pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Unity in Christ Jesus

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”.

Returning to Ephesians today our focus moves past tearing down walls to the purpose of doing so. Without walls or barriers in place, greater unity is possible. Think of a house remodel. Without some of the old walls a new and open space is created. People in the new space can see and talk and relate to one another in a better way. Yet ‘open concept’ living has its limits too. None of us wants a bathroom without walls (or without a door!)

Paul reminds the church of what they once were – two peoples. For the Gentiles, that meant that they were separated from Jesus Christ. They were “foreigners”, without the covenant promise and without hope. But all that changed. In verse thirteen we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”. Through his blood Jesus made a way for all people to live and be in right relationship with God. Doing so, he reconciled Jew and Gentile, preaching peace and blessing all who believed with the gift of the one Holy Spirit.

Uniting all believers with the same Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ made the foreigners into “citizens”, creating a new “holy temple”, a church for all people. Jew and Gentile would now be “built together”, becoming the dwelling place of God who “lives by the Spirit”. What a beautiful vision of faith and love, of community and hope! May we each do all we can to build and be such a church in our time and space. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making all believers one through the indwelling Holy Spirit. By sharing this common core we are all part of Christ’s universal body. In and through that Spirit, continue to draw us together Lord. Amen.


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Unity in Christ Jesus

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”.

Returning to Ephesians today our focus moves past tearing down walls to the purpose of doing so. Without walls or barriers in place, greater unity is possible. Think of a house remodel. Without some of the old walls a new and open space is created. People in the new space can see and talk and relate to one another in a better way. Yet ‘open concept’ living has its limits too. None of us wants a bathroom without walls (or without a door!)

Paul reminds the church of what they once were – two peoples. For the Gentiles, that meant that they were separated from Jesus Christ. They were “foreigners”, without the covenant promise and without hope. But all that changed. In verse thirteen we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”. Through his blood Jesus made a way for all people to live and be in right relationship with God. Doing so, he reconciled Jew and Gentile, preaching peace and blessing all who believed with the gift of the one Holy Spirit.

Uniting all believers with the same Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ made the foreigners into “citizens”, creating a new “holy temple”, a church for all people. Jew and Gentile would now be “built together”, becoming the dwelling place of God who “lives by the Spirit”. What a beautiful vision of faith and love, of community and hope! May we each do all we can to build and be such a church in our time and space. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making all believers one through the indwelling Holy Spirit. By sharing this common core we are all part of Christ’s universal body. In and through that Spirit, continue to draw us together Lord. Amen.


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Through the Cross

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 14: “For he himself is our peace, who has… destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”.

Photo credit: Nathan McDine

As we turn to Ephesians this week Paul takes on a huge issue: walls that divide. Instead of division he invites those in the churches in and around Ephasus to find peace in Jesus Christ. Through the peace of Christ, walls can come down. There are two walls being addressed in today’s scripture. One is obvious – the wall between Jew and Gentile.

As Paul states in verse two, circumcision was the physical sign that separated Jew from Gentile. The act of circumcision was begun in Moses’ time and gave a physical sign that one was a Jew. It was a barrier of belonging. Underpinning this act was the Law. The Jewish Christians still lived under and followed the Law. They wanted the Gentile Christians to do the same. In essence, they wanted the Gentiles to first become Jews and then to become Christians. Paul counters this, saying, “For he himself is our peace, who has… destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”. He goes on to remind the Jewish believers that Jesus “abolished in his flesh the law”. Through his death Jesus destroyed the commands and regulations, uniting both Jew and Gentile through the cross.

Today our walls might not be between Jew and Gentile, but we still have plenty of walls. Just a few are rich-poor, Black-white, Democrat-Republican, American-immigrant. The peace of Christ desires to destroy all of these barriers and the hostility behind them too. Through the cross, Jesus desires to bring all people to himself. Jesus would bring down the barriers. So should we.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, fill me with your passion to draw all people to you. Strengthen me to bring down walls that divide and separate. May I begin in my own heart. Amen.


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Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 1: “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of our praise”.

