pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Into All the World

Reading: Luke 3: 1-3

Verse 3: “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Today and tomorrow we focus on John the Baptist beginning to live into his call. It is something that he has probably heard about all of his life. At family gatherings, at birthdays, at Passover and other religious holidays that reflect on God’s saving power, in private moments with Zechariah and Elizabeth… John has heard and heard of the angel visits and of the words spoken over his life. John has heard again and again the story of how he leapt in the womb when he heard Mary’s voice. In about 29 AD John answers the call. We read, “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke lists the men in positions of power, both politically and religiously, in our passage today. The word of God does not go to them. It comes to John and he begins his ministry. John does not enter the halls or places of power but goes out into the area around the Jordan River. He preaches about living a holier life and the repentance necessary to live such a life. He preaches about the coming kingdom and what people must do to be a part of that kingdom. He preaches about being made right with God. What John the Baptist preaches isn’t easy to hear. But it is truth. And it is filled with hope and promise. Ears and hearts are eager to receive the words that John is sharing. It is good news.

Although the angels did not predict our births or speak to our parents about how we will fulfill our calls, we too have the same call as John the Baptist had. Jesus charged all disciples with the task of going to all people to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28: 19-20.) He did not say, ‘Go, hang out in the church and talk about me’. He said to go out into all the world. Like John hearing about his call, we too have heard over and over about the charge to go out to share the good news. For John, the call was to the region around the Jordan. For me, it is to the Piedmont Valley. Where is your place? To whom is God calling you?

Prayer: Lord, may I be faithful in sharing the good news in the places and with the people that you send me to. Amen.


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Give Thanks

Reading: Matthew 6: 25-33

Verse 33: “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

We take a break from the lectionary readings for this week to read from Matthew 6. This is a common passage for Thanksgiving. These words of Jesus tie in well with the themes of this time of the church year. We just celebrated “Reign of Christ” Sunday in many of our churches. In this passage Jesus calls us to trust in God’s love and provision for us – to trust that God reigns over all things. This coming Sunday begins Advent. Many will light the candle of hope. Today’s passage calls us away from worry and from seeking the things of this world, towards placing all of our hope in our “heavenly Father.”

There are many things that we can worry about. Jesus names food and clothing in today’s passage. We can also worry about shelter, heat, safety, health care, education. These too are necessities. They are also givens for most of us – things that we simply take for granted. Yet many worry day to day about these basics of life. In our land of abundance and plenty, no one should worry about any of these things.

This day many will gather with friends and family to celebrate a holiday. Many will include giving thanks to God today. In verse 33 we read, “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” When we trust first in God and not in the things of this world, then we truly receive a blessing. The blessing is not in the things we receive or do not receive. The blessing is in the relationship, in the abiding presence of God – the one who is loving and faithful, generous and steadfast. On this day of giving thanks may we celebrate and live into our relationship with the God who reigns over all the earth.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for walking day by day with me, for loving me unconditionally. Each day may I lean into your reign, O Lord. Amen.


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Build God’s Kingdom

Reading: John 18: 35-37

Verse 37: “In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world: to testify to the truth.”

Photo credit: Alex Woods

As Pilate tries to figure out what to do with Jesus, Jesus informs him that his kingdom is “not of this world.” Jesus’ kingdom does not have its foundation built upon earthly things. His kingdom is not built upon military or political power, upon wealth or physical strength. Jesus’ kingdom is built upon love and mercy, generosity and compassion, empathy and care, forgiveness and reconciliation, relationship and connection. These are some of the truths of Jesus’ kingdom. With our earthly kingdoms we attach ourselves to this candidate or to that leader for a short season. But with Jesus’ kingdom our commitment, our relationship, our attachment is both for now and on into forever.

When we claim to be part of Jesus’ kingdom here on earth, this is a bold statement. If we call Jesus the Lord of our lives, we are committing to a constant review of this claim. We must ever ask ourselves if Jesus is truly in control over our decisions, our finances, our talents, our resources. We must not only live out the truths listed above, but we must also share the good news of Jesus Christ with all in our circles and with all we meet in the wider world. Doing so others will come to call Jesus the Lord of their lives. Those we minister to and form relationships with should mirror Jesus’ life and ministry. Our hearts too should be bent towards the ones on the edges – the poor and needy, the hurting and the broken, the least and the lost.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this earth. Yet it is here and now. And it is to come. We await its fuller revelation. As we live in right relationship with God and with our neighbors, we are building God’s kingdom here on earth. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Lord God, remind me over and over that you are Lord of my life. Turn me from the cares and pleasures of this world towards your truths, towards those that your eyes see. Use all of me and all that I have to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. May your kingdom come and may your will be done. 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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Not Far

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verse 34: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

As the religious quiz Jesus and he debates with them a scribe (or teacher or lawyer – depending on your translation) comes and listens to the banter. He is impressed with Jesus’ answers so he asks his own question: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He is not seeking to argue or banter with Jesus. He simply wants to know this wise man’s answer.

