pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Kingdom of Love

Reading: Amos 7: 10-17

Verse 15: “The Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people'”.

Our passage today is overcast. Amos has bad news to deliver and the people receiving it do not receive it well. The one who represents power, Amaziah the priest, basically tells Amos to be quiet and to go home to Judah. The powers that be do not want to hear that King Jeroboam will die and that Israel is headed off into exile. It is just not good news. At least not for Jeroboam and his allies.

In a general sense, today’s passage is a good representation of the Old Testament cycle. The cycle is: God’s people fall into sin, God sends a prophet, the people usually continue to sin, God brings punishment, they eventually repent. Once in a long while the king and people heed the warning. Most often, though, the pattern follows today’s reading. The sin begins with the king or leader and trickles down from there. For most, that means that life becomes more pleasurable, more fun, less rule bound. To hear Amos say that God is bringing their worldly lifestyle to an end is not good news for most of Israel. It is not surprising that they tell Amos to hush up and get on back to Judah. Things are not any better there. Under King Uzziah they are worshipping foreign gods and have abandoned the law of God. Amos has prophesied that fire will consume Jerusalem. They too have become followers of the world.

This cycle that includes a heaping dose of doom and gloom is a reason that many do not like to delve deep into the Old Testament. These is a lot of violence and punishment and death. Many, many prophets come to speak to the kings and to the people as God attempts to bring them back into covenant living. We cannot miss the fact that this is always God’s purpose, always God’s main desire. The prophet’s words, as is the case in today’s passage, are hard to hear and are rejected. Yet these words are not bad news to everyone.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”? This has long been true. God has always been a caring and good and benevolent God. The poor, the widows, the outcast, the marginalized have always had a special place in God’s world. These are the ones who would hear Amos’ words as good news. As the nation returns to walking in God’s ways, life gets better for these. Injustice and abuses of power lessen. Hearts and hands become more generous. The kingdom of love returns. This is good news for today too. May we ponder and live into our role in this kingdom of love.

Prayer: Lord, when I am faithful and walking closely with you, I see and feel the world differently. It is a world filled with more love. Help that to be my world today and every day, O God of love. Amen.


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One Body

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 12-31a

Verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”.

Paul’s analogy of the church as a body is wonderful. If one thinks about our bodies, we are made of many different organs, tissues, bones, and lots of other parts. Yet the body itself all works together in amazing harmony. Our inner functions hum right along without thoughts directing them. We are fearfully and wonderfully and perfectly made. It is a beautiful image. Isn’t this the dream for our churches?

The body of Christ is brought together by the Holy Spirit. In verse 13 Paul writes, “we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body”. Our faith in Jesus Christ is what draws us together and unites us. Through the Holy Spirit we are each adopted into the body – into the family of God. We reflect this in our baptism liturgy. Also within that liturgy it is not only the parents that covenant to raise the child in the church, but it is also the whole congregation that promises to help do so as well. One body.

But being human, the church is not always perfect. Paul addresses this in verses 14-17 and again in verses 21-26. Sometimes a part of the body thinks it is more important than the rest of the body. One part thinks its way is the best or the only way. This is just one way of causing strife and division in the body. On occasion one part of the body thinks its role is superior to the other parts of the body and this can make other parts feel less needed or less valued. God designed the body of Christ to be better than all of this. Most often, fortunately, it is!

Towards the end of our passage Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”. To me this statement has an implied “so act like it” for us to hear as well. We are called to be a witness to the world. We do so by first and foremost genuinely loving and caring for one another within the body of Christ. It is my prayer that all we do and say as the body of Christ is guided by love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when I am feeling pride or judgment creeping in, quickly bring the conviction of the Holy Spirit to my heart. In those times of tension or unease, may I hear the voice of that same Holy Spirit leading and guiding me. Amen.


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Loving and Caring

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verses 33 and 34: “Much grace was upon them all… There were no needy persons among them”.

In the early church the love of God and one another was clearly evident. In the lives of the apostles the power of God was clearly evident. These factors made the church stand out from the larger culture around them. In many ways these things were even counter-cultural. They certainly are today.

There are three outcomes of the presence of God and His love in our text today. The first is the great power that the apostles had to preach the gospel news of Jesus Christ. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the apostles were boldly proclaiming the truth and they were bringing people to faith. The second outcome was the grace that they all had upon them. They were willing to look past faults and small disagreements because they saw the community as more important than the individual. This led to a willingness to sell things to help with the common good. This led to the third outcome: “There were no needy persons among them”. All were loved and cared for.

Does this unity and level of love and care for one another typify churches today? This model is still very possible and I think exists in some of our churches today. When someone loses a loved one they are surrounded with love and care and often food. When someone experiences a tragedy like a house fire they are invited into someone’s home and needs for clothing and other necessities are met. When someone loses a job, assistance is given. We may not sell our home or some land, but there is still much love in a church that makes it stand our from the larger society.

Could our churches be closer to the model we see in Acts? For sure! Let us remember then that the church is still made up of people. So, like each of us on our own journey to become more like Jesus, the church itself is also ever on a journey to become more loving and more caring. The church is only as loving and caring as the individuals that make up said church. That brings us to a question: how am I becoming more loving and caring so that my church becomes more loving and caring?


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Some Things

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 23: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”.

Jesus is speaking of death and life I today’s passage. On one level He is talking about His own physical death that will come on the cross. We hear a hint of emotion in the next verses about what He will soon face, but He also reveals this is why He came. Jesus knows that His death will bring glory to God. He knows this is true in a sense for all who will follow after Him as well.

