pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Living Fully in Christ

Reading: Philippians 1: 21-30

Verse 27: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.

As our passage opens today, Paul writes of his inner struggle. He weighs going on to heaven against remaining on earth in service to the Lord. Paul opens with: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Living he continues to share the good news of Jesus Christ. But to die is “gain” – he longs to be in glory. At points in life, particularly later in life, we experience this pull. Paul knows that heaven will be “better by far”. Yet he knows that now, at least, “fruitful labor” lies ahead. God still has work for him to do. While some of us lose this perspective, it still remains true for all believers. God can always use us for his purposes and glory.

Paul does not know if he will see the people of the church in Philippi again. Life is tenuous for Paul. The Jews and, at times, the Romans persecute him. He knows that at any point he could die for his faith. The same is true for all followers of Jesus. This reality is what leads him to say, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” in verse 27. Paul knows that the life of a believer is not always easy. Not only is there persecution and suffering, but there are also the desires of the flesh and the lures of the world. Almost 2,000 years later we live within the same realities.

So what does Paul mean by “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”? Part of the gospel life is what Paul alludes to in the opening verses. Faith in Jesus Christ empowers us with the promise of salvation, of eternal life. It will be “better by far”, to again quote Paul. Like Paul, our current life is lived in the here and now. There are gospel implications for that as well. These are mainly to be like Jesus Christ in our daily living. Doing so, we are generous not only with our time and resources but with our love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, kindness, and compassion as well. It means grieving with the hurting and sorrowful and it means rejoicing with the blessed and cared for. It means welcoming the stranger and fellowshipping with the believers. It is a call to live fully in Christ, all the while knowing that to die is gain.

When we choose to live fully in Christ, we too will have “fruitful labor”. In doing so, others will come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. May we each live fully in Christ, bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Loving God, consume me. Consume me with your love. Consume me so that all I say and do and think reflects your love. Guide me moment by moment, step by step, to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


Leave a comment

Children of Light

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verses 8 and 10: “Live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”.

Paul speaks to us today about light and darkness. The passage begins by reminding us that we were once in darkness. There was a time for all of us when we did not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But once we made the good confession, we became children of the light. We may stray into darkness once in a while, but the light reminds us of where we’ve wandered and through the power of the Holy Spirit we are drawn back to the light. Paul encourages us today to “live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”. As Christians, this should just be our norm.

How do we know what pleases the Lord? The Bible is full of advice! It is mostly found in the gospels, in the life of Jesus. We please God when our love for him and for the other is greater than our love for self. In Jesus’ life and teachings that boiled down to loving the poor and the marginalized, to caring for the sick and the sinful, to being obedient to the Father, and to offering acts of reconciliation and forgiveness to those we have harmed and to those who have harmed us. Some, maybe even many, of these things are challenging. It is a narrow road. Nonetheless, living a life of service to God and to others is what pleases God.

Even in this day and season of fear and social distancing we are still called to be “children of the light”. We have many ways to safely love our neighbors. We have lots of time to study the gospels to deepen our faith and our understanding of our call as disciples. In all we do and say, may we continue to be a fruitful offering to God. May we all be pleasing in his sight.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for opening my eyes and heart. Please continue to lead and guide us to be people of light. Keep us safe as we engage the world in this scary time. May we be a blessing to others. Amen.


Leave a comment

Love for All

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Verse 5: “I will raise up… a righteous branch, a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land”.

The people have cried out to God. Bad shepherds have scattered the flock. They have not led well. God heard their cries and recognizes the negative impact of poor leaders. God will punish them. God will also restore his people. The remnant will be gathered up from all the places they have been scattered. God will bring the nation back together so that “they will be fruitful and increase in number”. Shepherds who will tend the flock well will replace the bad shepherds. Restoration is coming.

This is the short-term fix. God addresses the immediate needs of the people. God’s desire for all of his children is to have a life of joy, peace, love, contentment. God’s plan is not for all of us to be wealthy but to simply have good lives. This is the vision we read about last week in Isaiah 65. As followers of Jesus Christ we each have a role to play as well. That role may be feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. It may be caring for the sick. It may be teaching a basic finance class. Maybe it is leading a small group through a basic Christianity study. We all have a role to play in tending the other sheep. It is not just the leader’s job (or just the pastor’s job) to bring healing and hope and love to the world.

In verse five we read “the days are coming”. One day, Jeremiah says, God will bring a new king, one from the house of David. We read, “I will raise up… a righteous branch, a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land”. The righteous branch will be Jesus. He will rule wisely and will do what is just and right. He will be righteousness.

From our New Testament perspective this is a past tense event. Jesus did rule wisely, justly, righteously. Jesus set us an example for how to live out God’s love. It was a love for all people. Now we live in a time awaiting his final return. Jesus left us with a charge to complete as we wait: go and make disciples of all nations and all people. May it be so as we in turn live out God’s love in the world.

Prayer: Righteous Lord, you seek to redeem and restore all people. You desire to bring healing and wholeness to all nations. Lead me to be a part of your work in this time and place. Amen.


Leave a comment

Holy Marriage

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 & 6-9

Verse 7: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness, therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy”.

Wedding, baptism, or funeral? Based on the conversations that I have had with fellow clergy, a wedding would be their last choice. A baptism could involve a crying, unhappy baby when those waters run down their faces. A funeral could have some tension if the families do not get along, but that usually does not spill over into the celebration of life service itself. But a wedding… Oh the wedding horror stories. You have perhaps heard some. Maybe you’ve been a part of one yourself.

