pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In Order That

Reading: John 17:20-26

Verse 26: “I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

In John 17 Jesus prays for his disciples – for those with him that day and for all who would one day choose to follow him as Lord and Savior. In our passage Jesus prays for unity. Jesus prays that all who believe will be as one, just as God and Jesus are one. As you cannot get closer than God and Jesus, this is a bold and big prayer.

I wonder, how big and far and wide is Jesus seeing as he offers these words? Is he just thinking of my family? Is he just thinking of my church? Just my denomination? Or is Jesus thinking of all who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ?

In verse 26 we read, “I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” Here we find the source of the unity for which Jesus prays. It begins with Christ. Jesus was and continues to be present – first with the original disciples in person and then with all who would follow in Spirit. Jesus is present “in order that” we would fully know love. In order that we would know Jesus and his love… Here is where we find out unity, everywhere from our families to the global church. Love!

In order that the world would know Jesus, may they know us, his followers, by our love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when it is hard, help me to love. When it is challenging, help me to love. When it is difficult, help me to love. When it would be easier to walk away, to ignore, to react, to lash out… help me to love. Amen.


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More Open, More Accessible

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 31: “God exalted him… that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.”

As we begin in Acts 5 today we focus on Jesus’ gifts of repentance and forgiveness. This was the primary conflict point between Jesus and the religious leaders. To the Jews, forgiveness came through the priests, the temple, the sacrificial system. It has been that way since Moses led the people on the 40 year wander. To the Israelites it feels like this has been the way back to God for, well, forever. It is practically all they’ve ever known. The rituals, the sacrifice, the role of priests – it was all threatened by Jesus and now is being challenged by his followers. The apostles were teaching and preaching about repentance and forgiveness and they were healing and forgiving sins in Jesus’ name.

There has always been and definitely remains a personal aspect to repentance and forgiveness. In Protestant denominations these are things we practice on a daily (or more frequent) basis. While we remember and celebrate Holy Communion, we believe that we can repent and receive forgiveness anytime, anywhere, on our own. The shift away from priests and the temple and the whole sacrificial system was a seismic shift in Jesus’ day and in the years to follow. This radical change to a more open and accessible church created great tension with the powers that be – enough to kill Jesus, enough to persecute and eventually martyr many who would follow Jesus.

How does the church today maintain this spirit? How do we as Christians stand up to keep the church open and accessible? How do the powers that be seek to work against these things? In many ways this is our charge to resist and oppose evil and injustice in the world. It is our call to stand with the widows and orphans, with all who are marginalized or oppressed by our culture, society, and even the larger church. It is therefore also our call to continue to move the church forward, ever drawing the circle wider, ever making the church more open and more accessible. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who opens the door just a bit wider, who makes welcome just a bit more real. Empower me to do this again tomorrow and again the days after. Give me eyes and heart to see and connect to all of your beloved children. Amen.


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Anyone and Everyone?

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:16-17

Verse 16: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

We begin our exploration of 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21 with the first two verses. These verses are really about how we see and treat one another. Each verse addresses what we could call a group of people. Here we need to be careful with our labels. They can too easily take on an “us” and a “them” feel. On the surface level, the implied groups are people outside the church and people within the church. If it were this simple there would be the folks in our churches and all others would be people we want to add to our churches. This would mirror how Jesus saw the world – either you believed or you were someone he wanted to bring to belief.

When Paul writes, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” he is encouraging the church to see as Jesus sees. He is calling them to drop the judging and comparing that easily comes with labels. To Paul it did not matter if you were rich or poor, young or old, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, Roman or Greek… What mattered was if you knew Jesus or not. Like Jesus, Paul saw all people as beloved children of God. Some just hadn’t become a part of the family yet. The goal was to change that.

In verse 17 Paul describes why this is the goal. Here he writes, “if anyone is in Christ” – if anyone becomes part of the family of God – “he is a new creation; the one is gone, the new has come!” Accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, one is changed. The old desires of the world become desire to love, to serve, to learn and grow in the faith. Hope abounds and joy flourishes as one sees and lives as Jesus did. Again, this is the goal for all people everywhere.

