pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Building God’s Kingdom

Reading: Jeremiah 4: 22-28

Verse 22b: “They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good”.

These verses for today are downcast. God laments that Israel does not know God, that they are fools. God notes, “They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good”. The nation of Israel has become exactly the opposite of what God intended. God’s response? Lay all its towns to ruin. Verses 23-25 are reminiscent of the beginning of the Bible – formless and void, no light, quaking mountains. These verses also feel similar to the day that Jesus drew his last breath. Yet God was not without hope. God knew the larger plan that was at work.

In Jeremiah’s day he was not the only faithful person around. With a quick glance it might have looked like it. This is why, in verse 27, God says that the destruction will not be complete. Even in exile leaders and people will rise up to keep the nation connected to God and to their faith. The towns laying in ruins and the time living in a foreign land will be a hard time. But it will also be a refining time for the Israelites.

The exile will end and a faithful people will rebuild. The nation will grow and flourish. But then the leaders will lead the people astray and the Romans become the new Babylon. Israel keeps some faith but the poor are oppressed, sinners become less welcome, religion becomes more exclusive and somewhat legalistic. In essence Jesus will raze the same criticism that we read today in verse 22, calling the religious leaders “whitewashed tombs” and hypocrites (Matthew 23).

This time God’s response is not exile but sacrifice. After Jesus sets us an example of what God’s love looks like when lived out in practical, tangible ways, he goes to the cross and grave to establish a new covenant. After rising from the grave, Jesus also fulfills his promise, sending the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit lives and dwells in all who profess Jesus as Lord, a presence that helps us to walk as Jesus walked. As we do so, following Jesus, we help that remnant to grow as others come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior too. As we share our faith, we help in building God’s kingdom here on earth. In all we do and say and think today, may we bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, you have ever been at work leading us away from sin and back into right relationship with you. Continue to do so in my life. Show me today how to best be your light and love so that others can come to know you or can come closer to you today. Amen.

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Extraordinary

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Fill the jars with water”.

At His mother’s request, Jesus takes action. The six empty jars – the ones used for religious rituals – are standing nearby. Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water”. I do not sense any hesitation on their part. In fact, our Bibles tell us that “they filled them to the brim”. They do not just put some water in the jars. There is an expectation of something here. Maybe they could sense it in Mary and Jesus’ conversation.

The water that was placed in the jars was just ordinary water. It was probably drawn from the local well – from the well that all the people and animals living in and around Cana drink from every day. But once inside the jars the water becomes something extraordinary. Not just wine, but really good wine. The master of the wedding banquet notes, “you have saved the best until last”.

On one level, in the here and now, this story tells us to look for and to expect God’s abundance in extraordinary ways. The jars are filled to the brim. This is how God wants to fill us. God does not want us to experience some of His love, grace, mercy,… He wants to fill us so full that it even overflows! What is inside the jars is extraordinary because of Jesus. This too is God’s desire for all who follow Christ. When Jesus is in us, we are ‘in the world but not of the world’. We belong to heaven. In this world, we stand out and we are called to be a glorious witness to God and His coming kingdom.

This is the second level of our extraordinary abundance. The passage points to the eternal. Like the wine at the banquet, our best is yet to come. We begin to experience what is to come in our earthly life. God is ever at work in us, sanctifying us – making us more and more like Jesus, living more and more in His image. Through this process we grow in our faith and life is better. Yet this life is just a small glimpse of heaven – not even a little peek. It is just the beginning of a taste. We await a far more exceeding time in glory. This too will be extraordinary!

Prayer: God, thank you for walking with me through this life. In the blessings and in the trials, I know you are there. You have so much more for me than I can even imagine. Help me to trust, to step where you lead, allowing me to spread your love and to help build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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The Last First

Reading: Mark 10: 28-31

Verse 28: “We have left everything to follow you”.

The opening and closing lines of our passage really point out the counter-cultural nature of our faith. Peter declares, “We have left everything to follow you”. Culture today says more is better and bigger is better yet. Our society elevates the wealthy, the powerful, the supremely athletic, and the most beautiful. They have “it” and have climbed to the pinnacle of success. Culture tells us that these things are the goal for all people.

