pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Reconciliation and Restoration

Reading: Matthew 18: 15-17

Verse 15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”.

Today’s passage from Matthew 18 is about seeking the reconciliation and restoration of a relationship when it has been damaged. Above all else, Jesus’ call was to love one another. As the song goes, that’s how the world will know that we are Christians. This is especially true within the church. Here our love should be genuine and pure. It must be modeled in the church and in our relationships with one another. Jesus knew that the church would be just like all other organizations in one way: it is made up of imperfect people prone to sin and selfishness. As such, he knew that there would be conflicts and disagreements within the body of Christ. In today’s three verses we find practical steps for how to resolve conflict, especially in the church.

The causes for conflicts and disagreements can the gamut. The divide can be over deeply theological issues or it can be about painting a wall. Almost all issues, regardless of the root causes, will have deep ramifications for churches and individuals if left unresolved. So Jesus gives steps to avoid this. When conflict arises or when someone hurts or sins against another, the first step is personal. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”. Yes, this is hard for most of us to do. But it does provide the necessary space for being open and transparent. No one else is there to impress or to save face in front of. Going to someone directly lets them know you value them and your relationship with them enough to risk for them. It provides a space for honesty and open dialogue. Most often this step leads to reconciliation and to a deeper relationship.

Sometimes this first step does not work. Pride or who can intervene. Embarrassment or lack of understanding can also create a barrier to resolution. Jesus advises us to then take along one or two others to help guide the conversation. By involving others we often open up the conversation and find new ways to seek reconciliation. As a group we can often work things out that two struggle to do on their own. When this step fails, Jesus directs us to get even more help figuring out the conflict. He tells us to bring the matter before the whole congregation.

Both of these last two steps often involve some soul searching on our part. The sin may be obvious and surely needs correction. But if there is grey or doubt, it is a call for a time of sincere prayer and honest self-reflection. This step is always a good thing. The Holy Spirit will clarify and lead us to our best approach to the situation. Jesus does not want any division in the body. By going to the throne in prayer we are inviting Christ to guide us to reconciliation. When we invite him, he will always go with you!

Prayer: Loving God, lead and guide our conversations and relationships to be safe enough to tread into these uncomfortable spaces. May your Holy Spirit show us the way to unity and reconciliation within our Christian relationships and within our churches. Amen.


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Come and Listen

Reading: Psalm 66: 8-20

Verse 16: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”.

The first half of our Psalm text dealt with the times when hardship or trial came and with how God was with the people of Israel. Each of these times of suffering or refining are part of the story of God’s people, just as are the stories of how God acted on our behalf. Each of our churches and each of us as followers of Jesus have these same experiences. When was a time that God acted on behalf of your church, reminding the congregation of his faithfulness and love? When were some times when God has done this for you personally?

In verse sixteen the psalmist gives an invitation: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”. He is inviting the family of God to gather around, to hear his stories of God’s goodness. Most often when we think of sharing our faith story it is with someone who is lost, broken, or unsaved. Yes, this is part of our call as disciples. Yet at times it is also important to tell our stories of faith to one another. The communal sharing of stories builds up the bonds of community. It reminds us of our common journey. Speaking our faith stories builds up our own faith as it strengthens the faith of our brothers and sisters. When we tell of what God has done it opens eyes and hearts to the possibility of what God can and will do in their lives or churches. Times of sharing with fellow believers also builds up our ability to share the stories with people outside our churches. It is practice, so to speak. All of this is wonderful. But there is also one other way that God’s Holy Spirit becomes active in times of sharing.

Often our struggle or time of testing or refining is one that a brother or sister is just entering or is in the midst of. In a general sense, all sin in common to mankind. It is hard to admit that we struggle as Christians, and it is especially true when newer to the faith. By naming where we have needed God’s help it opens a way for others to name their struggles and trials. It opens the way for us to walk with one another.

There are many reasons to “come and listen”. May we be storytellers, seeking and taking each opportunity that God provides to share our stories of faith with others.

