pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Faith Over Fear

Reading: Mark 4: 35-41

Verse 40: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”?

Our passage today comes after many days of healing, teaching, and traveling. Jesus decides to cross the lake. In a boat with several others, they set out. Being tired, Jesus rests. It is natural for the fishermen among them to navigate the waters. A “furious squall” comes up and soon Jesus’ companions are fearing for their lives. They wake Jesus and say, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Their faith and trust is gone. Fear has set in. They question if Jesus even cares.

Back in my teaching days and even as a pastor, I would come home upset or bothered by something at work. At home, where I was comfortable, I would let out the emotion, usually not in a healthy or good way. The fear or anger or whatever other emotion I was struggling with would cloud my heart; it would affect how I treated my wife or kids. I would not take it to the Lord in prayer. I would not read my Bible for divine wisdom. I would unload on someone who had nothing to do with the situation.

The disciples turn to Jesus and say, don’t you care?! Turning to him and blaming him, they allow fear to speak. Jesus quickly addresses the source of their fear and then turns to the root of the problem, saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”? I have been here. I’ve allowed fear and other negative emotions to seize the day, even though I knew Jesus was right there. I’ve let it build up until I’m at the point of crying out. When I could not go any longer and finally cried out to God, I too heard these questions. Later, after some time, like the disciples I too realized that I should have turned to my faith long before my fear won out. It is a moment of growth, a reminder to pray sooner, to delve into my Bible quicker, to lean into the one who is always present, right there in my little boat. May this be the choice made each time: faith over fear. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when fear or worry or stress or anger or… begin to arise in me, remind me of the depth of your love, of the wideness of your grace. Remind me that you are always right there – close as a whispered prayer, nearby in the words of life that I can read. Turn me ever to you. Amen.


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Good and Pleasant

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity”.

Psalm 133 is a song of praise. It begins with a reminder of the fellowship of believers: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity”. I did add ‘sisters’ in because God’s inclusive love revealed in Jesus has shown us that all people have innate value and sacred worth in God’s kingdom. It is good and pleasant not only for God when humanity lives in harmony, but it is good and pleasant for us as well. Faith is not meant to only be a solo pursuit. While there are times for personal prayer, study, meditation, and worship, God designed humanity as social beings. We were created to live and worship in community. Communal worship and Christian fellowship are important parts of our faith.

For the Israelites worship was led by the priests. Aaron was the first high priest. He would lead worship in the tabernacle out in the desert. Aaron’s descendants would continue to serve in the temple, leading worship, offering the sacrifices, caring for the place of worship. The oil referred to by the psalmist would be the fragrant consecration oil used yearly to anoint the priests. It carried a beautiful aroma that was also good and pleasant to God and to God’s people. The oil signified the pouring out of God’s blessings upon his people. The fragrance was a tactile reminder of God’s love.

Gathering together for worship is another tactile reminder of God’s love. To gather in the sanctuary, to look around at our diversity – young and old, single and married, rich and poor, men and women… – does good for the soul. To see the diversity gathered together to praise and worship the Lord is a good and pleasant thing for God and for each worshipper. It is a visual reminder that we are all God’s children. As you consider your church family and recall the last time you gathered together, smile and rejoice as you thank God for how good and pleasant your family of faith is to you!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for my church family. Thank you for my immediate congregation as well as for brothers and sisters from past congregations and for fellow believers from other traditions. Together we are a beautiful tapestry. Thank you God. Amen.


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Do Not Fear

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verse 5: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you”.

Isaiah 43 begins with a reminder of our existence – God created us, God formed us. Without God we would not be. Still in the first verse, we are also reminded, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you”. In the end, we know that God will be victorious. Through faith, we know that salvation is available for all who profess Jesus as Lord. And because of the covenant God made long ago with Abraham, God continues to say, “You are mine”.

