pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse Three: There the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.

Unity is fragile and something we must be aware of and be willing to work to maintain.  In this sense, unity is a mindset.  It is something either we value and are willing to give effort towards or it is not.  Unity and the desire to have unity are fueled by love and faith.  As unity is something that can be broken easily, we need to recognize that our humanity makes unity hard to maintain.  This difficulty grows with each person or group added to the mix.

Within our families, unity is driven most by love.  We want those we love to be happy and cared for and content.  Yet every once in a while we do or say something selfish or in anger and unity is temporarily lost.  As our desire for unity is driven by love, we quickly work to restore it.  We apologize or we correct the wrong and receive forgiveness.

But as the circle grows, unity becomes increasingly harder.  Other people and groups we are not a part of have differing thoughts, interests, and opinions.  At times these seem to be in contrast to our thoughts, interests, and opinions.  If we truly see all as dearly loved by God and all as worthy of our love as well, then we must begin to seek to understand those who are not just like us.  It is only when we stop and listen to the other that we can begin to find some common ground.  This common ground allows us then to speak the truth in love.  We must be careful here – the truth is God’s truth in love, not our truth in love.  From here we must be willing to seek a way forward.  We must be open to envisioning the way forward as God envisions the way forward and we must allow God to lead.  For our part, we must live into God’s plan.

Over all of this is love and forgiveness.  Recognizing our own humanity, we should be ready to offer love and forgiveness in heaps.  Unity is how God designed creation and how He intends the world to be.  “There the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore”.


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Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse One: How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

The Psalm for today is written to a community.  It may be to a specific congregation or group of people or it may be to all the Israelites.  It is believed that at the time of the writing, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms and the psalmist wrote this Psalm to try and help unite the two kingdoms.

Whether it is a sports team or a book club, a family or an office staff, a congregation or a nation, the goal and hope is always unity and peace.  Our Psalm today opens with “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”!  This is indeed true!  Unity and peace are signs of love and togetherness.  The image of oil being poured out in the Psalm represents God’s blessings being poured down.  The dew represents well-being and is also a connection to God’s blessings.  It is God’s plan and intent for creation to get along – from the two friends to the couple to the family to the neighbors to the community to the nation to the world.  To live in peace and unity and love and harmony is God’s intent.  If we all loved neighbor as Jesus first loved us then God’s intent would be our reality.

Although this is God’s intent, there is no shortage of conflict in our lives and world.  Much of it is interpersonal.  Society’s bent towards individualism and self-gratification pits one against another in the battle for power and status and wealth.  In the larger society there is much tension between groups of people as well as between nations.  One only has to look at Charlottesville and North Korea to see the seeds of hatred and bigotry and mistrust and evil.

If God’s intent is unity, as followers of Jesus Christ, what is our role to play in bringing unity to our world?  It begins by loving all we meet as Christ loves us.  Loving and seeing as Jesus loved and saw leads us to stand up for what is right, to stand against what is wrong, and to seek to bring peace and justice and unity and love into all situations we find ourselves in.  We are to be the light and love.  We are to bring peace and hope.  May it begin in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches, and in our worlds.


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Surrender

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse 15: He kissed all his brothers and wept over them.

Joseph could have easily lashed out at his brothers from his position of power or he could have sought revenge.  But the bond of family and the influence of God in his life lead him to seek reconciliation instead.  Living in a foreign land without any true family had to be hard.  Even though he had been through his share of trials, Joseph had come to have a very good life.  Yet he was alone and missed his family – especially his father.

Joseph clears the room of all his attendants and court officials for two reasons.  One is so that he can be open and honest with his brothers.  Yet even the removal of everyone else does not keep the time private.  Joseph is so overcome with emotion that the officials hear his weeping and report it to Pharaoh.  The second reason is to surrender his position of power so that his brothers can draw near to him.  It is close and personal – something that would never happen in the official court setting.

Joseph seeks to be reunited and reconciled with his family.  It begins with him reaching out, surrendering his power, making the first move simply as their brother.  To repair a broken relationship someone has to make the first move.  It also requires the other party to accept the offer of reconciliation and to respond accordingly.  Both sides must be willing to let go of the past – whatever caused the separation and brokenness – and to begin to love again.  In the end, “He kissed all his brothers and wept over them”.  Then they talked.

On our faith journey, we go through cycles of reconciliation.  We sin and break our relationship with God.  Sin separates us.  Then in an act of love and surrender of self we repent and ask for forgiveness.  In His great love and mercy, God offers us grace and our sin is forgiven.  We are once again reunited with the God we love until we stumble again and then we repeat the process.  Joseph had to become less to meet his brothers again.  We too must surrender some more of ourselves each time we say we are sorry and repent and commit to a closer walk with Jesus.  Each day, may we become less and He becomes more.


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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse Four: I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt.

Joseph is at a good place in his life.  He has gone through some difficult experiences but has had a sense of God’s guidance and presence during his time in Egypt.  The old hurts and scars are a thing of the past.  And then his brothers suddenly appear before him, begging to buy food.  Oh how the tables have turned!  All that distant hurt and anger must have come rushing back for Joseph.  In the text we see that this is right where his brothers go – terrified in his presence because they too remember what all they did to him.

In life we experience hurts and offenses.  We all have been let go by an employer or have been dumped by one we love or have been cast aside for a cooler or better connected friend.  More often than not we absorb the hurt and over time it lessens and we come to a new place of peace and contentment as we allow God to heal and love us.  We see that God has continued to be at work in our lives, bringing us a new job or a new significant other or a new best friend.  And then our old boss comes looking for a job or the ex shows up with regrets over their choice or the old friend comes looking for your help.  Thanks feelings come rushing back and it is hard to be loving and caring and to act as Jesus calls us to act.

