pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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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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God’s Servants

Reading: Acts 1: 15-17 and 21-26

Verse 24: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen”.

At the time our passage today takes place, about 120 people were part of the Jesus movement. What will become the church is just starting to form. As Peter speaks he addresses a need: “one of our number” is no longer with them. Judas has fulfilled his role and there is a felt need to replace him. Twelve was the number Jesus chose, it matched the number of the tribes of Israel. A new disciple felt right.

Churches and really all organizations function this way. There is a process used that determines those needed for both functionality and to accomplish the mission or task. This usually begins with design and planning but is often tweaked as needs define themselves. Periods of stability and balance alternate with times of change. In the early church there will not be twelve forever. Other leaders are added as the ministry expands: Paul, Timothy, Silas, Steven… Others will step up and fill roles and lead as needed.

Peter establishes the criteria for the one who will replace Judas. The new disciple must have experience – they must have been around and known Jesus. Through prayer the group chooses Matthias to become an official witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He had revealed the faith plus the gifts and talents to be a leader and witness for the faith. God continues to work in this way. People in our churches demonstrate faith and show ability to serve in various roles. Through prayer, discernment, and Holy Spirit guidance these men and women take on responsibility for the functioning and work of the church.

Matthias and Barsabbas were both willing to be considered. Both were willing to serve God and the newly forming church. As we now reflect on the need for leaders and servants in our churches today, where and how can we each serve God and the church?

Prayer: Lord God, continue to raise up leaders and servants among your church. There is much work yet to be done as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Show us the way. Amen.


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The Greatest Joys

Reading: 1st John 5: 1-5

Verse 2: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands”.

We continue today with the same author and the same themes from our past days in John 15: loving well and obeying God’s commands. There continues to be a direct connection here. When we love someone we try to do things that please them. When we love someone we want them to be happy and well cared for. These concerns often extend to those who are loved by the focus of our love. This is the case with God’s creation and family. Since we cannot really care for God himself, we instead focus on loving and caring well for all of God’s creation.

John sums up this idea in verse two. Here we read, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands”. When our love of God leads us to follow his commands, then we love his children. We express God’s love in many ways: caring for those in need, helping others grow in faith, being present in times of pain or sorrow, supporting the work of God through the giving of our time, talents, prayers, and resources. These expressions of love are reflections or extensions of the love of God that we ourselves have experienced. This is why they are not burdensome. These actions are a joyful and grateful way to thank God for loving us so well. In this way the love of God is cast wide, out into the world. Being loved and loving well are two of the greatest joys in life. May we enjoy both today!

Prayer: God of all creation, you love me just like you love all of your other children and all that you have made. It is a wonderful, beautiful, complete love. As it fills me may I pour it out into the world. Amen.


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Well Done…

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 23: “Well done, good and faithful servant!… Come and share your master’s happiness”.

We return today to the Parable of the Talents. Yesterday we focused on the one servant who allowed fear to hold him back. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to use the talents, gifts, resources… that God has given us to build up the kingdom here on earth. When we willingly and joyfully invest in the lives of others we do not lose those blessings ourselves, but we gain even more. The upside-down kingdom of God that we can experience is illustrated in today’s parable.

When we make the intentional choice to use the talents that the Master has given us, whatever the talent(s), we are usually investing in relationships. If your talent, for example, is working with children or youth, then your time given at Sunday school or VBS or youth group is being invested in their faith and in the relationships with the children or youth and their families. If your gift is musical, your time given in the choir or praise band is being invested in your faith, in the members of the group, and in the worshippers’ relationship with God. If your talent is cooking or baking and you invest time in providing food for the times of fellowship at church or for those in need in the larger community, then your talents are building relationships within the body of Christ or with the larger world. No matter what your talent, it can be used to build relationships and the kingdom.

Two of the servants in today’s parable invested the master’s money using the talents they had to bless their master. It was not for their own reward or profit. Yes, the master did bless them for their service. Our Master will as well. When we choose to live out our faith, using the talents that the Lord has given to each of us, we too will one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!… Come and share your master’s happiness”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for orienting me towards doing and serving. Thank you for the talents that you have given me to live out my faith in these ways. On those days when I’d rather not, when I want to make the selfish choice, remind me again of your love and investment in me. Call me to do your will, not mine. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.


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Talents

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 21: “Well done good and faithful servant… Come and share in your master’s happiness”.

In our passage today, the slaves see their master one of two ways.  Two see the master as trustworthy and to be worked for.  The third sees the master as harsh and greedy.  Two of the slaves take what the master has entrusted them with and put it to work, doubling what they had been given.  The third hides what he has been given, refusing to use it even a little by safely investing it with the bankers.

God gives each of us talents or gifts as well.  Each of us has gifts that can be used to build the kingdom of God here on earth.  What we do with what we have been given depends on how we see our master, God.  If we see God as a God who is harsh, as a God who punishes His children, then we are likely to risk little for God.  We will take what we have been given and guard it closely.  We do not want others to know the gift we have so we keep it hidden away.  But if we see God as loving and trustworthy, then we desire to take the talents or gifts we have been given and to invest them to help others to come to know God.  We use our talents to grow the kingdom of God.  One day we too will hear, “Well done good and faithful servant… Come and share in your master’s happiness”.

Our God is a loving, compassionate, grace-filled, forgiving God who calls us to be the same.  If we truly see God in this way, then we feel led to be this type of person to others.  We seek ways to help others know our loving, compassionate… God.  In doing so we use the talents and gifts that God has blessed us with so that all will come to know our God.  What gifts has God given you?  How are or can you use your talents and gifts for the building of the kingdom of God here on earth?