Prayer: Father God, there have been many times when another’s story of faith has encouraged or empowered me. There are times when it has led me to admit my struggles and to find one who will walk with me. You have always been faithful. Always. Lead me to share my stories with others. May my stories be of encouragement and may others find hope in them. Amen.


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Before Our God

Reading: Revelation 5: 13-14

Verse 13: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing”.

Today the congregation swells! All the angels are joined by all the creatures of the earth. Verse 13 indicates that it is all of the living creatures on, under, and in the earth and sea. That is a big congregation. I wonder if they tried singing in a round with the angels in heaven.

The song is almost the same as the one the angels sang in verse 12. It acknowledges the Lamb on the throne who is worthy and receives praise, honor, glory, and power, for ever and ever. In these words there is a reverence and an awe. It is pure worship of the Lord. After the “Amen” is said, the elders fall down and worship. In my mind this looks and feels a lot like prayer. They fall to the ground and worship the Lord in prayer.

When praying, we often teach our children to bow their heads and to fold their hands. The idea or practice of bowing our head is a sign of respect – it is found in many cultures and religions. Often it is also a sign of someone else’s higher position or status. This is all appropriate for God. Folding our hands can represent waiting, being patient for God to be present, to answer, to speak. Some pray with hands open, palms turned towards heaven. This posture indicates a willingness to receive what God has to offer – being open to God’s possibilities. To pray and turn the palms towards the earth represents allowing the things of the world to fall away and the releasing of our sins, worries…

In our passage today the elders fall down to worship. We do not know if it was to their knees or if it was all the way to the ground, lying prostrate. These physical postures also demonstrate respect for God but also add an element of surrender. At times our prayer life can take on these postures. It is good for our souls to kneel before the Lord or even to lie down on the ground as we pray. In prayer today, may we kneel or lie before the Lord our God and join with all the angels in heaven as we worship our Lord and King!

Prayer: Jesus, in submission I bow. In humble surrender, I kneel before you now, acknowledging that you are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thank you for being my King and my Lord. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Amen.


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One Body

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 12-31a

Verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”.

Paul’s analogy of the church as a body is wonderful. If one thinks about our bodies, we are made of many different organs, tissues, bones, and lots of other parts. Yet the body itself all works together in amazing harmony. Our inner functions hum right along without thoughts directing them. We are fearfully and wonderfully and perfectly made. It is a beautiful image. Isn’t this the dream for our churches?

The body of Christ is brought together by the Holy Spirit. In verse 13 Paul writes, “we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body”. Our faith in Jesus Christ is what draws us together and unites us. Through the Holy Spirit we are each adopted into the body – into the family of God. We reflect this in our baptism liturgy. Also within that liturgy it is not only the parents that covenant to raise the child in the church, but it is also the whole congregation that promises to help do so as well. One body.

But being human, the church is not always perfect. Paul addresses this in verses 14-17 and again in verses 21-26. Sometimes a part of the body thinks it is more important than the rest of the body. One part thinks its way is the best or the only way. This is just one way of causing strife and division in the body. On occasion one part of the body thinks its role is superior to the other parts of the body and this can make other parts feel less needed or less valued. God designed the body of Christ to be better than all of this. Most often, fortunately, it is!

Towards the end of our passage Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”. To me this statement has an implied “so act like it” for us to hear as well. We are called to be a witness to the world. We do so by first and foremost genuinely loving and caring for one another within the body of Christ. It is my prayer that all we do and say as the body of Christ is guided by love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when I am feeling pride or judgment creeping in, quickly bring the conviction of the Holy Spirit to my heart. In those times of tension or unease, may I hear the voice of that same Holy Spirit leading and guiding me. Amen.


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As One

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, and 8-10

Verse 1: “All the people assembled as one”.

On the big picture level, God has begun to end the exile in Babylon, bringing His children back home to the Promised Land. They have begun to rebuild Jerusalem, their homes, and the temple. They are also experiencing a spiritual rebuilding. In today’s passage, “all the people assembled as one”. The people come from the towns they have settled in and assemble as one body before the water gate.

