pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Transform Us

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verses 2 and 3: “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white”.

Peter, James, and John go up the mountain with Jesus. Jesus is transfigured before them. He is still Jesus but he has been changed, elevated, further revealed. His glory and power shine out from him. To the disciples, this appears or is described as “dazzling white”. Even though their words paint an image that we can form in our mind, we too know that their human words and description fall short of the fullness of this divine moment. Their words provide but a glimpse of what they saw and felt and experienced in that moment.

We too have moments when we are blessed by the very presence of the divine. Once, when I was in high school, I was praying with two friends in the church balcony. We were praying for a friend of mine whose life hung in the balance. In that balcony, God touched me. I felt surrounded, loved, assured that no matter the outcome my friend would be alright. These words relate my experience to you but they do not fully capture what I felt and experienced that night. It too is but a glimpse into someone else’s encounter with God. Just as Peter, James, and John’s moment was transforming for their faith, so too was that balcony moment. What moments have you had that have transformed you?

As we consider that question, we are on the verge of entering into the season of Lent next week. It is a season of introspection and reflection. When and if we are open and honest with God, he will meet us in those places of need or brokenness or hurt as well as in the ordinary moments of life. He will surround us and lift us and remain with us if we are but willing to go up the mountain or through the valley or to simply recognize him in the ordinary of life. May we be willing and may Christ transform us during this holy season.

Prayer: Lord God, you seek to be with us in all of our moments – the highs and lows and the moments in between. Help me to recognize your presence in each moment of my life and draw me deeper into that connection point and into our relationship. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Ministers of the Gospel

Reading: 1st Corinthians 9: 16-23

Verse 19: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Our passage today begins with a part of Paul’s call story. Because of his encounter with the risen Christ he has a clear mission to preach the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. In Acts 9 it is revealed that Paul is Jesus’ “chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel”. This is why Paul is “compelled to preach” the gospel. Although most of us do not have the singular, radical life changing moment like Paul had, as people who declare Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we fall under the great commission that Jesus gave in Matthew 28 to “make disciples of all nations”.

Some are called to be preachers, some to be teachers, some to be worship leaders, some to be ushers, some to be worker bees… All are called the be ministers. Under the great commission we are all called to minister to the world, sharing the good news with a world in need. While most of us are not evangelical missionaries like Paul was, all of us have a story of faith and all of us can share our love of Jesus with others. Some of us will share through formal roles in the church, some will share through volunteer roles, some will share through specific encounters with friends and neighbors. All of us should share our faith in the ways that we live our day to day lives.

Paul was one who lived out his faith in all he did and with all he met. It was an intentional choice he made after Jesus worked a 180° change in his life. This radical change led Paul to spend the rest of his days telling others about the Lord. In verse nineteen we read, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible”. A slave was the very bottom of the social order. It was a place of total subservience. Paul was willing to be a slave to Jesus in order to save as many people as he could. Paul would become like his audience so that he could best communicate Jesus’ saving power to them. With the Jews, for example, Paul drew on his Jewish upbringing to help the Jews come to Christ. He found common ground. This is the most natural and comfortable way to share faith with others. Today, for example, a young Christian mom would most naturally share her faith while spending time with another young mom. Similarly, a recovered Christian alcoholic would most comfortably share his or her faith with a seeker just beginning the path to recovery. Common interests, shared experiences, similar places in life… provide great opportunities for natural gospel conversations.

Knowing why Jesus matters in our lives is the beginning of being able to share our faith. Step two is a willingness to have the conversation when the Holy Spirit nudges us and provides an opportunity. We are all called to be ministers of the gospel. Do you know your story of faith? Are you willing to share the story of what Jesus means to you? It is our call. May we all choose to be willing slaves of Jesus Christ, seeking to “win as many as possible” by sharing our love of Jesus Christ with the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I am not too sure where I would be without you. With you, I know my days and my future lie in your hands. Make me a willing slave, willing to share my love of you whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit gives opportunity. As always, use me as you will. Amen.


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Leaders and Mentors

Reading: Judges 4: 4-5

Verse 4: “Deborah, a prophetess… was leading Israel at that time”.