Jesus speaks of the sacrifice a seed makes, saying, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”. The seed must be willing to fall into the ground and to give up being a seed for a tree or flower or some other plant to spring up with new life. In turn, the plant will create more seeds which will then produce more plants. Jesus then ties this idea to those who follow Him. Some men, Jesus says, love the things of this world – possessions, power, position… They have no hope. However, the man who ‘hates’ life in this world will find eternal life in the time to come. The implication is that if one hates the things of the flesh, then one will love the things of God. By loving and serving God, one finds eternal life.

When one ties these two ideas together, we come to see that we must allow some things in our lives to die. Those things are the things of the world. As followers of Christ, we follow after Jesus. In doing so, we value the things He valued: loving others, honoring God, giving of oneself, caring for those in need… When we walk this path we die to the pursuit of worldly things. There is simply not room for them when we are filled with Jesus.

This passage closes with this thought: “Where I am, my servant also will be”. Where will we find Jesus today? Will it be in the comfortable and routine of life or will it be in the places we find the marginalized and disadvantaged? May we willingly go where He leads us today.


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Forever Love

Reading: Hebrews 1: 1-12

Verse Eleven: “You remain the same, your years will never end”.

Our passage from Hebrews speaks of the eternal and Christ’s place upon the throne.  Both are timeless.  In the passage there is the intertwining of the past and the future as well.  Over all of this and over all of creation, Jesus reigns.  Verse eight says, “Your throne… will last for ever and ever”.  He was there at the creation of all things and He will be there into forever.

Creation and all that is created, however, is limited.  There is a time span to all crated things – the sun, moon and stars, the mountains and oceans, you and me.  We are reminded of this in verse eleven: “They will perish”.  This idea of our finite nature seems appropriate as we come to the end of a year today.  Tomorrow will be the start of 2018.  There is some excitement in seeing a new year and there is some value in taking stock of our past year, but in reality Monday will be much like today in many aspects.  It is much like the difference I felt when I was 48 years and 364 days and how I felt when I was 49 years old.  In many ways, life simply goes on.  So too does God.

God was there in the beginning and will be there today and tomorrow.  In fact, He will be there forever.  And He will remain faithful and true and loving each and every day.  Verse twelve sums it up nicely: “You remain the same, your years will never end”.  God’s love for you and me will remain the same today, tomorrow, and into forever.  So as we begin a new year, let us rejoice in our God who remains the same always – loving us dearly, calling us His children, saving us by His mercy and grace.  Thank you God!


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Diverse and Inclusive

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-17

Verse Nine: There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

The opening verse for our passage today again paints a beautiful picture of heaven.  It is the heaven that each who call on the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will inherit.  Verse 9 reads, “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language”.  It is a vast crowd, one so large that it cannot be counted.  It is a very diverse crowd, just as God desires.  This gathering that represents wonderful diversity and open inclusion draws people from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe.  It is the result of the Great Commission.

If this is what heaven will be and look like, is this what our churches and our circle of friends should be and look like?  Absolutely.  Most churches think they are welcoming and open and, indeed, most are.  Most people think of themselves as caring and loving and friendly people, and most of us are.  But being welcoming and caring and loving and friendly doesn’t necessarily include or draw in those who are the least and the lost of our communities and our neighborhoods.

Our church is like most.  There are two main tribes of people in our community, but only one tribe is represented in our church.  There are rich and poor and people in between in our community, but not many who are struggling economically call our church home.  These two examples are but two of the many who are missing from our body of Christ.  A snapshot of worship on a Sunday morning would reveal that we are very homogeneous.  Our community is not.  Our question may be asked at many other churches as well: how do we become more wonderfully diverse and openly inclusive?

It begins by getting to know those in our community who are not present in our churches.  We then must shift to being continually invitational with those we meet and get to know.  As Christians, we must be invitational, inviting others into Jesus’ love.  Then we must be willing to offer radical hospitality.  It is the hospitality practiced by Jesus.  It is the live modeled by Jesus.  It is the love of a humble servant, willing to give of oneself for the other.  It is a love that seeks to make people’s lives better – spiritually, emotionally, economically, socially,…  It is a love that engages people from all walks of life and from every neighborhood in our communitied.  May this be the love that is in us and is in our churches.  May this be the love that flows out of each of us and out of all of our churches.


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The Caring Community

The goal of a church is to be a caring and loving community.  As the body of Christ, we are called to do what we can for one another and to be there in times of need.  In the days just after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the church was a small family.  There was a great sense of unity; the well-being of all was a central focus.  The sense of caring extended to giving to those in need, even selling land or houses to have the money to care for the community.

As a church body we find unity in Christ.  It is through His love for us that we are able to love one another.  As we seek to love neighbor as self we come to see others as more alike us than different from us.  At times one gives away care and at other times one receives care.  Relationships are developed and Christian love flourishes.

The example of the early church is still our model today.  No church is perfect but all should be striving to meet the Biblical example we have here in Acts 4.  God blesses us with what we have so that we can be that caring, loving community that every church is called to be.  In time the tithe came to replace the selling of land and houses.  But we cannot allow the tithe to become the means by which individuals offer care in the faith community.  Individual, personal relationships are still the core.

The basis of all churches and its strength is still found in the individual members.  What the people in the pews know about each other and their needs will always far exceed what the pastor and staff could ever know.  At times the staff certainly has a role in caring for the body, but the care and love are most complete when all of the parts of the body of Christ are caring for all of the other members of the body.  In your church, what is your role?  How are you a part of caring for the rest of the community of faith?

Scripture reference: Acts 4: 32-35