pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Growing in Our Love

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13:1-7

Verse 7: “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Today and tomorrow we will walk through 1st Corinthians 13. This passage is often used at weddings as it speaks of love in beautiful, flowing language. A wedding, however, was not Paul’s context for writing these words. This passage continues the topics of the past two week’s readings in chapter 12. Here Paul spoke of unity in the church and of using the gifts of the Holy Spirit to build the body of Christ and the kingdom of God. Paul ends chapter 12 with these words: “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” The way is the way of love.

In verses 1-3 Paul speaks of Christian values, practices, gifts done without love three times. Each time he states that any of these wonderful things done without love results in being or gaining nothing. Without love these things are like that lame, heartless apology we were forced to give as kids because mom or dad was making us say that we were sorry. Each time we heard something along the lines, “Say it like you mean it.” If we can speak in tongues or utter amazing prophecies but have not love, we gain nothing. If we know all about the Bible or if we have faith enough to move a mountain, but have not love, we gain nothing. Faith without love is simply going through the motions, like saying “sorry” when we didn’t really mean it. Love is what gives our faith and the practice of our faith roots, purpose, power.

In verses 4-7 Paul describes what ideal, God-like, covenant love is and is not. Even though there is a playfulness to Paul’s words here, there is also great meaning and power. Love should not be envious or boastful, proud or rude, petty or self-seeking. Note that all of these focus on self, on “me.” Instead, Paul calls us to the most excellent way. Love should be patient and kind, rejoicing in truth. Love should be “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Paul is calling us to love others as God loves us, as Jesus loved us. While our imperfect nature finds us falling short of this picture of covenant love, God’s covenant love always remains, always calls us back towards loving as God loves us. Day by day may we hear the call and respond, growing daily in our love for God and for one another.

Prayer: God, thank you for this beautiful and awesome reminder of your love and for your plan for how we are to love one another. Each day help my love to be more like your love. Amen.


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Refined and Purified

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

Photo credit: Kim West

Today in Malachi we move forward from the ancient to the present. The process that God described as necessary for the priests and the temple is also necessary for our faith development. John the Baptist began the process as he prepared the way for the one who would call each of us into a personal relationship with the Lord our God. It is through this relationship that we are refined and purified.

In verse three we read, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” No matter how we come to Christ as Lord and Savior – whether through a slow and steady process or in a moment of sudden realization of our need – all who believe come to a moment of decision. At that moment we ask Jesus into our heart, into our lives. We make a commitment to giving Jesus authority over all areas of our lives. We commit our time, energy, resources, talents, finances… to loving God/Jesus and neighbor more than self. Just as a couple joins hands and commits to a lifelong covenant, so too do we in this moment of decision. We commit to love no matter what.

If you are or ever have been married or been in a long-term relationship, you know that some days it is hard to love the other. Our own selfish desires and many other distractions cause us to stumble and to fail to honor our commitment. Here is where the refiner and purifier steps in. Over and over Jesus Christ, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, calls us back to love. Through the process of conviction, confession, repentance, and forgiveness we are refined and purified. Each time through we are remade again, each time a little closer to the image of God within us. For our part we must stay connected to Jesus Christ through worship, study, prayer… We also must remain open to the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit and to the working of God in our lives. If so we will become more and more like those Malachi speaks of: people who offer all of ourselves to God and neighbor in righteousness. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to hearing and knowing your voice. Drive down my pride and ego so that I may see my faults and sins. Elevate my humility so that I gladly accept your loving hand, leading, guiding, correcting, refining, purifying. Moment by moment make me more like you. Amen.


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Unity in Christ Jesus

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”.

Returning to Ephesians today our focus moves past tearing down walls to the purpose of doing so. Without walls or barriers in place, greater unity is possible. Think of a house remodel. Without some of the old walls a new and open space is created. People in the new space can see and talk and relate to one another in a better way. Yet ‘open concept’ living has its limits too. None of us wants a bathroom without walls (or without a door!)

