pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Just a Few Words

Reading: James 3: 1-6

Verse 6: “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”

Photo credit: Devin Avery

Turning to James 3 today we begin the section called “Taming the Tongue” in my Bible. Using great metaphors, James illustrates the power of our words. Today’s passage uses some strong words to communicate the importance of what we allow or do not allow to come from our mouths.

James begins by speaking to the leaders and potential leaders in the churches. He warns that those in leadership “will be judged more strictly.” Is James referring to judgment by God or by men? I believe that James is thinking of both in this passage. Those with a platform from which to speak really need to be aware of the impact of their words. Going on James points out “we all stumble in many ways.” Yes, we are all far from perfect.

Using the metaphors of a small bit controlling a large animal like a horse and the tiny rudder that steers a large ship driven by strong winds, James helps us to understand that the small tongue in our mouths can have huge impacts when we make even small boasts. He parallels this to a small spark that sets a whole forest on fire. In verse six James writes, “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” The tongue does have potential to do much harm. All of us can quickly think of times when we have been hurt or stung by another’s words. We can just as readily recall many instances when our words have done the same to others. The tongue can certainly be “a world of evil.” We all need to exercise great care with our words.

James closes this part of our passage for this week with the recognition that our tongue can “corrupt the whole person”. Just a few words can affect how we see another person or can impact how we are seen and understood. The damage quickly done can be very hard to undo. With all of this in mind, may we harken back to the call to be quick to listen and slow to speak, seeking to better tame our tongue. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a patient tongue. In those moments when I am tempted to speak quick or harsh words, slow me down. Guard the thoughts of my heart and shield me from the temptations of the evil one. May the Holy Spirit be my filter each day. Amen.


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Just a Few Words

Reading: James 3: 1-6

Verse 6: “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”

Photo credit: Devin Avery

Turning to James 3 today we begin the section called “Taming the Tongue” in my Bible. Using great metaphors, James illustrates the power of our words. Today’s passage uses some strong words to communicate the importance of what we allow or do not allow to come from our mouths.

James begins by speaking to the leaders and potential leaders in the churches. He warns that those in leadership “will be judged more strictly.” Is James referring to judgment by God or by men? I believe that James is thinking of both in this passage. Those with a platform from which to speak really need to be aware of the impact of their words. Going on James points out “we all stumble in many ways.” Yes, we are all far from perfect.

Using the metaphors of a small bit controlling a large animal like a horse and the tiny rudder that steers a large ship driven by strong winds, James helps us to understand that the small tongue in our mouths can have huge impacts when we make even small boasts. He parallels this to a small spark that sets a whole forest on fire. In verse six James writes, “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” The tongue does have potential to do much harm. All of us can quickly think of times when we have been hurt or stung by another’s words. We can just as readily recall many instances when our words have done the same to others. The tongue can certainly be “a world of evil.” We all need to exercise great care with our words.

James closes this part of our passage for this week with the recognition that our tongue can “corrupt the whole person”. Just a few words can affect how we see another person or can impact how we are seen and understood. The damage quickly done can be very hard to undo. With all of this in mind, may we harken back to the call to be quick to listen and slow to speak, seeking to better tame our tongue. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a patient tongue. In those moments when I am tempted to speak quick or harsh words, slow me down. Guard the thoughts of my heart and shield me from the temptations of the evil one. May the Holy Spirit be my filter each day. Amen.


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Just a Few Words

Reading: James 3: 1-6

Verse 6: “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”

Photo credit: Devin Avery

Turning to James 3 today we begin the section called “Taming the Tongue” in my Bible. Using great metaphors, James illustrates the power of our words. Today’s passage uses some strong words to communicate the importance of what we allow or do not allow to come from our mouths.

James begins by speaking to the leaders and potential leaders in the churches. He warns that those in leadership “will be judged more strictly.” Is James referring to judgment by God or by men? I believe that James is thinking of both in this passage. Those with a platform from which to speak really need to be aware of the impact of their words. Going on James points out “we all stumble in many ways.” Yes, we are all far from perfect.

