pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Abundant Grace

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse Eight: Call the workers and pay them their wages.

In the parable today the going wage is a denarius.  It was the standard pay for a day’s labor.  For the vineyard workers, four of the five groups received generous pay.  They had worked three, six, nine, or eleven hours less then the first ones hired.  All four of these groups walk away happy with their pay.

The fifth group – those who agreed to a denarius and those who worked the longest – receive the same pay.  In a way this too is generous.  They began the day with nothing to do and were fortunate to be hired.  But what they agreed to does not sit so well with them.  As each group of workers receives their denarius, their unhappiness grows as they come to realize all are being paid the same.  In complaining to the owner, they voice their grumbling relative to the ones who worked only an hour.  They speak of the ones who best ‘prove’ their case.  Yet I think they did not think the groups who worked three, six, or nine hours deserved a denarius either.

God’s grace extends to all who labor for the kingdom of God.  There is no minimum time required before one can begin to draw on grace.  There is no cosmic scorecard somewhere in heaven that determines how much grace each person is allotted or tracks how much we have earned.  We are each given as much as we need.  We are each given the undeserved and unlimited gift of grace anytime we need it.

Our churches are filled with people from all five groups.  Some have just begun to draw on God’s grace.  Others have been living in His grace for 10, 30, or 40 years.  Still others have been living in God’s grace for as long as they can remember.  Many of these receive grace like most of the vineyard workers.  They receive more than they deserve and walk away grateful for the owner’s generosity.  May we each respond to God’s grace the same way, realizing we are receiving more than we deserve, walking away grateful for God’s abundant Grace in our lives.

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Thanks and Gifts

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 19: He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people.

This morning is the last day of a middle school youth mission trip.  We have spent the past week in a large city.  We have learned about poverty and homelessness.  We served food to men and women in need.  We sorted and stocked food in a free pantry.  We worked in a gigantic warehouse sorting and packing food that goes to many agencies who feed people.  We spent two afternoons at a large thrift store sorting about anything you can imagine and preparing it for resale.  The profits all go to people with disabilities in the state.

Through all of these acts of service, we learned about the great need that exists in our world.  It exists in many of our communities and maybe even in our own neighborhoods.  Prior to this trip our youth were unaware of the poverty many face each day.  Yes, they new some lived with very little.  But learning that some parents must choose between paying for their child’s field trip at school and putting gas in the car so they can go to work was a new reality for our youth.

Jesus lived a life of compassion.  He spent time in and among the poor and needy of His day.  They needed Him most.  In our passage today, He begins by healing many.  Then He feeds many.  We read, “He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people”.  There are two important lessons in today’s passage.

First, Jesus gave thanks for the gifts that God has given Him.  Second, the disciples used the gifts Jesus gave them to also be a part of this miracle.  In faith and trust, they were part of the feeding of the thousands.  Our group learned the first lesson well this week.  We are going home to nice houses with an excess of food, clothing…  We do not know true want.  We are truly thankful for the many, many gifts that God has given us.  We began to learn the second lesson this week as we saw how God can use each of us to make the world a better place by sharing His love as we serve others.  It is a great gift that we have to offer.  This day, what will we offer to meet another’s physical or emotional or spiritual need?  May we remember that gifts that God has given us, may we be truly thankful, and may we seek to share them each day for the building of God’s kingdom here on earth.


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Intercessor One

Reading: Romans 8: 26-39

Verse 26: We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.

Paul knew that we, as humans, are weak.  He knew from his own faith journey that living the life of faith cannot be done on our own.  Through his own life, Paul has discovered that the Holy Spirit is an essential part of one’s faith.  It is only through the power and presence of the Spirit in the life of a believer that one can overcome our human weaknesses.

A key role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives is that of intercessor.  The Spirit works as an advocate for us, coming before God with prayers on our behalf.  When we do not know what to pray for or how to put our mess into words, then the Spirit takes over.  Verse 26 speaks of this: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us”.  In this way, the Holy Spirit is always bringing our needs before the throne of God.

