pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Be the Church

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 3-9

Verse 9: “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”.

Paul opens his first letter to the church in Corinth by calling them saints – those “sanctified” and “holy”. As we begin our passage today, Paul extends “grace and peace” from God and from Jesus Christ. Paul gives thanks to God for the grace given the church through Jesus Christ. It is grace that empowers believers to live in a world that brings persecution and offers temptations. Grace also gives believers the ability to love others as they are – without judgment and without barriers. It was grace that led Jesus to pay the price for all sins as he went to the cross. It is grace that welcomes us as sinners into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul also names the way that the Corinthian church has been “enriched in every way”. This is also part of what allows them to bear such a strong witness in the world. Paul identifies the source of their strength and power: “you do not lack any spiritual gift”. They have been blessed by the Holy Spirit with a multitude of gifts and talents. In this way they are like all other churches. Collectively they have all the gifts and talents necessary to be the body of Christ in the world. The same is true of your church and of my church. As the church strives to live out its mission to make disciples, the Holy Spirit uses these gifts and talents to build up the kingdom of God here on earth as we await the revelation of Jesus’ return.

When we, the church, use our gifts and talents we are also strengthening one another. When we give of ourselves, we build up and encourage one another, playing our role in the effort to “keep strong to the end”. In our current season it may be more challenging to be the body of Christ. We may need to find innovative and creative ways to safely care for and love our neighbors. We may need to try new and socially distanced ways to be in fellowship with one another. As has always been the case, we will find Spirit led ways to be the church to one another and to the world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God will see us through these current challenges because, above all, God is faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, in this season ministry has been challenging. It feels like we are frequently shifting and adjusting. Thank you for the guidance and direction as we work to find ways to minister to others. Please continue to lead and guide us as we seek to be your love lived out. Amen.


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Try It

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 18: “The man with one talent went off, dug a whole in the ground, and hid his master’s money”.

In the parable that we will read today and tomorrow, there are three servants. One is not like the other two. One is afraid. He is afraid of failing, of losing his master’s money, of stepping outside of his comfort zone. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus are like this servant. We are given a talent or gift or skill or dream by God and we stuff it down, we hide it away, we try and pretend it doesn’t exist. Our fear of the “what if” and the “what then” are greater than our trust in God.

Sometimes I wish our faith were more like Thomas Edison’s efforts with the light bulb. It is said that he failed a thousand times before arriving at what we know as the first light bulb. Imagine if we “failed” at being Christ’s light and love a thousand times before someone was moved to accept Christ in that moment. For Edison, each failure was a step closer to his goal. Imagine the impact on others that we would make along the way and consider the change that would be wrought in your faith. Actually, we are each just seed planters, scattering faith here and there, trusting that one day it will sprout and grow. It does not matter if we were the first to plant a seed of faith or if we were the 427th or even the thousandth.

Oh, the power of fear. What if that person rejects me or if they ridicule me? What if I lose that person as a friend? What if the pastor or the church rejects my idea for a good pantry? What if… And there are the “what then”s. The pastor and the church said “yes” and the food pantry has taken off – what then? The step into helping with youth has ignited a passion for serving God and the church – what then?

We want a safe faith, an easy faith. We like a faith without challenge, without risk. I would dare to say that when this is our faith, we have a shallow faith, a hollow faith, a faith without much life or energy. When we step out and step up, when we accept the challenge or calling and risk for our faith, then it comes alive. Don’t believe me? Then try it. Follow the nudge you’ve been feeling, share that ministry idea that God has planted in your heart, say ‘yes’ to that role that you are feeling called to. Try it. Give of yourself and see where God takes you. Go ahead. Try it.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the ways and times when you have led me beyond myself and into your plans. As I continue to journey, may I risk for you, for the kingdom of God. Open my eyes and ears and heart to where you are leading. Encourage me to step up and step out in faith. Show me the way. Use me as you will. Amen.


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The Body and Work

Reading: Romans 12: 3-8

Verses 4 and 5: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”.

In today’s reading Paul gives some guidance on how to be (and not to be) “living sacrifices”. He begins with a warning: “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”. He is warning against arrogance and pride. When talking about gifts or talents, we can tend towards comparison and competition. For each of the gifts that Paul lists in verses six through eight there are ways to wrongly use each gift. For example, if a leader refuses to listen to others, then his or her pride soon leads to them leading a group of one. Or if God has blessed someone financially or otherwise and their gift is generosity, then giving can become a public display or it can come with strings attached. Both of these examples are getting away from the example set by Jesus.

