pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Radical Change

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 27-34

Verse 27: “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”.

Change is on the horizon! Last week, in Jeremiah 29, God encouraged the people to build and to marry, to redeem their situation in Babylon, to shine light and love into this sinful place. In today’s reading we begin to hear God’s promise to restore the chosen people. In the opening verse we read, “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. God will replant what was uprooted. God will rebuild what was torn down. God promises to “watch over them to build and to plant”. The exiles must have received these words from Jeremiah with great hope and excitement.

Along with the restoration and relocation back to the Promised Land, there is also a change coming in the people’s relationship with God. No longer will a parent’s (or grandparent’s or great grandparent’s) sin affect the children (or children’s children…). In verse 30 we read, “Instead, everyone will die for his own sin”. In the day to day life, death means separation from God. When on is living in sin or with sin in their heart, the relationship with God is broken. Through the new covenant that God is bringing through Jesus Christ, sins will be forgiven. Through personal confession and repentance our sins will be washed away. In the eternal sense, if one chooses to live in sin and refuses to turn back to God, death refers to an eternity in hell.

Through Jeremiah, God is forshadowing a pretty radical change in Jewish thinking and theology. The idea that disease and illness and blindness and… are the result of sin somewhere in the family tree is deeply rooted in their faith. Jesus will challenge this line of thought. Change will be hard. Some will refuse to accept this shift. Jesus offers insight through his actions. He will touch the leper and the deaf, the mute and the crippled, the outcast and the sinner. His touch indicates love and acceptance, not fear and exclusion. Change is indeed on the horizon!

Prayer: God, thank you for your continuing evolution of our relationship with you. Through Jesus you became more personal, more intimate, more fully known. With the Holy Spirit you moved further into our hearts. Continue to draw me more and more into who and what you are! Amen.


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Welcome and Hospitality

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

Verses 5 and 6: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”.

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles invites them to become a part of the society that they have been forced into. It can be the tendency to try and remain isolated and to hold onto what makes one unique. Thinking back to the high point of immigration in the US, for example, cities had ethnic neighborhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown. In some cases whole towns had a mostly homogeneous ethnic make-up. In our passage today, God is encouraging the Israelites to become a part of where they are. They are instructed to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”. They are to live with and amongst their new neighbors.

Today we have both immigrants and refugees that come to the US. The refugees are most like the exiles because these groups tend to arrive in significant numbers. There are often language barriers and usually social and cultural differences as well. These factors tend to isolate us from our new neighbors and vice versa. But they do not have to. A little north and east of the town I live in is a town that welcomes refugees and immigrants. The school system works hard to help the children and the community provides employment opportunities for the adults. Churches play a role in the acclimation process in a number of ways. The Latino and Hmong people have enriched and have helped the whole community to thrive. They are not without instances of prejudice and intolerance, but overall it is a successful experiment. They are modeling well Jesus’ example of loving the other.

In almost all of our communities we have new people move in. In my town they usually come from another town in or near South Dakota, but occasionally they are from further abroad. In these cases, we too should extend welcome and hospitality to them. We as Christians should do what we can to help them succeed and flourish because when they prosper, we prosper too – not just economically but socially and spiritually as well.

As individuals, as churches, and as communities, may we be people of love, extending radical hospitality to all we meet. In doing so we also extend God’s love.

Prayer: Father of all, help me to be a friend to all. Empower me to love others unconditionally, just as you love me. Create in me generous hands and feet and a giving heart, just as Jesus modeled for us. Thank you, Father God. Amen.


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Rooted, Built Up, Established

Reading: Colossians 2: 6-19

Verse 6: “You therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him”.

In our passage from Colossians, Paul reminds the church that they are to look to Christ for all they need. In the opening verse Paul reminds them that they are “rooted and built up… established in the faith”. After the first of two brief warnings against the philosophies and teachings of the world, Paul goes on to unpack verse 6.

Paul describes what it means to be established in Jesus Christ. He first speaks about a “circumcision made without hands”. This is the process of dying to self, of surrendering one’s own will to God’s will. Paul then reminds them that they are “buried with him in baptism”. This ties into the idea of dying to self, when one is immersed in the water, and also into the idea of being made into a new creation in Christ when one rises from the waters. Just as Christ rose from the grave to new life, so too will the Colossian Christians and so too will we one day triumph over the world.

Paul uses two interesting words to describe a life lived in Jesus Christ. The first is “rooted”. Paul is using a tree analogy here. A tree is only as strong as its roots. A pine tree, for example, has a shallow root system. The roots do not go down very deep into the soil. In the wind, a pine will sway back and forth. In a really strong wind, a pine tree can be uprooted and toppled over. Trees like oaks, on the other hand, have deep root systems. Their branches and leaves sway in the breeze, but the trunks are solidly rooted deep in the soil. They can withstand a much greater wind. Our faith parallels this idea. If we have a shallow faith it sways more easily – it is more easily influenced by the cares and worries of the world. Temptations and trials and sufferings in life can overwhelm our faith if it is not firmly and deeply rooted in Christ.

Paul also uses a building analogy that is equally applicable. A building is only as sure and secure as its foundation. We must build our faith upon a solid foundation. Jesus Christ is the only sure foundation. When all we do and say and think is built upon Jesus’ teachings and example, then we have a solid base to stand upon and to build upon. Then we are able to “hold fast to the head”, Jesus Christ. May our faith be deeply rooted and solidly built upon Christ. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to be rooted and established in Christ. Help me to invest time and energy to sink deep roots into Jesus Christ so that he will always nourish my soul. Make Jesus my firm foundation, my rock. In his name I pray. Amen.


