pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Model to Follow

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 3: 6-9

Verse 9: “We did this in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow”.

As the church in Thessalonica begins to develop, there are some growing pains. It is to be expected with most new organizations. Paul and others have come and taught the good news of Jesus Christ. They have taught new believers what it looks like to live out the gospel in a community of faith. Paul and the others could not stay there forever, so now the church continues along on their own. As it does so, new churches need occasional reminders and sometimes they need the ones who planted it to come back for a refresher course.

Most of the content of Paul’s letters falls into two categories. He often writes to continue teaching both churches and individuals about how to live out the faith. These instructions can be applied to most churches and to the lives of most believers. Paul also writes to bring correction or to address as issue. These passages tend to be more direct and address a certain church, believer, or group of believers. Yet, at times, even these can be applied to churches and people. Our struggles are often the same. We find both of these categories in 2nd Thessalonians.

In the section we read today, Paul is addressing two groups that are having a negative impact on the church. There are some who are idle – they are not willing to work. They are simply relying on the generosity of others to get by. Paul reminds them that this was not the example that they set. Paul and friends “worked day and night” so that they could contribute rather than be a burden. Churches today have idle folks. Some are those that come around only when they need something. Others are those who are present but never give. They do not serve in the church and they do not give financially. They come and take and go back home.

Paul also addresses those who “do not live according to the teaching” that was given. Being idle would be one example. Similarly, in churches today, there are people who fall into this category. They come on Sunday morning or Saturday night and worship and bow their heads and listen to the message. Then they go out the door and live a worldly life. Their faith has little or no impact on the other 167 hours of their week.

To all of these Paul says, “We did this in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow”. We, like the church in Thessalonica and like the believers that made up that church, are all works in progress. At times we must pause and consider our progress and seek out areas where we are falling short. Is Paul speaking to you today? Could you offer more to your church? Could your walk of faith be more consistent or be closer to the example set by Jesus Christ?

Prayer: Lord God, as I consider these questions, I know I am far from the example set by Paul and especially far from the example set by Jesus. Draw me deeper into you and your love today. May this love be reflected out in all of my life. May it be so, O God. Amen.


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Good Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 5: 3-7

Verse 4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”?

Today we see the outcome of all the love and care that was poured into the vineyard. The yielding of bad fruit draws a passionate response from the gardener. The gardener wistfully says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”? When one considers all of God’s love and care and patience and guidance poured into Israel, one can begin to understand God’s pain and heartache and even a little anger. All parents experience this process, but usually on a much smaller scale. We raise our children as best we can and they still make poor decisions and bad choices now and then in spite of our best efforts.

God’s response to the vineyard Israel is to tear down the hedge and wall and to allow thorns to infest the ground. God even withholds the rain. God is stepping back from the relationship. God is not abandoning Israel, but is allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices. The injustice and bloodshed will not have good outcomes; the unanswered cries of distress will go on. All of this pains God deeply. Stepping back is a loving and merciful response. It is the response of a God who loves the people deeply.

I imagine that as God looks down on the world today, there is much that is painful to see. I imagine that God frequently asks the same “what more can I do” question. And then God sees the good fruit, the kind and loving followers of Jesus, working to bring light and love out into the world. God sees believers seeking to love God and to love neighbor. Yes, there are images of God sharing God’s love and care and compassion and mercy and justice with a world in need. Won’t you be one of them today?

Prayer: Loving God, lead me to love like Jesus today. Help me to be compassion and mercy and grace lived out. May it be so for me today and every day. Amen.


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Unity in Love

Reading: John 17: 20-26

Verse 22: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me”.

Our passage today focuses on unity. Jesus prays for unity between and among the believers. Unity was essential for the early church – the Jews and the Romans would put a lot of pressure on them to try and snuff out the early church. In both verses 20 and 22 Jesus prays that they “may be one” and He connects this prayer to how He and God are one. Jesus defines this further in verse 23, praying for “complete unity” among the believers. Such a unity reveals their absolute faith in Christ and also the love of Jesus that is in them and flows through them.

The second unity that Jesus focuses on is between the believers and Jesus himself. A unity between Jesus and those who follow Him is also essential. A relationship with Jesus is the core connection. It is the foundation upon which the believers’ relationships with one another will stand. Their personal relationship with Jesus is also what connects them to God. In verse 22 Jesus prays this prayer: “I in them and you in me”. It reveals this connection.

Throughout His time on earth Jesus revealed God’s love. All that Jesus did and said and prayed was based upon this love. Our passage today closes with a prayer for this love to be in the believers. In verse 26 Jesus prays, “I have made you known and will continue to… in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them”. If we have the love of God in Christ inside of us, it will be revealed to the world. Just as Jesus came to reveal God’s love, we too are sent into the world to be like Christ, revealing God’s love by all we do and say. May it be so this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, dwell fully in me this day. May I so know your love that it is evident to all. Fill me with your love so that I may share it with others. Thank you Jesus. Amen.


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I am There

Reading: Psalm 22: 1-15

Verse 11: “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help”.

Psalm 22 is full of emotion. David is struggling and he is honest with God about it. This Psalm of Lament almost makes us feel uncomfortable as we read it. Our culture is one of self-reliance and putting on a good face, no matter what the challenge and no matter what is going on inside of us. To feel the honest emotions and to utter the deep cry within us is something we have all experienced. But it is another thing to hear it. Imagine the reaction if your pastor or someone in the congregation uttered such a prayer this weekend in church.