Paul reminds the church of what they once were – two peoples. For the Gentiles, that meant that they were separated from Jesus Christ. They were “foreigners”, without the covenant promise and without hope. But all that changed. In verse thirteen we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”. Through his blood Jesus made a way for all people to live and be in right relationship with God. Doing so, he reconciled Jew and Gentile, preaching peace and blessing all who believed with the gift of the one Holy Spirit.

Uniting all believers with the same Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ made the foreigners into “citizens”, creating a new “holy temple”, a church for all people. Jew and Gentile would now be “built together”, becoming the dwelling place of God who “lives by the Spirit”. What a beautiful vision of faith and love, of community and hope! May we each do all we can to build and be such a church in our time and space. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making all believers one through the indwelling Holy Spirit. By sharing this common core we are all part of Christ’s universal body. In and through that Spirit, continue to draw us together Lord. Amen.


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Unity in Christ Jesus

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”.

Returning to Ephesians today our focus moves past tearing down walls to the purpose of doing so. Without walls or barriers in place, greater unity is possible. Think of a house remodel. Without some of the old walls a new and open space is created. People in the new space can see and talk and relate to one another in a better way. Yet ‘open concept’ living has its limits too. None of us wants a bathroom without walls (or without a door!)

Paul reminds the church of what they once were – two peoples. For the Gentiles, that meant that they were separated from Jesus Christ. They were “foreigners”, without the covenant promise and without hope. But all that changed. In verse thirteen we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”. Through his blood Jesus made a way for all people to live and be in right relationship with God. Doing so, he reconciled Jew and Gentile, preaching peace and blessing all who believed with the gift of the one Holy Spirit.

Uniting all believers with the same Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ made the foreigners into “citizens”, creating a new “holy temple”, a church for all people. Jew and Gentile would now be “built together”, becoming the dwelling place of God who “lives by the Spirit”. What a beautiful vision of faith and love, of community and hope! May we each do all we can to build and be such a church in our time and space. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making all believers one through the indwelling Holy Spirit. By sharing this common core we are all part of Christ’s universal body. In and through that Spirit, continue to draw us together Lord. Amen.


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Forever Love

Reading: Psalm 89: 20-37

Verse 24: “My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his strength will be exalted”.

Photo credit: Pat Whelen

In our Psalm today God’s covenant with David and with Israel is celebrated. Early in his life David was identified by God and was anointed with sacred oil by Samuel the prophet. From that day on, the Spirit of God was with David. In most Christian denominations today, this idea of anointing is mirrored in our sacrament of baptism. As a baby in some traditions or as a believer in other traditions, we “anoint” a person with water, marking them as a child of God. We believe that the Holy Spirit becomes a part of that person’s life in and through the waters of baptism.

In today’s Psalm, the covenant is God’s steadfast and forever promise of his love. In verse 24 we read, “My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his strength will be exalted”. God’s love will endure, strengthening David and his line. In verse 27 we gain understanding of the ‘forever’ part of the covenant. Here God tells us that he will “appoint my firstborn” to David’s line and that his Son will be “the most exalted of the kings of the earth”. Jesus Christ is the one at whose name “every knee shall bow” (Romans 14:11). In and through Jesus, the “covenant with him will never fail”. Thanks be to God!

In the next few verses God acknowledges that David’s sons (and humanity in general) will “forsake my law” and will “violate my decrees”. Yes, God will punish the sin but he will not take his love away or betray his faithfulness. God reiterates that the covenant will remain forever. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are part of this covenant too. Sealed with the Holy Spirit at our baptism, we are marked as beloved and chosen sons and daughters of God. Again, today we say thanks be to God for his covenant, forever love of you and me.

Prayer: Lord God, like with David, you lay claim to each of us. Like with David, you declare unending love for each of us. The indwelling Spirit is the constant presence of our inheritance, our eternal place within your love. Thank you for choosing us as a part of your forever family. Amen.


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Share the Blessings

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse 17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”?

