pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Greatest Joys

Reading: 1st John 5: 1-5

Verse 2: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands”.

We continue today with the same author and the same themes from our past days in John 15: loving well and obeying God’s commands. There continues to be a direct connection here. When we love someone we try to do things that please them. When we love someone we want them to be happy and well cared for. These concerns often extend to those who are loved by the focus of our love. This is the case with God’s creation and family. Since we cannot really care for God himself, we instead focus on loving and caring well for all of God’s creation.

John sums up this idea in verse two. Here we read, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands”. When our love of God leads us to follow his commands, then we love his children. We express God’s love in many ways: caring for those in need, helping others grow in faith, being present in times of pain or sorrow, supporting the work of God through the giving of our time, talents, prayers, and resources. These expressions of love are reflections or extensions of the love of God that we ourselves have experienced. This is why they are not burdensome. These actions are a joyful and grateful way to thank God for loving us so well. In this way the love of God is cast wide, out into the world. Being loved and loving well are two of the greatest joys in life. May we enjoy both today!

Prayer: God of all creation, you love me just like you love all of your other children and all that you have made. It is a wonderful, beautiful, complete love. As it fills me may I pour it out into the world. Amen.


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Caring Well

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 34: “There were no needy persons among them”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

The early church thrived on Jesus’ love and compassion. Within this group that was of “one heart and mind”, they loved and cared for each other. In verse 34 we read, “There were no needy persons among them”. The early church was like a close-knit family, willingly giving to the community so that all had what they needed. This commitment ran so deep that they even sold significant holdings to provide for one another.

The early church stands in sharp contrast to our society today. In the common view of the world accumulation is the goal. Life is focused on earning more, on buying bigger and newer, on working up the ladder of success. To care deeply for the other, to give selflessly of what one has worked hard to earn – these Christian ideals run counter to much of western culture. Yes, the systems of our day are much different. In the days of the early church and for much of modern history, there were no government assistance programs. The family home was the retirement home. The family cared for the widows and the infirm among them. The church extended this idea, adding a layer of care to the existing norms of the day. Communities cared for those who were unable to care for themselves.

Yet the words of Jesus still call us to care for the widow and orphan, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry… In our communities today there are many in need. While we cannot help every person in need, certainly we can help some? How do we discern how, where, and who? We must begin in our community of faith, caring well for one another. We must also go beyond that, caring well for those in our communities who are in need. Can we meet every need? Can we alone care for all of the needs in our community? Probably not, but we can meet some as we are able. Led by the Holy Spirit, may we seek to model the love and compassion of the early church, caring well for those in need, loving one and all.

Prayer: Lord, your love for us is extravagant. It is generous. It is selfless. As I consider the needs around me and in my community, may I model your love well. 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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Celebrate the Gift

Reading: John 1: 1-18

Verse 16: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another”.

At Christmas we Christians often want to focus on “the reason for the season” and we want folks to see Jesus as the best gift ever. So why do we celebrate the birth? Why do we equate Jesus to a gift?

More than the actual birth, we celebrate all that surrounds the birth. It is first the story of the creator entering his creation. Leaving the glory and perfection of heaven, the light and love of God entered the world more fully. It was in the flesh – where we could see and hear and feel it. Second, it is the story of prophecy fulfilment and of miraculous conception. Things written hundreds and hundreds of years before predicted the events of Jesus’ birth and life as if written in real time. And it is the first story of birth through the Holy Spirit. As followers we too experience this birth. We call it “being born again”. Third, it is the story of God acting in our world through a faithful teenage girl. Mary will always be the mother of Jesus. But she could have been Sue or Beth or Dawn or Erica. God’s penchant for using the ordinary and humble is exemplified here in this story. Fourth, and perhaps most, as John writes, “we have seen his glory”. The birth story reveals God’s glory – his control over all things, his omnipotence and omnipresence, his love for you and me and all the world. We celebrate the birth because it is holy and sacred and because it reveals God’s love and grace and truth.