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Poured Into Us

Reading: Romans 5: 3-5

Verse 5: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul begins our passage today by stating that we rejoice in our suffering. Taken by itself many would question this statement. For those outside the faith it sounds a bit crazy. Why would anyone rejoice in suffering? After the fact one can often look back on an experience and see that they did grow or did learn something. Even so, most folks would rather learn or grow in a way that did not involve suffering.

Paul bases his statement on a believer’s hope and faith. When a believer knows God’s presence in the midst of suffering, there is a strength that one finds. When a believer holds onto hope because of a trust in God’s plan, then there is a power that is present. Here Paul is connecting back to verses 1 and 2. God’s strength and power in us is what leads to perseverance. When God has been present in our suffering, we trust that God will be there again and again, building our ability to persevere. This, in turn, builds our character – we gain confidence in God and in God’s plans. We can trust God through the suffering.

Running in and through this all is one common thread: God’s love. It is a love that wants to be there, to be present, to carry us at times. In verse 5 Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. Because we have God’s presence in us through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a faith and hope that is rooted deeply in us, that is always there to draw upon. God’s love is a part of us. For this, we rejoice and praise the Lord our God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your constant and abiding presence in my life. Continue to lead and guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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One in Christ

Reading: John 17: 20-26

Verse 20: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message”.

Today’s prayer from Jesus is a prayer for unity. It is a prayer not just for His current disciples and immediate followers but for all people who will hear the good news and come to faith. The opening verse reads, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message”. The prayer continues asking God to make all believers one. Jesus prayed for a church universal. He also prayed that they would be unified to God through Himself. Jesus is speaking of the essentials of the Christian faith. To call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the central idea of Christianity.

The idea that we are all children of God runs throughout the Bible. Our oneness is revealed in many ways in different communities. In some it is shown in churches that gather people from all walks of life to worship and share life together. In some it is revealed in the outreach efforts of some churches. They aim to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others. In some it is shown in the cooperative efforts of churches working together to have community events and ecumenical services sprinkled throughout the year. There are many ways that we can witness God building unity in the diverse body of Christ.

Jesus’ prayer also asks “that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me”. May it be so today.

Prayer: God of all people, this day may I reach across the gap to include others in the unified kingdom of God. Amen.


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A Wonderful Day

Reading: Revelation 21:10, 21:22-22:5

Verse 26: “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there”.

Today’s passage comes at the end of the Bible. The world that we see outside our windows and will step into just outside our doors today will not exist any longer. Our passage opens today with John seeing the Holy City coming down. It is a city of light and love. There is no temple – God and the Lamb are the temple. There is no sun or moon – God is the light and Jesus is the lamp. Only the children of God will inhabit the city and “on no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there”. All whose names are in the “Lamb’s book of life” will come and go freely. The river of life will feed the tree of life. It will bring healing to the nations – there will “no longer be any curse” – no pain, no tears, no grief… God and Jesus will reign forever. It will be a wonderful day.

Yet today, in the world just outside our window, just beyond our door, there is brokenness and evil and despair and division. This vision of heaven in Revelation is a someday vision. We live in this earthly reality. Our task as followers of Christ is to work to bring vision and reality closer together today and each day. We are to seek to build the kingdom here on earth. This heavenly vision draws us and helps us to focus on the task at hand. Our primary focus is how we live our day to day lives, striving to bring healing and hope and love and light to the world we inhabit. In building the kingdom here on earth we seek to end division and to break down barriers that separate us from one another. When we live together, celebrating our differences, not in spite of them, then the peace and love of God and Jesus will reign. If we can live and love and bring hope and light into the world each day, then each day will be a wonderful day. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: Bringer of light and love, of hope and peace, use me as an instrument of yours today. Help me to walk side by side with all of my brothers and sisters in the world today. Enable me to break down all that separates in order to build up your kingdom here on earth. Guide me, O Lord. Amen.


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Diligently

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-6

Verse 4: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”.

I pastor in a rural community where many are involved in agriculture. In a small but real way, the farmers and ranchers live out the idea of a new earth each year. We all experience the seasons in South Dakota, but for me that mostly means I dress differently and such. In general, for me, life in October is much like life in April. But for those tied to the annual renewal of the earth, this is not the case.

As people of faith we live in this present time with a hopeful eye towards the time when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”. We look forward but we do so with patience. Yes, it will be wonderful beyond anything we can begin to imagine, but we are just fine if it a ways down the road. With this hope, though, we are called to live an active faith in the present. Within we are to spend time daily with God and to grow more in love with God in this way. Without we are to allow our faith and God’s love to color all we do and say and think. We are to live as humble servants in this time and place, diligently building the kingdom of God here and now.

In the agricultural community there is a parallel. During the winter months, when the fields are dormant, they do not just sit and stare out the window. They are actively preparing – planning and studying, readying machinery, purchasing the needed seeds… They diligently do all they can to insure the greatest possible success when the new season comes. If they use the best seeds for the season ahead and do all that they can to have the best crop, then a good harvest likely lies ahead.

The same is true of our faith and the journey we are on towards eternal life. May we each tend diligently to the things of God, preparing for the new that is to come.

Prayer: Lord God, this day may I sow good seeds of faith and hope within and without. May I do all I can, empowered by the Holy Spirit, walking closer to you day by day. Amen.