pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Stretching, Widening

Reading: Romans 15:4-13

Verse 7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

Paul speaks to us today and tomorrow about living out our faith. He begins by pointing us towards scripture, saying, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us.” God’s wisdom and guidance is found in the written word. Insights and lessons are given. Through these words, Paul says, we have hope.

Paul then prays that the endurance and encouragement that comes from God will “give you a spirit of unity” as they strive to follow Jesus Christ. The unity and the strength found therein were needed for Christians living in a largely hostile world. Speaking and praising God with “one heart and mouth” not only spoke to the world, it also spoke to their own hearts. “Together” is always better than “alone.”

To that point, Paul says, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Unity does not mean homogeny. Unity does not mean an exact same understanding of the scriptures or of the faith. With Christ at the center and as their example, acceptance of one another would build unity and strength as the body of faith.

Coming back around to where he began, Paul quotes from the same scriptures in verses 9-12. Here he is working to expand their understanding of the word “accept.” Paul is asking the church in Rome to open up to the Gentiles, all outside the Jewish faith. He is asking them to see unity in a new way. It is a stretching of the circle. The hope they find in Christ can be a hope for all people. The church in Rome will begin to grow as these seeds begin to bear fruit. May it be so for each of us as well.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your word today. It is a word with challenge – unity, acceptance, welcome. Sometimes these are hard to practice. So I turn to you and ask for a widening of my heart. May the spirit of Christ be in me. Amen.


Leave a comment

Prince of Peace

Reading: Psalm 122

Verse 8: “For the sake of my brothers [and sisters] and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be with you.'”

Today we begin the season of Advent! It is a season of preparation, a season to ready ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. It is a time to take in the spirit of this Psalm of Ascents, to regularly head up to the house of the Lord for worship and praise.

The second half of the Psalm focuses on the theme of peace. In the context of the Psalm, it is peace for Jerusalem and for David’s fellow Israelites. Reading these words for today, we can seek peace for our churches and for our world as well as for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Reading these words, we can also commit to a pilgrimage – not to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem.

There is an invitational spirit to this Psalm. It is an invitation to journey together, to worship and live in community. May we also commit to this witness in Advent. No other season so naturally raises people’s awareness of Jesus. Being aware of this, may we choose to be invitational people, seeking to draw others into a relationship with our Prince of Peace. As we journey together towards Bethlehem, seeking to live out our own commitment to following the way of Christ, may our very lives seek to say to others, “Peace be with you,” as we share the Prince of Peace with a world in need of Christ’s peace.

Prayer: Lord God, you bring peace to my life in so many ways. Your very presence is a natural experience of peace. May this spirit be in me as I seek to serve you this week. Amen.


Leave a comment

My Peace I Give

Reading: John 14:23-29

Verse 27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In our passage from John 14, Jesus speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the indwelling presence of the risen Christ living in our hearts, leading and guiding, teaching and convicting, assuring and comforting us. Because of all that this constant presence brings and gives us, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”

Jesus is speaking of peace as understood by his audience in first century Israel. The meaning here would better relate to the Jewish understanding of shalom. Today people think of peace as a lack of stress or as being worry- or trouble-free. In Jesus’ day the idea of peace or shalom was so much more. It meant a complete sense of well-being that was given by God. It included being in good and right relationship with both God and one another. The peace that Jesus gives us a total, whole life peace.

This does not mean that a Christian will not experience loss or illness or other hardships and trials. It means we will not experience them alone. We always have the Holy Spirit with us. Christ’s presence living in us walks with us – even carries us at times – in and through the valleys of life. That brings peace. We also walk with one another, adding another layer of love and care and comfort to the one given by the Spirit. Together, we are reminded that we are beloved children of God. We are not ever alone. This is the peace that Christ Jesus gives. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are always with me, offering just what I need in each moment. Thank you for your wisdom and care. Open my heart to accept all you offer, leading me to live in your peace. Amen.


