pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Big Questions, Individual Answers

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 1-9

Verse 9: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”.

On Paul’s second missionary he went to Corinth and helped establish a church there. As was typical, he would begin by preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. When there was a small group who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Paul would help them to become a faith community. Then he moved on to another place, starting the process over. On this journey, Ephesus would be his next stop. Other apostles and disciples were out and about preaching and encouraging as well. As they would pass through Corinth…, they would bring news to Paul as they crossed paths.

The news that was shared would sometimes prompt Paul to write a letter, to go visit again, or both. This would be what happens with the church in Corinth. The body of Paul’s letters usually offered teaching, correction, and encouragement. Almost all of Paul’s letters begin with a greeting, which was and remains the custom. In our letter today Paul continues from there with a few words of thanksgiving. He thanks God that they know Jesus Christ and that Christ has been enriching them in every way. Paul is thankful for their spiritual gifts. He encourages them to wait patiently for the Lord’s return, reminding them that God will strengthen them. Paul then closes the opening with this eternal truth: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”. In short: God is faithful.

These words from Paul make me wonder what would be said about our churches. Would an observer note that the members are being enriched by Jesus Christ, empowered and using the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed on each one? Or does the 90/10 rule apply at your church too? Would the observer find folks eagerly awaiting an encounter with the risen Lord? Or would he or she find pew-sitters waiting to be entertained? Stepping outside the Sunday morning hour, would the observer see disciples living out their faith as they trust all things to a faithful God? Or would they be hard to even identify out there in the world?

These are hard questions that are generally corporate questions. But each one’s answer lies with the individual. God is faithful. Would the same be said of you?

Prayer: Dear God, trusting fully is not always easy for me when life feels a little unsure. Giving fully of my gifts is a little harder as circumstances are unknown. Yet I know that you are in control. You are the only one in control. Draw me into this truth. Help me to be faithful – I know you are. Teach, correct, and encourage me as needed, O Lord my God. Amen.


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Marked Beloved

Reading: Matthew 3: 13-17

Verse 16: “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”.

John the Baptist has been in the wilderness, baptizing people in the Jordan River. He offers a baptism of repentance, helping people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. People confess their sins and commit to walking “straight paths”. This walk yields the “fruit in keeping with repentance” that John references. In our passage today, Jesus comes to be baptized. John has just finished explaining how he baptizes with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. That is why John says in today’s text, “I need to be baptized by you”. Never mind that Jesus is without sin and does not “need” a baptism of repentance!

Jesus insists and John acquiesces, baptizing Jesus. Validation comes. In verse sixteen we read, “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”. Jesus’ baptism is a sign that he is ready to begin to live a new life of obedience to God’s will and ways. It is a step to beginning his formal ministry. The voice of God responds with words of identification as God’s Son, the beloved. From this initial step, Jesus is led out into the wilderness for forty days. There Jesus is tempted by Satan.

Baptism today incorporates much of what we read in John 3. Many believe baptism is the “right” thing to do as one enters the Christian life. Water is still the medium and it still represents the cleansing of sin and the commitment to die to the old earthly self. One moves forward dedicated to walking out a life of faith. The Holy Spirit is a vital part of baptism today – it is what “lights” upon us as the seal of being marked as a son or daughter of God. The Holy Spirit enters the life of the baptized, much as it did when Jesus was baptized. Through baptism one is marked as a beloved member of the community of faith. After baptism one enters the world, prepared to daily battle with temptation and sin.

As we enter the world today may we remember our baptism and our place as beloved in the family of God. Be strengthened and encouraged today, for you are loved!

Prayer: God of all the beloved children, be present to me today as I enter the world. Lead and guide my words and actions. Keep me from temptation. Thank you for your love and acceptance. Amen.


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Community

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 7-14

Verse 10: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”.

In a small, small way I can relate to the people that Jeremiah writes to. For two days the blizzard kept most folks at home. I was able to trudge across the street to the church, so I guess I can relate in a small, small, small way! The people in Babylon have been there seventy years. They have built homes, raised families, started businesses. But it is not home. They do not have any power. They long to once again dwell in the Promised Land as God’s children.