The call to discipleship is a call to the opposite. Instead of us wanting it all, the gospel asks for all of us. The call invites us to step into God’s upside-down way of thinking that places ourselves far from the focus, looking first to God and then to neighbor.

When we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see what this truly looks like. Jesus stood on the side of the woman caught in adultery – convicting all there of their own sins first and then offering mercy and grace to the one who was last. Instead of avoiding the sinners, the tax collectors, the Samaritans, the children, the lepers, the blind… Jesus engaged them, knowing that God’s kingdom includes those that society devalues and overlooks. The same healing, redemption, and restoration that Jesus offered when He walked the earth is still offered today. It is offered through all who will place self after God and neighbor.

Jesus assures the disciples that the reward will come – not in the ways that the world evaluates success, but in the abundant life that God has planned in the coming age. As we let go of pursuing wealth and status and popularity, we will be able to be all in as we work to bring God’s upside-down kingdom to reality. Our passage closes with Jesus saying, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first”. This is a radical thing we are being called to – considering first the orphan and the widow, the broken and the hurting, the sinner and the lost. May we be willing to give our all for those who are seen as last, elevating them as God does, to first.

Lord, help me to surrender all to you, all for Jesus. Give me a servant’s heart to see the last first, sharing with them the love and hope of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Serving God, Serving Others

Reading: Mark 9: 33-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”.

The disciples are arguing about something we can argue about from time to time. As kids, we all argued with our siblings about who was our parents’ favorite. As we got a little older, we discussed who was the teacher’s or coach’s favorite. As we entered into adulthood, the discussion took place most often in our heads. Whenever we did voice our opinion concerning someone being the favorite, it was usually a manner of complaint or gossip.

Unfortunately, most people want to be #1. Some express this by being large and in charge. Some simply want to be the one others look to. Deep down, we all want to be important, to matter. Society teaches us that worth is in our possessions, our titles, our status. This equates out to being the greatest. Faith runs counter to these values and ideas. Knowing what the disciples were arguing about, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”. If you want to be the greatest in God’s kingdom, be the last to consider yourself, be the first to offer yourself in humble service to one and all. How counter-cultural this is. What a radical way to consider greatness.

To drive His point home, Jesus has a child stand among them. In His day, children were at the bottom of the social and familial ladder. Jesus tells His disciples that when we welcome one of these – the least – we welcome Jesus and we welcome God into our lives. When we feed the hungry, visit the sick and the lonely, clothe the naked… then we are serving our needs last, we are being the servant of all. In the process, we often see the face of God in those we meet.

Lord God, this day may I seek to be last instead of first. May I be a giver and not a taker. May I be a person of humble faith, not a person of aloof religion. In all I do and say, maybe serve you as I serve others. May it be so each day. Amen.


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Trusting Faith

Reading: Mark 5: 21-24 and 35-43

Verse 23: “Please come and put your hands on my daughter so that she will be healed and live”.

In today’s reading a desperate father comes to Jesus. He falls at Jesus’ feet and begs Him to see his dying daughter. As a parent, I would do almost anything for my children. I think most parents fall into this mindset. We would give up much or do anything in our power to save our children from suffering and hardship.

Jarius is certainly willing to risk for his daughter. As the ruler of the synagogue, he is aligned with the powers that be. These powers, the Pharisees and Herodians, have already clashed with Jesus and have begun to plot His demise. Risking his position in the synagogue and within the powers that be, Jarius goes to Jesus. His daughter is dying. Jarius meets Jesus and falls at his feet. He begs Jesus, saying, “Please come and put your hands on my daughter so that she will be healed and live”. His daughter is dying. The time is short. He is desperate. Jesus is his last resort.

We are often like Jarius. We come to Jesus when we feel as if He were our last resort, when time has about run out, when we are desperate. We first try and do it on our own. Then we turn to “experts” next. We only turn to our faith when the end is near. Then we expect an instant solution, a quick fix. We can be sure that Jarius had a sense of urgency about his request. When he begged Jesus to come, “now” was certainly implied.

