pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Drawn by Love

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 33: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”.

In yesterday’s Psalm we were reminded how “good and pleasant” it was and is when the faithful live in unity. In today’s passage from Acts 4, we see this ideal lived out. This passage focuses on the church in Jerusalem. In other passages we see similar circumstances as well as churches in one community supporting a church in another community. As Christians living our faith today, many of us support our local churches as well as organizations that serve others on a daily basis or in times of great need. The twin spirits of generosity and of caring for the other have been hallmarks of Christianity ever since Jesus set these examples.

Our passage today opens with “all the believers were one in heart and mind”. This manifest itself in three ways: they shared everything, no one was in need, and individuals sold land and homes to support one another. All three were great examples of love being lived out. All three witnessed to Jesus’ calls to love other more than self and to love as he first loved us. The world around the church noticed. The early church was living out its faith in real and practical ways. Love attracts, love draws others in. In verse 33 we read, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”. People were drawn towards Jesus by the love being lived out. The apostles’ words revealed Jesus resurrected, the source of this love and its power. May our actions and words do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, may all see and hear your love in me. Each day may I love others as Jesus would love them. And if any ask, may the Holy Spirit give me the words of life, bringing others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. 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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The Chance to Witness

Reading: John 1: 6-8

Verse 7: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe”.

The opening verses of John’s gospel are beautiful and introduce Jesus to the readers in a way unlike the other three gospels. So too is the way that John the Baptist is introduced and brought into the story of Jesus. In verse six we hear, “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John”. It is simple and straight forward, but tells the reader all we need to know. In Luke 1 we have a detailed description of the events leading up to and of John’s miraculous birth. Like Mark, John jumps right into the meat of the story. John describes it this way: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe”. This verses contains two pronouns and a reference to “that light” that beg further thought and draw the reader into exploring the text.

The first “he” refers to John the Baptist. As we read last week, John the Baptist came as a “messenger” sent to “prepare the way”. John did so by preaching a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1). “That light” refers back to verses four and five from the powerful opening of John 1. In Jesus we find “life” and John refers to this as “the light of men”, a light that the gospel writer describes as one that “shines in the darkness”. This light that shines in our darkness reveals the sins and struggles within each of us and in our world. This connects to the personal call in Isaiah 40 to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by making “straight in the wilderness a highway for the Lord”. This involves clearing away the sin and other obstacles that keep us from walking in faith with Jesus Christ.

The “him” refers not to the witness but to the one to whom John the Baptist is witnessing, to Jesus Christ. It is in and on Jesus that we believe. Here John the Baptist is pointing away from himself and on to Jesus Christ. John knew his role, his place in the work of the kingdom of God. Reading on, in verse nine, John points even more directly to Jesus.

John the Baptist was a witness, one sent to testify, just as we are called to be and do. While none of us are likely to be in a street corner or out in a field preaching today (the modern equivalents of John’s place by the Jordan River), we will all have opportunities to witness to our faith and belief in Jesus Christ. When people notice our calm in the storm or our strength in the trial, when others take note of our generosity or of our kindness to all, these are opportunities to do as John did – to point to Jesus. He is the source of our calm, of our strength, of our mercy and grace. When given the chance to witness, may we point to the light of the world, to Jesus Christ our Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, may your light shine in me today. Through Jesus, fill me with a spirit of power. Use that Holy Spirit power to tell the story of what Jesus has done and will do for me and for all who believe. Amen.


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The Body and Work

Reading: Romans 12: 3-8

Verses 4 and 5: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”.

In today’s reading Paul gives some guidance on how to be (and not to be) “living sacrifices”. He begins with a warning: “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”. He is warning against arrogance and pride. When talking about gifts or talents, we can tend towards comparison and competition. For each of the gifts that Paul lists in verses six through eight there are ways to wrongly use each gift. For example, if a leader refuses to listen to others, then his or her pride soon leads to them leading a group of one. Or if God has blessed someone financially or otherwise and their gift is generosity, then giving can become a public display or it can come with strings attached. Both of these examples are getting away from the example set by Jesus.

