pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Preaching, Teaching, Healing

Reading: Matthew 9: 35-38

Verse 35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching… preaching… and healing”.

Today’s short passage sums up Jesus’ ministry quite well. In verse 35 we read about the things that occupied most of his time: teaching, preaching, and healing. I believe that these three practices remain the core practices of ministry today. These three practices often work together to shape and form who we are as people of faith.

Teaching can occur in many settings and can cover many topics. In ministry, we most often think of Bible studies and other topical small groups as the main ways that teaching occurs. This tends to be the focus of teaching in our churches. There are other ways to teach faith. In intentional conversations and in the things we regularly do and say we teach about faith. For example, as parents our everyday words and actions are the main methods of passing our faith along to our children. In this time of COVID there has been a great deal of teaching in our churches on how to safely minister while honoring the need to social distance and stay at home. We have begun to teach about safely gathering again. More recently there has been an increase in teaching on racism and prejudice in America. These teachings have centered on understanding racism and on recognizing how we are all implicit in and impacted by this evil. Social justice has always been a cornerstone of Christianity.

Preaching is something we think just happens on Sunday morning or maybe on a Wednesday or Saturday night. These are the primary delivery times but it also occurs at various times in a variety of settings. These can range from a one-on-one conversation to retreats and camps and even to impromptu gatherings in a bar or the local coffee shop. In almost all cases, preaching centers on sharing, understanding, and applying faith to our daily lives.

Healing was the third aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Today we do not see as many physical healings as we read about in the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit is very active, working in and through Christians all over the world. Healing included restoration to wholeness, redemption from sins and bondage, being drawn into a community of faith, and finding new life in Jesus Christ.

In our passage we read that Jesus preached, taught, and healed for one reason: compassion. He saw those who were in need – the “the harassed and helpless” – and he ministered to them. Our very understanding of who is harassed and helpless has certainly grown over these last few months. In verse 37 Jesus notes, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. May we all be workers for Jesus Christ today!

Prayer: Leading God, day by day help me to use all three of these practices to minister to my congregation and to my community. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring fullness and wholeness of life to those in need. Amen.


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True Servants

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah’s servant song, when read through our New Testament lens, sounds like Jesus. Called long before he was physically born, sword in mouth that cuts through all religious airs and gets to the heart of loving God fully. A polished arrow that surely hits the mark, convicting us of our sin every time. As the servant did, at times Jesus felt as if laboring in vain. More than once he laments over the rejection and hard hearts; more than once he critiques the disciples lack of understanding. He realizes the outcome as described by Isaiah: “my reward is with God”. Jesus returns to the Father to reign forever.

In verse six God pries open the circle a bit. It is not enough for Jesus to go just to the Israelites. In the second half of this verse we read, “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. In comparison to the world, at that time Israel was small. God’s chosen people were a small segment of humanity. To go to the “ends of the world” was a radical shift in the mission field. Much of the Old Testament law functioned as a means of keeping Israel set apart from the outside world. God also directed some measures early on to insure this. Research the conquest of the Promised Land if you want to know more about this. By Jesus’ day the religious establishment defended itself fiercely. There is no shortage of Jesus clashing with religious leaders concerning the size of his circle – the degree to which he would engage and love the “other”. Eat with sinners?! Allow a prostitute to touch you?! Yes, the religious powers wanted to keep the circle drawn in very tight. Verse seven references all of this: “despised and abhorred by the nation”.

In our Christian life we are called to mirror this opening up of the circle. After being drawn into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we are called to die to self. This act ceases our circle of one as we are led to think of others and their needs before considering our own. We are also called to pick up our cross and to follow Jesus. This means we will do as our example did, suffering for others. These things are what a true servant does. On our journey, we too will be despised when we follow Jesus closely. Jesus is not of the world. He is foolishness to all who live for self and for the things of the world. The servant came for all. One day kings and princes will kneel. May this be our posture every day.

Prayer: Father of all nations and all people, guide me today to love as widely and unconditionally as the model did. Through my words and actions, whatever is needed, may I be a light in the darkness of the world. In humility and submission I kneel before your throne, asking for you to use me as you will today. Amen.