The second way the Spirit prays for us begins with God searching our hearts.  In doing so, our weaknesses and shortcomings are revealed and the Spirit prays for these “in accordance with the will of God”.  In this way the Spirit helps to form and shape us into the person God created us to be.  Through this prayerful transformation process, we grow to become more like Jesus, the image of God.  As our faith grows and we become more mature in our faith, we become justified through the saving work of Jesus.  In our humanity we will always be weak.  Therefore we will stumble and fall now and then.  In these moments, the love of God again enters in and we are made righteous by His grace.  It is through Jesus that our weakness is made spiritually strong.  Through all of this the Holy Spirit continues to lift us up in prayer, to bring our needs before God, and to reveal in us what needs to conform more to the likeness of Christ.  Thank you God for the gift of the Holy Spirit.


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Common Good

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse Seven: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Imagine the top graduate from culinary school deciding she wanted to go be a bank teller.  Imagine the college graduate with a degree in electrical engineering deciding he wanted to go mow lawns.  Imagine the gifted accountant deciding she did not want to be on the Finance team because they meet the night she likes to go to the grocery store.  Imagine the Dad that is awesome with middle School boys deciding he would rather join the golf league on Wednesday nights.

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”.  The Spirit gives each of us gifts (or talents).  Verses eight through ten lists off some of these gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, tongues…  Verse eleven reads, “to each one”.  It does not say gifts are only given to some people, but to all people.  When one looks out over a congregation, one realizes that there is a very gifted bunch of folks sitting there.  As we each move through life, most of us come to know what our gift is.  Sometimes it is our passion that leads us to our gift and sometimes we ‘Didn’t our gift by trial and error.

Throughout it’s 2000+ year history, the church has been built by the gifts of millions of people.  Some are famous – Paul, Peter, Martin Luther, John Wesley… – but most are just common people, being used by God.  This is where most of us fit in.  We do not have extraordinary gifts, we are just good at and passionate about something.  Paul writes in our passage about the church being one body with many parts.  That is my church.  It is probably your church too.  Those gifted musicians make up a pretty good choir or praise team.  Those gifted leaders and teachers are running a pretty good VBS.  That gifted group of gardeners has the church flowers and plants looking nice again.  That collection of carpenters and handimen and business owners we call the Trustees sure did a great job on the remodel.

Verse seven ends with: “for the common good”.  It’s what it is all about.  For the good of each other, for the good of the church, for the good of the community, for the good of our lost and broken world.  May we all joyously share the gifts we have been blessed with for the common good.


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Imperishable.

Reading: 1 Peter 1: 17-23

Verses 18-19: It was not with perishable things such as gold or silver that you were redeemed… but with the prescious blood of Christ.

Today’s text plays with the contrast between the perishable and the imperishable.  Peter calls us to pursue the imperishable and to strive for the things of God.  This is in contrast to the world’s view of what matters and what is worthy of our efforts.  Peter encourages the believers to set aside the ways passed down by their fathers and to not follow in pursuing an “empty way of life”.  The chasing after the gold and silver leads to emptiness.  This is a lesson we all eventually learn.  To be rich in things most often leaves one pour in the soul.  At some point all people look in the mirror and come to realize that money and things and status do not bring true happiness.  Living a full life cannot rest on the perishable but must instead be founded on the imperishable.

Peter calls on Christians to “live your lives as strangers in reverant fear”.  To live as strangers means to live not of this world and its cares.  Another phrase that parallels this idea is “in the world but not of the world”.  Our true citizenship is in heaven.  To have ‘reverant fear’ is to have holy respect for God.  It is to be aware that the world’s choices lead to death and destruction.