Before reminding us that we are each uniquely gifted, Paul reminds us that the church is like the human body. He writes these words in verses four and five: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”. Although unique, as the church we still form one body of believers. He continues in verse five to write, “and each member belongs to all the others”. Imagine if we truly lived this out in our churches and in our own personal faiths! Paul is implying, rightly so, that we are all of equal worth or rank or value – whatever word you prefer. That means the newly confirmed or newly converted member has the same place as the 40-year member, as the pastor, as the lead elder… If the church as a whole lives into this kind of unity within its diversity, God’s power is at work.

In these types of churches each member feels like they matter and that they have something to offer to the whole. If all are valued and seen as bearers of God’s gifts, then all members seek to help others find, develop, and use their gifts. Doing so, the work of kingdom building becomes the work of the whole church. May we all seek to be a part of both sides of this equation: first, offering our gifts and talents as a living sacrifice and, second, helping others to do the same through words of encouragement, support, and love.

Prayer: God, as I consider this new body of Christ to which I belong, help me to lead well and to get to know and understand the gifts and talents of each sheep. Guide me with Holy Spirit discernment to how to best build up the body for your glory. Amen.


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Be Generous

Reading: Luke 16: 9-13

Verse 12: “And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own”?

Money is a necessity and a reality of life. But it does not have to be a high priority. In the modern world we all need money or wealth. It provides us with shelter and food and clothing and the other basics needed to live. But money can also bring us worldly pleasures and things we do not necessarily need. The pursuit of or the prioritization of the things of this world is what causes money or possessions to step ahead of God in our lives.

Our passage opens with Jesus telling us to be like the manager in terms of wisely using our worldly wealth. Most of us have some disposable income. After the mortgage or rent and all of the other necessary bills are paid, we have a sum of money to use at our discretion. It does not matter if that is $20 or $1,000. The same can be said of our time. We have “x” hours a week to do what we want with. Jesus is telling us to use this “worldly wealth” to build connections with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit – those “friends” with an eternal home. When we use our discretionary income and time to serve God and to make him known, then we are like the shrewd manager except we are finding favor with those eternal friends.

Next Jesus addresses all of us – no matter how much or how little wealth or time or talents we have at our disposal. If we only have a little money, do we do God’s work with it? If we only have a little time to read our Bibles or to have a faith conversation with someone, do we? Or do we convince ourselves that we might need that money for a rainy day or that the time would be better spent on a nap or in front of the television? We all have time and wealth and gifts and talents that we can use to build our faith and God’s kingdom. The question is: do we?

In verse twelve Jesus turns to the basic fact that all we have is really God’s. Our time, our wealth, our talents… are all gifts from God. Jesus asks, “And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own”? He is asking us how in the world will we enter heaven as heirs or co-owners with Christ if we do not follow him here on earth? If we do not walk daily with Jesus, keeping him ever the priority, then we will not dwell eternally with him. It is quite simple. To that end, may we be abundantly generous with all that we have been given – generous to God and generous to others.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be a more humble servant. At times I want to guard my time and my other gifts. Answering the call or responding to the Holy Spirit is sometimes hard when self rises up. Lead me today and use me as you will. Amen.


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Resource Usage

Reading: Luke 16: 1-8

Verse 8: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”.

The dishonest manager is about to find himself unemployed. He surely knows why his boss is firing him. Instead of taking some time for introspection, he turns to more dishonesty as he adjusts the debts owed his boss. He takes from another to insure a better future for himself. In a turn that always surprises me, we read “the master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”. Instead of sulking or walking away mad, the manager does what he can to make the best of his situation. The master credits him as being shrewd.

When we read this story, it rubs most of us the wrong way. It goes against our sense of right and wrong. There is dishonest gain and it is commended. But we cannot get stuck here, in our indignation. If we do, we miss Jesus’ point. He too acknowledges that “the people of this world are far more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light”. Those who live in the world use the world and its ways to their advantage. As a man of the world, the master commended his ex-manager for playing the game so well.

Jesus is not encouraging us to be dishonest but to use the resources that we have been given shrewdly. We all have gifts and resources at our disposal. Maybe you have been blessed financially. Use that resource to do some of God’s work in the world. Maybe you have been blessed with mechanical ability. Use that resource to teach another a skill or use it to help out someone in need. We have all been given resources. We need to use the things of the world as we follow Jesus and as we seek to help others know him. We are to use the things of this world that we have been given wisely – to grow in the grace and love of God and to help others do so as well. Whatever resources God has blessed you with, engage the world as you use the resources well.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all that I have and am are yours. All of my gifts and talents, all of my possessions, all of my relationships are gifts from you. Show me how to use each of them well, building my faith and advancing your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Come… Come and Hear

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-5

Verse 1: “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”!

