pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love Extravagantly

Reading: John 12:1-11

Verse 3: “Mary took an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”.

It was quite an extravagant thing that Mary did. She took what was likely the most valuable thing she had and she poured it on Jesus’ feet. In a way it is hard to imagine. It is hard for me to imagine giving away one of my most prized possessions in such a way. From the reactions of the disciples that we find in the other gospel accounts, we see that they too are taken aback by the gift. In Matthew we read that “they were indignant” and in Mark we read that “they rebuked her”. Perhaps we would have felt the same. Maybe part of the shock was that it was always Jesus who gave to others. Here someone is ministering to Jesus.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of such a gift? Have you ever been amazed by the extravagance or radical generosity of another? For me, such experiences have usually been gifts of time or presence. After a tragedy that I experienced in college, my former youth pastor opened his door and his heart to me over and over and walked with me through the grieving process. Looking back, I am not sure where I’d have been without Gil. Perhaps that is how Jesus looks at Mary’s gift too. He did not get stuck on the cash value but instead saw how Mary lovingly gave the very best she could. As Jesus would face the angry crowd and Pilate and Herod and the beating and the cross, here was one who did not abandon Him. She remained present. Her love did not waver. In love, she offered the best she could. Perhaps, in all that Jesus faced during His last week, perhaps His thoughts went back to this moment when someone lovingly served Him. Maybe this radical demonstration of love helped Jesus through.

For the last three Sundays, during the message I have asked the same question of the congregation: “What are we willing to do for Jesus”? It has been asked within the context of the Lenten sermon series. Each Sunday we’ve looked at how God moves first in us to draw us closer and then at how God seeks to move us out into the world. Mary’s gift was spontaneous but also led by the Spirit. She sensed time was short and offered all she could. In that small moment, she did not count the cost or worry about what others thought. She simply acted with selfless love. As we live out our week, may we too be open to the Spirit moving in and through us to offer ourselves extravagantly in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to the world around me and grant me a heart that feels as you feel. Make me a willing servant this week as I seek to live out your love. Amen.


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Saving Relationship

Reading: Psalm 20

Verses Six and Seven: “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed… we trust in the name of the Lord our God”.

Relationship is the key to our faith. In today’s Psalm, David speaks of the relationship we have with God. One of the keys to any good relationship is communication. David opens with one of our key communication tools: prayer. He asks God, “May the Lord answer you… protect you”. As the faithful we are to bring all things to God, trusting in God’s response. David then prays for blessings of help and support from God.

Another way we communicate with God is through our acts of worship. Often this occurs on Sunday mornings as we gather for corporate worship. How we choose to live our day to day lives is also an act of worship if it brings glory to God. When we offer some of ourselves or some of our time, talents, and resources, it is an act of worship. When we give to God or to others because of the love of God overflowing from our hearts, it is worship. When we sacrifice self and place God and neighbor ahead of our own interests and desires, we are also modeling for others the witness given by Jesus Christ.

David goes on to ask that God may give us the desires of our heart and for our plans to succeed. He is petitioning God to grant us a good life. David is not hoping that the king or any of us are billionaires, but that we find contentment and that God provides for all our needs.

As he closes, David turns to the salvation we find through our relationship with God. In verse six he writes, “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed”. When we confess Jesus as Lord, we are saved. We are anointed with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, with the “saving power of God’s right hand”. David goes on to acknowledge that some people “trust in chariots and horses” – the things of man, the things of this world. “But…”, David writes. “But we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. David observed that those who trust in the things of this world are “brought to their knees”, but the faithful “rise up and stand firm”. We do so because we stand on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God for the great love that calls us into this saving relationship. Praise be to the Lord! Amen.


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Holy and Pleasing

Reading: Romans 12: 1-8

Verse One: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.

Paul opens today’s passage by urging the Christians in Rome (and us) to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”.  When we offer of ourselves – our time, our gifts, our resources, our talents – and give them to God and for God’s glory, it pleases God.  Just as with any relationship, when we take time for the other, when we consider the needs of the other, when we give of ourselves, it builds the relationship up.

