pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Provider and Defender

Reading: Psalm 81: 15-16

Verse 16: “You would be fed with the finest wheat; with honey from the rock”.

Most of Psalm 81 laments Israel’s most recent choice to worship idols instead of the God who did so much for them. In today’s passage, the last two verses of the Psalm, we hear the “if only” of the writing. The enemies of Israel would cringe and receive punishment and the Israelites “would be fed with the finest wheat; with honey from the rock” if only the people would turn again to the Lord their God.

The Promised Land has always been that special place set aside for God’s people. Ever since Abraham received the promise, it has been seen as the “land flowing with milk and honey”. As the Israelites finally entered it at the end of the exodus, there was an abundance of crops and resources that simply became theirs to reap and harvest. The land could not have been any better for a people who had been roaming the desert for forty years.

The bounty of the land is just one symbolic way that shows God’s love for the Israelites. God’s offer to protect them from their enemies is one more example of God’s love and care. Many years later, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, these two ideas were included. Jesus taught to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread”. This reminds us that God is our provider. Later on in the prayer we pray, “and keep us from temptation”. Keep Satan, our biggest enemy, from us, O God. This reminds us that God is our defender.

We, like the Israelites, have our times when we wander off from God. Although it could be for forty years, let’s hope not. No matter how long it is or how quickly we seek to return to God, God is always there, always quick to grant mercy and to extend forgiveness. Some things never change – God still desires a personal relationship with each of us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord God, for being my provider and my defender. In all that life and the evil one brings, you are my only hope. Thank you for walking every day with me. You’re an awesome God! Amen.

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Open to Others

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.

On its most basic level the parable of the rich man is about greed and the negative decisions it can lead to. In the parable a bumper crop triggered the man’s “mine” instincts. He decided he had to build bigger barns to store his new crop. He coveted his grain because in it he saw not only financial security but also a chance to take some time to enjoy life. He was very focused on self.

Possessions and wealth are not the only things we can feel greed over and can seek to covet. This morning I read about a small neighborhood church in a changing community that decided to take a chance and reach out. Instead of holding onto their church, they opened their doors and invited their new immigrant neighbors inside. They invited them in and began praying with them – to find homes and jobs and for comfort to their loneliness. The praying led to relationships and that small church grew as their new friends became brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some churches could see new faces as threats to what they have and know. In many cases immigrants are cast in an “us” and “them” scenario. And immigrants are not the only people groups that can be seen in an “us” and “them” framework. When we create perceived differences between ourselves and another group of people, we are denying that they too were created in the image of God. When we allow greed to put up a barrier between us and our neighbors, we are holding tightly to what we have always known or had and are not allowing God’s love to work in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world, or in our own heart.

The rich man was focused only on self. He could not see all he had to offer his neighbors. His greed prevented him from seeing beyond himself and from experiencing God’s love at work. In the end, what good did all that grain do him? Storing up and holding things for ourselves – goods, money, time, compassion, prayers, empathy, a place at the table – does not make us rich towards God either. May we all learn a little from the rich man and from the church that opened its doors to those outside. May we practice what we learn.

Prayer: Lord God, who is out there today for me to engage? Lead me to share your love with another today. Soften my heart and open my eyes, hands, and feet. Amen.


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Talents to Work

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 25: “So I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground”.

Fear motivates at least the third slave.  He is fearful of losing the master’s money so he goes and buries it in the ground.  At least when the master returns he can give him what is his.  He is playing it safe.  He knows the master is harsh, so he avoids taking a risk.  When the master returns he punishes the third slave for playing it too safe.  The one talent he has is taken and given to the one with ten talents.  The third slave is thrown out into the darkness.

As Christians, does God expect us to take chances, to do some risky things for our faith?  I think He does.  At a minimum we are called to live out our faith.  In the simple way we live our lives, we should be sharing our faith with others.  This takes risks.  To offer fellowship to that co-worker who always seems to be alone takes on the risk of rejection.  To offer grace and forgiveness to that classmate who always wants to be first, usually hurting others to get there, takes on the risk of being hurt again.  To ask that person who seems to be in a rough spots takes on the risk of involvement and possibly relationship.  And these are just a few small risks that God expects us to take as ones who try and follow Christ’s example.  Each act, as a small seed planted, will one day bear fruit for the kingdom.

I believe God is also calling us to more than simply living out our faith.  God creates each of us uniquely, with special talents inside each of us.  Some are teachers, some are preachers, some are evangelists, …  God expects us to take these talents and to put these to work as well.  It usually involves stepping out of our comfort zones the first time or two.  Yet as we live into the call of God on our lives, we begin to see these actions bearing fruit as well.  God desires to be at work in and through us, allowing the light and love of Jesus to go forth into the world, bearing a crop 30, 60, or 100 times what was sown.  In both the small ways and in the big ways, may we each seek to use the talents that God has given us to build the kingdom here on earth.


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Following Along

In John 12 Jesus parallels our faith with that of a seed.  If a single seed remains sitting on the counter or in the package, then that is all it is.  In a similar way, if we just believe in God then that is all our faith is: just belief.

When the seed is placed in the soil though, it can produce much more.  But in order to produce a crop, the seed itself must die and grow into a plant.  The old is gone and the new goes on to produce a crop.  In a similar way, our old self must be given up so that our new self can grow to live our life for Christ instead of for self.

If we are willing to set aside self and to live for and with Christ, we too can bear much ‘fruit.’  And here too Jesus gives insight.  He tells the disciples and us that whoever serves Him, must follow Him.  Whoever follows must go where He goes.

Here Jesus is calling us past belief.  He is calling us to action: follow, serve, go.  In order to bear fruit in our lives, it requires us to put God and others ahead of ourselves.  This means we cannot ask “Go where?” or “Now?” or “With whom?”  Jesus ministered to anyone, anywhere, anytime.  If we are to follow, we must do the same.

Scripture reference: John 12: 20-26


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The Master Gardener

Perhaps it was no coincidence that Mary Magdelene mistook Jesus for a gardener.  In many ways Jesus was and is a gardener.

Jesus taught and continues to teach through stories, parables, examples, and healings.  Within each are little seeds that are planted in our hearts and minds.  Each time we read the Bible we glean insights from his words, often times a new insight from a passage we have read before.  One day these seeds will sprout.  In the meantime the gardener works the soil, tending to it so that one day it can nurture good growth.  The gardener continues to turn over our soil with His words, making us into the soil that will produce a crop.

As we grow, He prunes us as well, to shape us into the best disciple we can be.  Sometimes the gardener prunes off parts of us that hinder our growth as disciples, cutting off a little pride here, a little jealousy there, a bit of anger right there…  At other times He prunes to encourage growth in our faith lives.

All the while He is also teaching us how to garden.  Through His example and work in our lives, we come to understand how we can help others on their walk of faith.  We can share the stories from the Bible and from our own walks of faith.  We can tend the soil and encourage growth in those we know.  We can also prune when needed.  But the greatest lesson we learn from Jesus is to garden with love.  It is to produce growth and to encourage that the seeds produce a crop in our garden and in the gardens of those we meet along the way.  Happy gardening!!!