pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Big Word

Reading: 1st Timothy 2:1-4

Verse 4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Photo credit: James A. Molnar

1st Timothy, chapter 2 in my Bible is entitled “Instructions on Worship.” As Paul pours into a young Timothy, he wants him to understand what worship should be like. This chapter begins with the urging to first pray. Praying sets our minds to peace and focuses our heart on the heart of God. The scope of our prayers comes next. Paul instructs Timothy and all who will read these words to pray for everyone. This is not always easy, is it? We’re on board with praying for our family and friends. “Everyone” is a big word.

I think because Paul knows this, he gives an example to illustrate what he means by this big word. He instructs Timothy to model this idea by praying for “kings and all in authority.” Pray for those taxing you heavily. Pray for the soldier that forced you to carry his pack. Pray for that leader who is persecuting you for your religion. Pray for that Pharisee who is arresting and torturing your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for all of these to come to know the Lord. Pray for all of these to lead in ways that allow you to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

In verses 4 Paul turns to the “why” behind this kind of living. Living a holy and godly life is “good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Did you catch it? God our Savior wants ALL people to be saved, to know Jesus the way, truth, and life. What an awesome reason to pray for someone: so that they can be saved. If you see a leader as one without faith, pray that they would come to know the Lord. If you see a leader as a Christian, pray that their faith is reflected in the ways they lead. May we pray in this way: for everyone, especially those who lead.

Prayer: Lord God, I lift our leaders to you – here in my community, in my state, and in our nation. Draw them, either for the first time or simply deeper, into your love and into your saving grace. Guide them to know and reflect your love for all to see. 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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Expressing Love

Reading: Romans 12: 9-21

Verse 17: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”.

In our passage today Paul is speaking of how to live as a Christian. He does not separate how to live within the faith community from how to live in the world. How we act and speak and do within our faith communities should be how we act and speak and do out in the world. In this letter, Paul is speaking to the church in Rome. They are a diverse church, just like many of our churches. Our bodies of Christ represent many ages, occupations, politics, and so forth. In an ideal world, our church would reflect or match our community and vice versa.

As he gets down to the actual practice of love, Paul encourages the church to share with those in need and to practice hospitality. He encourages them to walk through life together – weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who are rejoicing. Paul lifts up the goal of living in harmony with each other. He warns them not to be proud but to associate with everyone. These are all ways that we express or demonstrate the genuine and sincere love that he spoke of at the beginning of this section. While some of these can be challenging or can stretch us a bit, they are all things we can accomplish for our family and friends and fellow church members. But Paul is not concerned just with how we treat this group of people.

Sprinkled into today’s passage are also some exhortations that we might prefer to read past. Paul exhorts us to bless those who persecute us and warns us about our responses: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”. He also cautions us against seeking or taking revenge. Paul is directing us to love sincerely those who are not showing us love but disdain, dislike, and even hatred towards us. This can be quite the challenge. There is ample proof of this on many social media platforms. Instead of walking the road of evil, Paul encourages us to love and care for our enemies. Mirroring Jesus’ words concerning heaven-worthy behavior, Paul directs us to feed our enemies when they are hungry and to give them a drink when they are thirsty. The burning coals are the angst they will feel inside about giving poor treatment to the ones who show them love.

“As far as it depends on you”, may we heed Paul’s words, seeking today and every day to “live at peace with everyone”. As far as it depends on you… In our own little worlds, it all depends on us. May we each be the light and love, the hands and feet, the eyes and hearts of Christ each day.

Prayer: Loving God, guide me to be obedient to you in all ways and at all times. May who I am at home and at church and at the ballgame… be the same. May I be your love lived out in all ways, in all places, and for all people. Help me to treat one and all with your same love and compassion. Amen.


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Love Revealed

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 20: “They all ate and were satisfied”.

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 reveals God’s love in and through Jesus Christ. God’s love is expressed in many ways. That tends to just be how God’s love is.

First and in spite of sensing his own need to grieve, Jesus sees a group of people with needs and he has compassion for them. It is a great example of the selfless love that God has for us. In love, Jesus always places the needs of others ahead of his own needs. He gets out of the boat and engages the crowd.

Second, Jesus’ compassion leads him to heal many in the crowd. This is why the crowds came. Sometimes when I am interrupted or when my plans are derailed, the last thing I want to do is to fully meet the need of the other. Not Jesus. There is no hesitation and he heals everyone there that afternoon. Jesus’ healing touch shared God’s love with many.

The third demonstration of God’s love comes as Jesus pushes the disciples to deeper faith. For faith to grow one must push the edges, one must step out in faith. Sometimes it is another that must do that for us. Here Jesus plays that role. Like a parent or coach or mentor who challenges us to do more than we think we are capable of, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd themselves. Then he leads them in accomplishing the task at hand. Love sometimes challenges us.

