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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Good and Pleasant Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

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

Psalm 133 speaks to and of the community of faith. David identifies unity as something that is “good and pleasant”. It is God’s desire that all his children live in unity and peace. In the Psalm David is writing to the nation of Israel but his words also speak to the whole community of faith and to the local church. Unity draws others in, enabling the body of Christ and the individual believer to grow and flourish.

David uses the yearly anointing of the high priest as his illustration of the blessings of unity. Once a year the specially formulated oil of blessing would be poured over the head of the high priest, symbolizing God’s blessings flowing down over the representative of God’s connection to the people. This act also expressed unity – unity between God and his people. The visual of the oil running down Aaron’s face and through his beard and down onto his robes is a reminder of the abundance of God’s blessings on the faithful.

The Psalm closes with “there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore”. “There” are the places of unity and harmony. In and through the community of faith is where we find “life forevermore”. So this day and every day may we each do our part to build up the unity of the body of Christ, experiencing God’s blessings and favor as we do so.

Prayer: Lord, it is so good and pleasant when we gather in worship and fellowship to praise your name and to serve one another. Build up our love for one another, raise up a humble servant’s heart in each of us. In all we do and say, together may we bring you the glory and honor. Amen.


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Listen and Learn

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 8: “Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy”.

On Monday I focused in on the call part of this passage. Just like Samuel, we all have a story of how God calls us. Samuel might not have known his call story if not for Eli. At this point, Eli is like Samuel’s father figure. Eli has raised Samuel since he was weaned from Hannah. Eli has been serving God a long time and has taught Samuel much, but “Samuel did not yet know the Lord”. Samuel knows who God is and knows a lot about God, but he does not know God. The head knowledge has not yet become heart wisdom. It is Eli that perceives that God is calling Samuel. Eli’s willingness to allow God to speak through another is a testament to his trust in God and to the love and trust that he has in Samuel. It is an example of humble servant leadership.

When Samuel does invite God to speak, the words are difficult to hear. Destruction will fall upon Eli’s household because Eli’s sons are “contemptible” and because Eli failed to “restrain them”. In the morning Eli presses Samuel, wanting to know what God said, probably sensing the bad news. Samuel speaks truth to Eli. Eli accepts the words, humbly acknowledging God’s goodness. I cannot imagine how hard it was for Samuel to say these words to Eli. Yet Samuel loves and trusts Eli enough to tell him.

Both Eli and Samuel understood that there was something bigger than themselves. Both Eli and Samuel loved and trusted God, as well as each other, enough to listen and to learn from each other. To listen and learn from each other. To understand the bigger picture. How our land needs these skills today! Both sides are so polarized that they cannot even hear each other, never mind listening to one another. Listening is essential. It is the only way to discern a good and right way forward. Yes, we can continue to plod down the road we are on, filled with self and contempt and half truths and rancor. We can walk the road of Eli’s household. Or we can choose a better way, one covered in love and peace and trust. These things will not come easy. Surrender never does. Elevating other over self, walking the path of unity and compromise, fighting for our way not my way – all are the work of a humble servant. May it be so Lord. Heal our land.

Prayer: Lord, the wind is howling here in South Dakota. Things are shaking and groaning. It reminds me of our nation right now. The winds can fan the flames or they can usher in something new. Bring a new sense of humble servant leadership to the land, blowing away the chaff. Bless us, O God. Amen.


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Redemption

Reading: Luke 2: 36-40

Verse 38: “She spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”.

Today as we read this short section from Luke 2 we focus in on Anna and her words concerning Jesus. Anna is an old woman, a prophet with a deep devotion to God. She has been a widow for a long time and the focus of her life is praying and fasting in the temple. After thanking God – for the encounter, for seeing the Messiah, for what Jesus means to her people – Anna “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”. At this point in their history, all Jews are looking forward to Jerusalem’s redemption.

The act of redeeming has always been a part of the Jewish faith. Mary and Joseph have just redeemed Jesus, Boaz was the kinsman redeemer, and the Jews celebrated the Year of Jubilee every 50 years. In each of these acts, one is released or freed – from their debts, from their slavery, from a burden that forced them to sell family land. This idea of being freed from that which binds us is very much a part of Jesus’ ministry and healing. Jesus healed both relationships and physical ailments. Often these were tied together. Physical healing often led to relational healing. By revealing the depth of God’s love, mercy, and grace, Jesus drew many back into relationship with God and with one another. He brought a wholeness to life that invited people to live with joy, peace, and hope. Jesus also healed people physically – lepers, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed – also inviting people back to God and back into society, family, and community. Jesus brought a completeness and unity to life that was freeing and welcoming, that was unconditional and full.