Using the metaphors of a small bit controlling a large animal like a horse and the tiny rudder that steers a large ship driven by strong winds, James helps us to understand that the small tongue in our mouths can have huge impacts when we make even small boasts. He parallels this to a small spark that sets a whole forest on fire. In verse six James writes, “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” The tongue does have potential to do much harm. All of us can quickly think of times when we have been hurt or stung by another’s words. We can just as readily recall many instances when our words have done the same to others. The tongue can certainly be “a world of evil.” We all need to exercise great care with our words.

James closes this part of our passage for this week with the recognition that our tongue can “corrupt the whole person”. Just a few words can affect how we see another person or can impact how we are seen and understood. The damage quickly done can be very hard to undo. With all of this in mind, may we harken back to the call to be quick to listen and slow to speak, seeking to better tame our tongue. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a patient tongue. In those moments when I am tempted to speak quick or harsh words, slow me down. Guard the thoughts of my heart and shield me from the temptations of the evil one. May the Holy Spirit be my filter each day. Amen.


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Words of Life

Reading: John 6: 56-69

Verses 68-69: “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”.

Photo credit: Sarah Berriman

Our passage today picks up part way through Jesus’ conversation with the crowd. The crowd wants more physical bread and Jesus offers spiritual bread. They want sustenance for the day. Jesus extends an invitation to something eternal. Jesus tells the crowd that in order to enter into this kind of relationship with Jesus and God, they must “eat my flesh and drink my blood”. This teaching is too hard for many in the crowd. It creates a pinch point in the path. Many who had followed Jesus up to this point turn away and quit following him. The path had become too hard to walk.

To me the journey of faith continues to be a challenging path. To catch ahold of Jesus, to be drawn to him – it still happens today. For some it is a long, slow process, built upon many seeds of faith planted by family, friends, churches, the Spirit… For these folks, the roots grow deep as faith continues to be an evolving part of their lives. For some faith came quickly – through a chance encounter or during a time of loss and suffering. These found or shared in a faith that carried them through, much like the fish and loaves carried the crowd through to the next day.

Jesus tells the crowd that the next step is their step, not his. They must invest deeply to continue to develop this new relationship that has begun. Those in the crowd were drawn to Jesus; they were caught up in the miracles, in being carried through. Jesus requires a deeper commitment. He wants to change their lives and then to continue doing so. This is the point at which many struggle, myself included. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ brings one to the pinch point many times – that moment when we realize that yet another thing inside of us must die. Depending on the size of that cross that Jesus is asking us to lay down, it too can be hard. To continue to walk with Jesus, to partake of the Bread of Life, one must die to self again and again. For some, like the crowd, it is too great a cost and they turn away. For others the Spirit leads you through and the walk with Jesus goes on. The bond is tighter, the connection stronger, the love greater.

When the Spirit asks, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, may our soul answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go”? Like the faithful disciples, may we daily respond, “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”. May this ever be our faith.

Prayer: Lord God, at times the road feels narrow and the way is hard. Your call echoes into all areas of my life. There is no part of me that you don’t want to touch, to shape, to refine. Although at times this journey is difficult, I cannot imagine life without you. So please continue to lead and guide me, to refine and mold me, to love me. 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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What an Advocate!

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”.

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

In two days many churches will celebrate Pentecost. This day recalls the moment that God’s Spirit filled the first believers. In our passage today Paul unpacks some of what the Spirit does with and for those who believe.

Paul begins by describing our longing to be forever with God. He is speaking of that inherent longing in all of humanity. In the opening verse Paul describes this as all of creation groaning as we “wait eagerly for our adoption… for the redemption of our bodies”. For Paul, this is the ultimate hope we find in our faith – to one day be redeemed fully, to be transformed into our heavenly and forever form. Living in difficult times, often facing persecution and hardship, even death, Paul and his fellow Christians often had to hold onto this hope found in Jesus Christ. At times, in our deepest valleys, we too hold onto the hope of eternal life.