So here it is: how are we and how are our churches doing with meeting this goal? Would anyone and everyone that walks into your life or into your church feel that their salvation was clearly and far away the main goal?

Prayer: Lord God, continue to hone my vision. Continue to guide me to see more as you see, to become better at seeking to connect others to you. Shape my words and actions to draw others to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Living Out the Example

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 17: “Join with others in following my example… take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”

Paul’s words to the church in Philippi calls them to follow the example set by faithful followers of Jesus Christ. In the first verse of our passage, Paul invites them to “join with others in following my example.” Paul followed Jesus’ example and invites others to do as he did. Paul also recognizes those already doing so. Paul tells them to look around their church and to “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Follow the example already being lived out by some in the church who are living into Christ’s example of humble and sacrificial service.

We do not know exactly what this looked like in Philippi. Most likely it looked like what Jesus and his followers usually did: care for the orphans, the widows, and the sick; visit the prisoners and welcome in the strangers; clothe and feed those in need. It would also have included sharing God’s love and the hope found in an eternal relationship with God. Through his words in Philippians Paul also invites us to follow the example first set by Jesus and then lived out by Christians for many centuries.

When I look at the list above and when I think about Jesus’ example, I see it being lived out today. There are foster families in our churches. There are folks who check in on, shop for, and give rides to widows and to those who are ill. There are folks who give regularly to the local food bank and others who bring requested items – hats and gloves in one season, toys and gifts for families in need during another season. And there are others yet who support the ministries and causes of the church with financial gifts. And there are still others who live out God’s love by inviting folks to church and by welcoming and engaging those who visit. There are many ways that Christ’s love and example are being loved out.

For each of us personally, as we consider Paul’s charge and the many ways people of faith can respond, the question is: how are we each living out the example set by Jesus?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know my role and my fit. Guide me in the ways and means that you gifted me to be of humble service. Steer me away from saying ‘yes’ because I’m supposed to. Use me to share your love and healing with those that you place in my life. Amen.


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The Better Way

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:12-26

Verse 18: “In fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be.”

Photo credit: Sigmund

Our time in 1st Corinthians 12 this week begins with these words: “The body is a unit… made up of many parts… they form one body.” This description fits all churches, some to a greater degree than others. Even in churches that appear very homogeneous, each person is unique, individual. In churches that appear very diverse, each person is unique, individual. In all churches, though, the call is to be unified in and around Jesus Christ.

Paul uses the parts of the hunan body to demonstrate the unity and connections and interrelatedness that should be found in all churches. Our body needs hands and feet, eyes and ears, and so on. One part is not more valuable than another. All are needed. The same is true in our churches – each part matters, each part has equal worth. Each part should have equal concern for the other parts. It is or should be this way because “in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be.”

In some ways this statement of Paul’s reminds me of when mom or dad used to say, “because I said so.” Things should be such and such a way because they said so. While we might have gone along with it right then, we soon deviated. The same is true in most of our churches. We know that God loves all people and that we should too. But each person is unique, individual. We can find a million reasons to separate and divide – looks, worship style, dress, ethnicity, economics, politics, vocation… Yes, we can find the reasons. Or we can choose the better way, the way God designed us to be as the church – loving, welcoming, unified in and around Jesus Christ. May it be so in us and in our churches.

Prayer: Lord God, give me eyes to see and appreciate and value our uniqueness, our individuality. And give me a heart to truly love each part in all its uniqueness and individuality. Doing so, draw the church, each church, closer to your design. Amen.


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God Answers

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 12-20

Verse 17: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

Photo credit: Jakob Braun

Hannah has prayed and prayed. She has prayed for years and years for a child. She remained barren. She has prayed and prayed for relief from Peninnah’s taunts and cruelty. The pain and hurt persists. Yet year after year she prays. It can be hard to continue to pray day after day, never mind year after year.

