pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Giving Thanks

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verses 18 and 19: “Be filled with the Spirit… make music in your hearts to the Lord”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Continuing in Ephesians 5 today we get the practical or ‘how to’ of living out our faith. Paul’s words today remain in the foolish and wise realm. In verse eighteen comes the general warning: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery”. Wine was the issue in Paul’s day. Today we could include beer and alcohol as well as a wide variety of drugs. To the list of unwise or worldly living we could also add wealth, popularity, power, and even food for a few of us. There are many, many things that we, like the world, can pursue and consume that lead to sin, debauchery, gluttony, and other evils.

Instead Paul encourages us to “be filled with the Spirit”. Paul invites us to pursue and consume the things of faith, to be so full of God that we “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. Filled with the Spirit, God’s words would be our words. Speaking God’s love and care and compassion and grace and forgiveness and comfort and equality and unity – we would stand out from the common language of the world: hatred, isolation, fear, criticism, division. Our words would be a fragrant offering to the vile and evil talk that too often dominates the secular world. Speaking words that draw others in, that make welcoming space for the other, that give voice to the weak and powerless – what a counter-cultural way of living!

There is also a personal side to today’s passage. When we choose to fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit, we will naturally “make music in your hearts to the Lord”. Our very lives will also be a pleasing and holy offering to the Lord. Our hearts will in turn be filled with love and joy and peace and hope and contentment. We will see and be in the world in a whole different way. We will see the world, the other, and our very self as gifts from God – gifts that we will always give thanks to God for. Giving such thanks, we will love as Jesus first loved us. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your Holy Spirit! Fill me to overflowing so that all I say and do reflects your love being poured out for others. Use me today to reflect Christ to the world. Amen.


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Choose Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verses 11-12: “In him we were also chosen… in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

As we continue in Ephesians 1 today Paul begins by stating, “In him we were also chosen”. Other translations say “made heirs”. Paul is reinforcing the idea that we are adopted, made part of the family of God. Although we are created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with God, there still must be a choice made on our behalf. Because of how and why we were created, we have an innate sense of God, a natural desire to connect to God. Yet we still must make an intentional choice to live into and in that relationship.

Paul provides the argument for why the Ephesians (and us) should make that choice. In verse twelve we read, “in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”. Choosing to live in relationship with God, we bring God the glory. The focus shifts from bringing self glory to bringing God glory. Instead of focusing on the things that falsely elevate self (titles, possessions, popularity…), we focus instead on things that bring God the glory (compassion, kindness, service, generosity…).

Paul also emphasizes that the challenge of living for God’s glory comes with assistance. When we believe, when we choose to enter into relationship with God, we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. The continuing presence that Jesus Christ promised becomes a part of us, guiding us, leading us, redirecting us. Again, all of this is for “the praise of his glory”.

We are chosen. We are adopted. We are marked with a seal. We are part of God’s family, redeemed and forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you created every single one of us. You created us to be in relationship with you. Use me today to help those on the outside realize the place you have for them. Amen.


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A Gift from God

Reading: Mark 4: 26-29

Verse 28: “All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

In today’s parable Jesus compares the growth of faith to the planting and raising of a crop. In faith and trust we scatter seeds of faith through our words and our witness. We hope that the seeds take root in our children, in those we share faith with, and in the strangers we meet. In the literal sense we also plant seeds. In the back yard we planted seeds in beds and large tubs and pots. We hoped that plants would grow, yielding carrots, lettuce, potatoes… It is a small labor of love. We go out each day to water, to weed, to tend the plants. And they grow!

One small row is beans. Of the dozen or so seeds that I planted, about half are now tender young plants. My beans are a good reminder of two things. First, not all seeds take root and grow. Second, I am not responsible nor can I take the credit for the growth. The same is true when we plant or scatter seeds of faith. In verse 28 Jesus says, “All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head”. There is a mystery to seeds of faith taking root in someone; there is a miracle when God grows that faith into maturity. All is a gift from God. While we do and must play a role, it is God who starts, develops, grows, matures, and sustains our faith. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving and tender God, thank you for the gift of faith. Yes, you call me to sow seeds and may I ever be faithful. Yet you alone are the giver of life and faith, of growth and relationship. Use me today Lord to scatter seeds of faith. Amen.


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Love Forever

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 19-29

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Psalm 118 is a song of remembrance, victory, celebration. The historical context is the story of exodus, of God freeing Israel from years of slavery in Egypt. The song would be sung during the three yearly festivals as a way to thank God for his presence with the people. As the people marched into Jerusalem, recalling God’s saving acts, there is much joy and expectation as they enter the gates of the city. Years and years of doing this is what lends such energy to the day we know as Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry.