To the world, our passage today sounds just as strange as it did to Isaiah’s audience. In our culture, nothing is free – at least nothing of value is free. Our culture values power and status and possessions – things that can be counted and that can be compared to our neighbors and teammates and office mates. Hard work and talent are what brings success and the new car, house, boat, phone… Free? Why would you want anything that is free?

The Israelites hear Isaiah’s words from another viewpoint. They sit in a Jerusalem that has just been destroyed. The walls, the gates, the temple lie in ruins. The best of the people have been hauled off into exile and those left behind sit on a rubble heap. They have absolutely no material wealth. They are in dire straits. To these Isaiah comes and invites them to drink and eat. The people have no money to buy from him. To their surprise what he has to offer is free. Isaiah proclaims, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! Isaiah goes on to offer what they need most, saying, “Listen to me… eat what is good… your soul will delight in the richest of fare… hear me, that your soul may live”. Yes, the people need actual sustenance, but even moreso they need to feed on the word of God. In their time of trial and fear, Isaiah offers food and drink that bring hope, strength, and a future.

Sooner or later most folks chasing the things of the world realize that the chase is endless. The food and drink they pursue is nice and all – for a while. Then their shiny things become dull or the Jones buy a newer, bigger house or Suzie-Q gets a nice promotion at her job and the race is back on. Peace is never known. A sense of purpose is never quite found. There seems to be a hole that is never really filled. Counter to all of their understanding of what matters and of what is of worth, God too calls out and says, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! God offers what money or possessions or status cannot buy – no “money” in the world can. When we finally become willing, God says to each of us, “Give ear and come to me, hear me, that your soul may live”.

If we have given in to God, we have a story to tell because we have found true life and have experienced grace, mercy, and love. Thanks be to God! Go and tell your story. If our ears have been deaf, may we be willing to step off the treadmill, to humble ourselves, and to bow before the Lord. There and only there can we find peace, purpose, and fulfillment. Trust in the only one that offers food that lasts. May it be so.

Prayer: Each day, O God, help me to lay aside my fleshy, worldly desires to pursue you and your word. Be with me each day and make me more and more wholly yours. Amen.


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Through God’s Mercy

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 1-2

Verse 1: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”.

The call of every church and of every Christian is to be in mission. The main mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are called to bring all people to Christ and to walk together as we each deepen our relationship with Jesus. For most people, the call is answered one person at a time through a one-on-one relationship that is formed and cultivated and is given time and attention. These relationships may come through a specific ministry – a feeding program or a diaper ministry – or they can come simply by crossing paths with another and engaging in life together. This second mode is how Jesus most often operated.

Even though all are called, many question or are hesitant. Some feel like their past disqualifies them. Our past is often one of our best resources. Those struggles that we have overcome offer hope and possibilities to the one still in the struggle. Our story is what makes our faith and our relationship with Jesus real to another. Others think that they do not know enough or that they lack the skills or talents to accomplish something for God. God places skills or gifts or talents in all of us. They do not need to be perfected or polished. God just needs us to be willing to step out in faith and to trust in God to do the rest. If we seek it, the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us in all things.

The author of our text today is just one of many, many imperfect and flawed people that God used to build the kingdom and the church. One does not have to turn too many pages in the Bible to find the next one in a long line of ordinary, regular folks who did extraordinary and wonderful things for God. Paul began life as Saul. He hated the church and did everything he could to stomp it out. Talk about an unlikely candidate to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world! In a display of mercy and love, Christ called him Paul and set him loose on the world. Who Saul was became forgotten as the new creation Paul began to serve the Lord in faith.

This unlikely servant writes, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”. God chose him. God set his ministry in motion. Therefore, Paul does not lose heart. God chose you and me too. Therefore, may we each step up and out today in ministry to the world, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the Lord goes with us, guarding our heart. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, prepare my heart and mind to be in ministry today. May the Spirit lead and guide me in all I do and say and think, ever seeking to build your kingdom here. Amen.


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With a Joyful Heart

Reading: 2 Corinthians 8: 8-15

Verse Twelve: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has”.

Paul opens this section with a reminder about the ultimate giver: Jesus Christ. As a way to nudge the Corinthians, who are struggling to give as they committed to, Paul reviews the gift Jesus gave. Not only did Jesus leave heaven and become human, becoming poor, He also gave His life so that they could be rich in their eternal inheritance. Just as Jesus completed His work, Paul wants to see the Corinthians complete their work.