As wonderful as the birth story is, though, it pales in comparison to the gift that Jesus is to the whole world. First, if one believes in Jesus, they are given the “right to become children of God” – to be born into a new creation, born again into a new relationship with the Lord. Becoming a child of God, we receive the light and love of Jesus into our hearts. This forever changes how we live in this world. We see the world, we see others, and we even see ourselves through this lens of love. Illuminated by his light, we love honestly, purely, unconditionally. Seeing with his eyes, loving with his heart, we live beyond the law of Moses and beyond the law of man. Beyond does not mean outside of these laws. It reflects Jesus’ emphasis that he was “the fulfillment of the law” (Matthew 5:17). For example, Jesus taught over and over that the command to love one another did not just include the Jews but it extended to sinners and to Gentiles and to the sick and the imprisoned and to Samaritans and to the possessed and… Jesus reveals what a life of love and grace and truth looks like when lived out in the world.

Living life as a Christ follower amplifies our hope, peace, joy, contentment; it betters our relationships with others and with the world; and, it deepens our faith and trust in God. We celebrate the birth because Jesus is truly the greatest gift ever. Life lived through and with Christ is simply better. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you are the giver of “one blessing after another”. As I reflect on the ways that the world and that life is better with you, it humbles me. Surrender to your will and way is the path to true life, to full life. Thank you for all of your blessings. Amen.


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Love God, Love Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verses 37 and 39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself”.

The Pharisees loved the law. It was a tool to maintain their position and their appearance of goodness. With the law they could judge and shame and control others. The law could be used to define who had value and worth and standing. Jesus chose love. That is the key word in the two great commandments. Boiled down to their simplest form, Jesus said, “Love God, love neighbor”. The highest form of love welcomes the other, serves all, extends mercy and grace and forgiveness without cost, and is generous with all one has and is. And, in the end, it is not the law that saves us, it is love that saves.

Love saves us because it is greater than our sin. Love saves us because it is stronger than the power of death. Love washes us clean when we stumble and give in to the lures of the world and to the pleasures of the flesh. Love makes us new again over and over, allowing us to continue to be in right relationship with the Lord our God. The love that grows within also extends outward, leading us to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness not only to others but to ourselves as well. Love leads us to see others as valued, as worthy, as beloved children of God. Love leads us to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned and the lonely, to provide for the orphan and widow and stranger. Love calls us to die to self again and again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, the one who modeled what it is to fully love God and neighbor. Each day may we seek to share Christ’s love with others as we bring love into the world.

Prayer: Lord of love, deepen my relationship with you each day, empowering me to be love lived out. Capture my whole heart and open it to all I meet. In these encounters, may others see you. Amen.


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Learning to Walk

Reading: Matthew 22: 1-12

Verse 12: “Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes”?

This week’s gospel lesson is the second in a row from Jesus that focuses in on how he is rejected. They are stories of greed and arrogance and selfishness. These two parables are aimed at the religious leaders in their original context, but they certainly have application for us today.

As our passage opens, Jesus is clear that this parable compares the kingdom of God to a wedding banquet. Jesus begins by explaining that those originally invited refuse to come. A second invite is rejected as well. This time those invited mistreat and kill the servants. A voice had called out in the desert. Some came and heard the call to repentance. They were baptized as a symbol of readiness for the coming kingdom. But John’s call fell on many deaf ears as he ministered in the wilderness. Jesus himself came with a second invite, calling the Jews to really love as God commanded. Jesus’ message centered on the two great commandments: love God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The religious leaders refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah, so the call or invite extended past the Jews. Anyone that can be found will be invited to the wedding banquet.

The religious leaders went out and heard John’s call. They hung around and heard Jesus’ words, saw the miracles. Showing up is something about anyone can do. There are folks that show up on Sunday mornings. Simply sitting in a worship service does not make one into a practicing Christian. In our parable today, a man comes to the banquet, but he is not prepared. He chose to hear the call, but failed to ready himself. In Jesus’ day, to attend a wedding, one must dress in the required wedding clothes. These clothes were special and required effort and preparation. But this man just showed up. He was simply there to consume and indulge, not to really be a part of things, not to celebrate with the bride and groom. The Jews and the religious leaders in particular had received the invitations. They still showed up for the Sabbath, thinking they were honoring God simply be being there. They went about their lofty rituals and wore their fancy clothes. They loved these things, not God. They were arrogant and selfish, loving only self and not the many neighbors who needed both physical and spiritual care. They lived inside their self-constructed walls.