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Powerful, Strong, In Control

Reading: Psalm 148: 7-14

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted”.

Psalm 148 is all about praising God. The psalmist calls all of creation to praise the Lord. The praise comes from both the created world and from all types of people. As children of God, at times we are led to spontaneous praise. Coming home two days ago, just off the highway were a group of five bald eagles. Standing on a large patch of snow, their dark brown bodies seemed so large there close to the road. As I took in the sight I thanked God for blessing me with that small, sacred moment.

This morning the wind whips around outside. The power of the wind is amazing. The winds carry around the snow that has been falling for a day now, making it hazardous outside. We are not having church today. We will worship and connect to God in our homes today. I am grateful for the warm, safe home that I sit in. I pray for those who have to be outside – the farmers and ranchers, the emergency personnel, the two snow plow drivers that have gone by my window this morning.

The power and strength and size of the storm makes me feel small and humble. There is also a bit of powerlessness to a day like today too. This is all good. God is the one that is powerful and strong and vast and in control of it all. All praise and glory and honor are yours, O God!

Prayer: O maker of all creation, O stirrer of the storm, thank you for the day. In the power of the storm you are revealed. I praise you for your greatness. I exalt your name alone! Amen.


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What Love

Reading: Psalm 148: 1-6

Verse 5: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created”.

The opening stanza of Psalm 148 is where we begin today. It speaks of the heavens’ call to praise God the creator. The angels, sun, moon, stars, and sky are called to praise God because “he commanded and they were created”. The word was spoken, the decree given, and they all came into being. As we read of angels or look up into the starry sky, they indeed reveal God’s glory and power and might and draw out praise.

These verses remind me once again of the immense power of God. With a word, billions upon billions of stars were created. Not only that, God knows each by name (Psalm 147:4). This stirs up two thoughts in me. The first is my smallness. When I think of the stars and all else that God created, it is awesome. In comparison to that, I am small. And yet God formed me in the womb, knit me together with his own hands (Psalm 139:13). Even though I am small in the grand scope of creation, I am special to God. That is pretty amazing. And the same is all true for you.

The second thought it draws me to, especially at this time of year, is the thought that God – the creator of more than we can even begin to wrap our minds around – chose to take on flesh and walk among us. God incarnate did not hold onto his divinity but instead emptied himself, becoming like us so that through Jesus Christ we can find life abundant and life eternal. What love God has for you and me. What love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are higher than the heavens, deeper than the sea, and you are the creator of all things. And you dwell in my heart. Wow. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Encouraging and Uplifting

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4: 16-18

Verse 17: “The Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that the message might be fully received”.

As a young married couple my wife and I became part of a couple’s group at our church. Each month when we would gather, we would talk about marriage and we would listen to the stories of the two older couples who led the group. Their experiences made our marriages better. Over the course of the past 20+ years I have been blessed to be in and eventually to lead numerous Bible studies and other small groups. In each of these settings there were always more experienced disciples of Christ. From these would and do come stories of faith and of when God acted in their lives. These witnesses to the faith were encouraging and uplifting for my journey of faith.

Paul has been mentoring young Timothy. He has chosen him to carry on the work of spreading the gospel. Paul is entrusting his life’s work to this young disciple. Timothy has shown himself capable and gifted. This is not a random selection. So in today’s passage Paul has a few stories to share with Timothy. He begins by sharing that at times one may feel alone in ministry – “everyone deserted me”. Paul quickly follows up with a deeper truth: “The Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that the message might be fully received”. God did not ever desert him! Just the opposite – God delivered him “from the lion’s mouth”. With an assurance based on both faith and experience, Paul adds that God has rescued him from every evil attack and will continue to do so as God brings Paul “safely to his heavenly kingdom”. Paul is sharing his faith and his experiences as a way to encourage and uplift young Timothy.

