pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

God’s Presence

Reading: James 2: 14-17

Verse 17: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”.

Our faith rests in our relationship with God. As our journey begins, we first sense God’s presence in the world and in those around us. Then we come to a point where we realize that we too can have a relationship with God. Our faith journey leads us to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as our hope, and as our salvation. We realize that grace is big enough for even our sins and we commit our lives to faith in Jesus’ saving power. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our heart and we live from then on with Jesus’ presence within us, leading and guiding our continuing journey. Others begin to sense God’s presence in us.

Each day we will encounter others who do not have faith. Like we once did, they too can sense God’s presence. And here is the crucial moment, the time that really matters, the litmus test of our faith. As we encounter the lost, do we just offer to pray for them and maybe give them a Bible, really keeping our faith to ourselves? Or do we allow the words to become actions, walking alongside them, guiding them through the next steps of faith? As we encounter the needy, do we do like the man in our passage, simply wishing them well? Or do we spend time with them, understanding their needs so that we can actually meet them as best as we can, taking advantage of the opportunities to share our faith as they arise? As we encounter the broken and hurting, do we only offer a few words of sympathy or give our condolences? Or do we make the time to be present to them in their grief or pain? Do we bring a needed meal or mow an overgrown lawn? Yes, we have many opportunities and many ways to be both God’s presence and Jesus’ hands and feet in the lives of others.

In our passage today, James asks, “What good is it?” if our faith does not lead to action. What good is it if our faith does not make a positive difference in the world? James plainly states, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. How true.

Lord God, move me past my comfortable, easy inner faith. Move me outside of my tidy, little, personal relationship with Jesus and out into the real world. Help me to live a real faith that is shared and given to others, leading them to know you and the gift of salvation. Use me today, O Lord. Amen.

Advertisements


1 Comment

The Foreigners

Reading: 1Kings 8: 41-43

Verses 41-43: “As for the foreigner… who has come from a distant land because of your name… when he comes and prays… then hear from heaven”.

Solomon is making a request that we all want to make. He hopes that God’s name spreads and that people outside of his nation will come to pray to God. His request of God is to hear their prayers so that foreigners know and fear the Lord. I am not sure, but I’d guess Solomon’s hope comes more from the perspective of more people knowing God than from God’s name becoming famous or from enlarging the nation.

In our lives we all want to think that we welcome in the foreigners and strangers amongst us. We want to think that the least, the lost, and the broken, the poor and the fatherless – when they get up the courage to step inside our churches – that they will feel welcomed and loved. We, like Solomon, hope that God hears their prayers and answers them so that a relationship with God begins to form. And then, if they are to come back the next Sunday and seem inclined to become a part our community of faith, then we expect them to be and look and act just like us that next week. So when the foreigner returns next week they still look a lot like a homeless man or an addict or a teenage single parent or… and we realize that this could be messy and hard. The welcome becomes just a little less welcoming.

Yes, in our heart of hearts, we want all people to come to know God and Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yes, we want all people to find a community of faith where they can find fellowship and a place to worship God. We are just not always sure that we want it to be at our nice and tidy church and in our fellowship of perfect sinners. It is difficult to really pray this hope that Solomon expresses for those in our communities who are the foreigners to us. It is even harder to live it out. Yet when we look to our example, to Jesus, we see this is exactly how He practiced ministry. To all who came, Jesus offered welcome and love and a place at the table. To all who came, Jesus ministered to their needs. To all who came, Jesus extended relationship. It did not matter who the foreigner was – tax collector, prostitute, Samaritan, demon possessed, adulterer, thief… As we strive to live out Solomon’s hope for the foreigner, may we follow Jesus’ example, loving and welcoming all.


Leave a comment

Not Just Safe

Reading: 1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11

Verses 10-11: “When the priests withdrew… the cloud filled the temple of the Lord… for the glory of the Lord filled the temple”.

Today’s passage is about the ark of the covenant – that ‘thing’ that represents God’s presence – coming to the temple that Solomon built. There is a lot of ceremony and celebration surrounding this event. I’d imagine everyone from Jerusalem and the whole countryside came to witness and praise God for this happening. Even God shows up. Verses 10 and 11 offer testimony: “When the priests withdrew… the cloud filled the temple of the Lord… for the glory of the Lord filled the temple”.