Before reminding us that we are each uniquely gifted, Paul reminds us that the church is like the human body. He writes these words in verses four and five: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”. Although unique, as the church we still form one body of believers. He continues in verse five to write, “and each member belongs to all the others”. Imagine if we truly lived this out in our churches and in our own personal faiths! Paul is implying, rightly so, that we are all of equal worth or rank or value – whatever word you prefer. That means the newly confirmed or newly converted member has the same place as the 40-year member, as the pastor, as the lead elder… If the church as a whole lives into this kind of unity within its diversity, God’s power is at work.

In these types of churches each member feels like they matter and that they have something to offer to the whole. If all are valued and seen as bearers of God’s gifts, then all members seek to help others find, develop, and use their gifts. Doing so, the work of kingdom building becomes the work of the whole church. May we all seek to be a part of both sides of this equation: first, offering our gifts and talents as a living sacrifice and, second, helping others to do the same through words of encouragement, support, and love.

Prayer: God, as I consider this new body of Christ to which I belong, help me to lead well and to get to know and understand the gifts and talents of each sheep. Guide me with Holy Spirit discernment to how to best build up the body for your glory. Amen.


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Heart Condition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-20

Verse 18: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”.

In response to the Pharisees, Jesus addresses what it is that makes a person ‘unclean’. A person who was unclean was cut off from or had to live outside of community. In terms of faith, it meant separation from God. For the Pharisees being clean or unclean boiled down to whether or not one followed all of the law. For Jesus, being clean or unclean came down to the condition of one’s heart.

At the start of chapter fifteen the religious leaders question Jesus about the disciples eating without following the ceremonial cleansing rituals. They did not properly wash their hands before they ate. The implication was that the disciples were now unclean. That meant seven days outside the temple, seven days outside of community – according to the religious leaders. Responding to their lack of understanding, he says, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”. Jesus bases the condition of our relationship with God not on what we eat but on what our heart is filled with. The “dull” disciples are sharp enough to know that these words jab at the religious leaders. Their man-made traditions and overemphasis on following the law of Moses has left them with a rule following, box checking religion. But no faith.

Today’s passage calls us to consider the condition of our heart. Does your heart contain some of what Jesus lists in verse nineteen – evil thoughts, false testimony, adultery, slander, theft? Or perhaps others – gossip, greed, lust, jealousy, pride? Or maybe doubt, fear, worry, stress, anxiety? What we have in our hearts will eventually come out of our mouths. Jesus’ point here is more about what is in our heart than about what comes out of our mouth. In the heart is where sin is born or is where we choose to stomp it out. If, instead of filling our heart with evil, what if we fill it with love and compassion, with mercy and grace, with generosity and a vent towards service, with kindness and self-control? Then there is less room for sin and evil.

What is the condition of your heart?

Prayer: Lord God, fill me daily with your word and your will. Send the Holy Spirit to whisper words of life into my heart. Guide me to be filled with your love so that I can be love in the world. Amen.


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Believers in Fellowship

Reading: Acts 2: 42-47

Verse 44: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”.

The book of Acts records the early history of the church. In our passage today Luke writes about what makes the church the church. It remains true today. The early Christians learned about Jesus and God. They spent time together in fellowship meals (that included what we call communion) and in times of prayer. The Holy Spirit was present, filling them with awe and empowering the apostles to offer signs and miracles. Generosity abounded. No one was in need as they cared for one another. They were a community. Verse 44 summarizes this: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”. Over all of this was their faith in Jesus Christ, revealed in their love for one another. Non-Christians, who were primarily Jews with a few Romans mixed in, noticed. In some cases, they were drawn to the love and became followers of Jesus Christ.