As I have progressed into my middle years, I find that I too have some stories to share. On the journey of faith we all have experiences when God guided or intervened or rescued us. These are the stories we have to tell to encourage and uplift those that we gather with on Sunday mornings, that we sit around a table with, that we work with… Like Paul, may we be intentional about passing the faith along to both those in our lives who are on the journey with us and to those yet to begin the journey, all for the glory of God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the journey so far. You have been with me in many ways and many times. Each experience with you builds up my faith and helps me grow closer to you. Open my eyes to the blessings and to the opportunities to share my faith with others. Amen.


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Faith in Christ

Reading: Luke 12: 49-53

Verse 51: “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other”.

In about 30 AD, when Jesus was speaking these words, Israel was a very unique nation. They were a monotheistic people surrounded by and ruled over by polytheistic peoples. They were under the control of the world power, the Romans. The nation was relatively small and had little freedom. Their religion was all that was holding them together. Many of their laws were intended to keep the Jews their own people. Intermarriage with outsiders was frowned upon, they did not evangelize. Their circle was very small.

Jesus ministered in this setting. He caused a disturbance when he are with sinners and outsiders. He told stories that included and sometimes elevated the Samaritans. As Jesus taught and did miracles, he drew followers. His claim to be the Messiah was not accepted by most Jews. He fell outside of their small circle.

One or two in a given family might choose to follow Jesus and become a part of what would become known as Christianity. They would then live what Jesus is talking about today: “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other”. It was a very hard decision to make. It usually meant now living outside of one’s biological family. It was a very weighty decision to make. It was risky and there was a cost for stepping outside the circle.

In many parts of the world, this is still true. To follow Jesus brings division in families, or worse. We too often forget that Jesus did not come just for America or just for the western world or just for our segment of the world. Recently, even in the US, we have felt the fire that Jesus brings. Persecution and trial and suffering are more frequent events as people of faith stand up for what they believe. In some cases, there is division and fire, lines are drawn.

Whether within our families or churches or society, when fire and division come, may we always choose faith in Jesus Christ. Through prayer and study may we stand for Christ. Above all, may love lead the way.

Prayer: Lord, persecution and division seem to be more and more of a reality. Keep me focused on the task at hand: helping one more person to know you. And then, connect me to the next one… Amen.


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Laying Claim

Reading: Luke 4: 14-21

Verse 21: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.

Jesus returns home. He goes to the synagogue to teach. The scroll of Isaiah is brought to Him. He opens to and reads the section about good news, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, release for the captives, and the year of the Lord’s favor. These things will become most of the core of Jesus’ ministry. For a people living under the powerful rule of the Romans, these words would sound pretty good. But then, with these thoughts, they would be looking for a different kind of a Messiah or king.

Jesus sits down and then says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. It is truth, but the people in Nazareth do not see it. Jesus has a reputation starting to grow for being a good preacher, but to them this claim seems a bit much. Yes, Jesus was a really good kid growing up here, but to lay claim to what Isaiah is talking about?

The inability to see persists. People today will acknowledge that Jesus was a good moral teacher and maybe even did a miracle or two. But change my life? Influence the way I live? Don’t think so. Lots of people today do not see Jesus as someone who can change their lives, as someone who can free them from the powers of this world.

I think sometimes we sell Jesus short too. As a Christian we have a personal relationship with Jesus, but sometimes we think Him too small or ourselves too unworthy. We think that our problems are too small to bother Him about, so we guard our prayers or our expectations. Or we feel like Jesus must have better things or bigger concerns to worry about. But the passage from Isaiah that Jesus claimed – it was for one and for all. It is a vision that continues to unfold for all people. The words Jesus spoke He speaks to you and me too, in the present tense: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. Claim it. Today and every day, claim it.

Prayer: Lord, be my all in all. Today and every day, be my all in all. Amen.


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What a Love!

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verse 2: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine”.

All great things begin small. They begin as an idea or as a thought. They are brought to life or to reality. Sometimes the greatness is only revealed over time. Such is God’s love.

God’s love was first revealed in creation. God formed the light and waters and land… and plants and animals. Then God formed Adam and, shortly thereafter, Eve. God’s love was revealed more as He walked and talked with them in the Garden. God’s love, like many great things, was tested now and then. It grew to become a covenant love for a whole nation of people – Israel. In today’s passage we see God’s love in action, calling back the chosen people.