This is often our mindset when we pray. Jesus, answer my prayer now. Answer it how I want it answered. Now. Do what I want right now! We are not good at waiting. We do not do well waiting patiently for God’s will to be revealed. Perhaps if we started praying first…

Just as Jesus is finishing His conversation that interrupted the trip to Jarius’ home, Jarius receives some bad news – your daughter is dead. Immediately Jesus offers hope: “Don’t be afraid; just believe”. He is saying, keep the faith Jarius. Hold onto your faith. Turn your desperate faith into trusting faith. Believe. Allow your faith to be real. I cannot imagine what was going through Jarius’ mind as they walked to his house and then into his daughter’s room. This is how we must walk sometimes too: unsure but trusting in Jesus anyway. Like Jarius, may we walk in trusting faith, believing in God’s plan.


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Trusting Faith

Reading: Mark 5: 21-24 and 35-43

Verse 23: “Please come and put your hands on my daughter so that she will be healed and live”.

In today’s reading a desperate father comes to Jesus. He falls at Jesus’ feet and begs Him to see his dying daughter. As a parent, I would do almost anything for my children. I think most parents fall into this mindset. We would give up much or do anything in our power to save our children from suffering and hardship.

Jarius is certainly willing to risk for his daughter. As the ruler of the synagogue, he is aligned with the powers that be. These powers, the Pharisees and Herodians, have already clashed with Jesus and have begun to plot His demise. Risking his position in the synagogue and within the powers that be, Jarius goes to Jesus. His daughter is dying. Jarius meets Jesus and falls at his feet. He begs Jesus, saying, “Please come and put your hands on my daughter so that she will be healed and live”. His daughter is dying. The time is short. He is desperate. Jesus is his last resort.

We are often like Jarius. We come to Jesus when we feel as if He were our last resort, when time has about run out, when we are desperate. We first try and do it on our own. Then we turn to “experts” next. We only turn to our faith when the end is near. Then we expect an instant solution, a quick fix. We can be sure that Jarius had a sense of urgency about his request. When he begged Jesus to come, “now” was certainly implied.

This is often our mindset when we pray. Jesus, answer my prayer now. Answer it how I want it answered. Now. Do what I want right now! We are not good at waiting. We do not do well waiting patiently for God’s will to be revealed. Perhaps if we started praying first…

Just as Jesus is finishing His conversation that interrupted the trip to Jarius’ home, Jarius receives some bad news – your daughter is dead. Immediately Jesus offers hope: “Don’t be afraid; just believe”. He is saying, keep the faith Jarius. Hold onto your faith. Turn your desperate faith into trusting faith. Believe. Allow your faith to be real. I cannot imagine what was going through Jarius’ mind as they walked to his house and then into his daughter’s room. This is how we must walk sometimes too: unsure but trusting in Jesus anyway. Like Jarius, may we walk in trusting faith, believing in God’s plan.


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Sufficient for Us All

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 21: You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.

Today’s parable is challenging.  It has been prompted by Peter asking Jesus what the disciples will receive for following Jesus.  After all, they left everything behind to follow.  Peter’s question is prompted by the response Jesus gave to the rich young man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.  If we recall, the young man went away sad because Jesus asked of him more than he could give at the time.  Peter is told by Jesus that they will be by His side in eternity.  In fact, Jesus says that all who leave things or people behind will inherit eternal life.  Jesus ends this response with, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”.  From here, Jesus tells today’s parable.

In short, workers are hired throughout the day to come to the vineyard to help with the harvest.  The owner of the vineyard promises each of them the same thing: a fair wage.  They work and line up at the end of the day to receive their pay.  Some had worked all day, some just an hour.  The last are paid first and all receive the same pay: a denarius.  Those who worked the longest are upset, saying to the owner: “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day”.  The landowner responds with this: “Or are you envious because I am generous”?

In life, Christians come to faith at different stages in life, each joining in in the building of the kingdom.  The Lord of the harvest promises the same reward to each of them: eternal life.  They go to work and then line up for the reward at the end of their lives.  Some labor for all if their lives, some for just a short time.  The lifers and the new converts receive the same pay.  Those who have been faithful all of their lives can be tempted to say, “Lord, you have made that person who just accepted you equal to us who have served you all of our lives”?  The Lord of the harvest will respond with words of grace and love and invitation.

Yes, God loves us all.  He loves the saints and the sinners.  He loves the saved and the lost.  Heaven rejoices each time a lost soul becomes a part of the family.  His grace is sufficient for us all, whenever and however we come to faith.  The promise is the same: love God and claim eternal life.  Thanks be to God!