Photo credit: Giuseppe Famiani

Psalm 48 speaks of God’s presence in Jerusalem, in the city of David. For the psalmist the city of God is beautiful and will stand forever atop Mount Zion. God is present in the city itself – in the citadels that protect her from foreign kings and in her temple, the place the people “meditate on your unfailing love”. For the Israelites, Jerusalem will be God’s home forever and ever. Zion will always stand as the fortress of God.

It was another time and place when the Psalm was written. It was a time when people from all around would move inside the city walls in times of danger. It was a place of constant threats from the outside. A great fortified city was of importance to the many kingdoms of the world. For Israel, though, God was at the center of their power. God defended them, kept their walls secure. Within those towers and ramparts the psalmist felt safe and secure, trusting in God’s presence.

In your world today, where do you feel safe and secure? For many of us, our home is one place of refuge and rest. It is a place we feel protected, a place we can trust. For many, God’s presence is felt in the sacred spaces – sanctuaries, chapels, cathedrals. There we feel safe, secure, loved. Yet God is not limited to these structures either. So, in your world, where else do you sense God’s presence? For me, I sense God’s presence out in the wilderness, where his glory is often on full display. There I sense God’s greatness and am drawn into praise. Wherever we encounter God, may we join the psalmist in declaring, “This God is our God forever and ever”. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Living God, you are present in so many ways. Your strength and care and protection surround me. In you I am loved. Be with me always, O Lord. Amen.


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Big Plans

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah 49 begins with Isaiah’s call. Before he was born God called him. Prophet is his destiny. Isaiah was God’s voice – “a sharpened sword”. He was God’s servant, “in whom I will display my splendor”. He was filled with confidence and felt God with him. And then he experienced what Moses and other prophets experienced – the people were stubborn and willful. Beginning in verse four, we can see that Isaiah hit the proverbial “wall”. He sees no purpose, he feels like he has spent his strength in vain, “for nothing”. God did not leave Isaiah here. We too can feel spent and like we’ve been treading water, getting nowhere. Like Isaiah, we focus back inward, we begin our own pity party.

God does not leave his servant Isaiah here. He will not leave us there either. God’s plans are always greater. His plans so often exceed our vision or dreams. In verse six God says, “It’s too small a thing” to simply have Isaiah help restore Jacob and Israel. No, no. Continuing, God proclaims, “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. Yes, the prophet Isaiah will help lead Israel home, out of exile. But he and his words will also be a part of the salvation of the whole world. God’s plans go far beyond Isaiah and Israel. Ultimately, God’s love and saving grace will extend to the whole world.

Where are you feeling stuck? In what situation do you feel like you’re not having an impact? Our faith is often like Isaiah’s. We question, we doubt, we feel ineffective or adrift. And like with Isaiah, God will use us as a light to the lost and as part of bringing salvation to the broken and hurting. God is faithful. God has big plans for you and for me. We were born to be a child of God. May we step out in faith and trust, knowing that God leads the way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I question, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I doubt, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I fear, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I feel less than, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I am tired and worn, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Fill me, O God, use me for your glory. Amen.


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Moving Forward in Trust and Faith

Reading: Joshua 3: 7-17

Verse 11: “The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you”.

In today’s passage the nation of Israel is finally to the point of stepping into the Promised Land. Their forty year trek in the wilderness comes down to this bookend event. As their journey began, with Pharaoh’s army pressing down on them, in fear they fled on the path that God provided as they walked through the waters. This time, they are not the same people. They now step forward towards danger in trust and with faith in God. The walled city of Jericho stands just across the Jordan.

In the years since they left Egypt the Israelites have been shaped, formed, taught, and brought into community. In our passage today, God assures Joshua that he will go with him, promising to “exalt you in the eyes of all Israel”. God does this by giving Joshua the words to speak and the actions to take as he leads the crossing of the Jordan. Joshua does not lead alone. God has been preparing him and the nation of Israel for this time. The Israelites have a priestly order and they have the ark – the physical item that represents God’s presence with them. In verse eleven we read, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you”. With God leading, the priests carry the ark into the waters. One leader from each tribe steps forward with the ark. Symbolically this represents two important truths: God goes before the people and the people go forth together.

The Jordan River is at flood stage. There could not have been a worse time to attempt to cross the river. Yet the entire nation once again passes through the waters on dry ground. In faith and trust, the people follow Joshua’s lead and the example set by the priests and leaders of each tribe. The journey into the land that God has promised continues.