God’s great love is a love for all people. Later in the book of Isaiah, in chapter 49, we can read about the bigger yet love of God, as Isaiah prophesies about “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”. The light is Jesus Christ. Jesus was the fuller revelation of God’s love. Jesus modeled a love that welcomed not only the Jews but the sinners, outcasts, lepers, broken… as well.

God’s love is a love that I don’t think we will ever fully understand until we stand in His presence in eternity. Over and over again, the more we study and especially the more we experience God’s love, the more we come to realize we thought it too small. God’s love exceeds our wildest imagination. I think of all the times I have sinned – of all the unkind thoughts and words, of my pride and ego, of my desire to be in control, of my lustfull nature – and have come to know that God’s love is always bigger than my failures. As we journey through this life, we come to know more and more the truth spoken in verse 1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of grace and love, thank you. I stumble, but you do not let me fall. I fail and sin, but you never leave me there. I hurt our relationship, but your hand always reaches out to me. What a great love you have for a sinner like me. Thank you God. Amen.


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All the Time

Reading: Psalm 34:8

Verse 8: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him”.

The pastor or leader calls out, “God is good”! The congregation or group responds with, “All the time”! The one then calls out, “And all the time…” followed by the people’s response: “God is good”! This pattern is usually repeated two or more times, building each time. It is a great reminder of what our passage today is all about.

Our experiences in life teach us this truth if we are walking in faith. Even though the hurt is great in times of loss, when we turn to God we find strength and comfort and peace. God is good to us in our suffering. As we experience other trials, whether big or small, and when we look to God, when we pray to God, when we trust in God, then we again experience that God is good. If we are faithful and we turn to God in our times of need, we know the truth of this verse: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him”.

In communion we literally experience this verse. As the body of Christ, whether two or three are gathered or if it is the whole congregation, when we taste the bread and the juice or wine, we are physically reminded of how good the Lord was and is. When we “do so in remembrance of Jesus” we are blessed spiritually by His presence too as we confess and are made new.

We can also experience this in small but powerful ways. Earlier this week I volunteered in the concession stand at some local basketball games. Towards the end of the night, a young man that I had helped with his math the week before came up to the window with his dad. When he recognized me, he gave me the biggest smile and said hello. This small thing made my day and again reminded me of how good God really is. All the time, God is good!

O God, you are indeed so good. Thank you, Lord! In you I take my refuge time after time. You never fail me. You bless me with your presence and you walk with me. In the bright, sunny, good days sometimes I see you. Help me to see you always. Open my eyes to see you in the days of joy and plenty. You are good, O Lord. Thank you so much. Amen.


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Tongue, Mind, and Heart

Reading: James 3: 1-8

Verse 8: “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.

Taming the tongue is never easy. James is absolutely correct when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways”. Our words are usually what affects others the most, so being in control of our tongue is essential to living a faithful, Christian life.

The tongue is quite small compared to the rest of our body. Like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship, the small tongue can choose our path or set our course. And like a small spark, our tongue can create a raging fire. James extends the fire idea to our final destination point if we allow our tongues to control us: hell.

The reality is, though, that the tongue cannot speak on its own. The tongue only forms the words brought to it by our minds. So to really control our tongues, we begin with what we put in our minds. When our mind is filled with the evils of the world, then that is what comes out of our mouths. When we fill our minds with the things of God, this is what our tongues speak. If we meditate on God’s Word and know His ways, then our tongues will be filled with faith.

Closely related to what is in our minds is what is in our heart. The same pattern is true here. If we allow anger and bitterness and envy and jealousy to dwell in our hearts, then our mind quickly turns to these things as well. But if instead we fill our hearts with love and mercy and Grace and forgiveness, then these God qualities will be what our mind turns to.

In James 3:8 he writes, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. While it may certainly be true that one cannot ever fully tame the tongue, one can definitely do things that make this task easier. When we fill our hearts and minds with the things of God there is less room for the things of this world. May it be so each and every day.

God, fill me with your Words and with your Holy Spirit. Fill me with you so there is less room for me. Then, may my words and thoughts be pleasing to you, O Lord. May I honor you today. Amen.