Joseph exclaims, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt”. It is not, ‘I am in charge now!’ or ‘Get out!’ or anything else harsh or negative.  It is love and mercy and reconciliation that Joseph offers.  He knows that God has been with him and will continue to be with him.  He chooses to let go of the past and to embrace a future with God leading and guiding.  When we are faced with the choice to love or to seek revenge, may we also find a way guided by God’s love, bringing healing and wholeness to what was broken.


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Beautiful Feet

Reading: Romans 10: 14-16

Verse 16: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.

Paul has just built his case for what one must do to be saved: believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord”.  In verse 13 Paul writes, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  It is a faith that is offered to all people.  This echoes Jesus’ commission to bring the good news to all nations.  God’s love and saving grace are for all peoples in all places.

Today’s passage shifts to some realities that make most Christians a bit uncomfortable.  In our minds, yes, we all know that the Great Commission applies to all followers of Jesus Christ.  We are all called to proclaim the good news.  Today, Paul gives us a series of questions to consider.  First, how can anyone call on someone they do not believe in?  If one does not believe in Jesus then they will never experience salvation.  This is a matter of great eternal consequence.  It is imperative that all people have the opportunity to call on Jesus for salvation.

Paul then asks how one can believe without hearing of Jesus Christ.  It is indeed very hard to believe in someone you have never heard of or understand.  So all must hear the good news and come to understand what Jesus offers.  Then Paul asks how someone could hear without someone else speaking.  Again, if we do not tell others the good news of Jesus Christ then it is very unlikely that they will hear.  Paul then says that we each must be sent in order to tell.  Jesus’ parting words to all of us was to go and make disciples of all nations.  We are sent.  Each Sunday we close worship with a benediction – a reminder to the people of God to go out and bring Jesus to the world – to go forth to love and serve the Lord our God.

Paul closes with these words: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news”.  He is quoting from the prophet Isaiah, who lived hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth.  Isaiah’s statement remains true.  The good news is still the good news.  All need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  Do you want beautiful feet today?


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Trust and Call

Reading: Romans 10: 5-13

Verse Ten: It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Rules or faith?  Myself or God?  Know or trust?  Living by faith can be a challenge to each of us.  Paul begins today’s passage with a quote from Moses about the Law.  Moses is basically saying that if one follows the Law, one is righteous for living according to God’s rules.  But the Law is something outside of us.  It is a list of do’s and don’ts.  The Law focuses on what I can (and cannot) do and is very black and white.  It says things like do not murder and keep the Sabbath holy.  In this sense, the Law is easy to understand.

To live by faith is another matter.  Paul quotes Deuteronomy and writes, “The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart”.  Faith in Jesus Christ is very much an internal thing.  Faith is about a relationship that shifts the focus from us to God.  This relationship begins with confessing “Jesus is Lord”.  This confession places Jesus instead of self on the throne of our heart.  It becomes less and less about what we can or cannot do (the Law again) and more and more about what Jesus is doing in and through us.

The Law is about knowing God in our head.  Faith is about having God in our heart.  The short distance between head and heart can be a very long journey.  Sitting in a pew each Sunday is following the rule written in your head.  Worshipping and praising God each week is Jesus living out of your heart.  It is a world of difference to have God in your head versus having Jesus in your heart.  Paul writes, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”.  Faith resides in the heart.  It leads us on that journey to confession of our sins and receiving mercy and forgiveness.  Through our relationship with Jesus Christ we are made holy and pure once again.

Paul concludes today’s passage with two more Old Testament quotes.  First, from Isaiah: “Anyone who trusts Him will never be put to shame”.  Faith involves trust.  In faith, Jesus has our backs.  Second, from Joel: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  It’s not ‘could be’ or ‘might’ but WILL BE saved.  Trust and call on the Lord.  He is all we need.  Jesus is our all in all.  Thanks be to God.


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Step Out

Reading: Matthew 14: 26-33

Verse 28: Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.

In the midst of a storm, Jesus comes to the disciples, walking across the water.  Already a bit on the edge from the storm, the disciples see Jesus coming and they think He is a ghost.  This terrifies them further and they cry out in fear.  Sometimes I find myself in a storm.  As Jesus draws near, at times it scares me too.  I sense Him drawing near and wonder what will be prune away or changed in me to keep me out of the storm the next time.

Jesus responds to the disciples’ cries and fears saying, “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not fear”.  It is a familiar line to me.  I can picture Jesus with a slight smile on His face as He says it.  This is what I picture as He comes to me in my storm.  The smile says, “This may hurt a bit but it’ll be good for you”.  Again those words: Take courage!  It is I.  Do not fear.  I have plans to prosper you, to bring you good.

Peter’s response is interesting.  Immediately he says, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water”.  He asks to step out into the rough water, out into the danger.  He doesn’t wait for Jesus to finish coming to the boat, but instead wants to meet Jesus someplace out there in the tumult.  For most of us it is an odd choice.  We like to hunker down where we are at and wait for Jesus to come to us.  Peter does not consider the risks – he just wants to be closer to Jesus sooner.  If only that we’re our default choice.  If only we would be so eager to step into the risky and unknown and unfamiliar just to come closer to Jesus sooner.  If only we sought Jesus as much as Peter did.  If only.

When we are willing to step out for Jesus, we too will hear those words echo: “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not fear”.  May we trust in the Lord and respond faithfully to His call: “Come”.