The fourth demonstration of God’s love comes in the depth of the provision. In verse twenty we read, “They all ate and were satisfied”. Jesus did not just take the edge off their hunger so that they could get home to eat. He fully satisfied their hunger.

The last demonstration of God’s love comes in who Jesus fed. He didn’t separate out those with faith so he could just feed them. He didn’t just feed the men – those whom society would deem worthy of being cared for. Jesus fed one and all – even those others treated as less than. Jesus’ love is universal, offered to one and all.

God’s love is selfless and compassionate. God’s love brings healing and sustenance. God’s love will challenge us at times and will meet our deepest needs at other times. God’s love is ever present and always willing to engage even the least of these. May we ever practice this love well in our lives.

Prayer: O God of love, help me to love like Jesus loved in this miracle story. May I give far more than I take. May my heart love all I encounter. May your love within my soul continue to grow and push my faith further. Lead me in love. Amen.


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The Path

Reading: Matthew 13: 1-9 and 18-23

Verses 3 and 4: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed…”

Today’s parable is one of my favorites. The parable of the sower is one of my favorites because of the underlying message and directive. On a surface, practical level, it is the story of a farmer who probably wasn’t very successful – at least be farming standards. No farmer worth his weight in seeds would plant seeds in shallow soil or amongst rocks, nevermind on the path. But this is not really a story about how to be a good farmer.

On the figurative level the parable is about the types of souls who hear the message of faith. On this level we all know people with hard hearts, people who “try out” faith but soon return to life as normal, and people who really want to be faithful followers but struggle with the cares and lures of the world. We also know people who live and share a solid faith, leading others to become believers. Some of us have even been the farmer at times, trying to share our faith with others. When doing so we have encountered all of these types of soil. In this sense, the parable is a good summary of the challenges of evangelism and of the reality of the difficulty of a faithful walk with Jesus Christ. For these reasons it is a good parable – lots of application and understanding.

I love the parable, though, for what is implied, especially in the opening lines: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed…” For me, the key word is “scatter”. To me there is a willy-nilly wildness to this method of planting seeds of faith that God prefers. To me, this speaks of the vastness and inclusiveness of God’s love. The parable’s underlying message and directive are to share God’s love and the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone. Hardest of hard hearts all the way to the most eager recipient you’ve ever met. And everyone in between.

This is how Jesus operated. He ministered to the adulterer and to the Pharisee, to the tax collector and to the leper, to the demon-possessed and to the children, to the widow and to the masses… You name the type of soul, Jesus met them where they were at, entered into relationship with them, walked with them, ministered to them. This too is our mission. No, it is not easy. The road is hard and will often place us in uncomfortable situations and places. Such is the path of following Jesus, working to make disciples of all people and nations. May we walk the path well.

Prayer: Lord God, I do love this story but it is also very challenging. It pushes me, it calls me to new people and to new places. Go with me as I seek to follow your Son. Amen.


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All

Reading: Romans 10: 8b-13

Verse 12: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him”.

Verse 12 is a pretty amazing statement when one considers who Saul was. As Saul, Paul was raised as an expert in the Law. He was a Pharisee – a person who dedicated his life to carefully following all of the Law. Saul followed the Laws that called for a strict separation between Jew and Gentile. The Jews were the chosen people of God, a group set apart. Gentiles were all non-Jews. This was a large group of people. As the early church began, Saul’s zeal turned upon the Christians, who were Gentiles according to Saul’s world view. Then Saul met Jesus. His heart was changed and his name was too. Paul is the Gentile version of Saul.

All of us are like Saul to some degree. We are raised with and we can learn stereotypes and prejudices or at least thoughts about certain groups, types, or classes of people. For Saul the dividing line was Jew-Gentile. It varies for each of us, but the list is long when put all together: men-women, black-white, American-immigrant, old-young, Republican-Democrat, white-Native American, jock-nerd, Christian-nonbeliever, white collar-blue collar, rural-urban, straight-homosexual, educated-uneducated, progressive-liberal… The list goes on. And on. But no matter who is on our lists, Paul’s truth remains truth because it is God’s truth: “For there is no difference between ____ and ____ – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him”. God created us all and loves us all as His dear children. All does mean all. Anyone we could name. Anyone we could put on the list. All is a pretty inclusive word. God’s love is inclusive.

We each live within God’s extraordinary love. In the Jews’ world at the time of Paul’s writing, the us-them mentality prevented them from sharing God’s love. This same mentality can have the same effect on us today. It should not be so. We read why in verse 13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. Everyone. That’s a big word too. May our love for all people, for everyone, be that big too.

Prayer: Lord of love, when I begin to see things that divide or separate, tear them down. When I begin to see differences, wipe them from my mind and heart. Create in me a pure heart, O God, a heart of love for you and those you love – all people. Amen.


