pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Common Good

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13

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

Imagine the top graduate from culinary school deciding she wanted to go be a bank teller.  Imagine the college graduate with a degree in electrical engineering deciding he wanted to go mow lawns.  Imagine the gifted accountant deciding she did not want to be on the Finance team because they meet the night she likes to go to the grocery store.  Imagine the Dad that is awesome with middle School boys deciding he would rather join the golf league on Wednesday nights.

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”.  The Spirit gives each of us gifts (or talents).  Verses eight through ten lists off some of these gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, tongues…  Verse eleven reads, “to each one”.  It does not say gifts are only given to some people, but to all people.  When one looks out over a congregation, one realizes that there is a very gifted bunch of folks sitting there.  As we each move through life, most of us come to know what our gift is.  Sometimes it is our passion that leads us to our gift and sometimes we ‘Didn’t our gift by trial and error.

Throughout it’s 2000+ year history, the church has been built by the gifts of millions of people.  Some are famous – Paul, Peter, Martin Luther, John Wesley… – but most are just common people, being used by God.  This is where most of us fit in.  We do not have extraordinary gifts, we are just good at and passionate about something.  Paul writes in our passage about the church being one body with many parts.  That is my church.  It is probably your church too.  Those gifted musicians make up a pretty good choir or praise team.  Those gifted leaders and teachers are running a pretty good VBS.  That gifted group of gardeners has the church flowers and plants looking nice again.  That collection of carpenters and handimen and business owners we call the Trustees sure did a great job on the remodel.

Verse seven ends with: “for the common good”.  It’s what it is all about.  For the good of each other, for the good of the church, for the good of the community, for the good of our lost and broken world.  May we all joyously share the gifts we have been blessed with for the common good.

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Praise the Creator

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34 and 35b

Verses 24 and 35b: How many are your works O Lord! … Praise the Lord.

Our Psalm today opens with a great reminder about Creator God: “How many are your works O Lord”!  All that there is – from the largest to the tiniest, all that covers the land and swims in the waters – was created by God.  The psalmist then offers praise for God’s provision.  At just the right moment, God provides for the needs of what He has created.  His love in reflected in His care.  And the Psalm also acknowledges that life ends, that breath is no more and life returns to ashes.  As created beings, we too live within this cycle of life.  We are created by God, we are loved and cared for by God, and one day our human bodies draw our last breath and we too return to ashes.

The psalmist then opens up the praise in verse 31.  In the simplicity of life we can see the glory of the Lord.  We are amazing creations, as is all of life.  Just as in the beginning God was pleased with all He had made, God continues to be pleased with the work of His hands.  Our response?  Verse 31 sums it up well: “I will sing praises to my God as long as I live”.  Because God continues to be active and engaged in our lives and world, He is worthy of our praise.

Today may we join with all of creation in praise of the mighty works of God’s hands!


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One – Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13

Verse 13: We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The church today is made up of many different parts.  Paul uses the body as an analogy for the church.  Our bodies have many, many parts that all come together to form a cohesive and functioning body.  Within the body, each part is necessary and needed for the body to function at its best.  So it is with the body of Christ we call the church.

When we look at the world of Christian churches out there, there are hundreds and hundreds of different denominations. As with all things, diversity is both good and bad.  In most ways, our faith diversity is good and healthy.  Diversity provided options and leaves room for personal thought and opinion and belief.  If every single church were exactly alike, then it would not appeal to nearly as many people as our many denominations do.  But diversity can also work against unity.  It can be too easy to get caught up in our differences.  And sometimes we do.

Verse 13 reads, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”.  The key words in this verse are: all, baptized, one Spirit, one body.  To me, “all” implies a high level of unity.  No matter what our denominational preference, we should all, first and foremost, be Christians – Christ-followers.  Christian first, denomination second.  We are all “baptized” into Christ’s one body.  We are not baptized into a particular denomination.  We are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, into the universal Christian church.  This work is done by the Holy Spirit alone.  It is “the Holy Spirit”, not the Episcopal Holy Spirit or the Baptist Holy Spirit or …  By the Holy Spirit.  There is just one Holy Spirit just as there is only one God and one Jesus.

Yes, the body of Christ is indeed diverse denominationally, yet we are unified as Christians.  May we rejoice as much in our unity as in our diversity.  May we all focus on Christ and our common call to build His kingdom here on earth.


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Ends of the Earth

Reading: Acts 1: 6-14

Verse Eight: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses to… the ends of the earth.

In His last words to the disciples, Jesus promises them the gift of the Holy Spirit and reminds them that they will be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.  This last part is a restatement of the great commission.  Although Jesus does not tell them how to accomplish this task, He does let them know that the Holy Spirit will bring them power for the task.  In addition, Jesus has spent the last three years training the disciples.  He has shown them by His own example and He has sent them out on their own – like on-the-job training.  Although the disciples probably do not realize it, Jesus has been preparing them to take the good news to “the ends of the earth”.

Verse eight reads, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses to… the ends of the earth”.  His is what the disciples would soon go on to live out.  It is what God intends us to experience too as followers of Jesus Christ.  As we grow in our relationship with Jesus we too come to a point where we make the decision to follow Jesus.  We profess Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives.  At this point we receive the Holy Spirit and our lives begin to be led by the power of the Spirit.  But in our humanity, we wrestle with the Spirit for control.  We question and sometimes even ignore the voice and nudges of the Holy Spirit.  But as we spend time in the Word, as we develop a deeper prayer life, and as we grow in our love of God, we become better followers.  We become more disciplined and our following improves.  The Holy Spirit gains more voice and power in our lives.  Soon enough we become like those first disciples, bearers of the good news, heading out to the “ends of the earth” with the gospel message.

