pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Dominion

Reading: Psalm 22: 23-31

Verse 28: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

The words that we read in today’s Psalm seem far from the realities of our world. The world feels like it is full of suffering. Many of their cries seem to go unanswered. The poor do not appear to be satisfied. All the earth has not turned toward the Lord. In the midst of these continuing realities, verse 28 calls us to a higher truth, to an eternal reality: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

The hope that we find in our faith reminds us that this world and its trials are temporary. God is truly in charge and one day the Lord will be the only king or ruler. All people past and present will “kneel before him”. This is a future scene that one day will come. As we live out our day to day lives, do we simply wait for Christ to return or to call us home? Do we just go through the motions of life and live with the suffering and the cries and the plight of the poor? Should we be okay with all the lost souls?

As Christians in the modern world reading these words written long ago by King David, our role is to connect to that “future generation” and to be the ones who “proclaim his righteousness” and who share the hope we have with a world in need. Rather than seeing ourselves as David and the Jews did and do – as a chosen people set aside for God – may we see ourselves as Jesus saw and lived out his ministry: as one sent into the world to minister to needs, to care for the marginalized, to alleviate suffering. May we, by our words and actions, proclaim that the kingdom of God has drawn near, manifesting this reality in the world. May all that we do and say reveal the dominion and rule of Christ here and now. In and through us, may Christ reign.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to the cries of the suffering and to the needs around me. Lead and guide me to make your love known in this world. Amen.


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Love Revealed

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 20: “They all ate and were satisfied”.

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 reveals God’s love in and through Jesus Christ. God’s love is expressed in many ways. That tends to just be how God’s love is.

First and in spite of sensing his own need to grieve, Jesus sees a group of people with needs and he has compassion for them. It is a great example of the selfless love that God has for us. In love, Jesus always places the needs of others ahead of his own needs. He gets out of the boat and engages the crowd.

Second, Jesus’ compassion leads him to heal many in the crowd. This is why the crowds came. Sometimes when I am interrupted or when my plans are derailed, the last thing I want to do is to fully meet the need of the other. Not Jesus. There is no hesitation and he heals everyone there that afternoon. Jesus’ healing touch shared God’s love with many.

The third demonstration of God’s love comes as Jesus pushes the disciples to deeper faith. For faith to grow one must push the edges, one must step out in faith. Sometimes it is another that must do that for us. Here Jesus plays that role. Like a parent or coach or mentor who challenges us to do more than we think we are capable of, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd themselves. Then he leads them in accomplishing the task at hand. Love sometimes challenges us.

The fourth demonstration of God’s love comes in the depth of the provision. In verse twenty we read, “They all ate and were satisfied”. Jesus did not just take the edge off their hunger so that they could get home to eat. He fully satisfied their hunger.

The last demonstration of God’s love comes in who Jesus fed. He didn’t separate out those with faith so he could just feed them. He didn’t just feed the men – those whom society would deem worthy of being cared for. Jesus fed one and all – even those others treated as less than. Jesus’ love is universal, offered to one and all.

God’s love is selfless and compassionate. God’s love brings healing and sustenance. God’s love will challenge us at times and will meet our deepest needs at other times. God’s love is ever present and always willing to engage even the least of these. May we ever practice this love well in our lives.

Prayer: O God of love, help me to love like Jesus loved in this miracle story. May I give far more than I take. May my heart love all I encounter. May your love within my soul continue to grow and push my faith further. Lead me in love. Amen.


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A New Earth?

Reading: Isaiah 65: 21-25

Verse 24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”.

God’s vision for a new heaven and earth begins with caring for basic needs. The people of God will have houses to live in and food to eat. This leads to enjoying the work of their hands and to a better quality of life. People will live longer and children will not experience misfortune. In Isaiah’s day this vision gave hope to those living without these basics. The realization of this vision would bring hope to many yet today.

Many in our community and likely in yours struggle to meet basic needs. It is currently 7° outside. There are families that are cold this morning because there is no propane in the tank. They are running the oven with the door open for heat. In many pantries and freezers there is food aplenty. Yet many children will go to school hungry. There they will receive breakfast but the adults back home do not. The vision in Isaiah is wonderful. But we cannot be content with waiting for that future reality. It is too distant from many people’s daily reality. In our communities this should not be so. As people of faith, we should not be comfortable with the poverty and inadequacy of food and safe shelter in our midst. Bringing a better version of life for all could be more of our vision.

