pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Good…

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verse 20: “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”.

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is seen as the groom and the church is His bride. I encourage you to read again the passage from Proverbs 31 from this perspective. Re-read the passage and think of the church as the wife or bride of Christ.

A good church is worth far more than rubies – it has eternal worth as it helps people find salvation. A good church does bring glory and praise by honoring God in all it says and does. All of its efforts are aimed at building the kingdom here on earth.

A good church gets up while it is still dark and spends time in the Word, in meditation, and in prayer. A good church gives spiritual food to those who hunger and thirst. A good church does work hard – both for its members and for its community. It is strong for the task at hand, whatever that may be. Because of this, the lamp does not go out at night. The good church is ready to answer the call at 2 AM or whenever because God’s love is always at the ready.

A good church “opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”. A good church cares all members of society, regardless of race or religion, regardless of social class or standing. A good church offers food or clothing or a listening ear or whatever it can in a time of need.

A good church is clothed in strength and dignity. As it does the Lord’s work, it is assured of the path that it walks. A good church can even laugh at the days to come – it trusts and rests in the Lord. A good church receives faithful instruction, keeping it focused on a life of faith. It is to be praised because it fears the Lord. And the reward is found in leading others into a relationship with Jesus Christ. The good church is God’s body at work for Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for all the good churches out there.

Lord, may the church ever be Christ’s bride, bringing joy and hope and peace to a world in need. May it ever give to those in need, love all people, and draw all to Christ. Amen.

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Come

Reading: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

Song of Songs is one of the five books of poetry that we find in the Bible. In general, poetry is flowing and beautiful and draws us in. Of all the books in the Bible, I think Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) is the most beautiful. This book is primarily an exchange between the “beloved” and the “lover”. It is the story of their young and passionate love for one another.

Today’s passage is set in the springtime. The winter is past and the spring flowers are blooming and the doves are cooing. The lover arrives and says to the beloved, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. He is inviting her to take his hand, to run through the wildflowers, to feel the warmth of the sun. His invitation draws us in as well.

Song of Songs, like most romantic poetry, reminds us of love. It also reminds us of the power of love. For me, these things draw me to God and on to Jesus. Both represent love. In the Old Testament, it was the God of the chosen people, the Jews. Above all others, God loved and cared for the Israelites. In the New Testament, Jesus continues the work of loving one. Jesus was a Jew but His love was soon carried to the Gentiles as well. Jesus extended God’s love by also loving the outsider, the leper, the prostitute, … The disciples continued what Jesus started with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) by following Jesus’ command to bring the good news to all people of all nations.

In the New Testament we also find the language of bride and groom. This language evokes the images of young love that we find in today’s passage. In the New Testament, Jesus is the groom and we, the church, are the bride. One day we will be united with the eternal Jesus. In Revelation 22:7 we read, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come'”! A few verses later, Jesus responds, saying, “Yes, I am coming soon”.

Lord Jesus, whether you come in final glory today or whether we simply experience you in our hearts today, we too invite you to come. Come, be with us Lord Jesus. Come and be present to your faithful ones today. May it be so today. Amen.


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Simple Relationships

Reading: Mark 7: 1-8

Verse 6: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.

Today’s passage deals with who we are as opposed to who we want to appear to be. This passage applies to us as individuals and to our churches as well.

The Pharisees and religious leaders notice Jesus’ disciples doing something that they think shouldn’t be done. They are eating with unclean hands. The disciples did not wash their hands before eating. Yes, there is a practical side to this. But the religious folk aren’t concerned with this aspect. They are concerned with the spiritual implications of eating with unclean hands. By simply being in the world, one can possibly touch something that itself is unclean. If you then eat without ceremonially washing, then the sin or impurity enters you. So they ask, “Jesus, why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders”?

Jesus does not really answer their question. He turns the subject back on them. Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13, saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. The religious folks know what to say. They also ought to know why they are saying it. They have lost their connection with the source of the Law. Over the years the Torah or law has grown to the point of being cumbersome. Many of the traditions or rules are things that man has added over time. The intent was to help people follow the law, but it has become a long list of things to do or to check off the list. It has moved far away from worshipping God. Jesus reflects, “You have let go of the commandments of God and are holding onto the traditions of men”.

We too can fall into following man-made traditions or rules and can allow these to drag us far from God. If we go to church on Sunday morning but it becomes a burden or hardship, is it really worshipful to God? If we go up and eat the bread and drink the juice but do not confess and repent of our sins, is it really holy communion? If we say we are a welcoming church but do not engage the stranger who enters our midst, are we really loving all people? If we read our Bibles each day but do not apply the Word to our lives, is it really a meaningful discipline? Yes, this is just the beginning of a long list of questions.