This passage reminds us that we were bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  This sacrifice made in love calls us to love our brothers and sisters with a deep and sincere love.  Jesus demonstrated what this love looks like and He calls us to follow after Him and to love like He loved.  Verses 18 and 19 capture this love: “It was not with perishable things such as gold or silver that you were redeemed… but with the prescious blood of Christ”.  The blood and love that made it flow so that you and I can be redeemed are imperishable.  This love of God that was poured out on the cross can never be lost.  There is nothing we can do to find ourselves outside of God’s love.  Nothing.  This is why God is our only hope in this world.  This is why God alone provides for our salvation.  He is our eternity.  It is not founded on our fickle love for God but upon God’s unfailing love for us.  It is a gift far more precious than any gold or silver and it is far more enduring.  For the imperishable love of God that we have in Jesus Christ, this day let us offer our praise and thanksgiving.


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Good News

Acts 2: 14a and 36-41

Verse 41: About 3,000 were added to their number that day.

Peter opens this section of scripture with these words: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Savior”.  Peter speaks with authority and power that comes from two things: he has personally seen the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit now dwells within him.  Those gathered around him must have perked up and paid attention.  They all knew the facts of Jesus’ life and His crucifixion.  They also must sense both the unquestionable truth of Peter’s words and the guilt they feel over what has happened to Jesus.  They are ‘cut to the heart’ and ask Peter and friends, “Brothers, what shall we do”?  Although the Holy Spirit has not yet come to dwell in them, they are certainly feeling the conviction of the Spirit.

Peter responds with an altar call.  He says step up, admit and repent of your sins, and be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ.  Again the people respond to the nudge of God.  We too live with this nudge guiding us.  At times the Holy Spirit leads, at times it whispers, at times it convicts, and at times it nudges.  In all of these ways, the Holy Spirit propmts us to action.  When we are faithful, like the 3,000 in today’s passage, then God responds.  God gives the people the forgiveness of sins and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  This is the essence of the good news.

The same good news exists today.  God still pursues mankind with a love that is unquenchable and undeniable.  It is a love that is offered to one and all.  It is offered equally to sinners and to saints.  No matter where we are on the sinner-saint continuum, may we each realize and accept the good news this day: God loves us, Jesus saves us.  All we have to do is profess Jesus as Lord and we receive the gift of eternal life and the daily presence of the Spirit.  Thanks be to God for this wonderful and incredible gift.


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Love for All

Reading: John 3: 16-17

These two verses summarize the love of God for mankind.  God sent His only Son for you and I.  God sent Jesus so that we could believe in Him and have a personal relationship with Him, so that one day we could share in eternal life with Him.  It is a wonderful example of love.  It was a great sacrifice.  It is the best gift the world could ever receive.  Just to be sure we understand the gift, the second verse reminds us that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.

God’s unconditional and unlimited love is for the world, for everyone.  Whether or not one worships God, God loves us all.  Whether or not one lives according to God’s ways, God loves all of us.  God desires for each of us to step within His love to claim our birthright as a child of God.  God wants each of us to enter our eternal rest.  Jesus came to open the way to God for all people, to provide a path that all people can walk.  Jesus modeled the way to eternal life during His earthly ministry.  Just as God’s love is for all people, love guided Jesus in all He did or said.  This is how Jesus saves the world – through love.

Do all people accept God’s love?  No.  Do those who accept His love always follow God’s ways?  Nope.  Do those who strive to follow His ways live a life without sin?  Certainly not.  In spite of all this, God still loves us.  In spite of who we are at times, God does not condemn us.  God knows who and what we are and loves us anyway.  God knew who and what we were, and God still sent Jesus, so that through His sacrifice, we could all enter our eternal rest.  It is unconditional love and the ultimate sacrifice rolled up into the greatest gift we have ever been given.  It is a gift meant to be shared.

Each day, as we live out our life as a disciple of Jesus Christ, we are called to share this gift with others.  We are called to let the whole world know that God loves them.  We share the gift so that all may one day live in the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.  To the ends of the world we go!