Back when I went into pastoral ministry there was a building that I would walk around and pray over. Originally it was a car dealership and most recently the hospital’s laundry facility. The hospital decided to build a modern laundry facility on the hospital grounds. The land-locked church that I was a part of was next to this building. I would walk along the building, running my hand along the bricks, praying for God to use this space for the church’s growing ministries. Day after day I’d walk and pray. Teams and other individuals from the church would also do prayer walks around the building. Eventually the new space was ready and the hospital began to vacate the building. The lead pastor and I were able to walk around inside the space, beginning to dream of what could be. Each day I would prayer walk around the building. The church even contacted the hospital to express our interest. Day after day, month after month, praying.

Hannah prayed and prayed. One day she is praying in the temple. Pouring out her heart would be more accurate. The priest Eli notices. After some conversation he is moved by her anguish and grief. He blessed her, saying, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” God responds to her prayers and to the blessing – she has a son. God’s timing aligned with Hannah’s prayers. God made a way forward.

One random day two men walked into the church. They let us know that they had bought the building and were going to start a new microbrewery. Gut punch. Hurt, anger, despair, doubt – these were the initial feelings. There might have even been a few sideways glances cast heavenward. Then the walking and praying resumed. As I walked along, touching the bricks, I prayed that God would one day use the space for ministry. I acknowledged that God’s plans are bigger than my plans, that God’s ways are higher than my ways. Although ministry has moved me on to other churches and other prayer focuses, when I’m back in the neighborhood, I sometimes still lift a prayer to God when I pass by that building and run my hand along the bricks. Our God still answers big, bold prayers. God did for Hannah. God will for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful and true, loving and generous. Continue to lead and guide the ministries of your church. Continue to lead us to dream dreams and to see visions. Keep us ever at work building your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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“Home” to God

Reading: Ruth 1: 1-6

Verse 6: “When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of God’s people… Naomi prepared to return home.

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

Today we get the back story of what we studied yesterday – Ruth claiming Naomi, her people, and her God. We learn that it was a famine in Judah that led Naomi, her husband, and two sons to move to Moab. They settled there and made a life for themselves. The father dies and the two sons marry Moabite women, becoming further connected to this foreign land. Even though now a widow, Naomi is still surrounded by her sons and new daughters-in-law. After ten years both sons die. In verse six we again read, “When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of God’s people… Naomi prepared to return home.

When we move someplace new we settle in, make new friends, find a church home. We become connected and form relationships. For many of us, though, there is a sense that “home” is still back there somewhere. Maybe that place is where we were born and grew up. Maybe that place is where we raised our children. I think this is what Naomi felt about Bethlehem in Judah. They had moved to find food. We move to find employment, to live where our new spouse lives, to go to college…

After these three losses Naomi hears that God has provided once again for Judah. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law prepare to move to Judah. It is a reset for Naomi. She can leave behind this place associated with grief and death. We too can want to leave these places of hurt to return home, to where we feel loved and cared for and connected. Judah is also the place that God dwells – for Naomi and the people of this time. To return to Judah is also to connect with God. We too do this in our times of suffering and loss. We connect to God and to God’s people, finding comfort and care in the family of God. We too come “home” to God.

Prayer: God, your door is always open. Your love always calls out to us. Home is a place we find shelter from the storms of life. Thank you for friends and family that also love on us in our times of need. Thank you for your open arms that always embrace us. Amen.


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Purpose

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verses 15, 17, and 18: “She gets up while it is still dark… she sets about her work vigorously… her lamp does not go out at night.”

Photo credit: Lina Trochez

As we return to Proverbs 31 today, we look at these words as a pattern for the whole church, not just for one seeking to be the perfect woman of faith. The exemplary example set in this passage would be impossible for one person. Just look again at the quoted verses above. How could anyone work vigorously both day and night? It is impossible. But if we consider instead that these words are a collective pattern for the whole church, then it becomes possible for the body of Christ as a whole to do all things at all times.