Because we are God’s, we will pass through the waters, rivers, and fires. God will be present and will protect us. Isaiah goes on to remind us that we are precious and honored in God’s sight. Therefore God will give up people for us. Others will serve us and make sacrifices for us as we grow in our faith. We too will come to do the same, emulating the great servant, Jesus. Verse 5 again gives us assurance: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you”. God is with us!

The trials and sufferings in Isaiah 43 refer to events in Israel’s past. They are examples for us as well, reminders of how God remains present to His people. As we go through life we also gain experiences where God is there for us – present in the emergency room or delivery room, there in the sanctuary, carrying us through that painful loss, surrounding us with love during that season of heartbreak. As we journey through life, we find that God says over and over to us too: Fear not, you are mine. As we walk through the tests and trials and sufferings, over and over God says, “Don’t fear, I am with you”.

With everyone who God calls by name, we rejoice because our God is with us. God calls us by name, loves us dearly, is with us. Do not fear – God is with us!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your constant presence, your unfailing love. In the good and in the bad, you are with me. Thank you God! Amen.


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focus

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verse 36: “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”.

Advent begins this Sunday. It is a season of anticipation and expectation. It reminds us that we live in a now-not-yet space. Last week’s passage from Revelation reminded us that Jesus “was, is, and is to come”. This connects to our passage today and is a great pre-Advent thought. The Latin word that we derive “Advent” from is itself derived from the Greek word “parousia” – a term commonly used to describe the second coming of Jesus. Our passage today opens with signs that will proceed Jesus “coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. We are encouraged to “stand up and lift your heads” as we await His return. We are encouraged to stand up and declare our faith – to wish people a joyous “Merry Christmas” (instead of the secular “Happy Holidays”) and to focus ourselves and others on Jesus Christ during Advent.

Jesus uses the illustration of the fig tree to keep us focused and looking up and forward. Just as the buds indicate summer is near, we are to look for signs of the kingdom near us. Where can we see hope and love lived out this week? Where can we experience mercy and grace and forgiveness this week? Where can we be signs of the nearness of God’s kingdom, bringing hope and love, mercy and grace and forgiveness to other’s lives this week?

Our passage today closes with another good reminder. It ties back into the “stand up” idea. Maybe Jesus knew what Christmas would become. He warns us to be careful lest we become”weighed down” and filled with anxiety. As a parent I can remember times when I was weighed down and filled with anxiety over the gifts and reactions to them. It can be easy to go there. When our focus shifts away from God and His kingdom, then yes, the day will close upon us “like a trap”.

Instead, Jesus encourages us to “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”. Jesus must ever be our focus during the Advent season. Our eyes and heart must remain fixed on the Son of Man. Our lives will reveal what is truly in our heart and soul this Advent season. May Jesus Christ be what people experience in and through us.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to focus in on you alone this Advent season. Keep my eyes and heart on you and the coming of your kingdom. May my life reveal your Son as the focus of Advent and of Christmas. Amen.


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Deep Need

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”.

Yes, Elkanah loved Hannah more than anything in the world. Yes, Elkanah treated Hannah much better than his other wife. But shame of shames – Hannah could bear him no children. The second wife, Peninnah, had lots of children. Peninnah frequently reminded Hannah of this fact. This only added to Hannah’s already deep sadness and bitterness. Each year when the family would go up to the temple to worship, Hannah would bring her situation before God.

This particular year the provoking by Peninnah and the deep sadness over her barren state seemed especially painful. Instead of simply praying once more, we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”. Hannah felt like she was at the end of her rope. It was not an ordinary prayer that she offered up to God. The Spirit was moving in her as she poured out her soul. This was a deep, gut-wrenching prayer. It was as ripe with emotion as it could get.

We too have uttered this type of prayer. We too have been at the end of our rope and have cried out to God. We too have been at the bottom of our pit and have begged for God to reach down and pull us out. We too have felt so desperate that the prayer just poured out from the core of our souls. Our circumstances or the cause of our situation may have been different, but we have all prayed like this before.