Jeremiah offers words of hope and promise. God speaks to the people through his prophet, saying, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”. The end is near. Their weeping will end and they will pray their way home. God will make their paths level – the lame, blind, and pregnant women will travel easily. The children of God will return to a land abundant with grain, grapes, olives, and with lots of livestock. The Israelites’ mourning will turn to gladness; their sorrow will become joy. It all sounds quite good.

For those that return, it will be good. But two generations have died in the time of exile. The oral traditions and the stories of what Jerusalem, the temple, and the Promised Land are all that this new generation will return with. How much will it feel like home?

They will come to understand that home is not just a physical location. Two things will make it feel like home: God and community. God’s presence will return as the temple is rebuilt. The land and all within it will be blessed. They will once again become the family of God, living together, ruling over themselves… Because of these two things, it will feel like home.

The past two days at church were quiet. No one else was around. Today life will return to the church. Once again we will be in community. The time apart helps me realize how much I appreciate my little community at the church. As you ponder your communities, rejoice and thank God for the blessings.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for all that you surround me with, especially my family and my church community. Each is such a blessing to me. In turn, please bless them, O Lord. Amen.


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A Model to Follow

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 3: 6-9

Verse 9: “We did this in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow”.

As the church in Thessalonica begins to develop, there are some growing pains. It is to be expected with most new organizations. Paul and others have come and taught the good news of Jesus Christ. They have taught new believers what it looks like to live out the gospel in a community of faith. Paul and the others could not stay there forever, so now the church continues along on their own. As it does so, new churches need occasional reminders and sometimes they need the ones who planted it to come back for a refresher course.

Most of the content of Paul’s letters falls into two categories. He often writes to continue teaching both churches and individuals about how to live out the faith. These instructions can be applied to most churches and to the lives of most believers. Paul also writes to bring correction or to address as issue. These passages tend to be more direct and address a certain church, believer, or group of believers. Yet, at times, even these can be applied to churches and people. Our struggles are often the same. We find both of these categories in 2nd Thessalonians.

In the section we read today, Paul is addressing two groups that are having a negative impact on the church. There are some who are idle – they are not willing to work. They are simply relying on the generosity of others to get by. Paul reminds them that this was not the example that they set. Paul and friends “worked day and night” so that they could contribute rather than be a burden. Churches today have idle folks. Some are those that come around only when they need something. Others are those who are present but never give. They do not serve in the church and they do not give financially. They come and take and go back home.

Paul also addresses those who “do not live according to the teaching” that was given. Being idle would be one example. Similarly, in churches today, there are people who fall into this category. They come on Sunday morning or Saturday night and worship and bow their heads and listen to the message. Then they go out the door and live a worldly life. Their faith has little or no impact on the other 167 hours of their week.

To all of these Paul says, “We did this in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow”. We, like the church in Thessalonica and like the believers that made up that church, are all works in progress. At times we must pause and consider our progress and seek out areas where we are falling short. Is Paul speaking to you today? Could you offer more to your church? Could your walk of faith be more consistent or be closer to the example set by Jesus Christ?

Prayer: Lord God, as I consider these questions, I know I am far from the example set by Paul and especially far from the example set by Jesus. Draw me deeper into you and your love today. May this love be reflected out in all of my life. May it be so, O God. Amen.


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A New Earth?

Reading: Isaiah 65: 21-25

Verse 24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”.

God’s vision for a new heaven and earth begins with caring for basic needs. The people of God will have houses to live in and food to eat. This leads to enjoying the work of their hands and to a better quality of life. People will live longer and children will not experience misfortune. In Isaiah’s day this vision gave hope to those living without these basics. The realization of this vision would bring hope to many yet today.

Many in our community and likely in yours struggle to meet basic needs. It is currently 7° outside. There are families that are cold this morning because there is no propane in the tank. They are running the oven with the door open for heat. In many pantries and freezers there is food aplenty. Yet many children will go to school hungry. There they will receive breakfast but the adults back home do not. The vision in Isaiah is wonderful. But we cannot be content with waiting for that future reality. It is too distant from many people’s daily reality. In our communities this should not be so. As people of faith, we should not be comfortable with the poverty and inadequacy of food and safe shelter in our midst. Bringing a better version of life for all could be more of our vision.

Father God is casting a vision for all of his children. God promises, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”. God is eager to be in connection with us. In my mind’s eye I see God leaning in, hand cupped to ear, waiting to hear our prayers and our praise. The vision we find in Isaiah ends with a beautiful image – all of creation living in harmony and peace. There will be no harm or destroying on God’s holy mountain. This is a reference to the new Jerusalem, the new earth.