Father God is casting a vision for all of his children. God promises, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”. God is eager to be in connection with us. In my mind’s eye I see God leaning in, hand cupped to ear, waiting to hear our prayers and our praise. The vision we find in Isaiah ends with a beautiful image – all of creation living in harmony and peace. There will be no harm or destroying on God’s holy mountain. This is a reference to the new Jerusalem, the new earth.

Can this not be an image for today, for our communities? Caring for and meeting basic needs begins to build a relationship. The building of a relationship can lead to sharing God’s hope and peace. As people of faith, may we seek to enter the lives of the hurting and broken, first meeting basic needs and then sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to bring hope. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, we have so much and are blessed over and over. Make us aware of and responsive to the needs around us. Bend my heart towards what breaks yours. Lead me to action. Use me to make this place more like Isaiah’s vision. Amen.


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Some Things

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 23: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”.

Jesus is speaking of death and life I today’s passage. On one level He is talking about His own physical death that will come on the cross. We hear a hint of emotion in the next verses about what He will soon face, but He also reveals this is why He came. Jesus knows that His death will bring glory to God. He knows this is true in a sense for all who will follow after Him as well.

Jesus speaks of the sacrifice a seed makes, saying, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”. The seed must be willing to fall into the ground and to give up being a seed for a tree or flower or some other plant to spring up with new life. In turn, the plant will create more seeds which will then produce more plants. Jesus then ties this idea to those who follow Him. Some men, Jesus says, love the things of this world – possessions, power, position… They have no hope. However, the man who ‘hates’ life in this world will find eternal life in the time to come. The implication is that if one hates the things of the flesh, then one will love the things of God. By loving and serving God, one finds eternal life.

When one ties these two ideas together, we come to see that we must allow some things in our lives to die. Those things are the things of the world. As followers of Christ, we follow after Jesus. In doing so, we value the things He valued: loving others, honoring God, giving of oneself, caring for those in need… When we walk this path we die to the pursuit of worldly things. There is simply not room for them when we are filled with Jesus.

This passage closes with this thought: “Where I am, my servant also will be”. Where will we find Jesus today? Will it be in the comfortable and routine of life or will it be in the places we find the marginalized and disadvantaged? May we willingly go where He leads us today.


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Come and Follow

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Jesus was quite the radical in His day.  He called a group of men to be His disciples not from within the elite of the pre-Rabbi schools but out of ordinary life.  He did not spend all of His time in the temple but was out in the towns and villages eating and teaching the sinners and the lost.  Jesus did not simply read the scriptures and proclaim the word, but He also rolled up His sleeves and served others as a mean to show them God’s love.  He lived this way so that we would know what it looked like to live as a Christian.

In today’s passage we hear these words: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.  The first step is to deny self.  Society teaches us to first look out for #1, but Jesus says to put self last.  Jesus loved God with all He was and then next loved all of His neighbors more than He loved Himself.  He first sought to serve God and neighbor and only then did He consider His own needs.  In doing so, Jesus met people’s basic needs, sought equality for all, showed love and forgiveness and compassion, and lived a humble and simple life.

The next part involves taking up our cross.  On the cross of Calvary, Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice.  When Jesus calls us to take up our cross, He is asking us to die to self, to be willing to live with less so that others may have some, and to be a servant to all.

And then He says, “Follow me”.  Jesus calls us to do what He did, to follow His example.  Get out there into the ordinary of life – get outside the walls of the temple and our homes and our comfort zones.  Spend time with the lost – the sinners and the atheists and the non-believers.  Eat with them, talk with them, share Jesus with them.  Find ways to serve others, to meet people’s basic needs, to lift them up, and to bring them hope and justice.  In all this, we follow the One who lived God’s love out loud.  May we come and follow, showing the light and love of Christ to all for the glory of God.


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Holy and Pleasing

Reading: Romans 12: 1-8

Verse One: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.