At times in our faith journeys we too will stand on the edge of moving forward to where God is calling us. There will be a Jericho right there on the other side. It may be a challenge, it may be something we fear, it may be the unknown that lies behind the wall. The call to step forward remains. As you prepare to step forward, answering God’s call or following his lead, who will you call upon to stand with you? And as you make your crossings, how will you become one who stands with others as they step forward in faith and trust?

Prayer: Leading God, sometimes the steps forward are clear – into a promised land where we can see the way. Sometimes it feels more like the unknown. The call forward is there, but the path or where it might lead is unclear. In both cases you still call me forward in trust and faith. May I always sense or hear your call and may I follow where you lead. Amen.


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Hard Decisions, Challenging Steps

Reading: Psalm 79: 1-4

Verse 4: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors”.

The Babylonians invaded Israel and left a wake of death and destruction in their path. In Jerusalem, the city walls were destroyed and the temple was leveled. For the Babylonians this was just one more nation to conquer. But for the Israelites, the killing was the murder of God’s chosen people and the destruction of the temple was the defilement of God’s home. What is left is not a pretty sight. “They have poured out blood like water” paints a grim picture. To add insult to injury, “we are objects of reproach to our neighbors”. The tribes around them mock what is left of Israel.

As people of God living in an increasingly non-Christian world, we can have similar experiences and emotions. In parts of our world Christians face persecution and even death. In most of our lives, however, persecution does not rise nearly to that level. Yet being a Christian is not always easy in our modern, secular world. Many of the more recent cultural norms are decidedly anti-Christian. The rugged individualism of the past and the me-first attitude of today combine to make being a humble servant countercultural and difficult. To think less of yourself and more of others can lead to questioning and ridicule. To refuse to be immoral or unethical at work can cost one promotions and can draw the ire of those above you.

Satan works in these and in many other ways to draw us away from God and into the ways of the world. It can be hard to look at what your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are doing and to not want to go along. Inside we all have a strong desire to fit in, to belong, to be liked. At times our faith will deny us these things. Something else inside of us – the Holy Spirit – is also at work to lead and guide us to be faithful and true to the Lord our God. One day we too will be poured out and will breathe our last. But between now and then may we make the hard decisions and take the challenging steps to walk as a child of the light in a world of darkness. May we live a life worthy of the one who called us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Guiding God, sometimes it can be tempting to go along with the crowd or to say what pleases. Keep me ever focused on your will and your ways in my life. Hold my hand as I try to walk as a humble servant today. Amen.


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Heaven Rejoices

Reading: Luke 15: 1-10

Verse 10: “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”.

The religious leaders are critical of Jesus for eating with sinners. His response is to tell two stories that let the religious leaders know that living out one’s faith is sometimes about living with the sinners. It is quite a contrast in their understandings of how faith works itself out. The Pharisees and other religious leaders think it is all about ministry to those already inside the four walls of the temple – to those just like them. Jesus was also about going outside the walls and ministering to the lost so that they could come inside the walls and could learn to be like him. These are radically different approaches.

Both stories that Jesus shares end in rejoicing. He illustrates the joy we experience when something that was lost is found. We have all experienced this in our lives. Whether it is car keys or that important letter or our purse or wallet or our phone… we all know that smile and good feeling that comes when we find that lost item. The shepherd feels it and the woman with the coin feels it. Heaven also feels it. In verse ten we read, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”. Verse seven is very similar: much rejoicing. How much more important to recover a lost soul than a set of car keys or whatever! Imagine for a moment what those celebrations in heaven look and feel like.

Yes, heaven is joyful when the church gathers for worship. Yes, there are probably knowing smiles, nods, high fives… when we kneel to pray or when we crack open our Bibles. I am sure that our practices of the faith are pleasing in God’s sight. But the living out of our faith cannot just be within the walls of our churches or just within our hearts. We must also practice what Jesus teaches in these two stories. Like him, we too need to seek the lost, to talk with them, to eat with them, to walk with them. We need to help them find a connection to the Good Shepherd. We are called to GO and to make disciples. Can we also make heaven rejoice today over one sinner who repents and turns to God?