Deborah was a woman who led the nation of Israel for a period of time. Under her leadership and guidance, the people were freed from the rule of foreign kings and enjoyed peace for forty years. Deborah was the leader or judge because of her connection to God. As a prophet Deborah heard the word of God and used God’s direction to lead the people, to settle disputes, to guide military leaders. She relied on God to show her how to lead and to have the words to speak. The people looked up to Deborah and saw her as their leader because God’s connection to her was clearly evident.

As I think back over my life of faith, I can identify people who were Deborahs to me. In times of uncertainty their words guided me and helped me through. In times of suffering or trial, their words brought me comfort and strength. In times of difficult decisions, their words helped discern the correct path. I sought these men and women out because I saw God’s presence in their lives and because they had walked the path I was walking. As I have turned to more mature Christians, God has used their willingness to help me along on my spiritual journey. Like Deborah, they have freely given of themselves, patiently leading and mentoring me in the ways of God. I am grateful for their love and care, for their investment in me as a fellow believer.

As we each continue on our journeys of faith, we too may be called upon to be a Deborah. It might be for our church, for our community, for a family member, for a friend… As we grow in our relationship with God, his presence becomes more and more evident in our lives. When we are called upon as leaders and/or mentors, may we step forward as humble servants, leading and guiding as the Lord our God directs us.

Prayer: Lord God, on my journey of faith, help me to discern when to lead and what to seek the guidance and direction of others. Speak to me by the power of the Holy Spirit, allowing me to live in a way that is pleasing and glorifying to you. Keep me humble, turning to wiser and more mature Christians when other voices are needed. Continue to lead and guide me, O Lord. Amen.


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Glimpses

Reading: Exodus 33: 12-23

Verse 16: “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us”?

Last week in Exodus 32 we read about how God was displeased with and angry with the people for making and worshipping an idol. Moses stood in the gap for the people and God’s wrath relented. Between then and today’s reading, two significant events happened. Moses called the Levites to himself and then sent them out into the camp armed with swords. 3,000 people were killed. We believe these were the ringleaders in the doubting of Moses’ return and in the forming of the golden calf. The second event is the setting up of the “tent of meeting”. Moses set up a small tent just outside of camp to inquire of the Lord. The people could see Moses go into the tent and know where he was. The pillar of cloud would stand at the entrance to the tent when Moses was inside, indicating God’s presence. In these times the people would worship God.

At this point, apparently God is considering sending the Israelites on into the Promised Land on their own. In today’s passage Moses first reminds God, “these are your people”. Moses then makes it personal, asking God to go with him. God is willing to be present to Moses because he has been faithful to God. Moses continues to press the issue, saying, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here”. In essence, without God, what would be the point of going any further? Moses then asks, “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us”? Without God’s presence, the Israelites are indistinguishable from any other people on the face of the earth. The same is true for us. Without God’s presence in our lives, we would be just like most of the world. At best, we’d just be some nice, kind people gathering in nice buildings.

As the passage continues, God agrees to continue being Israel’s God. Next Moses asks to see God’s glory. If God is willing to be present to and with him and the people, Moses wants to have a glimpse of God. God agrees to cause “all of my goodness” to pass by Moses. God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock at the moment of his passing by. To see God’s face would bring death. God’s hand shields Moses in the critical moment and then Moses sees God’s back as God walks on.

We too long for glimpses of God in our lives. We also want to tangibly feel close to God and to his presence. At times we do. These moments can be in worship at church or in a sunrise or along the path in the woods. It can be wrapped in the kindness or love of others or it can be in the way we feel after a time of reverent prayer. These are but a few of the ways we can catch a glimpse of God in our lives. Where else have you caught a glimpse of God? As you and I reflect on this question, may we rejoice and praise the Lord our God for his presence in our lives.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for your presence in my life and for all the times I have literally felt you with me and for the times when I have seen you in another or in the created world. You are so kind and good to me. Thank you, Lord! Amen.


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Pursuit of Christ

Reading: Matthew 13: 44-51

Verse 47: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish”.

