pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Walking Humbly

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 6: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Returning to Psalm 138 today we are reminded that our relationship with God is built primarily upon God’s love and faithfulness. The Psalm opens with praise to God and expresses joy because God hears and answers prayer. Both of these things have led to growth in the psalmist’s faith. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving are essential parts and building blocks of our faith as well.

Continuing today, we read these words in verse six: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”. The psalmist recognizes that God is divine, almighty, above humanity. There is a humility, a lowliness, necessary to truly praise, worship, and thank God for the many ways that he blesses and elevates our lives. To follow David’s pattern, to take time daily to thank God for the ways that he touches our lives daily, specifically and intentionally, keeps us grounded in the reality that without God this would be a very different existence. This practice keeps us humble; it prevents us from thinking more of ourselves and our abilities than we should.

The proud do only know God from afar. Their achievements, whether athletic, financial, social… are their own doing. Time or need for God seems unnecessary. They are their own ‘gods’. How different from David’s words in our Psalm, how different from the example set by Jesus!

The Psalm draws near to a close with a request for God to “fulfill his purpose for me”. This is a prayer that looks beyond self. It is another recognition that we are created to glorify God, not ourselves. The Psalm closes with another reminder of God’s enduring love and with a request to remain connected to God and his plan for our lives. May this be our prayer today as we seek to walk humbly and faithfully with the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord of all, yes you are on high but your Spirit walks daily with those who love you and look to you for meaning and purpose in this life. Please continue to guide and lead me each day, drawing me deeper and deeper into your love. Amen.


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The Body and Work

Reading: Romans 12: 3-8

Verses 4 and 5: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”.

In today’s reading Paul gives some guidance on how to be (and not to be) “living sacrifices”. He begins with a warning: “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”. He is warning against arrogance and pride. When talking about gifts or talents, we can tend towards comparison and competition. For each of the gifts that Paul lists in verses six through eight there are ways to wrongly use each gift. For example, if a leader refuses to listen to others, then his or her pride soon leads to them leading a group of one. Or if God has blessed someone financially or otherwise and their gift is generosity, then giving can become a public display or it can come with strings attached. Both of these examples are getting away from the example set by Jesus.

Before reminding us that we are each uniquely gifted, Paul reminds us that the church is like the human body. He writes these words in verses four and five: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”. Although unique, as the church we still form one body of believers. He continues in verse five to write, “and each member belongs to all the others”. Imagine if we truly lived this out in our churches and in our own personal faiths! Paul is implying, rightly so, that we are all of equal worth or rank or value – whatever word you prefer. That means the newly confirmed or newly converted member has the same place as the 40-year member, as the pastor, as the lead elder… If the church as a whole lives into this kind of unity within its diversity, God’s power is at work.

In these types of churches each member feels like they matter and that they have something to offer to the whole. If all are valued and seen as bearers of God’s gifts, then all members seek to help others find, develop, and use their gifts. Doing so, the work of kingdom building becomes the work of the whole church. May we all seek to be a part of both sides of this equation: first, offering our gifts and talents as a living sacrifice and, second, helping others to do the same through words of encouragement, support, and love.

Prayer: God, as I consider this new body of Christ to which I belong, help me to lead well and to get to know and understand the gifts and talents of each sheep. Guide me with Holy Spirit discernment to how to best build up the body for your glory. Amen.


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Encouragement

Reading: 1st Corinthians 3: 1-9

Verse 9: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building”.

Today is Valentine’s day. The day is named after St. Valentine. I learned just today that he was famous for writing letters. Valentine wrote many letters of encouragement to be a positive light in other people’s lives. His letters came from the heart, from a place of love. The word “love” is found throughout the Bible. There are four Greek words all translated to “love” and each had its own original meaning. The version most often used in the Bible is “agape love”. Agape love is a pure, sacrificial love that places the other ahead of self.

In our passage today Paul calls the Corinthian church to this kind of love. They are quarreling over a secondary issue and this has led to division. He correctly identifies both himself and Apollos as “only servants” and points the people toward the only one that can make faith grow: God. Only God can make the seed that Paul planted and that Apollos watered have life and grow to become faith. In verse nine Paul writes, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building”. The church is the field or the building of God. Only by turning to God will the church grow.

We too are each God’s workers. We too have a role to play in one another’s faith. Today it would be fitting to encourage one another as we practice agape love. With a note, a phone call, a text, a personal post, take a moment to practice God’s agape love, encouraging another today.

Prayer: Holy God, thank you for the privilege of being a co-worker. Keep me looking to you as the only source of power. Give me words today to encourage others to follow you. Amen.


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Not Just Safe

Reading: 1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11

Verses 10-11: “When the priests withdrew… the cloud filled the temple of the Lord… for the glory of the Lord filled the temple”.

Today’s passage is about the ark of the covenant – that ‘thing’ that represents God’s presence – coming to the temple that Solomon built. There is a lot of ceremony and celebration surrounding this event. I’d imagine everyone from Jerusalem and the whole countryside came to witness and praise God for this happening. Even God shows up. Verses 10 and 11 offer testimony: “When the priests withdrew… the cloud filled the temple of the Lord… for the glory of the Lord filled the temple”.