Jesus responds with the two great commandments – love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND love your neighbor as yourself. Any nominally faithful Jew would know these commands very well. They were the foundation of a daily prayer said in the morning and in the evening. We could relate this to our connection to this prayer: Our father, who art in heaven… Just those few words and we are off, speaking in the familiar rhythmic pattern. Like many of the religious of Jesus’ day, do we simply say the words, going through the motions, blah-blah-blah?

The scribe says to Jesus, “Well said, teacher.” He acknowledges the correctness of Jesus’ answer. Then he pushed beyond the religious politeness and adds that following these two commands are “more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Whoa! That would be like your pastor saying that feeding your hungry neighbor is more important than bringing food to the pantry or that helping with that single mom’s electric bill is more important than writing that check to the church or that being present to the coworker that just lost his dad is more important than being in church that particular Sunday morning. There is a huge difference between knowing the two great commandments (or the Lord’s Prayer) and really living them out. Because the scribe moved beyond appearing religious, to the place of recognizing that faith must really be lived out, Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, make the words of my mouth and the prayers of my lips just the beginning of my faith. Do not allow these words to be the end or the goal. Actually use me to show my faith in the ways I express my love of you and of all my neighbors. May I be faith lived out. 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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God’s Abundance

Reading: John 6: 1-13

Verse 13: “So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten”.

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

As our story gets going Jesus poses a question to one of the disciples. He asks Philip but I bet he asked loud enough for all twelve disciples to hear the question. Philip responds that it would take a lot of money to feed the large crowd gathering to see Jesus. Most of the other disciples were probably thinking along these lines. Andrew offers up sort of a solution – a boy with five loaves and two fish. Even Andrew wonders aloud how far that would possibly go “among so many”.

When the Holy Spirit places us in a similar situation or prompts us to step out in faith, how do we respond? Do we see limitations or the scarcity of potential resources? Or do we see and step into the possibility of what God might do?

After having the crowd of 5,000 men (plus women and children) sit down, Jesus gives thanks and begins passing out the loaves and fish. Was it 10,000 or 15,000 that ate their fill that day? Would there have been any limit? Not this day. When the meal is over, Jesus has the disciples gather what is left over. There are twelve baskets filled with leftovers – one for each disciple. I wonder if Jesus had them each carry their full basket around for a few days as a tangible reminder of God’s abundance.

This story reveals one of the truths of God’s kingdom: there is more than enough. There is more than enough love, grace, mercy, kindness, and even food. Do we trust God enough to generously share what we have, knowing that God can and will do amazing things?

Prayer: Lord, give me hands that offer instead of fingers that grasp. Grant me a heart that lives into your abundance, blessing others on the journey. Amen.


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One Life at a Time

Reading: Mark 6: 7-13

Verse 7: “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two”.

Returning to Mark 6 today, we see that Jesus leaves Nazareth after being rejected and continues to teach in other villages. With the rejection of Nazareth probably still fresh in their minds, Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two”. Jesus gives them authority and sends them out to proclaim the kingdom of God. He instructs them to rely on the good will and compassion of those who will receive the good news. They are not to take any money, any extra clothes, any provisions or food.

Jesus sends them out to do what he could not do in Nazareth. But he does send them out with this advice: if anyone or anywhere rejects you, just move on. “Shake the dust off” and move on. Yes, some will receive the good news and others will reject it. Jesus tells the disciples not to worry about that but to simply keep on with the preaching and healing. In other words, do what you’re being sent to do. Proclaim the good news of the coming kingdom.

As I reflect on this passage, it occurs to me that this too is our charge. In many ways we are like these disciples that were sent out into the world. As disciples of Jesus Christ we too are called to share the good news of the kingdom of God. As modern believers, we too must press on. As we do so, some will reject us, others will be intrigued. Some will come to faith in Jesus, some will not hear a word we say. Just as it was with the first disciples, success or failure does not change our charge. Whatever may come, may we ever strive to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world and a people in need, transforming our world one life at a time. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, whether by word or deed use me to build your kingdom here on earth. Help be day by day to share the good news of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 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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Commitment and Connection

Reading: Mark 3: 20-35

Verse 35: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”.

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

In our passage from Mark, Jesus looks at community and connections. The religious leaders are challenging his authority and his biological family is worried about his health – physically and perhaps mentally. In verses 23-27 Jesus focuses in on division and the impact thereof. Whether a kingdom, a household, or even Satan himself, division spells disaster for that entity. This remains true today. We can see many examples of division in our society and some of us experience it in our own lives. In all cases division is a detriment, lessening whatever it touches.

In the second half of our passage Jesus turns to the more personal. In response to his earthly family’s concern for him, Jesus asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers”? Jesus is not totally discounting his own family with his response but is elevating the value or place of Christian community. Answering his own rhetorical question Jesus says, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”. Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God to earth. His response reflects this priority. In the twelve men that followed Jesus we see this same choice. They left all behind to follow. There was no division in their hearts. It was clear that for Jesus and those who followed him, God was first, loving the other was second, and family… fell somewhere down the line. May our commitment to and connection with God be the same!

Prayer: Lord, may my life reflect an undivided commitment to you and your will. May my love for you rise above all else. Amen.