pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-17

Verse 17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”.

Our verses for today begin with Paul inviting us to look beyond the world and its points of view. Too often we see as the world sees. People of faith can be just like the world in terms of how we define ourselves and others. We too easily see and understand ourselves and others through terms like race, class, gender, occupation, ethnicity, age, and so on. Too often terms like these lead to judging another’s worth and value – all us relative to how we see or define ourselves. Jesus did not see or understand the world and the people he encountered this way. Why should we think it OK to do so?

Who we are and how we see and understand ourselves is part of our sacredness. God created all of us, knit us together in love. Our worth and our value is rooted in this holy creation. Each created by God, each made in the image of our God – this is how we should see and understand ourselves and others. No worldly terms or constructs should in any way lessen how we see and understand and love ourselves and one another.

Early in the history of the church a deadly disease spread through many communities. Out of fear of dying themselves, many people placed loved ones out in the street to die. It was those early Christians who took the sick into their homes to care for them, to love on them. The early church did not care that they were pagans or Jews or that they were rich or poor or anything else. Jesus had instructed them to care for the least of these. How far some of us have gotten from such simple instructions.

As followers of Jesus Christ may we reclaim the vision and love of the one we say we follow. Loving and caring for all we meet and encounter, may we see and understand each as created by God, each as beloved by God. Doing so we live into these words: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”. In Christ may we transform ourselves, the church, and the world into a more loving, caring, and just place.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me this day to love as Jesus Christ loved. Grant me eyes to see all as you see them – created in love by you. Seeing as you see, may I live out your love in the world each day. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”.

Returning to Romans 8 today we see the fruit of being a child of God. Once the Spirit dwells within us we are adopted into God’s family. We find our worth and value in God. We find our sense of belonging in Christ and in our faith community. We come to know our home is with the Lord.

Paul extends the idea of adoption to the benefits of being in God’s family. In verse seventeen he connects these dots, saying, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”. Once we are accept our place as a child of God, we are inheritors of many things. We receive the same abundant love and mercy and grace that is found in Christ. We receive the peace, strength, and commitment to the other modeled by Jesus. We receive forgiveness of sins and life eternal. These blessings will, at times, lead us to “share in his sufferings”. There are times when our inheritance leads us to take up our cross or to love the other completely. There will be a cost. This too is part of our inheritance.

As we live into our inheritance we begin to see more as Christ sees. We grow to see all people as worthy of our love, our acceptance, our time. We stop seeing things that divide and differentiate. We begin to live out Jesus’ unconditional and generous love. We become a part of building the kingdom of God here on earth.

As we consider our place as a beloved child, may we be led to truly understand and live in ways that bring all people into the family of God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so good to be in your family. Use me today to help others understand how deeply and unconditionally loved they are. Amen.


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Love God, Love Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verses 37 and 39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself”.

The Pharisees loved the law. It was a tool to maintain their position and their appearance of goodness. With the law they could judge and shame and control others. The law could be used to define who had value and worth and standing. Jesus chose love. That is the key word in the two great commandments. Boiled down to their simplest form, Jesus said, “Love God, love neighbor”. The highest form of love welcomes the other, serves all, extends mercy and grace and forgiveness without cost, and is generous with all one has and is. And, in the end, it is not the law that saves us, it is love that saves.

Love saves us because it is greater than our sin. Love saves us because it is stronger than the power of death. Love washes us clean when we stumble and give in to the lures of the world and to the pleasures of the flesh. Love makes us new again over and over, allowing us to continue to be in right relationship with the Lord our God. The love that grows within also extends outward, leading us to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness not only to others but to ourselves as well. Love leads us to see others as valued, as worthy, as beloved children of God. Love leads us to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned and the lonely, to provide for the orphan and widow and stranger. Love calls us to die to self again and again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, the one who modeled what it is to fully love God and neighbor. Each day may we seek to share Christ’s love with others as we bring love into the world.

Prayer: Lord of love, deepen my relationship with you each day, empowering me to be love lived out. Capture my whole heart and open it to all I meet. In these encounters, may others see you. Amen.


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Reconciliation and Restoration

Reading: Matthew 18: 15-17

Verse 15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”.

Today’s passage from Matthew 18 is about seeking the reconciliation and restoration of a relationship when it has been damaged. Above all else, Jesus’ call was to love one another. As the song goes, that’s how the world will know that we are Christians. This is especially true within the church. Here our love should be genuine and pure. It must be modeled in the church and in our relationships with one another. Jesus knew that the church would be just like all other organizations in one way: it is made up of imperfect people prone to sin and selfishness. As such, he knew that there would be conflicts and disagreements within the body of Christ. In today’s three verses we find practical steps for how to resolve conflict, especially in the church.

