pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Witness

Reading: Mark 12: 41-44

Verse 43: “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”.

This passage is a hard passage for many Christians today. Part of me wonders if it is a stay-home passage. That is a passage that people know is being preached on so they choose to stay home from church that day or they quit reading the blog at that point. It is a passage that challenges us to our core if we are willing to consider Jesus’ message and to really look within to see if we are equalling the example set by the widow.

“This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”. She only put in two small copper coins. They were worth just a fraction of a day’s wages. This would be equivalent to a $40,000 a year business person putting in a couple of dollars at church today. Jesus and the disciples have watched rich person after rich person throw large sums of money into the temple treasury. Compared to their large gifts, it is hard to say that the widow’s offering is “more” than theirs. Yet Jesus says it is more. In fact, more than all the others.

No matter how big or small our offering is today in terms of cash value, I wonder if Jesus would say our offering was “more” when set beside all the other gifts brought to our church today? It is NOT about the cash value of the gift but is about the cost to the giver. A four-year-old could bring the best offering today, just as the widow did. Jesus explains why the widow’s gift was such. Jesus says, “They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on”. Wow.

Some folks blanch at the word “tithe”. Compared to the widow’s faith, even 10% might look weak. There was not only great cost for the widow, there was a deep, deep faith on display. When you consider what you bless your church or community of faith with each week, does it demonstrate such cost and such faith in God? In not, I ask you to reconsider your faith.

Dear Father who blesses me so richly: may I ever give to you as the widow gave. Whether my time or my money or my gifts, may the portion I give you reflect the love you have for me. Amen.


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The Struggle Within

Reading: James 4: 1-3

Verse 1: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”?

So far in the book of James, he has built the argument that the things in our heart and mind are what guide our actions, control our tongues, and directs our decisions. In chapter four, he turns the discussion towards the disagreements and arguments that mankind often enters into. One only has to watch the nightly news for a short time to see plenty of examples.

James opens chapter four with two great focus questions: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”? Once in a while we fight and quarrel for other reasons, but most often the battle begins with an internal issue or struggle. Maybe it is something that happened in our past that we haven’t gotten past or let go of yet. Similar events trigger us, pushing that button that leads us to desire to fight and quarrel. Maybe our desire to enter the battle comes from some perceived need or want and our envy or jealousy flares up. Sometimes it has to do with a lack of maturity. I can remember times in my greener years when I’d argue for the sake of arguing and times when I would argue long after I knew I had lost the argument. Pride was definitely at work.

When we come to the edge of a fight and quarrel, James suggests a few filters. We should ask ourselves questions such as these: What am I about to fight about? Is this about getting even? Are these feelings even connected this actual person or situation? Am I being stubborn or prideful? Again, in most cases the urge to fight and quarrel is driven by a struggle or issue within us. When we allow these to linger, they inhibit our relationships with God and with others. Only when we make peace within will we have peace without. James has a suggestion here too: seek God’s help with the right motives. Pray for help with the struggle within. God is faithful. He will rain down mercy, grace, forgiveness, and healing.

Prince of Peace, pour out your peace upon my inner being. Guide me to those that I need to reconcile with. Lead me to speak words of unity and healing. Wipe away all unrest and discord that is within. Help me to freely offer mercy, grace, and forgiveness so that I may receive them from you and from others. May I model your love each day. Amen.


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An Honest Look

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

A new covenant. A new promise. Hope. Opportunity. How we sometimes long for a fresh or new start. For the Israelites long in captivity in Babylon this word from Jeremiah had to bring great hope. Suddenly there was possibility and hope ahead again. They must have certainly felt like the old covenant was a thing of the past. They were living without a temple and without the systems that had connected them to God. Oddly enough they saw change as a good thing. They did not simply want a return to the way things were. Where they were spiritually and relationally was broken and needed changed. They were full of joy to hear, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

Today we can find ourselves here too. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere. For example, one day we find out that our job has been eliminated or that our spouse is asking for divorce. These types of disruptions are forced upon us and we have no choice but to adapt. But sometimes it is a slow creep instead. This happens in life sometimes. We look up and suddenly realize where we’ve gotten to and know in an instant that something must change. Sometimes this can happen in our institutions as well. Our church that used to have hundreds in worship and dozens in Sunday school suddenly seems a bit empty and without much life. At this point, whether personally or institutionally, we can look for and seek for God to do a new thing or we can continue the slow fade. Sometimes this is the easier choice.

We are still in Lent, so I challenge you to look within – to both yourself and to your church. Do you see growth and movement forward or do you see plateau or regression, complacency or death? These are hard questions to consider. Take an honest look within and go to God accordingly.


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Invitation

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.

Lent is a season of fasting and self-denial. It is the season when we are invited to look within and to surrender all that keeps us from being fully committed to God. In general, the things of the men, the things that culture values, keep us separated. In today’s passage, Peter is a good example of this. After Jesus tells the disciples that He will soon be rejected and killed, Peter pulls Him aside to protest such a thing happening. Jesus then rebukes Peter, saying to him, “Get behind me Satan”! The future rock of the church is being called Satan. But Jesus goes on. He knows that the human Peter missed the “after three days rise again” part of the story. Sadly Jesus says to him, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”. Peter wanted Jesus to stay with them. He wanted to hold onto the familiar and comfortable. Peter is not alone.