When I think about this side of redemption that Jesus offered, I am drawn to my community and to my neighborhood. Nearby, there are folks who are bound up in or with addiction and abuse, folks who feel enslaved to financial debt, folks who feel isolated and alone, folks who are grieving because of loss. Jesus offers the same redemption, the same healing, the same freeing today. He offers it through you and through me. May we be a part of building other’s faith, seizing the opportunities that God gives us to share our faith with others, inviting them into the love, hope, peace, and joy of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, you seek to redeem, to free all people. You are a God of love and justice and community. Use me this day to draw others in, to add to the family of faith, to bring your healing and freeing love to those who need to know you. Amen.


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Wholeness and Unity

Reading: Philippians 4: 1-3

Verse 2: “I plead with ___ and ___ to agree with each other in the Lord”.

Paul is imprisoned in Rome as he writes these words. The man who founded many churches and who was a key figure in bringing many people into a saving faith in Jesus Christ has been imprisoned for preaching the gospel. Paul is highly respected in the Christian communities spread throughout the known world. His words and writings carry weight. As he sits under house arrest in Rome, word of a dispute in the church in Philippi comes to his attention. Philippi is about 800 miles from Rome. Word would be carried across land, then sea, then land again. As he closes the letter to the Philippians, Paul takes time to address the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche, two prominent women in the church. In the opening verse above I left two blank lines because for most churches today we could fill in the lines. The spat may be past tense in some of our churches, but it is alive and well in too many others.

The fact that two women are in a sharp enough disagreement to merit mentioning means that it had significance for that church. Such disagreements often do. We do not know the source or cause of the disagreement, we just know it was doing what these things do – causing division and hostility. Paul knows these are bad for relationships and for churches so he asks a third party, believed to by Syzygus, the “loyal yokefellow”, to mediate. Again, in our churches it could be Bob or Anne or anyone skilled at bringing reconciliation. This is often a necessary step.

Division in the body of Christ does harm in so many ways. When we dig in and hunker down and refuse to enter into dialogue, we allow division to exist. When we in the church allow this, Satan is winning the day. Our community is weakened and our witness to the world is lessened. Whether one person is wrong or if both are wrong or if neither is wrong, all parties had a hand in creating division. Understanding and healing and forgiveness and grace and reconciliation must be found. Just as Paul pleads for these people to “agree with each other in the Lord”, may that be the prayer that we lift whenever needed in our churches and communities of faith. May the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of our hearts bring wholeness and unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Father God, where there is division, bring me words of healing and peace. Where and when there are disagreements in the body of Christ, give me words of understanding and love, words of grace and forgiveness. When hearts are hard, lead me to foster openness and care for the other. God, draw churches of all flavors into the unified church that will better resemble eternity. Walk with me as I seek to lead in that direction. Amen.


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Building the Kingdom

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 3: “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”.

Over the course of Israel’s history the reading or singing of this Psalm would evoke many reactions and thoughts. At times it was sung whole heartedly, rejoicing in God’s presence and blessings. At other times it was sung with sadness, a memory of better times. Today many of us reading the Psalm identify with the rejoicing times. We are happy and comfortable and well cared for. Our jobs and families are rewarding. Yet some, even here in the land of opportunity and of plenty, read this Psalm and wonder, “When?” And others look in from outside; their question is “How?”

In is easy for us to live in unity and in Christian community within our churches and neighborhoods. It is comfortable to stay there, where all is familiar and safe. Yet if we are to be a part of realizing true unity and community with all of God’s children, we must step outside of our little world and engage the people who live in places where food, shelter, education, and other necessities are lacking or are non-existent. Yes, this is the immigration centers and the food deserts in many cities. Yes, this is many of our reservations. But it is also our neighborhoods and our communities. In every single community there are families struggling to provide the basics. In all communities there are people with emotional and spiritual needs – the abused, the grieving, the lonely, the sick.

The last line of today’s Psalm reads, “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”. In places where Christ’s love is known, yes, there are blessings and the hope of life everlasting. It is in your home, it is in my home. But it is not universal. It is not even in every house in our neighborhoods. May we each be a part of the building of God’s kingdom here on earth, venturing to where the hurt and need of the world must meet God’s love and care and provision… and blessing. May we go forth in love.

Prayer: Loving God, as I get to know my community, slowly in this time of pandemic, lead me to the places that really need to know your love. Guide me to be love and compassion in these places, sharing all that I am and all that I have. Amen.


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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.


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Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse 12: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”.