Leave a comment

Trust in God Alone

Reading: 1st Corinthians 10:1-13

Verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.”

As Paul works with the Corinthian church, trying to compel them to a more faithful witness, he tells them of the struggles of the Israelites in the desert. Being former Gentiles, they wouldn’t be terribly familiar with the exodus stories. But as we all know too well, the sins of idolatry and sexual immortality and the sins of grumbling against and testing God remain present even to this day. Even though the Israelites were all alone in the desert, God’s people found ways to sin. Even if we went off and lived as a hermit, we’d find ways to sin. Temptation and sin are ever present dangers. Paul reminds the Corinthians of this often. It is only when we are aware of our natural tendency to be drawn towards self and the lures of the flesh that are all around us that we begin to be on guard against such sin.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of all that was in favor of the Israelites remaining faithful: together they passed through the sea and were led by the cloud and by Moses. Together they ate the manna and quail and drank from the rock. And yet they sinned. The church in Corinth was all baptized into the one Christ and they were all indwelled by the same Holy Spirit. Yet they too sinned. To trust in our past or to rely on being a ‘Christian’ is not proof or guarantee against that we will be free of temptation or sin. Paul warns, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.” Faith is not about the past or the future. It is about the present. Just as Jesus called on God the moment that temptation presented itself when he was in the wilderness, so too must we call on God in our present temptation. Right then.

Paul concludes by reminding us that “God is faithful.” When we too choose faith, God will “provide a way out so that you can stand.” In our moment of great need, may we trust in God alone. God is faithful. God is mighty to save.

Prayer: Lord God, turn me always to you and not to my own understanding or will power. Alone I will continue to fail. With you may I stand. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Common Good

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

Verse 7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

Chapter 12 in 1st Corinthians is the beginning of the portion of Paul’s epistle that speaks of unity in the body of Christ. Paul begins by reminding those in the church of who they used to be: “pagans… led astray by mute idols.” It was not a good place to be. I can see heads nodding in agreement. Then Paul 180’s them with “Therefore…” Therefore, quit reverting to what you once were, quit being a curse to the community of faith.

Paul reminds them that, yes, there are different gifts, different ways to serve, different activities that allow us to live out and exercise our faith. He reminds them that these all come from the same Spirit/Lord/God. Getting to why this all matters, Paul says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” First, each has been given gifts – the manifestation of the Spirit in them. Not some, not most, not a few. Each and every one has been given gifts. And the purpose of the gifts is for the common good.

This “common good” term is a bit foreign in this modern world, just as it appeared to be so in the church in Corinth. When one chooses to focus on the common good it is an intentional choice to be selfless, to elevate others above oneself. A person with the gift of healing, for example, would not just heal themselves nor would they charge others to receive this gift, gaining personal wealth. Instead, this person would generously share the gift with others, bringing God all the glory and attention. Doing so, this person would be a blessing to God and to their community. Each person, generously using the gifts that the Spirit gave, would grow together in faith and love. This was and is the ideal. For each of us, may we do our part to make this a reality.

Prayer: Lord God, first, thank you for the ways that the Spirit has blessed me. As my grateful response, guide me to be generous with others, giving to them as you lead me. Amen.


Leave a comment

Bond of Love

Reading: Ruth 4: 13-17

Verse 14: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman redeemer.”

As we conclude our time in Ruth we see that Naomi and Ruth have found security and well-being. In the remainder of chapter three and the start of chapter four Boaz redeems Naomi and Ruth. The next of kin is unwilling to buy Naomi’s land because it comes with the responsibility to redeem the family name and to care for her. Boaz, who is next in line in the family, buys the land, becomes Naomi’s kinsman redeemer, and declares his intent to marry Ruth to maintain that family name.