The Corinthians were eager to receive and accept the call to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul even reminds them of how well they did last year and encourages them now to “finish the work” with the same enthusiasm that they began it. We do not know exactly what has caused the stagnation, but the drive that was present at the beginning has certainly been lost. This scenario is one that we are all familiar with. That project that we began with such enthusiasm now sits on a shelf or in a closet gathering dust. Every time we see it we are reminded that it needs finished but we lack the motivation to get it back out.

Paul is not asking for the moon. In verse eleven, he acknowledges that they just need to give “according to your means”. He also emphasizes that the giving must come from the heart, saying, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has”. Giving should be joyful and willing. It should not be done grudgingly or if it causes undue hardship. The spirit of the gift can be like Cain’s offering in Genesis – the first fruits given as a thanks offering. It can also be like the widow’s gift in Mark 12. Yes, she only gave a mere two copper coins. It was small but it was also all she had. She, like Cain, gave trusting that God would continue to provide.

Whether an exercise in faith or as a joyful thanksgiving for the blessings that God has given us, may we too be willing to give. Our gift may show our commitment to support our brothers and sisters in Christ or it may simply show our thanks to God. May we give with a joyful heart – whether our time, our talents, or our resources – for the glory of God and for the building of His kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Narrow and Hard

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s passage is all about commitment, dedication, obedience, discipline, and, ultimately, transformation. This call to discipleship is hard. That is why Jesus said the way is narrow in Matthew 7. Faith is just like all other things of great value – it requires a great deal of effort to attain our goal.

Jesus begins today’s key verse with, “if anyone would come after me”. He is implying the first thing about faith is a choice. All people everywhere have a sense of God one way or another. Some sense a higher power, some sense God in the created world, some sense God in the “there must be more to life than this” feelings. Faith begins with the inner urge to live for and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Beginning a relationship is the first step.

Next Jesus turns to those big words I opened with, saying, “he must deny himself”. Denying self and our own wants and desires is the beginning of living out our faith. When asked, Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. When we truly do this, there is little room for self. In denying self, the transformation process also gets under way. The study and practice of our faith through prayer, worship, Bible study, … is what begins to transform our hearts and minds so that we begin to see and feel and think as Christ did.

Then Jesus turns to our calling. He next instructs us to “take up his cross”. As we are transformed more and more into His image, we come to discover that special blessing or talent or gift that God has given us to serve His will. Some teach, some preach, some feed, some clothe, some visit, some sing, some clean, some sew, some lead, some transport, some… The cross represents Jesus and our gift or talent is how we share Jesus with others. Our “cross” is what helps others to connect to Jesus.

Once we have been drawn into relationship, once we have been transformed to love God and others more than self, once we have found our niche in serving God, then and only then can we say we follow Jesus. May we all choose the hard and narrow way of Jesus today. It is through the Lord that we find the life truly worth living. Blessings on your journey.


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A Simple Thanks

Reading: 2nd Kings 2: 8-12

Verse Eleven: “As they were walking along and talking together…”

In one devotional I read today, it referred to the term “outlier”. Immediately my mind went back to many years teaching 7th grade math. We identified outliers when we were studying mean, median, and mode. An outlier in math is a piece of data that stands out from the other data. Outliers can really impact the mean, or the average. In its original content in the book my devotional referenced, an outlier was a regular person who practiced a skill or talent or job thousands and thousands of times. The result was extraordinary skill or proficiency at their chosen pursuit.

Using both of these understandings of outlier, the term pertains much to our faith. In today’s passage, Elijah is an outlier. He was a prophet who stood far outside the norm. At times, he was practically the last one standing for God. He spoke the truth no matter the risk, always being obedient to God. Accordingly, Elijah is widely accepted as the greatest Old Testament prophet. In our passage, Elisha shows the dogged persistence required to become an outlier. He has personally witnessed Elijah’s absolute faith in God and his total trust to go where God sent and to say what God said to say. It is something he wants for himself, so he follows closely as Elijah’s end draws near. Elisha’s persistence pays off as he sees Elijah taken, thus receiving the reward: a double portion of his spirit.

It is interesting to me that Elijah is taken not in some suspenseful moment but simply as they are “walking along and talking together…”. Elijah had just nonchalantly yet miraculously parted the Jordan so they could cross, allowing them to continue to simply walk and talk. These ideas remind me of our faith journey. We too walk and talk through life alongside God. Much of the time life is routine or normal. Yet by walking close and talking consistently, we grow deep in our relationship with God. And we do have moments, times God parts the waters, allowing us to safely pass through. Some of the time we do not even know God has intervened. Other times, it is right there for us to see. At times God gives us these moments that awe and uplift us. These too build our relationship.

As I ponder my daily walk with God, blessed here and there with those “God moments”, I am humbled and awed. I simply say: thank you God!