The causes for conflicts and disagreements can the gamut. The divide can be over deeply theological issues or it can be about painting a wall. Almost all issues, regardless of the root causes, will have deep ramifications for churches and individuals if left unresolved. So Jesus gives steps to avoid this. When conflict arises or when someone hurts or sins against another, the first step is personal. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”. Yes, this is hard for most of us to do. But it does provide the necessary space for being open and transparent. No one else is there to impress or to save face in front of. Going to someone directly lets them know you value them and your relationship with them enough to risk for them. It provides a space for honesty and open dialogue. Most often this step leads to reconciliation and to a deeper relationship.

Sometimes this first step does not work. Pride or who can intervene. Embarrassment or lack of understanding can also create a barrier to resolution. Jesus advises us to then take along one or two others to help guide the conversation. By involving others we often open up the conversation and find new ways to seek reconciliation. As a group we can often work things out that two struggle to do on their own. When this step fails, Jesus directs us to get even more help figuring out the conflict. He tells us to bring the matter before the whole congregation.

Both of these last two steps often involve some soul searching on our part. The sin may be obvious and surely needs correction. But if there is grey or doubt, it is a call for a time of sincere prayer and honest self-reflection. This step is always a good thing. The Holy Spirit will clarify and lead us to our best approach to the situation. Jesus does not want any division in the body. By going to the throne in prayer we are inviting Christ to guide us to reconciliation. When we invite him, he will always go with you!

Prayer: Loving God, lead and guide our conversations and relationships to be safe enough to tread into these uncomfortable spaces. May your Holy Spirit show us the way to unity and reconciliation within our Christian relationships and within our churches. 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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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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One More Year

Reading: Luke 13: 6-9

Verse 8: “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it”.

God made the tree in our passage today. In John 1:3 we read, “Through Him all things were made”. This tree, this tree that produces no fruit, was made by the loving hands of God. Just as it was with all of the rest of creation, this tree has the fingerprints of God all over it. In our minds and hearts we believe that we all have a purpose and a place in God’s plans. So it is for this tree as well. The man who planted the tree came to look for fruit. At this time it would have been a primary purpose for trees. The other primary purpose would be to become wood.

Our tree is young – the man has only been coming for three years to check for fruit. It is just beginning to mature to the point that it can bear fruit. At just 6 to 8 years old, though, it probably is not big enough to produce much wood for a project of any size. So, finding no fruit on the tree once again, the planter says, “For three years now… Cut it down”! The man is tired of waiting and getting no results. Let’s clear that little patch of ground and plant another tree in its place. Maybe this next one will be able to produce the fruit that is so desired.

But the gardener, the one who tends the tree, asks for patience. He says, “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it”. Just one more year. This is a big request. Imagine starting a new job and on day one your boss says, work one year and then we’ll start paying you. Imagine three years. For the owner, fruit probably equals money. Fruit has value. At a minimum, fruit will feed the family.

We too have similar expectations. Of young people, we often ask, “When will they grow up”? In our minds, they are past the point when they should be acting a certain way. Even of some adults we think a similar question: when will they ever quit doing ___? I suppose God looks down at me at times and sees the tree. I suppose God looks down and wonders, “When…”? Like the gardener, God is patient. God’s love and patience does not just ask for one more year either. God’s patience is extravagant with me. God patiently waits for me to produce fruit. He tends to me, fertilizes me… One more year. Yes, one day this will end too. One day we breathe our last. But until then, may we live to mature in our faith, producing fruit for the building of the kingdom. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, do a good work in me – today, tomorrow, and each day after that. Continue to make me a work in progress, a creation that seeks to grow and mature. May my life be one that produces fruit. Amen.


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Fellow Children of God

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verse 34: “You are not far from the kingdom of God”.

Today’s passage contains what I believe are the two quintessential requirements of our faith. Jesus is asked about the most important commandment and the two He gives summarize our faith practices. If all we do is love God completely and love our neighbors as ourselves, then we will be living out an excellent witness. Today, though, I want to focus on the relationship between Jesus and the man.

We know that today’s interaction occurs within a group of people, but it is as if they are the only two there. In my mind it is a personal conversation that others happen to overhear. It does not matter to Jesus or the man who else us there that day. This happens elsewhere in scripture too. Jesus focuses in on that person and they are all that matters. This is the type of relationship and personal interaction that we are called to have with one another.