In our Psalm today David expresses things we all have felt. He asks the “where are you God?” questions. He recalls the times that God has been there for others who called out and were answered. To this he asks, “why not me too”? And he reminds God that he has been a faithful follower since birth – “isn’t that worth something God”? These are all questions we want to scream at God from time to time. We surely do in our inner being at times. The Psalm tells us we can do this out loud, in the assembly of believers, in the place where others can join in our prayers and in our suffering.

In verse 11 David writes, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help”. Yes, we too feel this way at times. And, yes, we can remain isolated in our hurt. Or we can be honest and open with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can trust in the power of community that God created us to live in. We can lay our burdens amongst the believers so that we do not journey alone. When the fires rage and the storms rise, may we come to one another for companionship in the valley. “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20).

Lord, help me to be open and honest with my fellow believers. Help me to be transparent, sharing my struggles and trials so that I do not want alone. Joining together, we experience your presence too. Grant me the courage and humility to be vulnerable. May it be so. Amen.


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Extreme Love

Reading: Romans 5: 6-11

Verse 8 – God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Sometimes it is hard to really understand how much God loves us.  Sometimes it is hard to fathom how a pure and holy and perfect God could want to have a relationship with humanity.  One looks at the world and society at times and wonders why God is still engaged.  Yes, the faithful do offer some hope.  Those who are followers of Christ do try and live according to God’s ways and try to live in ways that are pleasing to God, in ways that shine His light into the world.  There are many folks working to build God’s kingdom here on earth.

But Paul is not writing about today.  Paul is writing in a world that was drifting in the other direction.  The Jews were not seeking to spread the news of God, to bring new people to the faith.  It could be argued that the faith had become religion – more about following all of the rules and less about a relationship with God.  Looking back over the course of the Old Testament, there is cycle after cycle of disobedience, punishment, eventual repentance, restoration of relationship.  Over and over again.  It was into this scenario that God sent His only Son.  It was into this world of sinners that Jesus came.  Verse eight reads, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.  While the world was broken, sinful, far from God, it was then that Jesus came.

It would be like taking time today to help that coworker who always gets on your nerves.  It would be like giving a ride to that dirty, stinky person who you know is going to ask for money before you reach your destination.  It would be like bringing a meal to that neighbor who never says thankful and always has something to complain about the meal the next time you talk.  It would be like saying hello to that older gentleman again this Sunday when all he does is scowl and grumble something under his breath.  Each of these and any worse one can imagine are just a sliver of the love that God showed in sending Jesus.  It was a show of love beyond our wildest understanding.  It is extreme love.  May we go and do likewise.


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Planner Extraordinaire

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

God is a planner and schemer extraordinare.  The coming of the Holy Spirit came at a time and place that He chose.  A day or two earlier or later and the impact would have been vastly different.  And just like the doctor that can understand all the medical and physical events with his patient except for how the cancer is suddenly gone, we too must simply smile and chalk one up for God.

Thousands of years prior God had promised Abraham that His descendants would be as numerous as the stars.  Then hundreds of years later, once God’s people were settled into the Promised Land, He began Shavuot, a festival that would draw all faithful Jews from all over the known world to Jerusalem.  When God put these two events into motion, I believe He had already planned the day of Pentecost.

God clearly had a plan.  As those first disciples gathered and the Holy Spirit descended upon them, God also produced a wind loud enough to draw a large crowd.  Only by God’s divine hand would that crowd be a group of devout Jews from all over the world.  The Holy Spirit that had descended caused the disciples to speak the Word of God in each person’s native tongue.  Imagine the impact this had as each foreigner first picked up their language being spoken and then tuned in to hear the Word proclaimed!  Each one would have two amazing stories to tell: one of these simple Galileans speaking a language they did not know and, two, the story of the powerful Gospel.  3,000 believed and were baptized that day after Peter stood and preached the Gospel.  3,000 were ready to go back home, to carry the story of Jesus to the ends of the earth.  What a plan!

God has a plan for each of us as well.  May our eyes be open and our hearts willing to speak the words that one who crosses our path needs to hear today.  May we be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and may we faithfully speak the Words of Life that the Spirit brings to our lips!


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Christ’s Witnesses

On our bulletin we have a box listing the staff of the church and on the first line it reads: “Ministers…. The Congregation.”  It is important to define the body of Christ as those whose ‘job’ it is to go forth in ministry to the world.  All Christians everywhere have the charge to go forth into their world to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

The idea that all Christians are part of this work of the church first originated during the Reformation and was referred to as the ‘priesthood of all believers’.  It is not the role of just the pastor or priest, but the role of all believers to be priests in their world by being the witness and presence of God to those in their midst, to their neighbors.

Clergy do have a role to fill.  Those calls to formal ministry must offer the sacraments and must lead, teach, guide, and equip the people of God to be minnisters to their neighbors.  These clergy and the whole body of Christ prays for one another, encourages one another, hold one another accountable, supports one another, and works alongside one another.  All of us together help build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Jesus Christ was and is and is to come.  We, as the priesthood of all believers, must carry His message of love and grace and forgiveness out into a world living in darkness.  As believers we must all be Christ’s witnesses and presence in the world through our words, actions, and deeds.  Today may we represent well.

Scripture reference: Revelation 1: 4b-8