What does Hannah’s prayer reveal? What do our prayers of deep emotion reveal? First, they reveal our utter dependence on God. Sometimes we are weak, unable to alter the situation. But God can. Second, they reveal a trust in God not only to hear but to respond. He alone can rescue. He alone can save. God is faithful to Hannah. Samuel is born. God will be faithful to us as well. May we pour out our souls in those times of deep need, trusting in God to do what we cannot.

Prayer: God, thank you for the reminder today of your deep, deep love for us, your children. Like Hannah, may I always seek you in my deepest times of need, trusting in you and in your plan for my life. Amen.


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Pure Heart, Steadfast Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 10-12

Verse Ten: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast Spirit within me”.

Today, as we continue our Lenten journey, we come to a familiar passage. For many, the journey began on Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes. In our church and in many others, words very similar to the key verse were spoken: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast Spirit within me”. It was an appropriate verse to begin this season of preparation to celebrate Easter. The ideas of dying to self and of repenting of all that keeps us from God is well-represented by the ashes that began this journey.

Today’s key verse is a great reminder that we are still on this journey. In reality, though, the focus on personal holiness that we give during Lent should be a daily practice all year. Yet there is also something special about intentionally setting aside time to be more focused on our relationship with God. The result of God creating pure heart in us is a right and steadfast Spirit. When our heart is pure, then we become more open to what God is doing in our lives and in the world. As our heart is more like His when it is pure, we see and hear and feel the world more like Jesus did. And that is a good thing.

The psalmist goes on to ask God to remain in the presence of the Holy Spirit. This voice of faith that dwells in us keeps us intimately connected to God. It is through this constant presence that God does restore to us the joy of our salvation each and every day. A clean and pure heart walking daily in the Spirit’s presence is a heart willing to love God and to love people with all that we are. The daily walk is not always easy, so we too need God to sustain us for the journey of faith.

Today may we again focus in on this season of Lent, seeking to fully surrender our lives to God’s will. May we seek for God to create in us a pure heart, a heart desiring to have a steadfast and right Spirit within us, leading and guiding us to be the light and love that our world so needs. Blessings on the journey.


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Remember

Reading: Genesis 28: 16-19a

Verse 18: Jacob took the stone… and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it.

During the night, Jacob has an amazing encounter with God.  When he wakes up the next morning, he reflects back on this encounter.  His first thought is of surprise – he did not expect God to be in this place.  It was simply where Jacob stopped because it was getting dark out.  As he lay his head down on his rock, sleep was all he expected.  Jacob’s comment, “I was not aware” reveals his surprise.  On the one hand, we think God is everywhere all the time.  But on the other hand, it surprises us when God shows up in a big and unexpected way at a random place.

Once Jacob realized that God was very present, he shifts for a moment to fear.  The text reads “he was afraid” so it is not a healthy fear or a reverence for God.  If God were to speak to me in an audible, direct way, true fear would also be part of my reaction.  When our omnipresent God becomes direct and personal, one reaction would be fear.  God is talking to me?  Gulp.

Jacob quickly moves past fear and into celebration.  He says aloud, “How awesome is this place”!  Here God has chosen Jacob as being worthy of direct conversation.  Jacob is excited that God spoke to him here.  It is a place he always wants to remember, so “Jacob took the stone… and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it”.  It will always be a place of remembrance for Jacob.  It is where God spoke to him.  He builds an altar, using the rock that was his pillow, and he consecrates it with oil.  The altar will also help others to know and remember.

When we have significant personal encounters with God, how do we remember them?  At a meaningful and powerful remembrance of baptism service, I was given a small stone.  I carry it daily in my pocket as a reminder of when God drew especially close to me.  In your next powerful encounter with God, seek a physical way to remember the experience.  It will be a tangible reminder that will lead you to rejoice and give thanks for God’s hand at work in your life.