Can this not be an image for today, for our communities? Caring for and meeting basic needs begins to build a relationship. The building of a relationship can lead to sharing God’s hope and peace. As people of faith, may we seek to enter the lives of the hurting and broken, first meeting basic needs and then sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to bring hope. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, we have so much and are blessed over and over. Make us aware of and responsive to the needs around us. Bend my heart towards what breaks yours. Lead me to action. Use me to make this place more like Isaiah’s vision. Amen.


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Shining for All to See

Reading: Jeremiah 18: 6-11

Verse 11: “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”.

In today’s reading from Jeremiah God widens the circle. The metaphor of the potter and the clay is expanded to the nation. The application extends to all nations and people groups. In verses seven through ten God outlines how this works. If a nation is doing evil it will be uprooted and torn down. But if it repents of its evil, God will relent. The reverse is also true. These verses imply that God is engaged not only in our personal spiritual lives but also in the public and corporate lives of our communities and of society.

Together people form a community. This happens at all levels. Our families and our churches are the base level and this is where our faith lives seem most evident. Our identity or our “collective life” comes from the sum of us. In a church, for example, if most of the people are friendly and welcoming, then the church will be friendly and welcoming. Jeremiah is extending our lives out further today. Jeremiah is implying that how we live out our lives of faith in our community, town, city, state, and/or nation affects the social and political realities of said groups.

As people of faith we can seek justice for all and can stand with those facing injustice. As people of faith we can seek to be positive contributors to the projects, events, and happenings in our localities. As people of faith we can care for and call others to care for the marginalized and victimized. As people of faith we can work for peace and reconciliation in our spheres of influence. As people of faith we can be strength and comfort and aide in the midst of loss, violence, and other tragedies. As people of faith we can speak words of love and understanding instead of words of hate and division.

Through Jeremiah God warns Israel and, by extension, all nations. In the last verse of our passage today we read, “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”. No, as people of faith we cannot be a part of the evil or injustice or abuse or… But, yes, we are also called to live out an active and engaging faith. We are called to let our light shine for all to see. In doing so we strength not only our own faith, our families, and our churches, but our communities as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be light and love outside the walls of my home and my church. Lead me to shine your love and light out into my neighborhood, my community, and beyond. Amen.


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Hands and Feet

Reading: Luke 14: 12-14

Verse 13: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed”.

The list Jesus suggests in Luke 14 is not all-inclusive. Do not think that because you do not know or encounter anyone on this list, that you are off the hook. This is a general list of who was marginalized by society in Jesus’ day. Back then there was no government assistance, no shelters, homes, or places for the blind… Add to this the Jewish understanding of sin causing said ailments and conditions, and these were the people who lived on the fringes, who had to depend on the kindness of strangers to survive.

In my last community there was a sizeable homeless population. There were lots of opportunities to serve a meal, to help out financially or with other donations, to even engage personally. In my early years my involvement was helping to cook and servr a meal at the shelter or giving someone on the street a few dollars. As opportunity arose I began volunteering one afternoon a week at a day center for the homeless and thr economically disadvantaged. This connected me in a new way to those living on the fringes. In turn, I was able to invite someone to lunch instead of just giving them the $5 they were asking for. Maybe that is past your comfort zone, but there is a place to start.

Maybe you do not have homeless persons in your community. But there are certainly opportunities to give to those in need. Perhaps you cannot give monetarily, but we all have time. In my new community there are no homeless people, but there are many struggling financially. For these, help with an electric bill or with a little food or clothing are opportunities for ministry. For those who are gifted accordingly, helping someone to budget and understand money can make a huge difference.

There are many other ways to minister in every community. On Saturdays, during visitation time, folks from church go to the jail and hang out and color with the children whose moms or dads or grandparents are visiting a loved one. Our youth decorate Christmas cookies with the residents of assisted living centers and then make them Valentine’s cards later in the year. There are many ways we can be the hands and feet of Jesus. How can this happen in your community?

Prayer: Lord, help us all to see the opportunities to serve those on the edges. Lead us to be your hands and feet. Show us how to build relationships as we minister to those in need. Amen.