We too do this. We do it on Sundays when we show up and go through the motions instead of being open to and looking for God’s Spirit to change us on a Sunday morning. We do it each day when we rush off into our day without first connecting to God in word and prayer. We do it each time we think ourselves a Christian and then ignore the poverty, oppression, and injustices of our communities and our world. Simply put, it is easy to talk the talk. It is much harder to always walk the walk. May we all better learn to walk the walk as we seek to follow Jesus Christ, loving as he first loved each of us.

Prayer: God of all, help me to more fully love you and all people. Turn me from selfishness and self-righteousness, becoming more and more willing to give myself away, becoming more and more willing to risk for the gospel. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Forgiven and Forgiving

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse 5: “Do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you”.

Today’s passage centers on forgiveness. In the Christian faith we understand that forgiveness is a two-way street. Each Sunday most of us pray these words: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. If we want to partake of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness, we need to extend these same things to one another. For me, and perhaps for you, at times I struggle with each side of this equation.

It can be hard to admit we are wrong. It can be hard with both God and with others. There are times when it is difficult to admit I am wrong or have done harm. It can be easy to justify myself or to be self-righteous. Wanting to seek revenge or to get even can be tempting. But the way of love calls us to more. Jesus calls us to humility and honesty and transparency, to vulnerability and weakness, to confession and repentance. To enter and walk the path of Jesus, one must first practice forgiveness when we have sinned or caused harm. This was the first step for both Joseph and his brothers. For Joseph, it was to reckon with his younger self – the bratty, spoiled, arrogant Joseph – and the role that played. For the brothers it was to accept responsibility for what they did. Yes, God was at work behind the scenes, but they still harmed Joseph.

Sometimes it is difficult to extend forgiveness. At times it would seem easier just to keep that person on the outside, to keep them in a place where they cannot have a chance to be hurtful or harmful. (And, yes, there are times when it is necessary to end a relationship – in an abusive situation, for example.) As Jesus told Peter, we are not to forgive seven times, but seventy times seven! Just as we are each a work in progress before God, so too are all of God’s children. God has no limits or a quota on forgiving us. May we be the same, forgiving just as we are forgiven.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to ever be a person of grace. Help me to see and believe the best in everyone. Lead me to give my best and to recognize when I have given less, especially when I need to ask for or extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Guide me, O God. Amen.


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Radical Hospitality

Reading: Genesis 18: 1-8

Verse 2: “When he saw them, he hurried… to meet them and bowed low to the ground”.

The church service has run long again and there won’t be much time before the next mini- congregation enters the sanctuary for their time of worship. You know from past similar experiences that the line will now be extra long at your favorite brunch spot. And your tummy is already growling. When the pastor finally says the last “Amen” you are ready to bolt for the exit. It is then that you spot that new young couple you saw moving in a couple houses down your street.

As Abraham stood at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day, he was probably weighing a little nap versus going back out there in the hot sun. It was then that he saw three men standing nearby. Instead of a quick wave on the way to ducking into his tent, we read that this was his response: “When he saw them, he hurried… to meet them and bowed low to the ground”. Abraham welcomed them into his presence and extended generous hospitality. He asks them to stay, bringing water to wash their feet. He invites them to rest in the shade of the tree while having the finest bread and tenderest calf prepared. When this is ready, he serves it with milk and curds. Abraham offers the best that he has to these three strangers.

Would you pretend that you did not see the young couple and rush off to brunch with the regulars? Would you wave and point at your watch, adding a little shrug as you head the other way? Or would you make your way over to them, introduce yourself, and welcome them to the neighborhood and hopefully to the church? Would you, like Abraham, go the extra step to offer them some choice food and drink, extending an invitation to begin a relationship?