Ezra the scribe and priest stands before them and begins to read from the Book of the Law. This process is similar to what we do in our churches. People come to the church on Sunday morning and gather together in the Sanctuary. Once there, they hear a passage or passages read from the Bible. The spirit of being “one” was present in the gathering that we read about in Nehemiah 8. We all hope to have that same spirit in our churches as we gather for worship. This is our hope because it is pleasing to God when we gather as one.

The reading from the Book is what draws people together and helps them feel as if they were one. Faith in God is the common connection. This too is true for us. Our faith is what unites a diverse group of people who gather on Sunday mornings. As the Book is read, the Levites or priests give meaning and instruction and interpretation to the people. This is done in the message or sermon on Sunday mornings. The text is given meaning and application for our lives. In doing so, it builds unity in the body of Christ. Nehemiah sends the people out after worship to celebrate the sacred day. Worship was for the Israelites and is joyful for us. It should be celebrated. May we worship together as one each Sunday morning in our own congregations, “for the joy of the Lord is our strength”.

Prayer: God, build up your church! Draw us together as one to worship you and to learn from your Word. Amen.


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Faith Formation

Reading: 2nd Samuel 2: 18-20 & 26

Verse 26: “The boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

After being dedicated to God, young Samuel continued to grow both physically and spiritually. Hannah would make him new priestly garments every year and would bring them to him at the time of the yearly sacrifice in the temple. Our passage tells us that “the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

As I think about Samuel’s upbringing I think about how we raise our children – both in our nuclear families and in our church families. Just as Samuel was dedicated to God at birth, so too do people of faith dedicate their young children to God. In some faith traditions we baptize our infants, marking them as a member of the family of faith and pledging to raise them in the faith. In other faith traditions, infants are dedicated or consecrated with the same marking and pledge to raise them in the faith. In both cases the congregation has a role to play. The congregation pledges to do all they can to help raise the child in the faith.

As soon as they are able to we begin to bring our children to Sunday school or perhaps to a Wednesday night faith formation class. They learn the stories of the Bible and begin to apply its teachings to their lives and decisions. At some point we hope our children grow out of the faith of their parents and into a faith of their own. In some churches baptism marks this point and in others confirmation does.

As we look at Samuel’s life and at other examples we find in scripture, we see that the plan that God has for all children is to be raised in the faith. May we be attentive to all of our children, ever aware of our roles as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, mentors, teachers, pastors… to be a part of their faith formation, helping them to always “grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be faithful in leading and guiding my children and all of the children that come under my care, helping each to know you more and to draw closer to you. May I ever do these things with both my words and my actions. Amen.


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Well Pleased

Reading: Matthew 3: 13-17

As Jesus is baptized the presence of God is made known.  The heavens open, the Spirit descends, and God speaks.  God claims Jesus as His Son and voices pleasure with Jesus.  God is proud of His son.  It is a good proud – proud of who He has become, proud of how Jesus lived His life, proud of who Jesus will become.  This is what all parents hope for.  All parents want to be able to say, “That’s my boy!” or “That’s my girl!” in conversations with friends and others.  Parents do not long to say this because their child is beautiful or has a fancy car.  They long to claim their child because of who they are.  And so it is with God.

As each of us was baptized, we too are claimed by God.  In baptism, we are brought into the family of God.  Through the sacrament of baptism, we are identified or marked as a child of God.  We are baptized into the name of Christ, making us a fellow brother or sister with Jesus.  There is also an earthly component to  the baptism.  For the child’s immediate family, there is a covenant to raise the child in the family of faith.  For the new extended family, there is also a role to play.  Those welcoming the new son or daughter into the family are also committing to raise up a young Christian.  From God on down to every member of the church, all have roles to play in raising this new child of God.

Beginning with baptism, we are part of God’s family.  We are always a child of God, but with the sacrament others are acknowledging the relationship and the responsibilities.  As family, we love each other no matter what.  As family, we will help model, teach, and encourage one another.  As family, we will correct and rebuke as necessary.  As family, we will do all we each can to help God say, “This is my daughter (or son).  With her (or him) I am well pleased”.  May it be so this day and every day.