pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Belong

Reading: Mark 3: 31-35

Verse 35: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”.

Who do you belong to? Where do you get your sense of belonging? These are interesting questions. As I think back over the years of my life, I can think of many times when I felt a sense of belonging, a sense that there was genuine community. During summers, for about twenty years, I worked with a group of guys on a certain staining project. We shared a deep sense of comraderie that would return in an instant if we reunited after six years off. For many years a group of guys gathered on Sunday afternoon to play pick-up basketball. Many men came and went from that group, but there was a core group that was really close. And then was our church. Who do you belong to? Where do you belong?

As human beings we have a great need to belong. We are social creatures. That is how God designed us. In early childhood we begin to feel the need to fit in, to find a group of friends. This feeling stays with us our whole lives. Being alone and feeling alone are two of the greatest challenges facing many people today.

One of our natural places of belonging is our families. There we find a love and acceptance that is unconditional. It is the type of love that led Jesus’ mother and brothers to try and intervene to make sure that He was eating and taking care of Himself.

When they arrive to express this love, Jesus responds in a way that seems odd to us. He looks at the crowd gathered around Him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers”! Jesus goes on to explain, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”. We do hope that He goes out to see them. And to give His mom a kiss. But we don’t know. We do understand Jesus’ point here. We have all experienced it in our lives. When we move to a new community, it is one of our biggest concerns – will I find a new church home? Often our strongest connections are within our community of faith. When I think about where I feel the greatest sense of belonging, it is my family and my church. In the church, all walks of life gather together as one body, united in Christ. It is here that we form loving relationships with one another and with our Lord. We belong in God’s family. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Present

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18

Verse Eighteen: “When I awake, I am still with you”.

Each of us are unique creations of God’s mighty hand. We are all “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Each of our days are ordained or blessed by God. Sounds pretty wonderful, doesn’t it?!

The Psalm gives us a feeling of being intimately known by God. On our good days this does feel like a blessing. To know and to feel like God is present is reassuring and comforting. But on our days when we wrestle with the things of this world and when we sin, that presence can feel a little uncomfortable. When we stumble because our flesh is weak, it is disconcerting to know that God is present for those moments too. Yes, God is right there then too.

And then there are those times when life happens – when there is a cancer diagnosis or when someone dear passes or when our job suddenly comes to and end or… We are not the cause and we are not caught up in sin or evil, but these days come too. And in the midst of all this, God too remains present. Sometimes God even enlists helpers. Friends drop by with a meal or just to visit. The church seems to become a little closer too as people check in on you. Phone calls and texts and cards arrive from folks you forgot you knew. God’s love and care comes in many ways. The Holy Spirit even joins in, reminding us of those passages that we need to hear again. We think, along with the psalmist, “How prescious to me are your thoughts, O God”!

In our days of faithful obedience, in our days of rebellion, and in our days of trial and suffering, our one constant is God’s presence. God brings us hope and strength and reassurance and comfort and … God has been present since we were knit together and God will ever be present to us – in this life and in the life to come. Each and every day we can offer up this praise: “When I awake, I am still with you”. Thanks be to God for always being present! Amen.


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Going Out

Reading: Acts 1: 1-11

Verse Eleven: “Why do you stand there, looking into the sky”?

The book of Acts opens with a brief recap of the forty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It reviews how Jesus offered “convincing proofs” that He was alive and it reiterates His promise to send the Holy Spirit. The disciples then ask when Jesus is returning to restore the kingdom of Israel. Yes, they are still thinking of earthly kingdoms instead of the heavenly kingdom. Again, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus is taken up into heaven and the disciples stand there staring up. Two angels appear and ask, “Why do you stand there, looking into the sky”?

The angels indicate that Jesus will come back. But the implication in the question is ‘stop staring, it is time to get to work’. There is much to be done, so let’s get busy. Much needs to be accomplished before Jesus returns, so let’s get to work. Quit standing around staring at the sky.

I wonder how often God thinks thoughts like these today. How much of our time is spent staring up at heaven instead of engaging the work that needs to be done down here? How much time do we spend each day in prayer and personal study and how little time do we devote each day to the acts of mercy that Jesus so often called His followers to?

Nothing builds itself. While it is wonderful that we Christians spend our “alone time” with God each day, we must spend at least that much time spending “face time” with the lost, least, and broken of this world. No one will come to faith and experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promises without someone first introducing that person to Jesus Christ. It is essential to go outside of our churches to find those who need a saving relationship with Jesus. They are not coming to us. We must go to them.

Each and every day may we look down and around us, seeking to be kingdom builders, going out into the world to share the light and love and hope if Jesus Christ with a world in need. Amen.


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Action

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse Eighteen: “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”.

Already in the early days of the church John was seeing a struggle between the words Christians said and claimed and the actions that they were living out. In the first chapter of 1st John, he encourages the followers of Christ to walk in the light. Walking is an active verb – John wanted them to walk in the faith or to have an active faith. He continues this encouragement in chapter two and then turns to warnings against loving the world and being led astray by false teachings. In chapter three John turns to our call as children of God and how to live righteous lives. It is within this chapter that our passage today lies.