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

As a disciple, John witnessed firsthand the power of Jesus’ love. For three years John was present to a life that held loving God and loving neighbor as the highest commands. These two actions defined who Jesus was at his core and define who all who follow Jesus should be at our core.

Love can be revealed many ways. John begins with this way in today’s passage: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”. To accomplish God’s purposes in establishing the new covenant, Jesus died on the cross. Taking on the world’s sins, with his blood Jesus paid the atoning price, breaking sin’s grip on humanity. Rising from the grave he conquered death, opening the way to life eternal. This was a great sacrifice. While on occasion a person will give his or her life to save another, our acts of sacrifice are most often much less than these.

In verse seventeen John writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”? If you or I have any material possessions and ignore the needs of others, then we must ask ourself: Is the love of God really in me? Can we ignore the needs that God brings before us? Yes, we can and do. But at a cost. The cost is both to us and to the person or persons we ignored or chose not to serve. When this happens, we are both less than God intends us to be. The agape love of Jesus Christ within us is made more complete when we give sacrificially to the other. The other begins to experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ in and through us. They begin to know the voice of the good shepherd.

Every day we have opportunities to share what God has blessed us with. Each day “let us not love with words or tongue, but with truth and action”.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the will to meet the needs that you place before me today. You have blessed me with the ability to do so. May I be willing to release the blessings to others. Amen.


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Known by Love

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

The new covenant that God is speaking of in today’s passage is different than the old covenants established through Noah, Abraham, and Moses. These older covenants were with the Israelites. They were God’s chosen people, set apart for God. The new covenant will come into being through Jesus’ final sacrifice – the one we read about yesterday. The new covenant is like the old in these ways: it is centered on God’s unconditional love and we cannot reciprocate it. Unlike the old covenants, the new one is not limited to the Israelites. The new covenant extends to all people.

God declares, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and “all will know me”. The new covenant extends to rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, saint and sinner. All are invited to the table of grace and to a place in God’s family. Jesus invited all people into the covenant of love. Called to model Jesus to the world, the charge is to love all people. Instead of holding onto our anger or judging others, we are called to be a people of forgiveness and reconciliation. Instead of categorizing and stereotyping, we’re to be people of hospitality and grace. Instead of competition and accumulation, we are to be people of generosity and community.

Each day may we be people of the new covenant, loving all people with all that we are. May all we meet know the love of God that is in us. May it flow out into all the world.

Prayer: Great God of love, your love is both unconditional and unlimited. Help me to love more like you. Give me eyes that see all as worthy of your love and of my love. Bind my heart to the least and the lost. Fill me with your love today as I go into the world. Amen.


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A New Covenant

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

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

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

In Jeremiah 31 we see that God is a covenant God. Our passage opens with God promising a new covenant. In verse 31 we read, “The time is coming…” The Lord then references the last covenant – the one given as God led them out of slavery in Egypt. Here the covenant relationship takes on the husband-wife analogy. God led the Israelites to freedom as a husband would lead his wife, gently taking her by the hand and walking with her. During the time in the wilderness God was a constant companion to the Israelites. God guided and protected and provided for Israel. Despite this intimate and personal relationship, Israel wandered soon thereafter. They worshiped other gods, forgetting all that God had done for them.

Instead of breaking the relationship and moving on from Israel, God declares that he will make a new covenant, a better covenant. Instead of writing the covenant on stone tablets, God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”. The covenant will shift from external to internal. God’s ways will be in our mind and on our heart. The new covenant will be mediated through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will internalize God’s ways in heart and mind and soul.

Even with such an extraordinary gift, we too can become like the Israelites at times. We forget our true love and chase after the gods and idols of this world. We allow other things to supplant our primary relationship with God. Yet our covenant God remains, continuing to say ‘I love you’ over and over. Instead of allowing the distance that we create to define the relationship, God pursues us, draws us back into relationship. No matter our response, God still says, ‘I love you’. God remains our God. We are his people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Covenant God, you love me far beyond what I can even begin to comprehend. Your love goes on and on and on. My love for you is fragile, tenuous, limited. Yet you love me without reserve, without condition. What a wonderful example you give me to follow. Lead me in your love, O God. Amen.