As we will see as we continue to read tomorrow, when and perhaps because Abraham extended radical hospitality, he experiences the divine. As we make the choice to offer radical hospitality, maybe we too will experience the power and might of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. May it be so for our churches and for each of us as well.

Prayer: Holy Lord, lead me today to be like Abraham, choosing to offer all of myself to others today. May I give the very best that I can. Meet me in that space, O Lord. Amen.


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Vows to All Peoples

Reading: Psalm 116: 12-19

Verse 14: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”.

Today’s reading begins with a question: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me”? It is a good question to consider. The psalmist’s answer is the fulfillment of his vows to the Lord. Like the psalmist, we too are in relationship with God. And like all relationships, this relationship with God involves a commitment and some expectations. In verse thirteen the psalmist begins his answer to this question. He begins by lifting the cup of salvation – a way to acknowledge and be thankful for the eternal nature of his relationship with God. He continues by committing to call upon the Lord. Today we would spell out this commitment as t-i-m-e. The psalmist is committing to conversation with God. The giving of time often defines the level of commitment that we have to a relationship.

Verses fourteen and seventeen are the same. Both read, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”. For the psalmist that involved thank offerings and praising God in the temple. Our vows certainly involve our worship and our gratitude too. Now, we may not initially think of our relationship with God or with Jesus as having vows. But when we confess and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are making a statement that has some vows attached. When we ask Jesus to be the Lord of our life, we are asking him to be in charge, to be #1 in everything. In doing so we are pledging to place our will, our desires, our all second to his will, his desires… We are vowing to love the Lord above all else in our lives. When we make that vow we are committing to walk as Jesus’ disciple or follower. This vow entails doing what he did – loving God and neighbor with all that we are and with all that we have.

Part of the psalmist’s vow was to fulfill his vow to all of God’s people. All are children of God. Yes, perhaps some do not realize this, but they are still children of God. This is how Jesus fulfilled his vows to God. For the psalmist this would include the tribes and clans outside the nation of Israel. For Jesus that would mean loving the leper, the Samaritans, the blind and lame, the possessed, the sinners… Who might that be for you? Jesus said that we would be known by our love. What unexpected person will you extend love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the person in need of love that I meet today. Help me to see as you see, to maybe see something or someone that I might normally miss. Break my heart to respond, O Lord. Amen.


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Joy and Peace

Reading: Romans 5: 1-2

Verse 2b: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”.

In the first part of Romans 5, Paul writes about the peace and joy we find through faith in Jesus Christ. The peace we feel comes because we have been “justified by faith”. To be justified means to be made right with God. This is an ongoing process, one that happens over and over. Paul goes on to explain that it is through Jesus that we find access to the grace necessary in the justification process. It is Jesus’ grace that says his love is greater than our sins.

Because we experience grace, we are forgiven people. Because we are forgiven, we experience a peace that the world does not know. People living outside of a relationship with Jesus struggle with feeling peace in their lives because they do not know grace. The lack of a vertical relationship with God impacts their horizontal relationships with their families, friends, co-workers… The inability to receive and extend grace and mercy and forgiveness limits and hampers their relationships. Peace with others and with self becomes an elusive target. Soon joy is harder to find as well.

As people of faith, we know both joy and peace through our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is something that should be and usually is evident in our lives. The peace that passes understanding and the joy in the midst of difficult or challenging situations is something the children of the world notice. When asked what makes us different, when asked have joy or peace in those unlikely times, we must be ready to share our story of faith. It is through our story that we invite others to know Jesus, the source of our joy and peace.

Verse 2 concludes with these words: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”. We have hope in Jesus Christ, the glory of God. We rejoice because we know the end of the story. Whether we are thinking of the end of our own story or of the end of humanity’s story, we know that eternal life awaits all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We rejoice in this truth. Jesus brings us joy and peace in this life and in the life to come. Today may our joy and peace help another to know our truth.

Prayer: Jesus, my savior and my hope, thank you for the joy and peace that comes through knowing you. May these blessings flow out of my life and into the lives of those who need to know your joy and peace. Amen.