is speaking of peace as understood by his audience in first century Israel. The meaning here would better relate to the Jewish understanding of shalom. Today people think of peace as a lack of stress or as being worry- or trouble-free. In Jesus’ day the idea of peace or shalom was so much more. It meant a complete sense of well-being that was given by God. It included being in good and right relationship with both God and one another. The peace that Jesus gives us a total, whole life peace.

This does not mean that a Christian will not experience loss or illness or other hardships and trials. It means we will not experience them alone. We always have the Holy Spirit with us. Christ’s presence living in us walks with us – even carries us at times – in and through the valleys of life. That brings peace. We also walk with one another, adding another layer of love and care and comfort to the one given by the Spirit. Together, we are reminded that we are beloved children of God. We are not ever alone. This is the peace that Christ Jesus gives. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are always with me, offering just what I need in each moment. Thank you for your wisdom and care. Open my heart to accept all you offer, leading me to live in your peace. Amen.


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Living Out the Example

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 17: “Join with others in following my example… take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”

Paul’s words to the church in Philippi calls them to follow the example set by faithful followers of Jesus Christ. In the first verse of our passage, Paul invites them to “join with others in following my example.” Paul followed Jesus’ example and invites others to do as he did. Paul also recognizes those already doing so. Paul tells them to look around their church and to “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Follow the example already being lived out by some in the church who are living into Christ’s example of humble and sacrificial service.

We do not know exactly what this looked like in Philippi. Most likely it looked like what Jesus and his followers usually did: care for the orphans, the widows, and the sick; visit the prisoners and welcome in the strangers; clothe and feed those in need. It would also have included sharing God’s love and the hope found in an eternal relationship with God. Through his words in Philippians Paul also invites us to follow the example first set by Jesus and then lived out by Christians for many centuries.

When I look at the list above and when I think about Jesus’ example, I see it being lived out today. There are foster families in our churches. There are folks who check in on, shop for, and give rides to widows and to those who are ill. There are folks who give regularly to the local food bank and others who bring requested items – hats and gloves in one season, toys and gifts for families in need during another season. And there are others yet who support the ministries and causes of the church with financial gifts. And there are still others who live out God’s love by inviting folks to church and by welcoming and engaging those who visit. There are many ways that Christ’s love and example are being loved out.

For each of us personally, as we consider Paul’s charge and the many ways people of faith can respond, the question is: how are we each living out the example set by Jesus?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know my role and my fit. Guide me in the ways and means that you gifted me to be of humble service. Steer me away from saying ‘yes’ because I’m supposed to. Use me to share your love and healing with those that you place in my life. Amen.


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Loving Unconditionally

Reading: Jeremiah 33:16

Verse 16: “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

Jeremiah speaks of a day that is coming. His words of hope point to a future with hope. The righteous branch that will sprout “in those days” will do what is right. In today’s verse we again read, “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.” Jeremiah points forward to the day when “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” Jesus came and was this branch, this champion of justice and righteousness. He set the example of unconditional love. Jesus cast the vision for the kingdom that could be. Those with power were threatened by this vision. Jesus was crucified. Ever since then we have struggled to follow his example, to make this vision of a just and righteous world a reality.

As people of faith we long for a just and righteous world. We long for a society where all people have value and worth, where all people have food, shelter, community. Yet these remain goals only; these longings are simply not the reality. We live in a world that has long followed different goals. Accumulating power and authority and wealth has long been the guiding forces for many. We have long been a nation of haves and have nots. As those with power have taken, a trail of oppressed, marginalized, and abused peoples have been left, scattered across our history. Pockets of these people can be found in our cities, on our reservations, and in small communities left behind as a industry moved on and as technology advanced beyond them. Left behind the have nots struggle with poverty, hunger, homelessness, gangs, addictions, and more. There are many, many, many places in our nation where we would not want our children or grandchildren to grow up. Safety and well-being are scarce in these places.

As people of faith, how do we respond to these realities? First, we acknowledge that these struggles are present in most of our communities. Second, we become intentional about knowing our neighbors, the folks just up the road. Third, we make ways to minister to them. One family at a time, one person at a time, we share the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, giving instead of taking, transforming lives and the world in which we live. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give us eyes to see the needs all around us. In many ways and in many places may we begin to step into the hardships and into the darkness, bringing love and hope and light to those without. Give us the courage to change the world. Give us the strength to love all of our neighbors unconditionally. May it begin with me. Amen.


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Giving, Not Taking

Reading: Mark 10: 41-45

Verse 43: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Photo credit: Lina Trochez

As we continue in Mark 10 we first see that the other disciples are “indignant” with James and John. They are mad about what James and John asked of Jesus. Is it because they have been watching Jesus closely and better understand what his kingdom is all about? Is it because they are naturally less power hungry? Is it because they didn’t think to ask first? Their anger could come from any of these roots or from many other angles. The world has had 2,000 years to ponder Jesus’ example and we’ve had 56 or 84 or 23 years to figure it out and we still struggle with the kingdom of God’s take on power.

