pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God’s Design

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:11

Verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

On our faith journeys, we can try and go it alone. We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our sins and failures. We go through the motions of faith and pretend we are doing okay when our faith feels dry or when a trial has beset us. We try and push through seasons of doubt because society tells us we just need to try harder. Our pride and ego refuses to ask for help. But God did not design faith to be this way. God designed faith to be a communal pursuit. Yet if we are to truly be a part of the community of faith, if we are going to have real and deep relationships, then we must be honest and transparent, authentic and vulnerable, committed and compassionate.

Our passage today is just one verse. Again, it reads: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. Because the world is challenging, because the dark and evil are ever present, Paul knows that the believers need to be surrounded by Christian community. Paul begins by telling us to encourage one another. To be able to encourage one another, we need to really know how we each are doing. This is where honesty… comes into play. We must be willing to share our burdens with one another. We must also be willing to carry another’s burdens at times. We must be willing to tell others when our faith feels thin, allowing them to pour into us and to fill us up. Similarly, we must be willing to give of ourselves, to pour into another as we are able. Paul also urges us to build one another up. We do this by sharing our faith. This can be actual teaching or it can be living the faith so others can see what it looks like. Pastors and teachers and small group leaders and mentors are all a part of this process. We also build one another up by being present. We celebrate successes and achievements, we rejoice when a baby is born, we bring food and love and presence in times of hardship and suffering and loss.

The church in Thessalonica was living as a community. It was how God designed the church. As we ponder these thoughts today, may we each consider how we could encourage and build up the body of Christ this week.

Prayer: Living God, lead me by the power of the Holy Spirit to be an encourager and a builder. Help me to see the ways that I can help the community of faith to be like a family, like the heavenly fellowship that we all await. Bind us together in your love. 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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Far to Go

Reading: Psalm 106: 1-6 and 19-23

Verse 6: “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly”.

Today’s Psalm connects into our Exodus 32 readings of the past two days. The Psalms often recount history as a way to both remember and to learn from it. In today’s case, the Psalm was likely written about 500 years after the Exodus from Egypt. Remembering thier stories was a big part of the Jewish faith. Like our stories or histories, for the Jews it reminded them of their sins and failures and of God’s love and mercy towards them.

Psalm 106 opens with praise to the Lord and with thanksgiving for how God blesses those who champion justice, shows favor and brings aid to his people, and gives a joyful inheritance from to his children. It is important to remember why they sought to live in a right relationship with God. Verse six shifts the focus. Reality enters.

In verse six we read, “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly”. Despite knowing the story quite well, the Jews of the psalmist’s day struggle with sin just as their forefathers had. Sad to say, even with much more than 500 years gone by, we too continue to struggle with sin. In our society and sometimes in our very lives, golden calves abound. In many ways, our nation had forgotten God, just as the Israelites did from time to time.

Even within the church, we have gotten it wrong. Collectively and individually we have made poor choices, have walked out bad decisions, and have enforced policies that caused more harm – all scattered throughout our 2,000 year history. So often these blemishes, these lowlights, have come when we (the church or segments of the church) were so sure we were right that we could not consider any other possibility. Arrogance and pride and even tradition can be dangerous allies. To this point, I read a great line from Steve Harper in today’s Disciplines devotional: “We allege a certainty about our views apart from the humility to ever call them into question”. So true. Worse yet, we do harm to others from this place of arrogant and prideful certainty. We cast stones and look down long judgmental noses at those that dare speak out, that risk to question. And sometimes, once God forces us to see the error of our actions and words, in pride we refuse to seek forgiveness and to remedy the errors of our sins. Yes, church, we still have far to go.

As the body of Christ universal, may we begin to walk with Christ’s humility. May we each seek to be touched by God’s mercy and grace instead of clinging to our arrogance and pride. May we be a part of God’s stream of justice rolling down upon the earth. May the change begin within as we strive to let love alone be our guide and way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am wrong and especially when I think only my way is right, bring the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit fully to bear. Drive me to truly understand the path of Christ, the love filled humble servant who set the example. Strengthen me for the journey. 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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Be a Blessing

Reading: Genesis 12: 1-4a

Verse 3: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you”.

Abram pulls up stakes and heads off to see where God wants him to call home. Doing so he demonstrates great obedience and a deep trust in God. He goes with the promises to be made into a great nation and to be blessed. Abram is one of many characters in the Bible that step out of their norm and often out of their comfort zone simply because God called them to do so. It was not easy for one of them. Even though the story is full of these faithful and obedient men and women, I am sure there were also at least as many that refused, ignored, denied, ran from… the call. How am I so sure? I have but to look at my own life to realize how easy it is to fail at being faithful and obedient all the time. Often the bigger the step of faith, the more hesitant or reluctant I am to take the step.