The season of Lent with all of its fasting and self-denial and surrender continues to run counter to our human desires and to our culture and its values. In a culture that preaches “just do it” and “do it if it makes you feel good” the idea of Lent is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is no wonder so many of us struggle with Lent. Ultimately, though, Lent is a season all about grace and holiness. As we look within, God invites us to be more like Jesus. As we look outside of ourselves, God invites live out His grace and love. In these ways, Lent is an invitation not a requirement. It is an invitation to be a better follower, to live out a more holy and faithful life. And, yes, if we accept the invitation, it will bring some discomfort – it is a harder journey.

As God invites us to search within and to step out, we do so with a promise: “I will never leave you”. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we do not search and we do not go alone. In those moments of unfamiliar, the Spirit will guide and lead. In those moments of discomfort, the Spirit speaks words of peace and strength. In those moments when we look within, when it is unsettling, the Spirit speaks words of encouragement and support. Our discomfort, our unease, are invitations into God’s grace and love. They are invitations to draw closer, to walk holier. They are opportunities that allow His grace and love to reshaped us, to transform us. When we choose to focus our minds on the things of God, we are blessed. May this be my choice and your choice throughout this Lenten season. Amen!


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New Creations

Reading: John 14: 8-17 and 25-27

In today’s passage, Jesus promises the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Like most of us, Philip wants the gift now.  He asks Jesus to show them the Father.  And in a familiar pattern, Jesus patiently explains that He has been showing them the Father all along.  Jesus explains that the words and the works are because the Father is in Him and He is in the Father.  Then Jesus tells them again of this gift of the Holy Spirit.  With this gift the disciples will experience the indwelling presence of God and Jesus within them.  And not only will it be in the disciples, but the Spirit will allow them to do even greater works than Jesus did.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is just one more step in bringing the new creation into being.

Jesus was also a step.  In His example and in the works He did, Jesus began the process of making all things new.  In His teachings He showed a new way, a better way – the way of love.  In truly loving others, we reveal the true nature of God.  Jesus also began the new creation by restoring people.  For some it was a physical restoration: the blind see, the lame walk, the mute speak.  For some, like the lepers, there was also an emotional healing as they were restored to the community as well.  For still others, the restoration was the first steps to returning to a relationship with God.  Jesus was making all things new, providing a glimpse of what the new heaven and earth will be like.

Jesus continued this work with the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples at Pentecost and to all who have called on Him as Lord and Savior ever since.  The same Spirit dwells in each of us, giving us the power to reveal the new creation that is in motion.  Through our lives, words, actions, and deeds, people in our lives can begin to see, understand, and experience what Jesus offers: to be made a new creation.  May we be willing servants in the building of His kingdom here on earth.


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Rejoice!

How today’s scripture passage conflicts with tomorrow’s candle lighting!  In almost all of our churches we will light the pink candle on what was traditionally called Gaudete Sunday.   In Latin, this word means ‘rejoice.’  We do rejoice often in the Christmas season because we have much to celebrate.  So John’s message of judgment and repentance makes us stop and say, “What?!”

Yet John’s message is very relevant and applicable for us  today, just as it was for the ‘brood of vipers’ that John was addressing.  For us to truly see God in the birth of Jesus, we have to not only repent of our sins, but we must also bear fruit that reveals our changed hearts.  To repent does not mean to simply say “I’m sorry” to God.  It requires us to look deep within ourselves and to ask the hard question: what do I need to change to totally orient myself towards God?  This process of reorientation away from self can be one that is hard, takes work, and requires sacrifice.  Sounds a lot like what John’s cousin did for us!

Once we orient ourselves towards God, then we can truly rejoice because His holy light and love begin to dwell in us and to shine out for all to see.  As we continue to walk in His light and love, Christ joy becomes ever more complete in us and we begin to share it with all we meet.  Then the fruit of the Spirit – things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity – are made known in and through our lives.  This day may we look deep within, repent of all that we find that keeps us turned away from God, and draw closer to God so that His light and love may shine ever brighter.

Scripture reference: Luke 3: 7-9


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Offering All

In response to the people crying out to God, He promises to send a messenger.  The people are asking God to end the oppression and injustices they are enduring.  In their hearts they probably want God to swoop in and destroy their enemies.  How hard it is to look within.  How hard it is to see that we are often the cause of our own struggles.

God knows the true root of the problem so instead of sending a powerful king or a legion of angels, He tells Malachi that He will send a refiner.  God is sending a messenger who will purify the hearts of the people.  This messenger will use the refiner’s fire and the launderer’s soap to cleanse the people of their sin.  God even poses the question, “Who will stand?”  It will be an ordeal for the people.

I love this text as we begin Advent.  As we prepare for and pray for the coming of Jesus, I think we do so too often with the misconception that we ourselves are ready.  It is fine for God to come and refine all those other people so they are adequately prepared for Advent.  We want to think we are okay.  How we hate to look within.

The refiner’s fire and the advent of God;s righteousness will touch us all.  How clean are we willing to make ourselves?  How much of self are we willing to lay aside so we are truly ready to welcome Jesus at Advent and into our hearts?  He only refines what we offer up.  He only enters through the door we open.  This Advent season may we offer all we have to our Lord and Savior.

Scripture reference: Malachi 3: 1-4