John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer echoes this idea.  It begins with these words: “I am no longer my own but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with who thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering”.  It is a prayer that says no matter what, no matter when, no matter how, use me God.  It is a prayer that cedes all personal rights and gives self fully to God.  It embodies what it means to be a living sacrifice to God.

In verse two, Paul goes on to address what it is that allows a Christian to live this way.  He first says not to be conformed to this world.  This world is temporary, it is of the flesh.  Paul then goes on to encourage us instead to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind” as we grow in our relationship with God.  When we seek to transform our mind into God’s mind, we enter the next step in our relationship.  We transform our mind by studying the Word, by spending time in prayer and fasting, by worshipping and fellowshipping with fellow believers.  The more time we spend with God, the more we are transformed.  The end result is that we come to know and live into God’s “good, pleasing, and perfect will”.

For Paul, the transformation and renewing of our minds brings our thinking into alignment with God’s thinking.  Paul believed that behavior would follow thinking.  As we become more aligned with God, our behaviors become things like serving obediently, living humbly, and giving generously.  We begin to live as Jesus lived – taking time for the other, meeting the needs of the other, giving of self, loving all.  This day, may we reflect Jesus to all we meet, offering ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to 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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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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Worship the Lord

Reading: Psalm 145: 1-5 and 17-21

Psalm 145 is a song of praise to God.  In our worship we call out to God, singing to an “audience of one”, as the saying goes.  Verse 18 reads, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth”.  As we call out in worship, we offer God our thanksgiving and praise in song.  We also call out to draw near to God, to be in God’s presence.  When we call out to God, God draws near to us.

Some years in Youth group we are blessed to have a young man or woman who can play the guitar or piano and can sing.  These gifted young people bless us by leading our times of worship.  Other years we do not have such an individual and by default I lead.  Although I do not always maintain the same tempo and play an occasional wrong chord, I can provide the guitar to lead worship.  The vocals are another story.  I cannot count how many times on of the youth singers has looked at me with the “what are you singing?” look.  I smile and we keep on going.  I wish I could sing.  But I am simply not a good singer.  So I make a joyful noise to the Lord.

God does not require our perfection.  God desires our presence in worship.  God desires that our hearts be fully present in worship.  God would much rather have our off key singing with love and passion than our reverent silence.  God does bless many with the gift of a good voice.  Accordingly, they should lead the worship of the Lord whenever possible.  And even the best is not perfect.  This matters not either.  God desires our joyful worship.  God wants us to offer all of ourselves in worship.  Each time, as we seek to draw near the Lord, may we offer our audience of one all that we are and all that we have, for it is pleasing in God’s sight when we worship the Lord.


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Simple Servant

Reading: 2 Timothy 4: 6-8

As Paul looks back over a lifetime, he is pleased with how he finished.  He knows he had his moments.  We all do.  Paul grew up like all other Jewish boys – learning the Torah and practicing the family trade.  He worked hard at learning the Law and rose to become a Pharisee.  Then this Jesus fellow came along and started to cause a stir.  Paul stuck to his traditional faith and soon Jesus was crucified and buried.  But the newfound “Way”, as it was known, continued to grow and spread.  Paul, known then as Saul, took up the mantel and led the charge to stamp out this fledgling religion.  But then one day, on his way to Damascus to round up some followers of the Way, Paul himself met Jesus.  Paul encountered the risen Christ and Paul became a new creation.  From then on he worked tirelessly to teach the good news of Jesus Christ to any and all who would listen.

Paul has “fought the fight, finished the race, kept the faith”.  Paul is pleased with how he has spent the last years of his life.  There is no regret, no second thoughts.  Paul has been a great champion of sharing Jesus with others.  He has done all he could do for a Savior that changed his life forever.  Paul now sees his life as being poured out like a thank offering, a gift made to God for the change that Jesus Christ has wrought in his life.  Having given fully of himself, Paul is content with his life of service offered to the Christ he loves.

Paul exemplifies the simple servant that Jesus calls us all to be.  It is the life that Jesus first modeled as well.  When we offer ourselves out of a love for God and a love for neighbor, we too are fighting the good fight.  When we step into the opportunities that God gives us, we too are keeping the faith.  Each day, as we strive to fall more in love with God and to grow deeper in our faith, we too are finishing the race as faithful disciples.  May we bring glory and honor to God in all we do.