Paul opens today’s passage by urging the Christians in Rome (and us) to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”.  When we offer of ourselves – our time, our gifts, our resources, our talents – and give them to God and for God’s glory, it pleases God.  Just as with any relationship, when we take time for the other, when we consider the needs of the other, when we give of ourselves, it builds the relationship up.

John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer echoes this idea.  It begins with these words: “I am no longer my own but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with who thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering”.  It is a prayer that says no matter what, no matter when, no matter how, use me God.  It is a prayer that cedes all personal rights and gives self fully to God.  It embodies what it means to be a living sacrifice to God.

In verse two, Paul goes on to address what it is that allows a Christian to live this way.  He first says not to be conformed to this world.  This world is temporary, it is of the flesh.  Paul then goes on to encourage us instead to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind” as we grow in our relationship with God.  When we seek to transform our mind into God’s mind, we enter the next step in our relationship.  We transform our mind by studying the Word, by spending time in prayer and fasting, by worshipping and fellowshipping with fellow believers.  The more time we spend with God, the more we are transformed.  The end result is that we come to know and live into God’s “good, pleasing, and perfect will”.

For Paul, the transformation and renewing of our minds brings our thinking into alignment with God’s thinking.  Paul believed that behavior would follow thinking.  As we become more aligned with God, our behaviors become things like serving obediently, living humbly, and giving generously.  We begin to live as Jesus lived – taking time for the other, meeting the needs of the other, giving of self, loving all.  This day, may we reflect Jesus to all we meet, offering ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.


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Thanks and Gifts

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 19: He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people.

This morning is the last day of a middle school youth mission trip.  We have spent the past week in a large city.  We have learned about poverty and homelessness.  We served food to men and women in need.  We sorted and stocked food in a free pantry.  We worked in a gigantic warehouse sorting and packing food that goes to many agencies who feed people.  We spent two afternoons at a large thrift store sorting about anything you can imagine and preparing it for resale.  The profits all go to people with disabilities in the state.

Through all of these acts of service, we learned about the great need that exists in our world.  It exists in many of our communities and maybe even in our own neighborhoods.  Prior to this trip our youth were unaware of the poverty many face each day.  Yes, they new some lived with very little.  But learning that some parents must choose between paying for their child’s field trip at school and putting gas in the car so they can go to work was a new reality for our youth.

Jesus lived a life of compassion.  He spent time in and among the poor and needy of His day.  They needed Him most.  In our passage today, He begins by healing many.  Then He feeds many.  We read, “He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people”.  There are two important lessons in today’s passage.

First, Jesus gave thanks for the gifts that God has given Him.  Second, the disciples used the gifts Jesus gave them to also be a part of this miracle.  In faith and trust, they were part of the feeding of the thousands.  Our group learned the first lesson well this week.  We are going home to nice houses with an excess of food, clothing…  We do not know true want.  We are truly thankful for the many, many gifts that God has given us.  We began to learn the second lesson this week as we saw how God can use each of us to make the world a better place by sharing His love as we serve others.  It is a great gift that we have to offer.  This day, what will we offer to meet another’s physical or emotional or spiritual need?  May we remember that gifts that God has given us, may we be truly thankful, and may we seek to share them each day for the building of God’s kingdom here on earth.


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Compassion

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 14: When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Jesus always seemed to be in demand.  Once He began to teach and heal, there always seemed to be a group or a crowd gathered around Him.  He had interesting and sometimes challenging parables and His interpretation of the Scriptures and what it meant to have faith all seemed to center around love and hope and forgiveness.  There was a hunger for these things and Jesus offered them.  For each, there was draw to Jesus.  This day, many are seeking healing.  The people are seeking Jesus’ touch to heal them physically or spiritually or mentally.  So this day is no different than all the others.  Jesus is tired and seeks to withdraw to a solitary place, but the people follow along on shore.

“When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick”.  Instead of being mad or getting back in the boat and heading off someplace else, a tired Jesus has compassion.  He gets out of the boat and starts healing them.  We do not know how or what He healed them of, but we do know that He healed many because as evening approaches, the disciples come to Jesus with a practical concern.  Feeding the people – one more way to care for them.  But Jesus’ response challenges the disciples: “You feed them”.  Their answer: but, but, but.   Our answer would have been the same.  What can we do, Lord?

