pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Resurrection

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15: 1-11

Verse 1: “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you… on which you have taken your stand”.

In today’s passage, Paul is reminding the church in Corinth of the core beliefs of their faith. His opening line is spoken to us as well. In verse 1 Paul writes, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you… on which you have taken your stand”. Paul is calling them and us to remember our foundation, the rock upon which we stand in faith: Jesus Christ. Paul goes on to share just what these facts are: Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose on the third day, and appeared to many people, including Paul himself. These facts form the core of our Christian faith.

The resurrection of Jesus is something that we as the church remember often. In the creeds of the church we recite words that remind us of these facts. In the sacrament of Holy Communion we remember that Jesus died for us. We remember this by using the words “the body that was broken” and “the blood that was shed”. In the sacrament of baptism we remember God’s mighty acts and include Jesus as one of these. As a community of faith, the resurrection is a fact that we celebrate and remember often.

To accept that Jesus came and lived, that He died and rose again, that Jesus is once again eternal in the heavens, is also a confession that we make personally. When we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are processing that Jesus is not only the Lord of our life, but is also the Lord over sin and death. As Savior, Jesus is the One who washes away our sins, freeing us from our guilt and shame. As Savior, Jesus is our salvation, making us new creations with an eternal home in heaven.

When we profess Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are made one in the body of Christ. Faith is not meant to be lived out alone. Yes, we do fight battles within once in a while and, yes, there is a time when we read this our Bibles, pray… on our own. But our faith is lived out together, giving and receiving support and encouragement and accountability to and from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is also hope for the lost and the broken. It is a message that Jesus Himself commissioned all of His followers to share with all nations and with all people. Today, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and the actions of my hands and feet proclaim to all that Jesus is Lord!

Prayer: God of all eternity, thank you for coming and dwelling among us, for living as one of us. In this we find our example of how to love you and of how to love one another. Thank you even more for the gift you gave on the cross and the power over sin and death that you demonstrated there. In this you gave us hope and a way to live free of these chains. Thank you God! Amen.

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Community

Reading: Philippians 1: 3-8

Verse 6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul begins by thanking God for the faith this church displays. Each time that he prays for them he rejoices in their “partnership in the gospel” with him. They must be living out their faith well. Paul also recognizes the end game as well. Their faithful living will lead to the redemption of their souls. In verse 6 he writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Paul is thankful for their place in the family of God both now and in eternity.

Do you have folks in your life that you can say this about? Can you survey those you know and offer up such a prayer of thanksgiving for them? We each have people “in my heart”, just as Paul did, that we too can be lifting prayers of thanksgiving for. There are many in my family and in my circles of church friends and colleagues who have great faith that I am thankful for. Their witness and example encourage and strengthen me on my journey of faith.

For Paul, whether in chains or out preaching the gospel, he appreciated the connection that he has with all Christians everywhere. Paul knows that the family of God extends across geographical spaces and through cultural and social differences. He writes, “all of you share in God’s grace with me”. If he were reading this line aloud, I think Paul would emphasize the word “all”. There is a unity amongst and a connection between all members of the body of Christ. For this too I rejoice. For Christians everywhere, no matter our denominational flavor, we all share the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are all living under the same covenant of grace. In the essentials, we enjoy unity and community. Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for all of those you have and continue to place in my life who live as witnesses to your will and way. They mean so much to me, to my faith. Bless them, O Lord. I also thank you for my fellow Christians, who also seek to bring you glory as together we build the kingdom. Thank you God for the larger community of faith. Amen.


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Love Overflow

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 12: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”.

As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica in our passage today, he is writing to the community of faith. Throughout the Bible, God is about community. In the beginning, God lived in community with Adam and Eve. As the Bible progresses, God’s love story reveals that community is the way we are to live out our faith. Much of our faith continues to be practiced in community. Our sacraments focus on being a part of the community of faith.

Our culture today has a mix of community and individualism. Most of the things we do are done in community – family, school, sports, work. But within these is a sense or valuing of individual success or achievement. We hear things like, “they wouldn’t be the company they are without…” or “they would not be the greatest team ever without…”. In our culture we raise individual success over the group’s or team’s success.

In a way the same can be said of people in the Bible. For example, we could say that without Moses the Israelites would either still be wandering around the desert or they would have returned to Egypt. In the Bible, no individual is more important than Jesus Christ. No one was a better example of obedience to God. No one loved God and neighbor like Jesus did. Yet these individuals were different than the individuals that rise to the pinnacle of their fields today. Moses and other important Biblical leaders, and especially Jesus, were not about self and individual glory. They were about living in relationship with God and with their communities. They were not just leaders, they were humble servant leaders.

Above all, Jesus’ life revolved around love. It is the focus of our key verse today: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”. During the season of Advent, may we spend time each day in the Word and will the Lord our God, growing in love. And may that love overflow to each other and to the stranger that we meet as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, may love be evident in our community of faith – in the ways we worship you and in the ways we love each other. May that love flow out into our homes, into our neighborhoods, into our schools and work places, so that all will know the love of Christ this Advent season. Amen.