O Lord, give us faith and not religion. Give us relationships and not lists of rules. May our faith be about simple relationships – loving you and loving neighbor. And may all we say and do and think flow from these two central commands. May it be so. Amen.


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Grow

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”.

Our goal in life is to grow. As little children we dream about what we will be – a firefighter, a football player, and eventually a teacher then a pastor. Even once we settle into our “career” for life, the desire to grow remains in us. We do not just want to be a ___, but we want to be the best ___ that we can be. To do so we must continue to read and study and go to conferences…

These same ideas are true of our faith journey. And God has a plan for this! In verse 11 Paul tells us that God created some people to be apostles and some to be prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. At different times in our journey we need people to play these various roles so that we can continue to grow. For example, when we were young we relied on our teachers to plant the stories of faith in us. As we move into our adult years we continue to need teachers to grow in our faith but also find a need for pastors to shepherd and guide us. All of these roles are intended for the same purpose: “so that the body of Christ may be built up”.

Paul tells us why – so that we are no longer “infants”. When we are infants we are not sure of our faith so we are easily influenced and we are more susceptible to temptation and sin. This is a place we can choose to remain and some do. Paul wants more for us. We should each want more for ourselves too. To this, Paul writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”. Sometimes this truth is hard to hear. Accountability is a necessary part of the maturation process. We must be willing to accept “the truth in love” to move into spiritual maturity.

Our goal as faithful followers of Jesus Christ is to attain the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. Although we will never be perfect as Christ was perfect, the goal remains to grow more and more into Christ. As we each play the role that God has blessed us with, the body of Christ, the church, “grows and builds itself up in love”. The question for today is this: how will you help another to grow in faith?


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God’s Presence

Reading: 2 Samuel 7: 1-14a

Verse 9: “I have been with you wherever you have gone”.

David has an idea to build a home for God. God’s first “residence” was a mobile tent that traveled around the desert for forty years. Once the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land and allocated areas for the tribes of Israel, they settled down and established themselves. Years and years later, David has this idea to build a permanent home for God. The ark still resides in the tent. A more proper home might be in order.

Mankind has always built places to worship. Some have been outdoors and very simple. Others have been huge, ornate buildings that took hundreds of years and lots of money and resources to complete. Once upon a time, church building was even a bit competitive in the western world. I don’t think David’s motivation was along these lines. I think that it was a feeling that God should have a permanent home.

The idea that God “lives” someplace on earth – and in just one place – seems a bit preposterous. Our God is the God of all people, places, and nations. The true “church” is the place where followers of Jesus Christ gather to offer praise and worship. It can be a circle of milk crates in an abandoned lot as easily as it can be in the grandest church ever built. As verse nine reads, “I have been with you wherever you have gone”.

This extends to us personally as well. We can each connect to our loving, personal God one-on-one. This too can be anytime, anyplace. As we go forth today, may we find the pleasure of being in God’s presence often. May we seek to worship God in many ways and in many places this day. Amen.


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Missionaries

Reading: Mark 6: 6b-13

Verses Twelve and Thirteen: “They went out and preached that people should repent… They drove out demons… anointed… and healed”.

After a period of watching Jesus in ministry, the disciples are empowered by Jesus and are sent out two by two. Jesus is beginning to train them to be His replacement. Full of faith in Jesus, “they went out and preached that people should repent… They drove out demons… anointed… and healed”. The disciples are able to model the ministry of Jesus. They preach the gospel news of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. They encounter the demon-possessed and they drive out the demons. They anoint people and heal them of their illnesses and diseases. In all these actions, the disciples are restoring people to wholeness and into faith in Jesus Christ.

Each of these actions drew people to Jesus, depending on their need. These three things continue to be at the core of the ministry of the church. The sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ is still the central activity of the church and of all followers of Christ. This is usually the first step. Belief often leads then to restoration of the person – body, mind, and soul. It is through faith in Jesus that we all find healing.

The sending of the twelve (and later the sending of the 72) establishes the idea that all believers are sent out into the world to be Jesus to the lost, the lonely, and the hurting. Some are sent someplace on the other side of the world and some are sent right next door. All of us are sent. This passage also contains a reality. Although all believers are sent, not all non-believers are ready to receive. Some will not welcome us as we come in the name of Jesus. We offer Jesus as best we can and then we move on. Remembering that we once were lost too, we trust that other believers will follow as God continues to work at saving the whole world.

We go forth today, into our day and into our world, willing missionaries sent with the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. May we ever be faithful missionaries of the gospel. May our words and actions bring healing and wholeness, leading others to Jesus Christ. Amen.


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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.