Prayer: Lord, we are told that the harvest is ready, that the fields are ripe. Many people today are lost and are seeking that which is missing in their lives. Others are struggling with sin. Help me to reach out today to the lost and the broken. Amen.


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Worthy of Love

Reading: Isaiah 5: 1-2

Verse 1: “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside…”

Love provides great care. Isaiah speaks today of a gardener – his loved one – who finds a fertile hillside for his vineyard. He tilled the soil, cleared it of all the rocks, and planted the choicest of vines. While the grew and matured so they could produce a crop, he built a wall to protect the vines and a watchtower to guard them and to watch over the vines. Then, in anticipation of a great harvest, he built a winepress. Love did all it could to insure a good harvest. But the vines yielded bad fruit.

God’s chosen people were brought to the Promised Land – the land flowing with milk and honey. God went before them and protected them over and over from their enemies. God sent prophets that sought to guard the people’s hearts from idols and other temptations of the world. Love has its limits, it can only do so much. God awaits the day and hour of the final harvest.

This Old Testament plan and reality is not quite complete. Love also encompasses mercy and grace and compassion. These were added to the plan more completely through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is our wall and watchtower, guiding us, leading us, helping us stay on the right path. Love continues to do all it can to prepare a great harvest.

God, the loving and caring gardener, knit each of us together in the womb, created each of us with great care. As our faith matures and grows, God tills our soil, nurtures our faith, shapes us more and more into the image of his son. God gifted each of us as well. God blessed each of us with our own unique talents and abilities so that we can help produce a crop. Jesus called all followers to make disciples of all people. The Great Commission is for the harvest.

To be all we were created to be, to do all we were formed to do, we must seek to cultivate our faith. We must make intentional and regular efforts to know Jesus more, to become more like him. Then we need to use the gifts that God has given us to share our faith with others for the transformation of the world. It is God’s plan for each of us and for the great harvest to come. May we play our part with a love that is worthy of Christ our Lord.

Prayer: Today, O God, show me the ways to share my faith with others, adding to your kingdom here and to the one to come. Amen.


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Lost But Found

Reading: Luke 15: 1-3 and 11b-32

Verse 32: “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.

The bulk of our reading again today is the story of the prodigal son. It follows the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In these the shepherd and the woman do all they can to find what was lost. Like with the lost son, when what “was lost and is found”, they “had to celebrate and be glad”. These three stories of rejoicing in heaven and on earth are told in response to some muttering by some Pharisees and religious leaders. They had muttered about Jesus, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”.

For the self-righteous and judgmental religious folks sin was to be avoided at all costs. Sin is bad. Sin separates one from God. Sin makes one unclean and unable to participate fully in the temple. The Pharisees and religious leaders act as if sin is contagious. They are appalled when Jesus eats with sinners. They are also appalled when Jesus touches lepers or when He allows a prostitute to touch Him or when He calls a tax collector as a follower or when He calls one down from a tree to eat with him and his friends. At first I smirked at the idea of sin being contagious. Then I looked in the mirror and realized it sure can be! It often is. Gossip is a good example of this. The Pharisees and religious leaders feared sin so they walled up inside the four walls of the temple and they avoided contact – any contact – with those who were struggling with sin. Their message was: be right with God and then you can come to worship and hang out with us. This idea runs so counter to how Jesus did ministry. Yet today we continue to at least hint at the idea that you must look like, act like, live like, believe like we do to be a part of “us” in many societal groups and organizations and in many of our churches. So before we look down on the Pharisees and religious leaders too much, let us turn to the father.

The younger son realizes he has sinned. He humbles himself and decides to return to the father. He admits his sins and asks to be a hired hand, saying, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”. The father had every right to say, “Yes, go find the foreman and he’ll find you a bed in the bunkhouse and he’ll put you to work”. He had every right. But instead the father says, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”. There is then much rejoicing over the one that was lost but found. The older son has trouble with this idea. The Pharisees and religious leaders probably did too. And too many times we do too.

We are so grateful when the Father forgives our sins and welcomes us back into the family as a child of God. May we go forth and do the same for another who is lost.

Prayer: Jesus, my redeemer, may I love and welcome all as you loved and welcomed me, a sinner saved by grace. Amen.