Myself, I like officiating weddings. Perhaps that will change. I’ve been blessed by all of the weddings that I have done. Meetings with the couples have been both fun and fruitful. There has not been a crazy mother of the bride or groom. No bride-zillas. The worst thing that has happened at a wedding was the three-year-old ring bearer who refused to walk down the aisle. (He did not have the rings though). Perhaps I am due for a doozy.

In today’s Psalm, a wedding is the focus. It sounds like a wonderful wedding – almost ideal. In this wedding, God is present and central to the event. The wedding covenant that Christians hold to understands that God is part of the covenant being made. The essence of a Christian marriage is captured well in verse 7: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness, therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy”. The couple promises to love no matter what, practicing righteous love in their marriage. The vow is one if exclusivity – setting aside all other companions, the spouse becomes the center of the others love and care. God anoints the new union with the oil of joy. What joy is experienced in the love consummated in Christian marriage!

Father God, today is a day when many will celebrate a wedding. God, please pour out your anointing oil of joy on all who join in holy marriage today. Bless them this day and forever more. Amen.


1 Comment

Fruitful Witness 

Reading: Colossians 1: 1-8

The Bible is full of stories of the Word bearing fruit.  The parable of the sower is perhaps the best know story of fruitfulness as it tells of the witness of the believer producing a crop 30, 60, or 100 fold.  In the great commission Jesus compels all disciples to go forth to make disciples of all nations, to grow fruit everywhere we go to spread the kingdom of God.  The Word also speaks of the fruit of our faith in our own lives: peace, joy, patience, kindness,…

Paul opens his letter to the Colossians by commending them for the ways they are being fruitful.  He comments them for their strong faith in Jesus Christ and for the love for one another that grows out of their faith.  Then Paul notes that this love and faith is bearing fruit and growing as others in their community experience these things.  In turn, they are coming to know Christ through the faithful witness of this congregation.  How the Holy Spirit takes the witness to the love and truth of Jesus Christ and causes it to become faith in an unbeliever is one of the great works of God.  There is much rejoicing in heaven each time another accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior!

God’s call to churches everywhere is still the same as we see here in Colossians.  He calls upon us to continue to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.  This includes the corners as well: the neighbor next door, the coworker one cubicle over, the classmate across the lab table…  As we bear witness to our faith in our every day lives we are living out the Gospel and we are planting seeds.  As we practice justice, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and love we are bearing witness to Jesus.  As we allow the Gospel to bear fruit in our lives we are planting seeds of faith in other’s lives.  May we be fruitful today in our witness and may the Holy Spirit move powerfully in people’s hearts.  May our witness come to bear much fruit for the kingdom of God.


Leave a comment

Being Fruitful

Reading Luke 13: 1-9

The world is sometimes filled with tragedy and sorrow.  You do not have to watch the news too long to feel the urge to turn off the television.  In today’s passage the people come to Jesus with a story of death and tragedy and are seeking help to make sense of it.  Jesus instead bring sup another story of loss and sorrow.  He warns us that tragedy can strike us all and that we must therefore repent, lest we will perish.  Jesus is implying that death will come to us all; it is up to us how we choose to live our lives between now and then.  Will our lives lead us to perish to hell or to rise to eternal life?

Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the fig tree.  The owner comes for a third year and again finds no fruit on the tree.  He instructs the gardener to cut it down.  The gardener asks for one more year.  He will tend to it and water it and fertilize it in an effort to help the tree bear fruit.  In this parable we are the fig tree.  Year after year Jesus pours into us through the Word, in worship, in small groups, …  He yearns to see us bear fruit.  The Holy Spirit works on us also, pruning and fertilizing and guiding us along so that we are more able to bear fruit.

As we continue to grow in our faith, we will bear fruit as we mature, just as the tree will.  As we touch the lives of others, bearing fruit and shining the light and love of Jesus, we will bring hope and comfort amidst the darkness and tragedies of this world.  It is through our witness and love that others will come to know Jesus, the only source of strength, healing, and understanding in the midst of pain and sorrow.  As we are fruitful and faithful witnesses, we are living for and pointing others toward the one and only way to true, eternal life: Jesus Christ.

 


Leave a comment

Pruning for Fruit

In the spring it is natural to clean, to prepare for a season of growth, to unclutter.  This week I uncovered and set out the patio furniture and rototilled the garden.  The lawn was mowed for the first time and I noticed that the rhubarb is almost ready to be picked.  Other plants are springing to life as well.

Down by the shed my grape vines are a mess.  An early storm last Fall toppled over the poles and wired that had supported the vines due to all the weight of the snow on the thick leaves.  I attempted a ‘fix’ last Spring, but it was largely unsuccessful.  I’ve come to realize hat I must tear out all the support and wires and really trim back the vines to be able to rebuild and start over.  It will mean that the grape crop this summer may be pretty minimal.

In today’s passage Jesus speaks of God pruning the fruitful branches and cutting off those bearing no fruit.  All this is done so that the whole plant can bear more fruit.  Energy goes more fully into what is fruitful.  With my grapes, I know this is true in the long run as well.

As I think about what I must do with my grape vines next week, I also come to realize that maybe I need to look at my life as well.  Are there things in my busy schedule that are not as fruitful and should go?  If I purge this or that, will newly available energy go into more fruitful pursuits?  This analysis may be a bit hard and maybe painful too, but God calls for my best.  Today’s question is where is God calling me to be invested.

Scripture reference: John 15: 1-8