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Kingdom Builders

Reading: 1 Corinthians 2: 12-16

As followers of Jesus Christ, we receive the Spirit from God.  Through our baptism we become part of the family of God.  When we accept Christ as the Lord of our life, we are blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is the Spirit that helps us to discern and understand the things of God.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit we come to know the gifts and talents that God has blessed us with and how to use them for the glory of God.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth to encourage them and to spur them on to action.  Paul reminds them that when they allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them that they will speak not with human words and wisdom but instead they will speak words taught by the Spirit.  With the power of the Holy Spirit they will speak to others “expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words”.  God will fill them with “the mind of Christ” so that they are able to share Jesus’ light and love with others.

Both remain true today.  God has blessed every member of every church with gifts to be used for the kingdom.  As members of the body of Christ, we are called to help each other discover our gifts and talents.  We do this through fellowship, by getting to know one another, and by inviting one another to come along as we go forth to serve Christ in the world.  We also do this through prayer and study, allowing the Spirit time and space to reveal who God created us to be.  Once we know our gifts and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the use of our gifts, then through the power of God we will be able to do great things for the kingdom of God.

May we each play our role well – both by seeking the Holy Spirit and by faithfully serving God with the gifts we have been blessed with.  May we each be kingdom builders today.


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Faithful

Reading: Isaiah 49: 5-7

The servant realizes that God has called him to a role.  Although initially unsure of himself, the servant has come to understand that if God has called him, then God will insure success.  The servant says, “I am honored in the eyes of my Lord”.  In essence, if God has chosen me, then I am up to the task.  Then he goes on to acknowledge that God is his strength.  He recognizes that God has carried him through before and will certainly do so again and again.  The servant is embracing his role as a child of God.

God’s response to the servant’s faith?  Oh no – it is “too small a thing” to just bring salvation and restoration to Israel.  Oh no, the faithful servant will bring salvation and restoration to all people.  The servant will not only be a light to the Jews but to the Gentiles as well.  God’s response to the faithful servant?  God rewards the faith with expanded blessings and an expanded role.  This idea of he who does much with what he has been given will be given more is also found in the parable of the talents.  The servant who works five into ten talents is given even more by his master in turn for his faithful service.  God blesses those who are faithful servants.

So it is with the servant in Isaiah and so it is with us.  It is only when we are willing to trust God that God can and will reward our trust.  When we do trust and step out in faith, we are blessed to see God at work in our lives and in the world.  This allows us to step out quicker and further the next time.  The passage today ends with, “the Lord is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who had chosen you”.  May we be strong in our faith, trusting the Holy One who had chosen each of us.  God is faithful.  May we be so as well.


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Generous Living

Reading: Luke 16: 1-9

In today’s passage a manager is fired for poor job performance.  He has mismanaged the owner’s resources.  We do not know if he is incompetent or lazy as well, but we do know he is somehow being dishonest and is wasting the owner’s resources.  The shrewd manner in which he then acts would maybe rule out incompetent.  In a handful of quick transactions, he not only shores up his future, he also gains commendation from the owner.

If we are honest, there are times we too waste the company’s resources.  There are times when we check our Facebook or when we text back and forth solidifying our weekend plans or update our fantasy football lineup at work.  And there are other times when our mind simply drifts for a few minutes.  Some days we would really like to just lay our heads down on our desk and take a little nap.  If the boss notices these types of things a few times, we too could find ourselves unemployed.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to offer our best effort in all we do.  We are called to work joyously in all of our labors – to work as if we were working for the Lord.  Always putting in a good days effort is a witness to our faith.  It is about respect for others and being personally responsible.

Personal responsibility forms us another way as well.  In the parable Jesus offers advice on the use of our resources.  He says to be generous with our money – it will gain us friends.  This idea also extends to our time and talents.  We should be generous with these as well.  When we share what God has blessed us with to help others, we are building up a treasure in heaven as well.  Generous living is a blessing all around.


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Lived Out through Us

Reading: Psalm 146

God is steadfast and true.  God loves the righteous.  God seeks to lift up those who are bowed down.  His desire is to bring relief to their suffering and to put an end to the oppression and injustices they face.  How does our God of compassion and love lift up the bowed down?  He sends the righteous, those who have received His favor and blessing, to minister in His name.  He sends you and me.

It is God alone who can restore a person’s soul and who can make a new creation from within.  It is God who sends the righteous faithful to engage the bowed down, oppressed, and suffering.  It is God who has given us each gifts and talents and blessings to share with others to lift them up, to help them in their struggles.  We can be there to offer much, but it is God alone who can transform their lives and hearts.

God desires to use us in many ways.  We are each uniquely gifted and blessed as the body of Christ so that we can corporately minister to a wide variety of situations and needs.  Some are the feet of Christ who enter into brokenness to lift shame and guilt so that hope can begin to enter in.  Some of us are the hands of Christ, entering in and offering a hand up so that one can begin to be above water again.  Some of us are His eyes, restoring value and worth to someone who thought they had none.  Some of us are God’s voice, speaking out against injustice and oppression, seeking to make things right.  Some of us are His ears, listening to the stories that need heard and retold so that others may find or experience positive change in their lives.

God loves all of His children equally.  Some do not even know that they are a child of God.  This day may we collectively be His feet, hands, eyes, voice, and ears so that all may begin to experience His love, lived out through our witness, example, and presence.