The idea of God “being in the house” continues to this day. When a new church is built there is always a dedication service where the building is consecrated to God and ministry. Each Sunday during our opening prayer I invite God’s presence to come and dwell in that space and in our hearts. For centuries in the not too distant past churches and cathedrals were built to a grand scale in an odd competition to have the biggest and most impressive structure that somehow said something about that church’s relationship with God.

Counter to these notions is our belief that God is omnipresent – that God is present at all times in all places. We can encounter God in church but also in the woods, under the overpass, on the mountain top, at a concert in the park, in a bar… Even God himself questioned the idea of a home, saying in 2nd Samuel 7, “Did I ever say, ‘Why have you not built me a house'”? Perhaps God saw the down sides of a place to “dwell”.

While it is true that a community of faith needs a place to gather for worship and fellowship, the building has too often come to represent God and our faith. Put another way, it has compartmentalized our faith. It is where we go to be in God’s presence. It has too regularly become the only place we go to be in God’s presence. While the sanctuary is definitely a holy and sacred place where one can be present with God, it is far from the only place. I believe that connecting to God only on a Sunday morning is far from God’s intent for how we are to live out and experience our faith. The building is comfortable and safe. Yes, it has its place and purpose. But God does not desire for us to have a faith that is just comfortable and safe. When we look at Jesus, Paul, John, James, Peter… we see a faith that was lived out in the world, amongst the lost and the broken. May this be an important part of our faith life as well.


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Building

Reading: Luke 1: 46-55

Mary’s beautiful song is all about God’s love for humanity.  She is aware of her direct role in this: she is bearing the Son of Man in her womb.  She rejoices in God her Savior and in her unique role: “all generations will call me blessed”.  Mary is aware of and deeply thankful for the role God has called her to fulfill.

Mary quickly moves past these thoughts and rejoices in the ways that God loves all of mankind.  God extends mercy to those in need and performs mighty deeds for those who fear him.  God blesses those in a relationship with him.  In doing so, God lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things.  God loves in many ways.

God’s love, however, is sometimes tough love.  God scatters those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  God will bring down rulers when necessary and will send the rich away empty.  God will not tolerate evil behavior by those with power.  God blesses us so that we can bless others, not so we can use our position or wealth to take advantage of others.

Mary’s song really speaks of God’s desired kingdom.  As followers of Jesus Christ we are kingdom builders.  We have a role to play in being the light and love in this time and space.  We too, like Mary, bear the Son of Man.  We bear Jesus in our hearts.  We can all bring God’s love to those who need God’s mercy and to those who hunger for either spiritual or physical bread.  We can all be conduits of God’s love flowing into the world.  We can also be the light shining into the darkness.  God’s kingdom is built on justice and equality.  If we are in positions with power and authority, we must use our place to insure justice and equality.  If, in our community, the leaders do not champion these things, we need to speak truth to bring about justice and equality.  May we each play the role of building God’s kingdom as we bear the light and love of Christ right where we are this day.


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Living, Not Just Knowing

Reading: Luke 21: 5-9

The disciples are looking at the beauty and wealth of the temple.  People go to the great cathedrals of the world and marvel at the stone work and stained glass.  Visitors to museums stand in amazement before the painting of the Last Supper or some other religious portrait.  We go to our churches and think, “What a great place this is”!

Jesus says to just hold on a minute.  He says that one day the temple will be no more.  One day those cathedrals will be gone too.  One day that artwork will fade.  One day…  Jesus goes on to warn them that one day false prophets will come, trying to charm us into believing other stories.  Jesus warns us not to be deceived.  If all our faith is is in the things – the buildings, the artwork, the campus – then we will be lost when our faith is shaken or tested.  Instead, our faith must be in Jesus.

There can be danger here too.  If we read all the stories of Jesus and appreciate all He said and are amazed at what He did, but do not go any deeper than knowing the stories, then we have simply created another empty building.  The words must travel the short distance from our heads to our hearts.  The words must take on understanding and application.  It is at this level the they begin to transform our lives.  When we allow Jesus to come alive in our hearts, we begin to be transformed and to live out our faith instead of simply knowing our faith.

If our faith is built upon a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then we do not need a building to visit Jesus in.  Jesus is not a building.  He lives in us.  If Jesus lives in us, we will not be deceived by false prophets or drawn in by the lies of the world.  He will guide us from within our hearts.  Lord Jesus, reign in me today!  Jesus, be alive in my heart!


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The Building

The temple that King Harod built was massive and impressive.  It was thought to be indestructible.  So when Jesus told Peter, James, John, and Andrew that not one stone would be left on another, it would’ve been hard for them to imagine that.  He would later get a bigger reaction when He referenced destroying the temple.

As churches I think we too sometimes view our buildings this way.  The building is a wonderful place to gather for worhsip, to feed people, to teach people…  For some they dream of a new, bigger, better building.  Yet in any case it is just a building, something physical.

The heart and soul of the church is the people that make up that body of Christ and what they do for Christ.  A congregation of 1,000 can be dead and one of 20 can be on fire for Christ.  Size does not matter.  What does is a body’s willingness to go where Christ leads, to engage and minister to who He brings to that body called the church.

Frederick Buechner once suggested we do away with buildings, bulletins, and budgets.  He thought all that would be left was Jesus and the people.  It is an interesting thought and he well may be right.  But we do need a place to call home and a place to minister FROM as we go out into the world.  Plus we must always remember whose house it is!

Scripture reference: Mark 13: 1-8