The first part of our reading for today illustrates the value of our faith. Faith is compared to a treasure hidden in a field and to a pearl of great worth. Both are recognized as of great value once they are found. In both cases the finder is willing to sell all they possess in order to gain what was found. If we discovered faith just today, would we willing to do the same? Would I be willing to give up all I have to have faith in Jesus Christ? It is a hard question to honestly wrestle with.

This question leads well into the second half of our reading. It begins with this verse: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish”. The fish in the net are then sorted: good and bad. Jesus explains that “at the end of the age” the angels will do this separating. He reminds us that the wicked will go into the “fiery furnace” and there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. This is the reality we will all face – good or bad? Returning to the question about how I value faith, it makes me wonder if I really do what the fishermen do in Jesus’ story. Do I actively sort through my heart and soul, working to remove all that hinders my pursuit of Jesus? Most of the time I do. Most of the time. Most days I spend time in reflection, confessing my sins and repenting of them. Yet I will still slip back into sin when I am judgmental or critical or controlling or prideful. In those moments I am not sure which way the angels would sort me. But thanks be to God for his abundant mercy and deep grace. The Holy Spirit continues to work in me – leading, guiding, correcting, convicting – all to help me to walk more like Jesus, the perfector of our faith. Each day may the Spirit work in us, drawing us closer and closer to the throne of grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen my walk of faith today. Help me to treat my faith as a thing of great worth. Allow the Holy Spirit to work within me, ever drawing me closer to being the follower you created me to be. Amen.


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Passing Faith Along

Reading: Matthew 10: 40-42

Verse 40: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me”.

Today’s passage pairs well with the Romans 6 passage that we have been reading. Jesus is encouraging us to turn to others in the name of the Lord. In the opening verse Jesus explains the connection: when we serve another in Jesus’ name, if they receive our faithful service, they are receiving Jesus. And if the person or group receives Jesus then they also receive God. Whether we are giving a cup of water to a “little one” or if we are visiting a friend experiencing loss or if we are giving clothes or other assistance to one in need or if we share the good news, if we do so for the Lord, then that person or group is meeting Jesus in us.

As we share Jesus and God with others we are part of a long line of faithful witnesses. At some point we were the one receiving Jesus and God into our hearts. At some point the folks we share Jesus and God with will be the witnesses passing along faith. Together we form the “great cloud of witness” referred to in Hebrews 12. To serve others, to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ – they require obedience to God, a servant’s heart, and a willing spirit. As we are filled up today and go out into the world this week, may we seek to help all we meet to receive the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, may the words that I speak and the actions that I take shine your light and love into the world. May I bear witness to you faithfully this week. Amen.


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Love Extravagantly

Reading: John 12:1-11

Verse 3: “Mary took an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”.

It was quite an extravagant thing that Mary did. She took what was likely the most valuable thing she had and she poured it on Jesus’ feet. In a way it is hard to imagine. It is hard for me to imagine giving away one of my most prized possessions in such a way. From the reactions of the disciples that we find in the other gospel accounts, we see that they too are taken aback by the gift. In Matthew we read that “they were indignant” and in Mark we read that “they rebuked her”. Perhaps we would have felt the same. Maybe part of the shock was that it was always Jesus who gave to others. Here someone is ministering to Jesus.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of such a gift? Have you ever been amazed by the extravagance or radical generosity of another? For me, such experiences have usually been gifts of time or presence. After a tragedy that I experienced in college, my former youth pastor opened his door and his heart to me over and over and walked with me through the grieving process. Looking back, I am not sure where I’d have been without Gil. Perhaps that is how Jesus looks at Mary’s gift too. He did not get stuck on the cash value but instead saw how Mary lovingly gave the very best she could. As Jesus would face the angry crowd and Pilate and Herod and the beating and the cross, here was one who did not abandon Him. She remained present. Her love did not waver. In love, she offered the best she could. Perhaps, in all that Jesus faced during His last week, perhaps His thoughts went back to this moment when someone lovingly served Him. Maybe this radical demonstration of love helped Jesus through.