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We’ve Always

Reading: Ephesians 3: 1-12

Paul begins our passage by reminding his audience of how he got to where he is at right now: by revelation of God.  He was met by Jesus on the road to Damascus, was struck blind for three days, and turned his life around 180 degrees.  Paul went from greatest persucutor of the church to the champion proclaimer of the church almost overnight.  It was a transformation that only God could lead.  The change God wrought in Paul gives him some authority to speak on God’s behalf.

But the news Paul is now sharing is difficult for many to accept.  At the core of this new church are ancient Jewish roots.  Almost all of the leaders and members of the church are Jews.  So, forever they have been “God’s chosen people”.  Of all the people in the world, only the Jews are chosen by God.  Since the time of creation, the Jews have been the one and only people of God.  This is one of the great “we’ve always done it this way” stories.  And now, Paul is preaching another story.

Today we still run into the “we’ve always…” stories.  A church I was at a while back ran a day center for the homeless and economically challenged.  Several people from the church volunteered at the center.  So, every once in a while, a volunteer would bring a guest with them to church.  This worked out OK because there was a buffer there.  But every so often a guest would respond to an invitation and would come on their own.  It was then that we learned who the few “we are God’s chosen people” followers were.  Yup, these guests are not just like us.  Yup, these guests are just like us: dearly loved children of God.

This was the revelation of God to Paul: all people are God’s people.  Red and yellow, black and white, rich and poor, white collar and blue collar, …  This is the continuing story of God.  It is, of course, the ultimate “we’ve always…” story.  Jesus loved and welcomed whoever came to Him.  There were no applications or interviews or screenings.  Come one, come all.  All were worthy of His love and care because all are children of God.  As Jesus said, “Go and do likewise”, may we also seek to be the light in the darkness to bring healing and salvation to the world in need.


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Preach and Testify

Reading: Acts 10: 34-43

Peter opens today’s passage with an important statement, with one of the significant learning and understanding shifts in the early, early church: “God does not show favoritism”.  It is a shift away from a small, select ‘chosen people’.  Instead, Peter tells us, God is willing to accept all who fear God and who do what is right.  When the church came to understand that God is for all, the whole world became the mission field.  It was not just throughout Judea that they were called to bring the good news, but out into the entire world.  People of all races, ethnicities, cultures, nationalities, religions, ecenomic classes, social classes… must hear the good news.  This philosophy of accepting and welcoming all is the essence of Jesus’ ministry and is foundational to many of our churches today.

Peter then goes on to give a brief summary of Jesus’ ministry: bapitzed by John, anointed with the Holy Spirit, did good and healed, died on a cross, rose from the dead.  After the resurrection, Jesus returned and commanded “us” to preach the good news and to testify that all who call on Jesus as Lord will receive forgiveness of sins.  Again, Peter chooses words like ‘everyone’ and ‘all’ – anyone is welcome to hear the good news, to profess Jesus as Lord of their lives, and to receive forgiveness of their sins.

In the last few verses of chapter eleven, the people Peter was preaching to are overcome by the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues, and are baptized in the name of Jesus.  The power of God entered that situation and welcomed some new members into the family.  The command to preach and Testify is our command as well.  To tell the good news and to share the story of what Jesus has done in our lives is our great commission as well.  We accomplish this call with words, actions, deeds – whatever it takes for others to come to know Jesus Christ.

Today, may all of us who call on Jesus as Lord share the good news of Jesus Christ with any and all we meet.


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Go and Do Likewise 

Reading: Luke 10: 29-37

God, who is my neighbor?  This question has a different connotation today than it had in Jesus’ day.  In Jesus’ day, the community was close knit.  One knew a lot about one’s neighbors.  But today many people do no even know the person across the street.  We may have hundreds of friends on social media flung far across the world, but we are too often isolated in our own homes.

In today’s parable Jesus sees neighbor as not just the people living around us, but also as anyone we might come into contact with.  This definition really changes the ball game.  We might be willing to take a meal to the family next door if we know they are struggling, but the family across town that we do not even know?  In Jesus’ world, yes we would.  Neighbor is everyone.

We can take a meal to the family next door even if we are really not friends.  We can do it even if we do not really get along.  It is a quick, limited interaction type of engagement.  It is a safe foray with little commitment.  In our story today, the Samaritan goes beyond this – way beyond.  He stopped, got his hands dirty, actually cared for the wounded man, took him to a place to recover, and paid for it.  He even told the innkeeper he would pay for any additional expenses when he returned.  And I bet he stopped in and checked on the wounded man.  They probably became friends!

Jesus saw all people as His neighbor.  In the parable we clearly see our call ad Christians to love all people that we encounter.  It is the example set by the Samaritan and by Jesus.  As Jesus said to the lawyer, may we too go and do likewise.