In verse 26 Paul writes, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In the same way that the Spirit raises up hope in our hearts, the Holy Spirit also strengthens and encourages us. Paul also describes how the Spirit goes a step further. When we are so weak (or ill or lonely or sorrowful or upset or…) that we cannot even put our prayer into words, then “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”. When we cannot even form the words, the Holy Spirit prays for us. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts takes over and takes our pleas to God on our behalf. In the moments when we are simply overwhelmed, the Spirit speaks to God for us. When we are as weak as weak can be, the Spirit “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. To me, it doesn’t get any better than that. The Spirit prays for you and me in alignment with God’s perfect plans for our lives. What an advocate we have! Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for loving me so much that you chose to send your Spirit to dwell in me. Thank you for being willing to know and abide in imperfect and sinful me. That is a deep, deep love. Thank you. Amen.


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Faithful and Abiding Presence

Reading: Acts 3: 12-19

Verse 16: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong”.

In the opening verses of Acts 3 Peter heals a crippled beggar. The man had been carried to the same temple gate for years. All who came and went from the temple would know who this man was. This day he begs for Peter and John to give him some money. Instead, Peter commands him to walk in the name of Jesus. Instantly the man is made strong. He enters the temple courts, “walking and jumping” and praising God.

The people who saw this man walking and jumping were astonished. Peter asks them, “Why does this surprise you”? He then asks why they stare at John and himself, “as if by our own power or godliness” the man was healed. Peter continues on, explaining that it was the power of the risen Christ that healed the man. In verse sixteen he says, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong”. This complete healing has come through faith in Jesus Christ.

At times we too experience the healing or renewing or comforting or strengthening power of Jesus Christ. His power fills us as we pray or as we meditate on scripture. His power fills us as we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. His power fills us as we step beside another in love and compassion. Sometimes Jesus’ power comes in unseen or unexpected ways – that friend who calls just when we need their wisdom or loving words, that opportunity that opens up just when we are desperate for work, that peace that surrounds us just when we think we cannot go on. In many of these cases, we too stand in wonder, amazed at the power of Jesus Christ to change lives. Today may we pause and thank God for our own “times of refreshing” that come from the Lord. Thanks be to God for his presence and love!

Prayer: Lord, for all the times when you have shown the way, lifted me up, carried me through, spoken into my heart, strengthened my weary soul… thank you. Thank you for your abiding and faithful presence. Amen.


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Discipleship

Reading: Mark 11: 1-7

Verse 7: “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”.

Photo credit: Juan Gomez

Our passage for today opens with an act of discipleship. In the literal sense Jesus instructs two disciples to go and do something for him. The two are instructed to go and get a colt for Jesus. They are told to enter the village ahead, there they will find a colt. They are to untie it and, if anyone asks, to tell the people that Jesus needs it. And, yes, don’t worry – we’ll return it when we’re done with it. They are not borrowing a cup of flour from the neighbor. Culture must have been much different back then.

Up to this point in Jesus’ ministry his popularity has risen and fallen. Many were initially attracted to the miracles but the more he spoke of the cost of discipleship, the more the crowd thinned. Yet his name was known. In whose name could we go today to commandeer a car or even a bike? Who among us would be so daring to even attempt such a thing? We would be so full of doubt and questioning. But what of these two disciples?

The disciples do as Jesus says. They find the colt just as he said they would. They answer the question that Jesus said might be asked just as Jesus told them to. And they return to Jesus with the colt that “no one has ever ridden”. What impression or effect did this act of faith have on these two disciples? How did this shape their faith moving forward? Verse seven tells us, “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”. Seeing Jesus there, assuming a place and position new for him, how did they see their role?