For the last three Sundays, during the message I have asked the same question of the congregation: “What are we willing to do for Jesus”? It has been asked within the context of the Lenten sermon series. Each Sunday we’ve looked at how God moves first in us to draw us closer and then at how God seeks to move us out into the world. Mary’s gift was spontaneous but also led by the Spirit. She sensed time was short and offered all she could. In that small moment, she did not count the cost or worry about what others thought. She simply acted with selfless love. As we live out our week, may we too be open to the Spirit moving in and through us to offer ourselves extravagantly in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to the world around me and grant me a heart that feels as you feel. Make me a willing servant this week as I seek to live out your love. Amen.


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Live and Love Like Jesus

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 17: “Join with others in following my example… live according to the pattern we gave you”.

Paul is writing to the church in Philippi. In our passage today he is encouraging them to keep in mind the eternal prize. In verses 12-14 Paul wrote of “straining toward what is ahead” and “to win the prize” that he has been called “heavenward”. This is the big picture, the end game, of our faith. Yet we also live in the day to day. Leading into our passage for today, Paul writes, “Only let us live up to what we already have obtained”. Let us live daily in a way that reveals our salvation and hope that we have found in Jesus Christ.

From this point Paul jumps off into today’s passage. He opens up with this encouragement: “Join with others in following my example… live according to the pattern we gave you”. Since his encounter with Jesus Christ, Paul has led a life of total devotion to Jesus. Paul has and will endured much suffering and pain for the cause of Christ. This is part of what Paul is calling the Philippians to. Once Paul became a follower of Jesus he dedicated his entire life to helping others know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There was often opposition to Paul and what he was teaching. During his ministry he was beaten, stoned, arrested, whipped, and shipwrecked. He lived at times in poverty. None of this mattered: he would always continue with the same passion and conviction no matter what was done to him, no matter what he had to endure. Paul was truly a servant of the cross. His call to follow his example is second only to following Jesus’ example.

In the “Disciplines” devotional that I read this morning, the author calls this a “vulnerable love”. This is such an awesome description of the love that Jesus lived out and that Paul imitated. It is a love for Christ and for our brothers and sisters that is so deep that it makes us vulnerable. We love so fully and completely that we open ourselves up to pain and suffering for Christ and for the other. It is how Christ loved.

Paul concludes with the ‘why’ we are called to love in this extravagant way: “Our citizenship is in heaven”. The things of this world that others choose does not matter because “their destiny is destruction”. He goes on to remind the Philippians and us that we “await a Savior from there [heaven]”, one who will “transform our lowly bodies so that we will be like His glorious body”. What a day it will be! Until that day may we live and love like Jesus.

Prayer: Lord may the love I have for you and for my fellow human beings be extravagant, willing, vulnerable, generous, and all else that your love was and is. Amen.


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A Willing Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verses 1& 2: “Have mercy on me, O God… Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

The common understanding of the background of Psalm 51 is that it springs forth from David’s sins around the Bathsheba-Uriah episode. His outpouring of repentance comes after Nathan confronted him. The depth of his sin has settled in on him and David comes to God with a broken and sorrowful heart. This pours from the Psalm.

David begins with, “Have mercy on me, O God…”. Forgiveness begins with God extending us mercy. Mercy is that undeserved gift that we cannot earn yet never run out of. It is the love that makes it possible for our sins to be removed. Mercy says that God understands our plight as the sinful creatures that we are. The depth of God’s love says this over and over again.

In just the opening lines, David continues with, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. It is precisely what God does with our sin. He washes it away and remembers it no more. Unlike us, when we repent, God forgets our sins. This is a second sign of the depth of God’s love – we are made totally clean again. God restores us to righteousness and holiness. I imagine that God smiles as He looks upon us in this state. It is a knowing smile that I picture on God’s face. He knows us well.

As this section of our Psalm closes, we read these familiar lines: “Create in me a pure heart and a steadfast spirit within me”. These familiar words ring out over and over in my church and in churches all over the world on Ash Wednesday as we enter into a season of preparation for Easter. The sign of the cross on our foreheads reminds us that sin has a cost. Yes, mercy and forgiveness are free to you and me, but they did come with a price.

Verse 12 asks God to “grant me a willing spirit”. It is David’s request to walk more closely with God. Like David, may we too be honest with God, admitting our failures, welcoming His cleansing, and continuing our journey of faith with a resolute mind and heart. May we live today and every day with a willing spirit and a repentant heart. May it be so, all to the glory of God. 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.