pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Compassion

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 14: When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Jesus always seemed to be in demand.  Once He began to teach and heal, there always seemed to be a group or a crowd gathered around Him.  He had interesting and sometimes challenging parables and His interpretation of the Scriptures and what it meant to have faith all seemed to center around love and hope and forgiveness.  There was a hunger for these things and Jesus offered them.  For each, there was draw to Jesus.  This day, many are seeking healing.  The people are seeking Jesus’ touch to heal them physically or spiritually or mentally.  So this day is no different than all the others.  Jesus is tired and seeks to withdraw to a solitary place, but the people follow along on shore.

“When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick”.  Instead of being mad or getting back in the boat and heading off someplace else, a tired Jesus has compassion.  He gets out of the boat and starts healing them.  We do not know how or what He healed them of, but we do know that He healed many because as evening approaches, the disciples come to Jesus with a practical concern.  Feeding the people – one more way to care for them.  But Jesus’ response challenges the disciples: “You feed them”.  Their answer: but, but, but.   Our answer would have been the same.  What can we do, Lord?

Instead of being angry with the disciples or seeking to walk away from them, Jesus has compassion.  He solves their problem too.  With five loaves and two fish, Jesus feeds the multitude.  His compassion never ends.  Even though tired and seeking solitude, Jesus heals many and as the day draws long, He feeds them too, tending to a physical need of the people.

Jesus continues to do all of this today.  In those times of hurt and pain, Jesus heals our brokenness.  He heals our physical or spiritual or emotional hurts.  He also provides for our needs – our daily bread and so much more.  Jesus offers us Hope and love and forgiveness today as He has compassion on us.  Whatever our need or our hurt, Jesus says to us, “Bring them to me”.


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Steps

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-2

Verse 2: He makes me like down in green pastures… He restores my soul.

David opens the Psalm by declaring God to be his shepherd.  Because of this, David knows he shall not be in want.  Above all else, he has learned that God provides for him.  Whether dealing with a bear while tending sheep or facing a giant on the battle field or avoiding the insane king, God has provided for way more than David’s basic needs.  But God has provided for them as well, so David has a deep and abiding trust in God.  It is a trust that had grown with experience and practice.  It is one we can enjoy too if we are willing to “let go and let God”.  But it is sort of a two-edged sword you see.  If we never trust God enough to face our giants, then we never truly understand just how great our God can be.  Deep and abiding trust requires us to take another step.

David goes on in verse two to another way that God cares for him and us: rest.  God knew since the beginning how important it was for us to rest.  God himself rested on the seventh day and made Sabbath rest one of the ten commandments.  It is a practice that is deeply ingrained in the lives of Orthodox Jews to this day.  David writes, “He makes me like down in green pastures… He restores my soul”.  David is so in tune with God that he feels God leads him to a place of rest.  David’s place is out in nature, the place of his youth.  The green pastures and quiet waters are calling and David finds restoration for his soul in this place.  It is a place that God invites us to as well.  It is a space that requires deep and abiding trust as well.  It requires that we trust God enough to rest.  This means that we trust God can and will take care of tomorrow – with all of it’s requisite work and worries.  This is also a “let go and let God” practice.  It is also a means of trusting all that we have and all that we are into God’s hands.  To trust in this way also requires another step – another step towards God and away from the world.

This day may we step a little further in our trust in God, entering deeper into His love.


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Lead

Reading​: Exodus 17:1-7

The Israelites have Moses as their leader.  He was sent by God to free the people from slavery in Egypt and to lead them to the Promised Land.  Through the signs and wonders it is clear that God is with Moses.  As the people begin this journey, the memories of slavery are surely still in their minds.  Yet they grumble and complain pretty guickly against Moses when their needs are not met.  They are free, yes, but they have been promised a new homeland.  They envision arriving, not being tested out in the desert.

Initially, Moses was a very reluctant leader.  In fact, he tried to talk God out of choosing him.  But Moses did accept the position and has been a good leader.  He has grown into the position and has worn the title well.  Even though Moses’ patience is tried now and then by the people, he functions well as their leader.  He deals with the daily decisions, hears the daily cases and complaints, and continues to lead.  So it is natural for the people to go to Moses when there is no water to drink.  When the people have a vision for the Promised Land, it is hard to die of thirst out in the desert.

Moses, as leader and intermediary to God, intercedes on the people’s behalf.  God responds to the people’s needs by making water flow from the Rock at Horeb.  God provides and Moses continues to lead.

Almost all of us are leaders.  For some it is with our families, for some it is at our jobs, for some it is on our teams, for some it is where we volunteer, for some it is in our circle of friends.  As leaders, we try and set the example and try to lead in a way that brings honor and glory to God.  And at times, like with Moses, the ‘people’ will complain or grumble to us as the leader.  May we each follow Moses’ example, hearing the people and then going to God for the solution.  We can choose to lead by following God’s voice and direction, or we can try to lead on our own.  Things worked out pretty good for Moses.  May we also choose to lead wherever we are planted with God out in front.