The idea of God “being in the house” continues to this day. When a new church is built there is always a dedication service where the building is consecrated to God and ministry. Each Sunday during our opening prayer I invite God’s presence to come and dwell in that space and in our hearts. For centuries in the not too distant past churches and cathedrals were built to a grand scale in an odd competition to have the biggest and most impressive structure that somehow said something about that church’s relationship with God.

Counter to these notions is our belief that God is omnipresent – that God is present at all times in all places. We can encounter God in church but also in the woods, under the overpass, on the mountain top, at a concert in the park, in a bar… Even God himself questioned the idea of a home, saying in 2nd Samuel 7, “Did I ever say, ‘Why have you not built me a house'”? Perhaps God saw the down sides of a place to “dwell”.

While it is true that a community of faith needs a place to gather for worship and fellowship, the building has too often come to represent God and our faith. Put another way, it has compartmentalized our faith. It is where we go to be in God’s presence. It has too regularly become the only place we go to be in God’s presence. While the sanctuary is definitely a holy and sacred place where one can be present with God, it is far from the only place. I believe that connecting to God only on a Sunday morning is far from God’s intent for how we are to live out and experience our faith. The building is comfortable and safe. Yes, it has its place and purpose. But God does not desire for us to have a faith that is just comfortable and safe. When we look at Jesus, Paul, John, James, Peter… we see a faith that was lived out in the world, amongst the lost and the broken. May this be an important part of our faith life as well.


3 Comments

Temporal to Eternal

Reading: John 6: 51-59

Verse 57: “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me”.

Today’s passage speaks of both temporal and eternal things, somehow rolled into the same thing. Yes, Jesus did come down from heaven, took on flesh and blood, and walked this earth. Yes, Jesus did die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. Yes, in this action Jesus’ body was physically broken and His blood actually flowed. All of this occurred in the earthly place that we now live. It all really happened.

It is also surrounded with mystery. Jesus speaks of eating the flesh and drinking the blood. In remembrance we do this each time we participate in Holy Communion or the Eucharist. It is one of the ways that we “remain in” Christ. At the Last Supper we we’re given the explanation and the words that form the sacrament that we regularly practice, remembering Jesus’ gift on the cross.

What we remember is where we cross over from the temporal to the eternal. Jesus also speaks of this in today’s passage. In verse 57 He says, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me”. God and Jesus are eternal. They are just as alive today as they ever were. Through belief in Jesus we too will live. When we become one with Jesus, He dwells in Spirit in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the everyday presence and the eternal promise that guarantees our living with Jesus forever. Jesus promises us, “he who feeds on this bread will live forever”.

Paul taught that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We, ourselves, cannot erase or remove the din from our lives. Only through the power of the risen Christ can sin be defeated. The body that was broken and the blood that was spilled for our sins did not remain in the grave. Jesus rose to eternal life and invites us to join Him there one day. We are able to claim eternal life through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Once we profess Jesus as Lord of our life we begin the journey from the temporal to the eternal. As Jesus lives, one day we too will truly live. May we daily feed on Jesus through the Word of God. And whenever we come to the table of grace may we rejoice in the gift of Christ, celebrating both His sacrifice and His promise. Amen and amen.


2 Comments

A Willing Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verses 1& 2: “Have mercy on me, O God… Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

The common understanding of the background of Psalm 51 is that it springs forth from David’s sins around the Bathsheba-Uriah episode. His outpouring of repentance comes after Nathan confronted him. The depth of his sin has settled in on him and David comes to God with a broken and sorrowful heart. This pours from the Psalm.

David begins with, “Have mercy on me, O God…”. Forgiveness begins with God extending us mercy. Mercy is that undeserved gift that we cannot earn yet never run out of. It is the love that makes it possible for our sins to be removed. Mercy says that God understands our plight as the sinful creatures that we are. The depth of God’s love says this over and over again.

In just the opening lines, David continues with, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. It is precisely what God does with our sin. He washes it away and remembers it no more. Unlike us, when we repent, God forgets our sins. This is a second sign of the depth of God’s love – we are made totally clean again. God restores us to righteousness and holiness. I imagine that God smiles as He looks upon us in this state. It is a knowing smile that I picture on God’s face. He knows us well.