In our passage today we learn that Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son. The women of the village gather around Naomi and her grandson. They praise the Lord and rejoice over her kinsman redeemer. They also celebrate how Obed will “renew your strength and sustain you in old age.” Naomi and Ruth have escaped the insecurity that comes with living day to day. Boaz’s care and generosity welcome them to a much better place. The child insures that this security and well-being will extend into the future.

The women of the village also note and celebrate another important fact: Ruth loves Naomi deeply and is “better than seven sons” for her. In a culture where male offspring are critical and highly valued, this is quite the statement. It recognizes the fact that without each other, neither would find themselves in this place of blessing and security. The deep bond of love and the steadfast loyalty are examples we should all seek to model in our relationships. Naomi and Ruth walked together through grief upon grief, through times of insecurity and fear, and through the hardship of living as widows. Through it all they clung to each other and to God. May we do so in our relationships and on our journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, build up my connections with love and commitment. Strengthen the bonds of relationship and found them on a common faith. Amen.


Leave a comment

All for One Lord

Reading: Mark 9: 38-41

Verses 39-40: “Do not stop him… for whoever is not against us is for us.”

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

If you were given the chance to describe Jesus in three words, which words would you choose? There are many words that could be used to describe Jesus. All of our lists might not be the same. My list and your list could change in a month, depending on what life has brought or on how faith has been active in our life.

Today my three words would be love, servant, and compassion. What would your three words be today?

Maybe a word or two is similar, maybe not. I was at a celebration of life service yesterday for a man who followed Jesus closely in all he said and did. The words I chose today reflect the image of a follower of Jesus that I saw in John these past twenty or so years. Yesterday I learned that his walk with Jesus was longer than that. As his children and grandchildren spoke it became clear that John walked with and shared Jesus a long time. What events or experiences in your life shape your expression of Jesus or the words you would choose to describe him?

In our passage today there is some conflict between the disciples and a man who was driving out demons but was not one of them. If I saw someone ministering to another, sharing the mercy of Jesus, would or should I stop them because mercy wasn’t on my list today? No! Just because our expressions of faith or the place we worship or the denomination we affiliate with isn’t exactly alike, it doesn’t limit our ability to share Jesus with others. We are all part of the body of Christ. We are all working towards the same end game. We are all called to bear fruit. In Christ may we all be for one another.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be an encourager of different expressions of faith. Jesus Christ speaks into individuals many different ways, drawing each into a personal relationship. In all I say and do may this remain the ultimate purpose: bringing others to Christ. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 13: “You also were included in Christ… Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”.

The opening section of Ephesians is all about God’s plans to include us all in the family of God. Paul begins by declaring that God chose us to be in Christ “before the creation of the world”. It is in “accordance with his pleasure and will” that all people are “adopted as his sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ”. God desires for all people to be a part of the community of faith.

Starting in verse seven Paul moves on to why and how God wants us in the family. First, only then do we receive redemption for our sins. Out of love God provided a way for us to be freed from the bonds of sin. Without Christ we remain trapped in the guilt and shame. Second, God lavishes us with wisdom and understanding. The ways of God are not the ways of the world. This gift allows believers to live and see and love the world differently. Created anew in Christ, we pursue the things and ways of God instead of the world. Third, in relationship with Christ we become a part of the fulfillment of all things. Living holy lives we are a part of bringing “all things in heaven and earth together under one head, Jesus Christ”. As part of the family, we seek to help bring others into the family of God.

About three years ago I was serving a church in a small rural community. The hospital called and asked if I would come visit an elderly woman who was nearing death. Soon after arriving I learned from her daughters that she wanted to be baptized. As I left to get the needed supplies, I asked if she wanted to receive communion after being baptized. She nodded “yes”. When I returned we had a short baptism service for a 93-year-old. She had come to know Jesus as Lord later in life but had never been baptized. She knew of Paul’s words: “you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. Feeling a new sense of belonging, this deposit “guaranteeing her inheritance” led to celebrating holy communion in a new way too.