The disciples see power as physical strength and control, as political or religious dominance, as a hierarchy even within the small group of twelve that closely follows Jesus. We too struggle with notions of power. They may vary depending on our age and in our stage in life, but we all wrestle with pride, ego, control… to some degree or another for most of our lives. Jesus reminds the disciples how much they dislike the ways that the current leaders “lord” their power over others. The Romans, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the tax collectors… all exert power in ways that negatively impact their subjects. He says, “Not so with you.” Don’t be like others with power. Be counter-cultural. Be like Jesus’ example. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Humble yourself and live a life of serving. Be about giving, not taking.

To drive home the point Jesus invites the disciples to look once again upon the one speaking to them: “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” If the one who could command the angels with a word chooses to give instead of take, if the one who chose to give his life “as a ransom for many” chooses humble servanthood, what better choice could we make? As opportunity arises may we choose to give instead of taking.

Prayer: Lord God, there are opportunities to give all the time. It can be time, resources, talent, prayers. When opportunity comes my way, when the Holy Spirit nudges me, make me faithful, make me a humble servant. Help me to closely follow the example of Jesus. Amen.


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Generous and Loving

Reading: Mark 7: 31-37

Verse 32: “There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.”

Photo credit: Matt Botsford

In today’s passage Jesus heads back towards the Sea of Galilee. As he enters the region known as the Decapolis he encounters some family and/or friends of a man in need of healing. Jesus is still in Gentile lands. The Decapolis was a league of ten cities that united for protection against Israel’s dominance. With the current Roman occupation there wasn’t much need to withstand Israel. Yet tensions remained high between the Jews and Gentiles. Even so, a family member’s or friend’s needs rise above these barriers or obstacles. In verse 32 we read, “There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.” One with the ability to heal is present. Jesus must see this man. As only Jesus could do, he heals the man. The people are overwhelmed with amazement.

The man in need did not have to do anything. The one with something to give gave. This person in need was given what he lacked – the ability to hear and speak. The concept of the one who has caring deeply for the one without is deeply rooted in the scriptures. Jesus does not see this man as a Gentile but as a beloved and valued child of God. As was the case up the road in Tyre, Jesus offers what he can to the one in need. Note that there are no strings attached. The man did not have to first profess faith in Jesus. He did not have to become a Jew first. There were no expectations laid out beforehand for life after the miracle. This too is a good lesson for us all.

To share what we have been blessed or gifted with, to offer it without conditions or expectations in return – this is the heart of the gospel, the heart of what it means to love our neighbors. As we walk this journey of faith, may we be so generous and so loving that others see Christ in us.

Prayer: Lord God, your heart for all people is again revealed in today’s passage. There were no “but…” or “first you must…” demands. Jesus simply gave what he had. Shape my heart into this kind of heart. Amen.


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Your Plenty

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 7-15

Verse 14: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

In chapter eight Paul begins by sharing about the example set by the churches in Macedonia. Even though they are in a time of trial they gave “as much as they were able”. And they gave with joy. With this example in mind, Paul turns to the commitment made by the Corinthian church. Paul first lifts up the ways that the church excels: faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, love. Then he challenges them to also excel in giving. In verse ten Paul reminds them that they were the first to desire to give to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s challenge now is to “finish the work” – to make good on their original desire.

The idea of giving to a church or to an organization like the Red Cross or to a local mission or shelter is still common among many Christians. Yet our culture, as did the culture around the Corinthian church, teaches about rugged individualism and about striving for success. From an early age we are taught to achieve and to excel and to accumulate. So for some, Paul’s appeal towards “equality” among the churches runs counter to our cultural norms. The reality is that many see “ours” as “mine” and not “ours” as given by God to be stewarded by all of us.

Paul appeals to the church to “share the load”, to help a fellow church in its time of need. In verse fourteen he puts it this way: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”. Give when you can and trust that others will care for you in your times of need. Paul’s appeal in this case is financial. One can also give of one’s time or talents or presence or service. In whatever ways we can, may we each care well for one another, being generous first with our love and then with whatever else we have to offer.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the giver of all good things. You have blessed me abundantly. Open my heart to the ways I can bless others. Amen.


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The Wilderness

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-3

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Psalm 107 is a Psalm that reminds us of God’s faithful love. It is a song of thanksgiving to the God that never abandons or leaves his people. The Israelites and individuals within the faith community have experienced this faithful love. The nation has experienced exile, slavery, and times of oppression and conflict with those living around them. Individuals like Joseph, David, Samuel, and Job have had their own wilderness experiences. Each time that the community has found themselves in the wilderness, whatever that may be, God has remained present and connected to his people. At times the connection was to a small remnant, but God was always faithful. Experiencing this over and over has led them to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

As we experience life we also find ourselves in the wilderness from time to time. We find ourselves there in many ways. Loss and grief can lead us into the wilderness. Moving, job loss, and other forms of unwanted change can lead us to this place. Sudden bouts of physical or mental illness can take us to the place of isolation and fear. Yes, there are many ways that we can find ourselves in the wilderness. If we choose to remain connected to God, then we experience what the psalmist and the Israelites experienced. God remains present. God sustains us. God’s faithful love endures the trials with us. From these experiences we too can proclaim: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, your love is grander than the mountains and deeper than the ocean’s depths. Your faithfulness stretches past the furthest star. I am but a tiny speck in the cosmos, but you love me as if I were the only speck. Thank you, God. Amen.