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Trials and Temptations

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Jesus prepares for His ministry with a period of testing.  He fasts for forty days and is physically weak.  Satan comes then and tempts Jesus with food, trust, and power.  Food represents both our basic needs and our desires.  Is our life about pursuing these things and then giving what’s left to God?  Or do we first give to God, knowing that He loves us and will provide for all we need?  The second temptation partly involves trust.  We we step out or step forward, trusting that God will have our back?  And perhaps before this first step, did we seek God’s discernment and direction or did we just make our own plan?  When seek God’s will and when we obey His lead, there is no fear or lack of trust.  Power is the third temptation.  Worship Satan and all the world is yours.  We like to be in charge.  What a temptation!

In our own journey of faith, we are often tempted and often out to the test.  In our giving, do we obediently give our tithe or volunteer for that cause that pulls at our heart strings?  Or do we focus on what “has” to be done first or pay all the bills and then see if we have time or money left for God?  In those moments when the Holy Spirit nudges us to get involved or to offer our talents or to engage the stranger, do we trust that God will give us the words to say or will show us what to do?  Or do we apply excuses or rationalize away the opportunity?  And when we look at our priorities, do they reveal that God is #1 in our lives?  Or does ‘God’ fall somewhere down the list?  If one looked at our lives, they should see how we are investing our lives in God’s work in the world and in growing our own personal faith.  Is that what they would see?

Just as Satan tempted Jesus to rely on something other than God, he will also tempt us.  How we respond to or react to the above questions and scenarios indicated how successful Satan may be at drawing us away from God.  In this season of Lent, where we too are preparing ourselves for ministry, may the Lord our God strengthen and encourage us each day as we strive to walk as disciples of Jesus each and every day.


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Saved

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-3

The psalmist cries out to God, “come and save us”.  This is a familiar prayer to us as well.  Most often when we pray this prayer (or one that is similar), we are seeking God in the here and now.  We are in the midst of something and we would like God’s help.  We want God to enter our situation, to intervene, to make things better.  God’s response may not be to do exactly what we want it to ‘fix’ the situation, but through prayer we certainly find peace, comfort, strength…

In a bigger sense of the word, we are “saved” once we accept and profess that Jesus Christ is Lord of our life.  Once we claim Jesus as Savior, we are living in a state of being “saved”.  This means we have the promise of eternal salvation through our personal relationship with Jesus.  This status does not change.  Through this relationship Jesus claims us as His own and we are then forever living in a state of salvation.

For the remainder of our days, we live knowing our final destination, yet always working to grow in our love of God and neighbor.  Once we are “saved” it is not the end point but rather the beginning of the journey.  Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are then ever living to become more and more like Jesus.  We grow to love others as Jesus lived others.  We grow to offer mercy and forgiveness more readily, like Jesus did.  We grow to place others ahead of self, like Jesus did.

As we move along the journey to become more and more like Jesus, we become more and more attuned to the needs of the world.  We see feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, standing against injustice, speaking truth into darkness, … as the stuff of everyday life.  As His hands and feet, we share Jesus’ love with many.  As we continue on our journey of faith, may we share bountifully.


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Community

Reading: Jeremiah 29:7

In our lives connections are important.  We live within a web of connections or relationships.  We have connections first to our families.  Here we gain our sense of belonging and here we develop who we are – all within this safe web of family.  Next we form connections with our friends and significant adults in our lives.  Soon we come to understand that how we live, act, and treat others matters.  How we are treated matters.  We learn how impactful our lives can be on others and vice versa.  Both for the good and the bad, we know that our connections to others is vital.

Jeremiah advises Israel to seek prosperity and peace for the city of Babylon.  He goes on to advise them to pray for the city too.  The welfare of the exiles is bound up in the welfare of the city.  One does not have to look too far in America to find examples of this concept.  When there was unrest and protest and violence in a city, the impact was felt by all inhabitants of that city.

In our lives we have many layers of connections and relationships.  The closer in, the more they impact us.  For example, a parent losing a job impacts us more than a third cousin losing a job.  We still feel for that cousin, but don’t necessarily deal with the affects.  This distance can lead us to not be as connected to those we do not know and to those who we see as the stranger.

Our reality is that we are connected to all in our community.  Our faith calls us to be aware of all in our community.  The idea that our community as a whole is less when even one member suffers is an extension of God’s love for all of us.  It is when we choose to address basic needs and to correct injustices that our whole community prospers and flourishes.  When life is better for one, it is better for all.  This sense of equality and well-being for all is deeply rooted in our faith.  For whom in our community could we make life better?