Taken together, all of the signs and symbols, all the wisdom and knowledge, all the blessings and graces – they reassure us of our place in the community of faith. Thanks be to God for the love that is big enough to want all of us to be saved. To the praise of his glory, amen!

Prayer: Loving God, you so want to include all people in your family. Use me today to move someone a little closer to being a part of the great community of faith. Amen.


Leave a comment

Good and Pleasant

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity”.

Psalm 133 is a song of praise. It begins with a reminder of the fellowship of believers: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity”. I did add ‘sisters’ in because God’s inclusive love revealed in Jesus has shown us that all people have innate value and sacred worth in God’s kingdom. It is good and pleasant not only for God when humanity lives in harmony, but it is good and pleasant for us as well. Faith is not meant to only be a solo pursuit. While there are times for personal prayer, study, meditation, and worship, God designed humanity as social beings. We were created to live and worship in community. Communal worship and Christian fellowship are important parts of our faith.

For the Israelites worship was led by the priests. Aaron was the first high priest. He would lead worship in the tabernacle out in the desert. Aaron’s descendants would continue to serve in the temple, leading worship, offering the sacrifices, caring for the place of worship. The oil referred to by the psalmist would be the fragrant consecration oil used yearly to anoint the priests. It carried a beautiful aroma that was also good and pleasant to God and to God’s people. The oil signified the pouring out of God’s blessings upon his people. The fragrance was a tactile reminder of God’s love.

Gathering together for worship is another tactile reminder of God’s love. To gather in the sanctuary, to look around at our diversity – young and old, single and married, rich and poor, men and women… – does good for the soul. To see the diversity gathered together to praise and worship the Lord is a good and pleasant thing for God and for each worshipper. It is a visual reminder that we are all God’s children. As you consider your church family and recall the last time you gathered together, smile and rejoice as you thank God for how good and pleasant your family of faith is to you!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for my church family. Thank you for my immediate congregation as well as for brothers and sisters from past congregations and for fellow believers from other traditions. Together we are a beautiful tapestry. Thank you God. Amen.


Leave a comment

Ever at Work

Reading: Psalm 105: 6, 16-22, and 45b

Verse 17: “He sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave”.

Psalm 105 tells the story of the Israelites time in Egypt and of how God saved them. It is the story of God’s faithfulness to his chosen people. In this sense, the Bible is a historical document. The Bible tells the whole story of God’s people, beginning in the garden of Eden and ending with the coming renewal of heaven and earth. One events links to another, person after person plays their role. All are part of God’s good plans, all working towards the final return to all of God’s children living and walking and talking daily with the Lord in a new paradise.

Today’s verses are part of that story. They are, in fact, just a part of Joseph’s story too. The psalmist reminds us that before the famine occurred, God was already at work. That is usually how God works. In verse seventeen we read, “He sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave”. God was ahead of the game. In his wisdom he saw how to use this world event to bring the family of Israel back together again. Joseph’s rise to power in the king’s household was also foretold. Those dreams that a young Joseph had would come to pass. All parts of the bigger story.

Today’s passage also reminds us that Joseph’s journey was not always easy. He entered Egypt as a slave, sold and discarded by his own flesh and blood. Joseph’s path to become “master” of pharaoh’s household would include a couple of other trials along the way. Through it all, Joseph remains faithful, trusting in the working out of God’s plan. God continues to be at work. One trial after another reveals the power of God at work in the world. That is one of the major overall themes in the story of the Bible: God is faithful. God is ever at work in the story of God’s chosen ones, ever working the whole family together with one another and with God himself. This is the Israelites’ story, this is Joseph’s story, this is our story. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Living God, your fingerprints are all over Joseph’s story. No matter what came – his brothers’ jealousy, Potiphar’s wife’s lust, the cupbearer’s poor memory – Joseph remained faithful and you remained at work. Grant me the same faith and trust and perseverance, O God. Amen.