All active, successful, and effective churches are build around the idea of each person having gifts and talents that are being used for the glory of God. In each healthy congregation there are ones who “work with eager hands.” This includes meals, projects, mission work, VBS, and much more. In all active churches there are some folks who get up early and some who work into the night. Some are reading and praying, some are leading a class or small group, some are arriving early so that all is ready, and some are staying late so that all is put away and tidy. In thriving communities of faith there are many different people filling many different roles. Such places of faith are thriving because collectively we accomplish more than we ever could individually.

Communities of faith, like all volunteer-based organizations, must help folks understand what their gifts are and to see how they can be used for the glory of God and for the making of disciples. Each individual must discover their purpose in the community of believers. Maybe you are active in the life of your church. If so, where have you found your fit? Please share this with us – you might inspire someone! If you haven’t found your purpose and place, what gifts or talents has God blessed you with? And, how can you take one step today to begin living into who and what God created you to be in the body of Christ?

Prayer: Lord God, together the body of Christ has so much to say offer to a world in need. Each of us have been blessed in so many ways. Open all of our eyes to see how we each elevate the whole. Turn our hearts towards generous service to you and to others. Use us as you designed us. Amen.


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Seeking to Love

Reading: Song of Solomon 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

Song of Solomon is a book of beautiful poetry that creates images and thoughts around being in love. On the surface it is a love letter from Solomon to his lover. And boy are they in love! Chapter two is filled with invitation and appreciation of one another. They are in the serious stage of courting, of wooing one another. In our passage today the young man comes and invites his lover to come with him, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. Spring is in full blossom, the flowers are budding! What a beautiful scene for an adventure with the one you love.

These words can guide us in our relationships – not just with our spouse or future spouse but in all of our relationships. The love modeled here comes from seeing and appreciating the unique gifts of the other and from finding their worth as a child of God. The hearts of these two people are bent towards deepening their love for one another. The words they speak flow from these hearts bent on love. Imagine how our world would be if we practiced these things in all of our relationships. Elevating the value and worth in all people, speaking from a place of agape love, we could live in a radically different world.

With this understanding some will read Song of Solomon and see a model for the love between Jesus Christ and the church. Jesus often used bride and groom language when describing his hoped for relationship with the church on earth. The perfecting of this love is found in the passages that detail the new creation that will arrive when Christ returns. In the interim we have been called by Jesus to love God with all that we are and to love neighbor as he first loved us. The language in our passage today could apply to these relationships and to our relationship with Jesus. It is not hard to imagine Christ saying to us each day, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

This day and every day may we rise, hear his call, and go forth into the world with Jesus in our heart, seeking to love as he first loved us.

Prayer: Lord God, above all, there is love. In love you call us into relationship. You lead us to know what love really is through the example of Jesus Christ, your son. Guide and use me today to be love lived out in the world. Amen.


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Playing Our Part

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 5 and 6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”.

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Paul writes today about unity within the body of Christ – the church. Unity almost sounds like a foreign concept. Unity almost feels like an impossible dream. We seem to divide and separate over the smallest of things. Paul is seeing the churches he founded in and around Ephasus beginning to have fissures and cracks.

Inviting those in these churches to “live a life worthy of the calling”, Paul reminds them of some virtues to practice: humility, patience, gentleness, peace… To these he adds belief. In verses five and six he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Paul sees the church universal, not the church divided. Paul envisions the unity brought through Jesus Christ, not any divisions. I believe the same is still possible today. There are core beliefs that all churches have regardless of their denominational flavors: God, the creator of all things, sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to live out his love and to die to defeat the power of sin and death, paving the way for the salvation of our souls. You may word this or parts of it differently, but the ideas are the core of our faith.

The body of Christ can make the choice to live into unity instead of choosing division, to live into the core beliefs instead of accentuating differences and things that divide. Unity begins with each one of us – in our churches, then in our communities, then in our world. May we each commit to playing our part to bring unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the heart required to build unity. Lead me to elevate and value our core beliefs over our minor differences. May Jesus Christ become more of my focus. May our unity bring Christ the glory. Amen.