As this section of our Psalm closes, we read these familiar lines: “Create in me a pure heart and a steadfast spirit within me”. These familiar words ring out over and over in my church and in churches all over the world on Ash Wednesday as we enter into a season of preparation for Easter. The sign of the cross on our foreheads reminds us that sin has a cost. Yes, mercy and forgiveness are free to you and me, but they did come with a price.

Verse 12 asks God to “grant me a willing spirit”. It is David’s request to walk more closely with God. Like David, may we too be honest with God, admitting our failures, welcoming His cleansing, and continuing our journey of faith with a resolute mind and heart. May we live today and every day with a willing spirit and a repentant heart. May it be so, all to the glory of God. Amen.


3 Comments

Compassion

Reading: Mark 6: 30-34 and 53-56

Verse 34: “He had compassion on them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd”.

When I think of Jesus, I usually think about love. It is the one word I would use to describe Him. Today’s key verse reads, “He had compassion on them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd”. I think compassion would be a good word for Jesus too. After all, it is closely related to love.

The primary efforts of Jesus’ ministry we’re teaching and healing. They really went hand in hand. All that Jesus taught revolved around a handful of key themes: love God above all else, love others as Jesus first loved us, care for those in need, and worship God in all we do and say. The healings also revolved around a handful of themes: restoring a person to wholeness, returning people to community, breaking down barriers. All of Jesus’ teachings and healings point to the ideal world that God created and is ever at work to bring into being.

The powers of Jesus’ day heard Jesus’ teachings and saw the purposes of His healings. Both threatened their power and they found a way to be rid of Him. Jesus had very little wealth or material possessions. He encouraged His followers to be the same way. He knew that greed and jealousy were the enemies of love and compassion. The ideas of having less and caring for the other run very counter to culture today. Even the most faithful of Christians gets a little uncomfortable when they really wrestle with the idea of just having enough so that all can have some. This is the heart of caring for those in need. Not all people we meet are good and kind and sometimes people make poor choices. These things all challenge our call to fully love all people as Jesus loves them.

To live a life that emulates the compassion of Jesus is really hard. To teach others by our example and to heal the brokenness of our world is a daily struggle because it always calls for less of us and more of Jesus. Although difficult, it is a calling worthy of pursuing. Although we will stumble and fail, it is a narrow road worth walking. May we all ever seek to live out the compassion of Jesus this day, being a fragrant offering to all we meet. May it be so for me and for you.


1 Comment

Anywhere, Anytime

Reading: Psalm 48: 9-14

Verse Nine: “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love”.

The Israelites viewed the temple as God’s dwelling place. It was a sacred and holy place. When the psalmist writes, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love” to open our passage today, he would have really meant it. The temple was the place to connect to God and to worship God. After the period in exile and the dispersal of Jews around the known world, synagogues also became places to meditate and reflect on God’s word and to praise and worship God. Yet even then there remained the connection with the temple as the home of God.

As we jump forward to our time and frame if reference, the church sanctuary is often the place where people feel close to God. Yet it is a place of God’s presence and not necessarily God’s being. The sanctuary is a holy and sacred place, but we do not feel like any of our sanctuaries are the home of God.

This shift has led to two important things for me. It has helped my sense of God’s omnipresence. The idea that God can be present in all places speaks to me of the vastness and unlimited nature of God. This ties into the unfailing love idea expressed by the psalmist. It also speaks of God’s presence in many other places besides the temple or synagogue or chruch. God can be intimately connected to during a walk on the beach, a hike in the woods, on a yoga mat in the living room, at the corner coffee shop… God can be and is encountered in many ways and in many places.

This shift also means that we can help others encounter God anywhere and anytime. This means we can minister to the broken and lost and hurting as instruments of God’s unfailing love wherever we encounter them. God is there too. Through loving others we can help them to meet and connect to God wherever they are at and whenever our paths cross. In doing so we are living out our faith and living into verse thirteen, telling of our God to the next generation of believers.

Lord God, bless us with opportunities to connect with you wherever we are and to witness to your power and presence with all we meet. May it be so today. Amen.