For John and for the church today, we cannot separate the idea of being a Christian from the idea of love. The two cannot be separated. Jesus was all about loving others and that is one of Jesus’ primary directives to His followers. In most churches, we do this very well with each other. Yes, we will disagree now and then, but by and large the folks in our churches love one another well. Those John was addressing must have done this well too. The challenge comes in loving those outside the walls of our churches, those who are different, those who struggle with sin or hardships in their lives.

John was challenging the church to love those in need in a time when persecution was high. We are challenged today in a time when it is pretty safe to be a Christian. Yet we too struggle to always help those who cannot help themselves and to offer self-sacrificing love that goes out and meets people’s needs where they are at. John wrote, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”. Don’t say you love your neighbors but actually go out and love them. Don’t see injustice and do nothing about it. Don’t see the hungry without feeding them, the naked without clothing them, the lonely without visiting them…

There is much need and brokenness in our world. There is much love in our hearts. May the two meet not only in our thoughts and words but out there in the real world too. May we each be a part of making this happen today.


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An Honest Look

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

A new covenant. A new promise. Hope. Opportunity. How we sometimes long for a fresh or new start. For the Israelites long in captivity in Babylon this word from Jeremiah had to bring great hope. Suddenly there was possibility and hope ahead again. They must have certainly felt like the old covenant was a thing of the past. They were living without a temple and without the systems that had connected them to God. Oddly enough they saw change as a good thing. They did not simply want a return to the way things were. Where they were spiritually and relationally was broken and needed changed. They were full of joy to hear, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

Today we can find ourselves here too. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere. For example, one day we find out that our job has been eliminated or that our spouse is asking for divorce. These types of disruptions are forced upon us and we have no choice but to adapt. But sometimes it is a slow creep instead. This happens in life sometimes. We look up and suddenly realize where we’ve gotten to and know in an instant that something must change. Sometimes this can happen in our institutions as well. Our church that used to have hundreds in worship and dozens in Sunday school suddenly seems a bit empty and without much life. At this point, whether personally or institutionally, we can look for and seek for God to do a new thing or we can continue the slow fade. Sometimes this is the easier choice.

We are still in Lent, so I challenge you to look within – to both yourself and to your church. Do you see growth and movement forward or do you see plateau or regression, complacency or death? These are hard questions to consider. Take an honest look within and go to God accordingly.


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Unity and Strength

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verses 7 and 8: For none of us lives to himself alone… We belong to the Lord.

Paul begins chapter fourteen by imploring Christians to not pass judgement on others because others do not worship and practice their faith just as they do.  Instead Paul urges Christians to model acceptance and to have understanding for their fellow believers.  For the Jews who had accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they entered their new faith with their old faith’s worship and dietary guidelines still intact.  They wanted the new believers to worship and eat as they did.  In effect they wanted to new followers to be Jewish Christians.  On the other side of the aisle, many of the new converts came with their own cultural background and practices.  Therefore they did not want to change some of these things, especially if they did not see how they were incompatible with what Jesus taught and did.

The same tendencies to judge and condemn others still exists today both within our churches and between churches.  The hot topic can be a wide variety of things.  Between people in a church it can be things like worship style or who is welcome or over what one does on a Friday night.  Between churches it can be over how one receives salvation or it can be over how we practice or understand baptism or communion.  Whatever the case, Paul’s advice is the same: do not judge but seek to accept and understand one another.  Paul says we must do this because ultimately, “none of us lives to himself alone… We belong to the Lord”.

Christ is the one who unites all Christians and all Christian churches.  There is one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit.  God created each and every one of us and loves us all dearly and equally.  Jesus taught live and grace to all people He met and went to the cross to give forgiveness of sins and a way to eternal life for all people.  The promise if the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives was a promise and gift to everyone.  May we each seek to love God and to love all of our neighbors as Christ loves us, bringing unity and strength to the whole body of Christ, to the church universal.


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Conflict Resolution

Reading: Matthew 18: 15-17

Verse 17: If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Today’s passage deals with conflict resolution in the church.  Although the church is intended to be the loving body of Christ and to reflect His light out into the world, at times there is conflict in the church.  Sometimes the conflict involves just two people, but at times the conflict can involve larger groups of people.

Jesus chooses to address conflict resolution in the church because it does happen.  And it is no coincidence that this address follows the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew’s Gospel.  Perhaps Jesus addresses it so directly because He knows a second truth as well – when conflict arises most of us avoid it at almost any cost.  If we are hurt or offended or sinned against by another at church we would much rather “get over it” and avoid further conflict than go and talk with that person.  Yet Jesus tells us to do just that – go and talk with them.  Why?  Because unresolved conflict becomes a murmur always humming just below the surface.  It becomes a feeling that can pervade gatherings and can inhibit the church’s ability to function as the loving body of Christ.

Jesus also gives two more steps to try next to try and resolve the conflict.  If a one on one visit fails, Jesus says to go back with one or two other believers.  Bring someone wise and respected to navigate the waters of reconciliation.  He is not saying to make it three on one but to bring in others who will help both sides come to the table to find resolution.  The next step, should the second step also fail, is to bring it before the whole church.  Hopefully more heads will work together to find a solution that leads to repentance and forgiveness.

At each step the goal is always reconciliation and restoration.  In the end, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over”.  This is the goal: to help one another along on our journey of faith.  We are called to hold one another accountable.  This is true love in the church – being open and honest and transparent and speaking the truth in  love as we all journey together, each seeking to grow in our faith.