Abram was 75 when he left home and headed for Canaan. He took what he had – his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions and people “accumulated in Haran”. Before departing God’s last words to Abram were these: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. Abram was not just going to be a blessing to his family or even to those in the land that he was going to inherit. The blessing was going to be for all peoples. Right there, in Matthew 1:1 and 1:2, Abram’s name begins to geneology of Jesus. The father of many nations is also in the family tree of Jesus, the Christ. In verse sixteen the list ends with Jesus. But the list does not end there. The list of those in the family of God continues to grow even this day. Listed right there as a brother or sister of Jesus is your name and my name. We are adopted in, but we are still family in God’s eyes. Because of this truth, we are indeed very blessed.

We are also connected to Abram in another way. Because we are blessed we too are called to be a blessing to others. It may be in the form of a small act of kindness today. It may be to walk through the valley with someone. It may be to share Jesus Christ with them. There are many ways to be a blessing. Each day may we seek to be a blessing to others.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the opportunities that you will bring my way today. I know they’ll be there – you provide them every day. Help me this day to be more faithful and more obedient, serving others as I serve you. Amen.


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A Radical Change

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 27-34

Verse 27: “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”.

Change is on the horizon! Last week, in Jeremiah 29, God encouraged the people to build and to marry, to redeem their situation in Babylon, to shine light and love into this sinful place. In today’s reading we begin to hear God’s promise to restore the chosen people. In the opening verse we read, “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. God will replant what was uprooted. God will rebuild what was torn down. God promises to “watch over them to build and to plant”. The exiles must have received these words from Jeremiah with great hope and excitement.

Along with the restoration and relocation back to the Promised Land, there is also a change coming in the people’s relationship with God. No longer will a parent’s (or grandparent’s or great grandparent’s) sin affect the children (or children’s children…). In verse 30 we read, “Instead, everyone will die for his own sin”. In the day to day life, death means separation from God. When on is living in sin or with sin in their heart, the relationship with God is broken. Through the new covenant that God is bringing through Jesus Christ, sins will be forgiven. Through personal confession and repentance our sins will be washed away. In the eternal sense, if one chooses to live in sin and refuses to turn back to God, death refers to an eternity in hell.

Through Jeremiah, God is forshadowing a pretty radical change in Jewish thinking and theology. The idea that disease and illness and blindness and… are the result of sin somewhere in the family tree is deeply rooted in their faith. Jesus will challenge this line of thought. Change will be hard. Some will refuse to accept this shift. Jesus offers insight through his actions. He will touch the leper and the deaf, the mute and the crippled, the outcast and the sinner. His touch indicates love and acceptance, not fear and exclusion. Change is indeed on the horizon!

Prayer: God, thank you for your continuing evolution of our relationship with you. Through Jesus you became more personal, more intimate, more fully known. With the Holy Spirit you moved further into our hearts. Continue to draw me more and more into who and what you are! Amen.


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He Died for Us

Reading: Romans 5: 6-8

Verse Six: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

To me, today’s three verses speak to the depth of God’s love for all of humanity.  The key words are ‘love’ and ‘all’.  It is an amazing, mighty, almost unfathomable love that would send His Son, knowing He would die a painful death.  And speaking of unfathomable – Jesus died for sinners, for you and me, plus all those who hate God and those who deny God and those who refuse to acknowledge God’s existence…  To die for the sinners we all are is one thing.  To die for the haters, the atheists, the non-believers… is a whole other level of ‘all’.

Verse six reads, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly”.  In His infinite wisdom, God initiated His plan to save us at ‘just the right time’.  God’s hand is often at work in the world.  Sometimes it happens in big ways, like this, and at other times God’s hand is at work in smaller ways, like the time that person said that thing to you at that time in your life.  There is another truth in this verse.  We are powerless.  Before the cross humanity was trapped in our sin and held captive by death.  But through the cross we find forgiveness and hope.  As Christ conquered sin and death, He opened the way for us too.  Through a personal relationship with Jesus we can claim salvation and eternal life.

In the next two verses, Paul returns to the idea of just who Christ died for.  He notes that maybe some would die for a good man.  I think some are even willing to die for a good cause.  But no one would be willing to die for an enemy or for a cause they do not believe in.  Jesus died for both.  “While we were sinners” – separated from God – He died for us.  That’s amazing, but it goes farther.  Jesus knew we would continue to sin.  He knew His death would not end sinning.  But He died anyway.  We, by our imperfect nature, are prone to sin.  And Jesus died for each and every one of us anyway.  Thanks be to God.