There are many times when the church today reminds us and the larger world of the picture painted by Luke today. That picture continues to attract people to the church. In times of trial, the body surrounds someone or a family or group of people. In times of need people step up both financially and physically. At gatherings there is joy and love present. This is the common “scene” in many churches. But the scene outside most all of our churches is much different than the scene outside the early church in Jerusalem.

Although “the Lord added daily to their number”, the city was not particularly welcoming or friendly to this new group. The church was a very small minority in a very Jewish and Roman world. Neither the Jews nor the Romans liked these Christians. At this stage they were sort of tolerated. As the church stuck and started to grow the persecution and worse would grow too. The reality of this fellowship of believers would change soon. Yet it would grow and grow and grow. God remained at work in and through the church. The same remains true today. Faith and love still guide the way. The Lord still draws us closer and closer while inviting others in. Praise God!

Prayer: Lord God, I am so thankful for the church. Although not a building, it is a “place” filled with loving and faithful people. I am blessed to be a part of your church. Continue to be present to us, to lead and guide us in fellowship with you, with one another, and with the world. Amen.


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Blessings

Reading: Psalm 112

Verse 1: “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands.”

Psalm 112 is a beautiful reminder of the great gain one finds from a faithful walk with the Lord. Verse one begins with “blessed is…” and the psalmist continues on by recounting all the ways that God can bless the faithful: children are blessed, good comes, and the heart is secure. A faithful walk can be one without fear, one without being shaken. Living faithfully can draw out ones generosity, graciousness, compassion, and sense of justice. Choosing to fear the Lord and to honor his ways leads to a blessed life.

Not all who live a faithful life will be wealthy or healthy or free from troubles. Blessings are not always monetary bounty. Many who live within a budget and do not have much beyond the basics feel very blessed and contented, living joyous lives. Blessings are not always living healthily until 94 years of age or more. The blessings come in being assured of God’s presence and love in and through the illness and disease and other physical trials of life. These things are part of life for almost everyone. God’s presence is the gift of blessing for the faithful amidst their trials and sufferings. Life will bring other times of trouble too – some self-inflicted, some by others doing. In the same way, the faithful can turn to God and can rely on God’s strength to get through these seasons as well.

As the Psalm draws to a close, we read, “his righteousness endures forever”. Living a faithful and righteous life here can bring many blessings, both here and in the kingdom to come. As we live out our faith in the here and now we also look forward to our heavenly home. May we walk each day faithfully, blessing others as we are blessed by God.

Prayer: Loving Father, life is truly better when lived in close relationship with you. Strengthen me in moments when I falter or am weak and lift me up. Encourage my daily walk through the power of your Holy Spirit. May all I do and say honor you. Amen.


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Righteous and True

Reading: Psalm 145: 17-21

Verses 17-18: “The Lord is righteous… is near to all who call on him in truth”.

The reading from Psalm 145 reveals two things about our God. In the first four words we read, “The Lord is righteous”. This word is a broad word. To be righteous most simply means to be one who chooses to do what is right. This includes not only doing the morally “right” thing but also seeking justice, equality, and generosity. The psalmist reminds us that God loves us as his creation. Much of our sense of and compassion for being righteous comes from love. Our love of God and love of neighbor drives our desires for righteousness, justice, equality…

Being “right” and loving can sometimes create tension or can even feel like they are clashing. One example would be Jesus’ healings and other actions on the Sabbath. Whether healing a man’s deformed hand or picking grains as they walked along, Jesus’ choices brought him into conflict with the religious authorities. Jesus’ question about doing good or doing evil on the Sabbath got to the deeper truth: our call to love. Here is where we can tie into the second half of today’s reading.

In verse 18 we read that God is “near to all who call on him in truth”. We are each unique and beloved creations of God’s own hands – formed in the womb, loved since that day. Because of our connection to God we can trust fully in God and in God’s plans for our lives and our world. When we are willing to release our fears and doubts, the parts of us that question God’s love and care for us, then we can live the life that God intended us to live. From a place of trust and security we can begin to look out beyond ourselves and can begin to see the needs of others. Here we can begin to address their needs. Often we come back around to working for justice and equality, becoming generous to the poor and broken in spirit.