People can treat each other poorly. We can have an “I’m the boss and do as I say” attitude that leaves others feeling of little value. We can have a “this is just the way it is (or has always been)” attitude, leaving others feeling powerless. We can interact with people in other ways that diminish, exclude, overlook, discount the other. This is not the way of Jesus; it is not loving God and neighbor.

Instead, Jesus focuses in on the man. I envision Jesus looking him right in the eye the whole time. Maybe He even steps a bit closer or places a hand on his shoulder. This should be the model for our personal interactions with each other. The focus and attention communicate value, worth, importance, acceptance. It says they matter to us, that our relationship is important. As they prepare to part ways, Jesus appreciates the man’s faith, saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. This statement also says “you are drawing close to God”. Jesus sees the heart of God in this man. May our words and actions convey the same to others today as we encounter each fellow child of God. May it be so.

Lord God, slow me down, focus me in. Help me to be one-on-one with each I encounter today. Help me to see you in them. Amen.


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Blameless, Upright

Reading: Job 1:1

Verse 1: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”.

Today we begin a short journey with Job. For the month of October we will read a selection from Job each week. It will be, of course, just a small sampling of who Job was and what his story teaches us. Even so, the passages will reveal much to us about ourselves and our faith journey.

Job was a man who lived in Ur, a city far outside of Israel. He worshipped God in a foreign land in a culture that often counter to God and God’s ways. We find ourselves in a similar position today. In our time culture and society in general is ambivalent to matters of faith, even clashing with our beliefs and practices from time to time. The values and priorities of modern culture in the western world do not align well with the values and priorities that God calls us to practice and live out.

Verse one tells us, “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”. Job is an early example of faith. On our best days we might be blameless and upright for periods of time. While this is our goal, it is not very often our reality for long stretches of time. But because it is our goal, like Job, we too must deal regularly with the attacks of the enemy. Because we are seeking to live and walk out a life of faith, Satan is ever on the lookout for ways to lead us into sin.

Job also feared God and shunned evil. These qualities of Job are much more realistic for us. Job’s fear was not a fear of ghosts or spiders type of fear. It was more of a reverence or healthy respect of God. To have this, one must have an intimate relationship with and knowledge of God. For Job, it came from having a deep and personal connection to God. Because of this, Job shunned evil. When we love God deeply, we too will shun evil. When our love of God is strong, we desire to please God. This leads us to shun evil and therefore to avoid sin, the thing that separates us from God.

As we live out our faith, being blameless and upright are worthy goals. Fortunately, they are not one and done goals. If we stumble or even if we fail, God’s love and mercy allow us to reset our goals and to begin anew. May we strive to grow closer each day, fearing God and shunning evil in all its forms. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit may it be so for me and for you.

God of Job, God of all people, God of me, pour out the power of your Holy Spirit on me today. Help me to be blameless and to live out an upright faith. Amen.


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Favorites

Reading: James 2: 1-7

Verse 1: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism”.

James is addressing our tendency to play favorites today. In reading his short illustration we think that we would never do such a thing. We also think that we would be glad to equally welcome one and all into our meetings on Sunday morning. In reality, sometimes our practice does not match our actions and sometimes we are just not very welcoming.

We tend to gravitate to people we know and to people who we think are most like us when in a crowd of strangers. This is true of almost all people, regardless of level of wealth. Observe any gathering – church potluck, community event, ballgame… – and you will see this play out. Here us an example. Folks walk into our monthly Fellowship Meal at church and they look around the room to decide where to sit. They survey the open seats and select to sit by their closest friends currently present. If they are the first to arrive or if they arrive early and no close friend is there, they sit and watch the door, hoping to see a familiar face to wave to as an invitation to join them. We often have guests from outside the church come too. They are the same way! They took seek out a familiar face amongst a group of relative strangers.

The true test of how welcoming and nonjudgmental we are comes when a person or couple comes in alone. They will get food and find a place to sit. Sometimes, if they do not know anyone, they will sit by themselves. Usually someone from the church will go over with a cup of coffee or lemonade and will sit down to chat with them. This gesture is an important way to let our guest know that they are welcome and it can begin to build a sense of belonging. It is an essential first step to sharing God’s love with others.

Ideally we are welcoming to one and all. James sums up why in verse one: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism”. Why Jesus as our example? Because He truly loved and valued and honestly engaged with one and all. When we study Jesus in the Gospels, we do find an awesome example to follow.

Father God, help me to love as Jesus loved. Help me to see all people as You see them and to treat them as Jesus did. All people are your children. Lord, help me to love them like I know you do. Amen.