Even though the exodus story is the foundation, the theme of being freed from slavery is the main theme of this Psalm. There is much messianic language in the second part of the Psalm: salvation, stone, rejection, light. We will delve deeper into this aspect later in the week. Today we celebrate what the Lord has done for Israel, for you, and for me.

In the opening verse we read, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. You or I may not have walked out of slavery in Egypt, but we have experience after experience with the Lord’s freeing and saving acts. Time and time again we have been freed from the lures and temptations of this world. Over and over we have been made new again, leaving behind the chains and guilt and shame of our sins, being cleansed by his mercy and grace. Again and again God has reconciled and restored our relationships – sometimes with God, sometimes with one another. We too can joyously approach the Lord our God, thanking God for his goodness and for his love that endures forever. May we, like the Israelites, say, “His love endures forever”!

Prayer: Lord God, over and over… again and again… time after time… Yes, you are so good to me. Yes, your love is amazing. With wonder and awe I praise you and offer my humble thanksgiving. Amen!


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The Wilderness

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-3

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Psalm 107 is a Psalm that reminds us of God’s faithful love. It is a song of thanksgiving to the God that never abandons or leaves his people. The Israelites and individuals within the faith community have experienced this faithful love. The nation has experienced exile, slavery, and times of oppression and conflict with those living around them. Individuals like Joseph, David, Samuel, and Job have had their own wilderness experiences. Each time that the community has found themselves in the wilderness, whatever that may be, God has remained present and connected to his people. At times the connection was to a small remnant, but God was always faithful. Experiencing this over and over has led them to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

As we experience life we also find ourselves in the wilderness from time to time. We find ourselves there in many ways. Loss and grief can lead us into the wilderness. Moving, job loss, and other forms of unwanted change can lead us to this place. Sudden bouts of physical or mental illness can take us to the place of isolation and fear. Yes, there are many ways that we can find ourselves in the wilderness. If we choose to remain connected to God, then we experience what the psalmist and the Israelites experienced. God remains present. God sustains us. God’s faithful love endures the trials with us. From these experiences we too can proclaim: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, your love is grander than the mountains and deeper than the ocean’s depths. Your faithfulness stretches past the furthest star. I am but a tiny speck in the cosmos, but you love me as if I were the only speck. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Work in Progress

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Our passage for today begins with Jesus telling his disciples that he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed by the religious leaders. All is not to be lost, though. After three days he will rise again. These words must have been hard for the disciples to hear. But they are not totally shocking either. Jesus was often at odds with the religious leaders. Peter is the one to try and correct Jesus. He tries to tell Jesus that these things will never happen. He has to stay with them, he has to keep ministering to the people. It makes perfect sense that Peter is among those who will soon see Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

Jesus turns to Peter and says perhaps the harshest words to ever come from his lips: “Get behind me, Satan”! I imagine Peter fell back a step or two. This was the disciple who walked on water, who will pledge to die with Jesus, who will draw his sword to defend Jesus. Satan? This is also the disciple who chased the little children away, who will fall asleep in the garden, who will deny even knowing Jesus three times in the courtyard. Oh how I see myself in Peter. Do you?

In verse 33 Jesus lays this charge on Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”. It is so easy to become focused on what I think matters, on what I want to do (or not do), on what I feel like in that moment, on what I think is right. Jesus is speaking to me too. Yes, too often I am not thinking first of the things of God. I am thankful that just as Jesus did with Peter, he does with me. The Holy Spirit convicts me, yes, but then leads me deeper into relationship, deeper into my commitment to following Jesus, as I seek to ever walk in the light. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress. We are all growing closer to our Lord and Savior. Jesus never gives up on us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever at work in me. You are a loving but refining teacher. I so need both. Thank you for your patience and love, for your commitment and steadfastness. Amen.


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The Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 13: “You also were included in Christ… Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”.

The opening section of Ephesians is all about God’s plans to include us all in the family of God. Paul begins by declaring that God chose us to be in Christ “before the creation of the world”. It is in “accordance with his pleasure and will” that all people are “adopted as his sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ”. God desires for all people to be a part of the community of faith.