Paul is writing today about the balance of unity and diversity. Whether in church or politics, whether on a team or in a family, this balance is essential if that organization or group is going to be its best. An organization or group can function in total unity but it is less than it would be with some diversity. Yet if one swings to the other extreme and only diversity is honored, it can challenge the functioning of the organization or group. When an organization or group is sure of those essential beliefs or elements that bring unity, there is often space created for diversity.

We have all been in an organization or group where everyone was or wanted to be the same or equal. On Pentecost all the believers were given the same gift – to speak in different languages. Imagine, though, how incomplete the church would be if that was the only gift of the Spirit. Imagine if the Spirit did not give wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and prophesying too. If everyone in the church was exactly the same, how hard it would be to learn and grow in the faith. So instead the Spirit “gives them to each one, just as he determines”. Our diversity of gifts allows the church to accomplish far more for the kingdom of God.

In verses twelve and thirteen Paul speaks to the idea of unity and diversity existing in balance. Here he writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”. Think about what you would be without a heart or without a spine or without a foot or without ears. You would definitely be less – if you were anything at all. The church is the same. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit each and every one of us has something to offer that makes the whole better. Yes, when people withhold or do not use the gifts that they have been given, the church is less.

Paul reminds us that we were all baptized into one body by the one Spirit. May that be evident in our words, thoughts, and actions each day.

Prayer: God of all, help me to cherish diversity amidst our unity. Guide me to value each person for the gift that they are and for the gifts that they bring. Lead me to help folks see and develop and use their gifts for the better building of your kingdom. Amen.


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As One

Reading: John 17: 1-11

Verse 11: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”.

Sometimes people think a trial or time of hardship will draw a group closer together. Someone may cite a sacrifice made by someone to save a dear friend or fellow soldiers. Another may tell of how this church surrounded a family that experienced that traumatic event. While all of these things do occur, they are predicated on one fact: there was a bond or sense of team or family or community that had been built prior to the time of testing.

As Jesus prays for his disciples in today’s passage, he is asking God to watch over the bonds that he has built. Jesus knows that “the time has come” and that he will soon complete his work, bringing God the glory. He identifies what makes the disciples into a team or community: “they have obeyed your word” and they believe that Jesus and God are one. Faith in Jesus is what binds them together. Jesus closes the section of the prayer that we read today with these words: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”. Jesus knows that more trials are to come. He knows that the road ahead will be scattered with persecution and death, with rejection and alienation. So Jesus prays for his friends, for his followers. He prays for unity.

The unity Jesus asks God to give is twofold. First, he knows that they need to remain one with each other. If a group or team or community is not fully bonded to one another in love, then a trial can destroy the unity. Sometimes the group looks for a scapegoat or for someone to blame. Sometimes the group can take an “everyone for themselves” attitude. As this small group heads out to change the world, Jesus knows that they will need God’s protection to stay as one and to remain focused on the goal. The disciples must also remain one with Jesus. Jesus taught them often about the need to remain in him – the vine, the root, the cornerstone. This unity is paramount. In the trials that lay ahead, the disciples must remain one in Jesus Christ. He is their only hope. The same remains true for us. As followers of Jesus Christ we must do the same. May we seek to be one with each other as we are one in Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to yourself. You ever draw us in. We are not called alone though. Help us to see those around us who we can walk this journey with. May your love lead and guide us as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Find Unity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 10-18

Verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”.

In our passage today Paul addresses the division in the church in Corinth. He begins by appealing to them to agree with one another so that there may be no divisions. The quarrels are not over the carpet color or whether or not to have a praise band. The quarrel is equally silly. They are arguing over who to follow. Most have gone astray but a few are still focusing in on the only one to follow: Jesus Christ.

It appears that many are following men who teach about Jesus. This is where the disunity comes in. They have allowed a secondary issue (human leaders) to shift their focus away from the primary belief (Jesus Christ). On one level the quarreling is good. Secondary belief issues do matter. Things like how one understands communion and baptism are, for example, secondary issues that are important. Carpet color? Style of worship? Third level topics at best.

In verse seventeen Paul focuses in on the primary belief. Here he writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”. The message of the gospel is the only primary belief. To know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to know what the life, death, and resurrection mean as a follower of Jesus – this is the one core belief of the faith. This belief in the gospel is the “power of God”. Paul is calling the church in Corinth to find unity in the one core belief. The same call remains today for us. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, it is easy to get upset over second and third level beliefs. It is easy. Too often we take the easy way out. Draw us together in the good news of Jesus Christ. Your son told us to love one another just as he had first loved us. Help us to truly do so, God. Amen.