As we grow deeper in God’s love and in our trust in God, we grow closer to the heart of Jesus. Along this journey we share God’s righteousness, love, and truth with all we meet. May it be so today for us all.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I rejoice in your love for me. I exalt your name for being the creator and sustainer of my life. May your love and righteousness be my love and righteousness. Like Jesus, may I give it away to all I meet. Amen.


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Love Extravagantly

Reading: John 12:1-11

Verse 3: “Mary took an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”.

It was quite an extravagant thing that Mary did. She took what was likely the most valuable thing she had and she poured it on Jesus’ feet. In a way it is hard to imagine. It is hard for me to imagine giving away one of my most prized possessions in such a way. From the reactions of the disciples that we find in the other gospel accounts, we see that they too are taken aback by the gift. In Matthew we read that “they were indignant” and in Mark we read that “they rebuked her”. Perhaps we would have felt the same. Maybe part of the shock was that it was always Jesus who gave to others. Here someone is ministering to Jesus.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of such a gift? Have you ever been amazed by the extravagance or radical generosity of another? For me, such experiences have usually been gifts of time or presence. After a tragedy that I experienced in college, my former youth pastor opened his door and his heart to me over and over and walked with me through the grieving process. Looking back, I am not sure where I’d have been without Gil. Perhaps that is how Jesus looks at Mary’s gift too. He did not get stuck on the cash value but instead saw how Mary lovingly gave the very best she could. As Jesus would face the angry crowd and Pilate and Herod and the beating and the cross, here was one who did not abandon Him. She remained present. Her love did not waver. In love, she offered the best she could. Perhaps, in all that Jesus faced during His last week, perhaps His thoughts went back to this moment when someone lovingly served Him. Maybe this radical demonstration of love helped Jesus through.

For the last three Sundays, during the message I have asked the same question of the congregation: “What are we willing to do for Jesus”? It has been asked within the context of the Lenten sermon series. Each Sunday we’ve looked at how God moves first in us to draw us closer and then at how God seeks to move us out into the world. Mary’s gift was spontaneous but also led by the Spirit. She sensed time was short and offered all she could. In that small moment, she did not count the cost or worry about what others thought. She simply acted with selfless love. As we live out our week, may we too be open to the Spirit moving in and through us to offer ourselves extravagantly in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to the world around me and grant me a heart that feels as you feel. Make me a willing servant this week as I seek to live out your love. Amen.


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Fill My Heart

Reading: Mark 10: 2-12

Verse 5: “It was because your hearts were hard…”.

The Pharisees come to test Jesus with a question. Instead of just answering, He asks them what they think – “What did Moses command you”? He asks to begin a conversation. An answer would close the topic and perhaps the conversation. Jesus does not talk much about the legality of divorce but instead about the underlying issue that leads to the question. Jesus does affirm God’s commands from Genesis and adds, “Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate”. For Jesus, marriage should be a lifelong covenant relationship.

To the Pharisees answer Jesus initially says, “It was because your hearts were hard…”. In essence, Jesus was acknowledging that at times things happen because our hearts are hard. In this particular case Jesus is speaking to divorce but this thought applies to much more. If we were to use “because your heart was hard…” as a sentence starter, we could add many, many things.

So, what is the opposite of a hard heart? The obvious choice would be a soft heart. Instead of having a hard heart filled with anger, pride, jealousy… what would life be like if we had a heart filled with love and generosity and compassion? Instead of having a heart filled with the things of this world, what would it look like to have a heart filled with the things of God? It would look good. May it be so for you and for me.

Loving God, fill me with your love for the other. Giving God, fill me with your generous spirit. Compassionate God, give me eyes to see the needs and a heart to meet them. Fill my heart with you, O God. Amen.