Instead of being angry with the disciples or seeking to walk away from them, Jesus has compassion.  He solves their problem too.  With five loaves and two fish, Jesus feeds the multitude.  His compassion never ends.  Even though tired and seeking solitude, Jesus heals many and as the day draws long, He feeds them too, tending to a physical need of the people.

Jesus continues to do all of this today.  In those times of hurt and pain, Jesus heals our brokenness.  He heals our physical or spiritual or emotional hurts.  He also provides for our needs – our daily bread and so much more.  Jesus offers us Hope and love and forgiveness today as He has compassion on us.  Whatever our need or our hurt, Jesus says to us, “Bring them to me”.


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Steps

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-2

Verse 2: He makes me like down in green pastures… He restores my soul.

David opens the Psalm by declaring God to be his shepherd.  Because of this, David knows he shall not be in want.  Above all else, he has learned that God provides for him.  Whether dealing with a bear while tending sheep or facing a giant on the battle field or avoiding the insane king, God has provided for way more than David’s basic needs.  But God has provided for them as well, so David has a deep and abiding trust in God.  It is a trust that had grown with experience and practice.  It is one we can enjoy too if we are willing to “let go and let God”.  But it is sort of a two-edged sword you see.  If we never trust God enough to face our giants, then we never truly understand just how great our God can be.  Deep and abiding trust requires us to take another step.

David goes on in verse two to another way that God cares for him and us: rest.  God knew since the beginning how important it was for us to rest.  God himself rested on the seventh day and made Sabbath rest one of the ten commandments.  It is a practice that is deeply ingrained in the lives of Orthodox Jews to this day.  David writes, “He makes me like down in green pastures… He restores my soul”.  David is so in tune with God that he feels God leads him to a place of rest.  David’s place is out in nature, the place of his youth.  The green pastures and quiet waters are calling and David finds restoration for his soul in this place.  It is a place that God invites us to as well.  It is a space that requires deep and abiding trust as well.  It requires that we trust God enough to rest.  This means that we trust God can and will take care of tomorrow – with all of it’s requisite work and worries.  This is also a “let go and let God” practice.  It is also a means of trusting all that we have and all that we are into God’s hands.  To trust in this way also requires another step – another step towards God and away from the world.

This day may we step a little further in our trust in God, entering deeper into His love.


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Lead

Reading​: Exodus 17:1-7

The Israelites have Moses as their leader.  He was sent by God to free the people from slavery in Egypt and to lead them to the Promised Land.  Through the signs and wonders it is clear that God is with Moses.  As the people begin this journey, the memories of slavery are surely still in their minds.  Yet they grumble and complain pretty guickly against Moses when their needs are not met.  They are free, yes, but they have been promised a new homeland.  They envision arriving, not being tested out in the desert.

Initially, Moses was a very reluctant leader.  In fact, he tried to talk God out of choosing him.  But Moses did accept the position and has been a good leader.  He has grown into the position and has worn the title well.  Even though Moses’ patience is tried now and then by the people, he functions well as their leader.  He deals with the daily decisions, hears the daily cases and complaints, and continues to lead.  So it is natural for the people to go to Moses when there is no water to drink.  When the people have a vision for the Promised Land, it is hard to die of thirst out in the desert.

Moses, as leader and intermediary to God, intercedes on the people’s behalf.  God responds to the people’s needs by making water flow from the Rock at Horeb.  God provides and Moses continues to lead.

Almost all of us are leaders.  For some it is with our families, for some it is at our jobs, for some it is on our teams, for some it is where we volunteer, for some it is in our circle of friends.  As leaders, we try and set the example and try to lead in a way that brings honor and glory to God.  And at times, like with Moses, the ‘people’ will complain or grumble to us as the leader.  May we each follow Moses’ example, hearing the people and then going to God for the solution.  We can choose to lead by following God’s voice and direction, or we can try to lead on our own.  Things worked out pretty good for Moses.  May we also choose to lead wherever we are planted with God out in front.