Wherever we are on our journey to share the good news of Jesus Christ, may today provide us with opportunities to grow in our discipleship and in our love of Jesus Christ.


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Eyes of the Heart

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 18: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…

Paul paints a glorious picture of Jesus Christ in heaven.  He is seated at God’s right hand, far above all earthly rule and authority.  He reigns over all things and is the head of the church – His body.  All the titles that can be given belong to Jesus: Lord, King, Messiah, Master.  It is a far cry from the Jesus who came to earth and was born in a lowly manger.  It is far different company around the throne than He was used to living with in His time on earth – fishermen, shepherds, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers…  The image of Jesus on the throne in Royal splendor is a far different image than Jesus hanging on the cross.  Yet Jesus needed to be all that He was on earth so that He would be who He is in heaven.

Paul writes, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”.  Experiencing humanity in all its glory and in all it’s gory details gave Jesus eyes to see us for who we are.  Sometimes it is ugly, but it is the truth.  And He still loves us as we are.  He always did when He was here and always will in heaven.  But Paul is praying here for the believers in Ephesus.  It is also a prayer for us.  To have eyes that see as Jesus sees – eyes of the heart – we must be as Jesus was.  We must go among the orphan and widow and sick and outcast.  We must reach out to visit and care for and feed and minister to all who are lost and broken.  When we do as Jesus did – loving all – then we develop “eyes of the heart”.

This day may we go where Jesus would go and love as Jesus loved.  Blessings on your journey to the least and the lost.


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Suffering

Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

Verse Nine: Resist him [Satan], standing firm in the faith.

Suffering is the overarching theme in today’s passage.  Peter opens by reminding us that we may suffer for our faith.  He says, “do not be surprised” and encourages us to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ”.  To really suffer for our faith is foreign to us, isn’t it?  To rejoice because we are suffering for our faith seems even more foreign!  Yet over the course of our faith journey, most of us can look back and see times when holding fast to our faith led to some decisions and choices that had a ‘cost’ and came with some suffering.  Maybe it was a relationship that you had to let go or a work decision that kept your integrity but cost a promotion or a windfall in your bank account.  This is the type of suffering that most Christians we know suffer.  But the reality is that there is much pain and suffering just beyond the doors of our beautiful churches and just down the street from our nice neighborhoods.

Every community, big or small, has its share of suffering.  When Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us, He knew we would.  We find suffering clustered here and there.  In my town it is called “housing” and in all communities there is a similar neighborhood.  The housing conditions are poor, people go without heat and/or electricity for stretches, and food is sometimes scarce.  In larger communities there are also homeless shelters, safe houses, and halfway houses.  In big communities there are the “projects” and in some huge cities whole communities are built out of cardboard and scrap metal and there is no running water or electricity.  Go to this place in your community and you will see that there is pain and suffering, there is hurt, and there is a loss of hope.

Our call as Christians is clear: go.  Go!  Go and do what you can when you can.  Alone you and I cannot end the suffering…  But we can alleviate some and lessen some.  We can bring food and clothing and whatever else material is needed.  We can bring food and sometimes clean water.  We can fix a leaky roof, a broken window, or a creaky set of steps.  We can sit and hear someone’s story and offer some words of hope.  We can also work to address some of the root causes and systematic forces that cause the pain and suffering.  This can be through education, through voicing opposition to the systems that work against those in poverty, and through fighting things like prejudice and stereotyping and judging.  This day and every day may we “Resist him [Satan], standing firm in the faith”.  Evil comes in many forms.  Today may we resist all forms if evil and suffering as we seek to bring the hope and love of Christ to a world in need.


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Power from on High

Reading: Luke 24: 44-53

Verse 51: While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven.

Just prior to today’s passage, the two who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus return and tell the disciples about their encounter with the risen Lord.  In the midst of the conversation that follows, Jesus appears to the disciples.  He begins by saying, “Peace be with you”.  Surprisingly, they were “startled and frightened” so Jesus shows them His hands and feet.  To reassure them He says, “It is I!” but there is still doubt.  So Jesus takes a piece of fish and eats it in their presence.  It is as if Jesus we’re saying, ‘See, I am real’.  This is where today’s passage picks up.

Jesus then goes on to explain all that is written about Him in “the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms”.  Just as He had with the Emmaus pair, Jesus did this to open their minds so they could fully understand and know who and what He was and to help them understand where He was going now.  He again promises them “power from on high” – the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Jesus then leads them out near Bethany, offers them one last blessing, and is taken up into heaven.  We can only assume that this is one of the things that Jesus had just explained as He taught them and opened their minds.  The disciples worship Jesus right then and there and then return to the city with great joy.  They go to the temple and continue to lift their praises to God.  The disciples know that Jesus has ascended and that they have been promised this “power from on high”.  No wonder they are filled with joy!

In the 2000+ years since, Jesus has continued to sit at the right hand of the Father.  He continues to intercede on our behalf.  The promise of “power from on high” remains in effect.  When a believer accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes and lives within us as a daily presence of Jesus.  It is also our reason to be filled with joy.  No matter what life brings, we do not walk alone.  His presence is always with us.  May we too offer our praises to God this day!