Starting in verse seven Paul moves on to why and how God wants us in the family. First, only then do we receive redemption for our sins. Out of love God provided a way for us to be freed from the bonds of sin. Without Christ we remain trapped in the guilt and shame. Second, God lavishes us with wisdom and understanding. The ways of God are not the ways of the world. This gift allows believers to live and see and love the world differently. Created anew in Christ, we pursue the things and ways of God instead of the world. Third, in relationship with Christ we become a part of the fulfillment of all things. Living holy lives we are a part of bringing “all things in heaven and earth together under one head, Jesus Christ”. As part of the family, we seek to help bring others into the family of God.

About three years ago I was serving a church in a small rural community. The hospital called and asked if I would come visit an elderly woman who was nearing death. Soon after arriving I learned from her daughters that she wanted to be baptized. As I left to get the needed supplies, I asked if she wanted to receive communion after being baptized. She nodded “yes”. When I returned we had a short baptism service for a 93-year-old. She had come to know Jesus as Lord later in life but had never been baptized. She knew of Paul’s words: “you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. Feeling a new sense of belonging, this deposit “guaranteeing her inheritance” led to celebrating holy communion in a new way too.

Taken together, all of the signs and symbols, all the wisdom and knowledge, all the blessings and graces – they reassure us of our place in the community of faith. Thanks be to God for the love that is big enough to want all of us to be saved. To the praise of his glory, amen!

Prayer: Loving God, you so want to include all people in your family. Use me today to move someone a little closer to being a part of the great community of faith. Amen.


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Rejoice in the Love

Reading: Psalm 107: 33-37

Verse 35: “He turned the desert into pools of water and parched ground into flowing springs”.

While many of the Psalms are often songs of thanksgiving overall, they do have their honest moments too. The psalmists, to their credit, acknowledge the failures and sins of the past. This is the case in today’s passage. In verses 33 and 34 the rivers turn into deserts and the fruitful land becomes a wasteland. This happens, we read, because of the people’s wickedness. In our own way, we experience this when we sin. Our sin separates us from God. In that place, our joy and hope seems to “dry up” and life feels empty and barren. This is not God’s doing, but our doing. As we ourselves are still present, it just feels like God has left.

This state of drought or dryness, of being parched and hungry – it does not last. Through God’s steadfast love and unending mercy, the desert becomes a pool and there is food for the hungry. In our Psalm, as God sometimes does, things are not just restored to what they were. If that were the case, the Psalm would end in verse 35. God blesses the people, giving them a place to live and providing good land to plant fields and vineyards. Life will not just be bearable or tolerable – it will be good and it will be blessed. God’s generous spirit will be evident to the people of faith.

We too rejoice in the love of God. I close with verse 43 from this same Psalm: “Whoever is wise, let him [or her] heed these things and consider the great love of God”. Yes, may we too be grateful as we think of God’s great love.

Prayer: Father God, each day you are so good to me. My thanks is ever yours. I too know that in the difficult days, in the times of hardship and suffering, you will be right there. Thank you for your presence and love that are always with me. Amen.


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Hope in Faith

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-7

Verse 6: “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress”.

Today’s Psalm reading begins with a great line: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Every time I read that line I am reminded of a song (Forever) that just makes me happier. This line is found in several Psalms – it is a familiar refrain for the people of God. The thanks in today’s Psalm is centered on the redeeming and gathering power of God in verses two through four, and on the Lord’s deliverance and guidance in verses five through seven. The acts of redeeming and gathering, of delivering and guiding, continue to be reasons we today can also say (or sing), “Give thanks to the Lord…”

Psalm 107 is one of many Psalms of thanksgiving. The nation has wandered and has been dispersed. They have been hungry and thirsty, life “ebbed away”. In his great love, God gathered them back into community, leading them once again by a “straight way”. God’s steadfast love remained strong for his children. God hears their cries and God responded. Through no fault of their own, our current pandemic has caused many to feel difficult emotions. Many are or worry about being hungry and cared for as employment is tenuous in this new time. Many are stressed by anxiety over their health or by the health of loved ones and friends. Many long to be gathered back into community, feeling the pain of isolation and loneliness. Many in our churches and neighborhoods are longing to be redeemed and gathered, to be delivered and guided. Many are crying out, many are hurting. It is a time of struggle, even for some of us.

Verse six reminds us of the promise: “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress”. God will hear and deliver. There is hope in these words. Maybe we need to hear them ourselves. If so, spend some time today with this Psalm and in prayer with your loving God. Maybe we are people of faith who can share these words with those who are worried or stressed or anxious or lonely. As we live out and share our faith, may we each be a part of the healing of the nations. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me and the church to the cries of the hurting and breaking. Lead us to respond in love and hope, offering fellowship and community, care and provision – offering faith in you. Use us to bring healing to our communities and neighborhoods. Amen.