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I am There

Reading: Psalm 22: 1-15

Verse 11: “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help”.

Psalm 22 is full of emotion. David is struggling and he is honest with God about it. This Psalm of Lament almost makes us feel uncomfortable as we read it. Our culture is one of self-reliance and putting on a good face, no matter what the challenge and no matter what is going on inside of us. To feel the honest emotions and to utter the deep cry within us is something we have all experienced. But it is another thing to hear it. Imagine the reaction if your pastor or someone in the congregation uttered such a prayer this weekend in church.

In our Psalm today David expresses things we all have felt. He asks the “where are you God?” questions. He recalls the times that God has been there for others who called out and were answered. To this he asks, “why not me too”? And he reminds God that he has been a faithful follower since birth – “isn’t that worth something God”? These are all questions we want to scream at God from time to time. We surely do in our inner being at times. The Psalm tells us we can do this out loud, in the assembly of believers, in the place where others can join in our prayers and in our suffering.

In verse 11 David writes, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help”. Yes, we too feel this way at times. And, yes, we can remain isolated in our hurt. Or we can be honest and open with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can trust in the power of community that God created us to live in. We can lay our burdens amongst the believers so that we do not journey alone. When the fires rage and the storms rise, may we come to one another for companionship in the valley. “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20).

Lord, help me to be open and honest with my fellow believers. Help me to be transparent, sharing my struggles and trials so that I do not want alone. Joining together, we experience your presence too. Grant me the courage and humility to be vulnerable. May it be so. Amen.


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Community

Reading: James 5: 13-20

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.

Suffering, pain, illness, sin – all are a part of our world and our lives. To go through these things alone is a terrible tragedy. For James, and for us, being a part of a faith community and having a personal relationship with God offers the best methods of dealing with suffering…

James invites us to begin with prayer. It is through prayer that we bring our suffering to God and that we seek relief or repentance. In verse 16 James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. Prayer is very powerful. The power is amplified when we pray in community, when we pray as a gathered community. Each day we also lift one another up in prayer just as others do the same, praying together spiritually. Communicating our needs to God also serves to remind us of our absolute need for God’s presence and activity in our lives.

In a similar manner, James encourages us to gather around those in need of healing, to anoint them with oil, and to pray over them. As we encircle them, anointing and praying in the name of Jesus Christ, we are naming our need for God to come and be at work in our lives. James tells us, “The Lord will lift them up”. May we hold to this promise.

James closes our section today with a good accountability reminder. He gives us the example of Elijah’s prayer that brought repentance to a wayward people. Yes, it took three and a half years. Sometimes our sin is stubborn too. Are you prepared to pray three and a half years for a brother or sister and their struggle with sin? I hope so! When the people repented and humbled themselves, Elijah prayed for God’s mercy and blessing to rain down, and they did both spiritually and literally.

These practices done in community – prayer, anointing, accountability – are all more effective and powerful when done together. As the body of Jesus Christ, may we seek to live and be in community, building up one another and the body of Christ each day.

Lord God, help me to build a sense of community with my family, friends, small groups, and with the congregation. May I lead by example with honesty, transparency, and love. Amen.


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Compassion

Reading: Mark 6: 30-34 and 53-56

Verse 34: “He had compassion on them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd”.

When I think of Jesus, I usually think about love. It is the one word I would use to describe Him. Today’s key verse reads, “He had compassion on them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd”. I think compassion would be a good word for Jesus too. After all, it is closely related to love.

The primary efforts of Jesus’ ministry we’re teaching and healing. They really went hand in hand. All that Jesus taught revolved around a handful of key themes: love God above all else, love others as Jesus first loved us, care for those in need, and worship God in all we do and say. The healings also revolved around a handful of themes: restoring a person to wholeness, returning people to community, breaking down barriers. All of Jesus’ teachings and healings point to the ideal world that God created and is ever at work to bring into being.

The powers of Jesus’ day heard Jesus’ teachings and saw the purposes of His healings. Both threatened their power and they found a way to be rid of Him. Jesus had very little wealth or material possessions. He encouraged His followers to be the same way. He knew that greed and jealousy were the enemies of love and compassion. The ideas of having less and caring for the other run very counter to culture today. Even the most faithful of Christians gets a little uncomfortable when they really wrestle with the idea of just having enough so that all can have some. This is the heart of caring for those in need. Not all people we meet are good and kind and sometimes people make poor choices. These things all challenge our call to fully love all people as Jesus loves them.

To live a life that emulates the compassion of Jesus is really hard. To teach others by our example and to heal the brokenness of our world is a daily struggle because it always calls for less of us and more of Jesus. Although difficult, it is a calling worthy of pursuing. Although we will stumble and fail, it is a narrow road worth walking. May we all ever seek to live out the compassion of Jesus this day, being a fragrant offering to all we meet. May it be so for me and for you.


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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.