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants”.

Photo credit: Geda Zyvatkauskaite

Yesterday as we looked at this passage we focused on how we are to keep the covenant. We are to “walk before God and be blameless”. God set this as the goal and Jesus lived out the example, giving us a goal to aim for, a model to follow. This is “how” we are to live out the covenant. Today we turn to the “why”.

God chose Abram to be the father of not only many nations but of God’s children. This was not something Abram decided and then set out to accomplish. God is the one who offers covenant relationship to Abram and Sarai. God is the one who invites them to be a partaker in the covenant. God is the one who upholds the covenant as God rules over the earth. The question for Abram and Sarai is this: will they trust God to be the covenant keeper?

Abram falls face down before God. He recognizes that God is supreme, almighty, all-powerful. This is Abram saying “yes” to God’s invitation into covenant relationship. In response God changes his name to Abraham, which means “father of many”. Later in the story God also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah, reflecting her role as the mother of nations. God defines the covenant this way: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants”. God will be the God of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants forever. The time frame of the covenant again reinforces who is in control and who is the covenant keeper. Like Abraham and Sarah, we are finite, limited, human, flawed. God is eternal and forever and perfect. Abraham and Sarah would seek to walk blamelessly before God, just as we try to do. They would not be perfect, just as we are not perfect. Down through the generations, Abraham and Sarah’s descendants would break the covenant over and over. Again and again, God would keep the covenant of grace, loving us forever. Over and over we end up at the table of grace, being made right again, being restored back into relationship again. This is God’s nature, it is his character. God remains our God. God will always be our God. This is his covenant promise, sealed by his love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, you are forever, you are in total control. You are steadfast and true in keeping the covenant to be our God – to be my God. You love us no matter what. Thank you, God, for loving even me. Amen.


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 9: 8-17

Verse 9: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”.

Photo credit: Iker Urteaga

Noah is the central character in our passage but he is far from alone. Noah and family have been on the ark with every other living animal, bird, reptile, insect… for almost a whole year. Imagine being confined to a fairly small space for that long! In reality, though, the current pandemic has felt like that for many. For Noah and crew, the waters finally receed and God calls them out of the ark with the imperative to “be fruitful and increase in number”. The earth must be populated again. New life must return. As they exit the ark, God says, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”. Never again will the whole earth be destroyed by water. A rainbow will remind God and humanity of the covenant.

If the pandemic has not felt like being locked in an ark for you, we all have had other trials and experiences where we wondered if we’d make it through, where we questioned if we’d survive the storm, where we’ve longed to finally catch our breath… As I’m sure Noah and family did from time to time, we have asked why God would allow this terrible thing to happen. This is a questioning born from grief or pain. After these emotions have passed we realize again that death and disease and illness and natural disasters are all part of life. None of these things are God punishing us or the world. At times maybe you, like me, briefly wondered this about COVID. It can sometimes feel that way. At the time of this writing, 2.43 million have died worldwide, with almost half a million of those deaths in the US. This disease has reminded us that we are powerless in many ways and that we can’t totally control everything. In the midst of the loss and grief we have also been reminded again and again of the hope, joy, strength, peace, assurance… that we find in our faith and in our covenant God.

Just as it did for Noah and family, the world as we once knew it has changed forever. We are in a place we never imagined we’d be. Just as the people of Noah’s day said ‘the rain will stop soon’, so too do we think this cannot last forever. We approach a year living in a pandemic. All of us have lost someone or have been impacted by this powerful disease. Yet Noah’s truths remain for us: God is more powerful than any earthly thing and that God is our covenant God. We too need to remember that God is more powerful than anything, even death. God promises to be our God in this life and in the life to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are all-powerful and everlasting. You are in total control and you are limitless. Yet you know my name and even the limited number of hairs on my head. You love me. You call me child. Thank you for wanting to be in a personal relationship with even me. Amen.