At times the Holy Spirit calls us to action. It whispers or nudges us to an action or to speak words. We too often ask, “Say what?” or “Do what?” How would our faith and our lives be different if we simply did as these two disciples did? Where would our faith take us if we truly lived with Jesus Christ as the Lord of our life?

Prayer: Lord God, your call is persistent, your love is unchanging. In those moments when I begin to question, when I try to hesitate long enough for the opportunity to pass, spur me to action. When I fail to respond immediately, well up in me a quick compassion and an unquenchable love for those you place before me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Looking Up

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verse 7: “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us”.

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

As the Israelites near the end of their journey in the wilderness they are tired, impatient, and irritable. Three weeks into Lent and perhaps a few of us grow tired of the themes of reflection and introspection. In the bigger picture, today the source of our weariness and impatience and irritability is the pandemic. As the Israelites grumble against God and Moses, they are expressing these emotions. They long to go back to what was. Tired of their current situation, they let go of their frustration via complaint. This is the fifth complaint story during their wilderness journey. God has had enough. God sends venemous snakes among the Israelites and many die. Consequences.

Like Jesus’ subversive actions in the temple, this response of God makes us feel a little uncomfortable. Our reality, though, is that we have been here too. We have had the tables turned over a time or two or… We have been bitten by our poorly spoken words or via our sinful actions. We too have experienced how the pain drives us to confession and repentance, to turning back toward God. As we look up to the Lord, just like the Israelites did, we find reconciliation and restoration and forgiveness. God is faithful and moves quickly to bring us back into right relationship.

Lent is a wilderness experience, a season of introspection and reflection. In that spirit, let us consider times when our actions have harmed or caused pain for others. Perhaps we are in the midst of such a time. What words spoken have caused harm? What actions have damaged relationships? What words left unspoken or actions left undone have allowed harm or pain to continue? To wrestle with these questions first requires a humble and contrite spirit. On Ash Wednesday we were reminded that this is the posture of Lent – a humble and contrite spirit. It is what leads to a new heart within us and to the place of healing that God so graciously offers.

The Israelites looked up to the reminder that God is in control, to the serpent fashioned by Moses. Today, we lift our eyes to our source of healing and hope, to the one who offers mercy and grace, restoration and wholeness – Jesus Christ. On this Lenten journey, may the God of love continue to sustain you and to give life, even in the wilderness.

Prayer: Lord of life, you are so gracious and merciful and kind. Your love is overwhelming, your patience without end. Just as you continued to walk with the Israelites, walk with me day by day. Reveal to me the ways that I have caused and do cause harm so that I can repent and become more like your son, the Christ. Amen.


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Dominion

Reading: Psalm 22: 23-31

Verse 28: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

The words that we read in today’s Psalm seem far from the realities of our world. The world feels like it is full of suffering. Many of their cries seem to go unanswered. The poor do not appear to be satisfied. All the earth has not turned toward the Lord. In the midst of these continuing realities, verse 28 calls us to a higher truth, to an eternal reality: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

The hope that we find in our faith reminds us that this world and its trials are temporary. God is truly in charge and one day the Lord will be the only king or ruler. All people past and present will “kneel before him”. This is a future scene that one day will come. As we live out our day to day lives, do we simply wait for Christ to return or to call us home? Do we just go through the motions of life and live with the suffering and the cries and the plight of the poor? Should we be okay with all the lost souls?

As Christians in the modern world reading these words written long ago by King David, our role is to connect to that “future generation” and to be the ones who “proclaim his righteousness” and who share the hope we have with a world in need. Rather than seeing ourselves as David and the Jews did and do – as a chosen people set aside for God – may we see ourselves as Jesus saw and lived out his ministry: as one sent into the world to minister to needs, to care for the marginalized, to alleviate suffering. May we, by our words and actions, proclaim that the kingdom of God has drawn near, manifesting this reality in the world. May all that we do and say reveal the dominion and rule of Christ here and now. In and through us, may Christ reign.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to the cries of the suffering and to the needs around me. Lead and guide me to make your love known in this world. Amen.