pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Filled with Joy

Reading: John 15: 9-11

Verse Eleven: “…so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”.

Jesus loves you. Jesus loves me! He invites us to remain in His love. It is a wonderful place to be – in Jesus’ love. Jesus tells us that to remain in His love we must obey His commands. Jesus obeyed God’s commands and remained in God’s love. He invites us to do the same. Why is Jesus telling us this? “…so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”. Love brings joy. Jesus loves you and me.

Love brings joy primarily two ways. One way is by feeling loved. As children, when we felt especially loved by our parents, we felt joy in our hearts. The first time you kissed your first love, you felt joy in your heart. When we experience the love of God in the ways He interacts with and intercedes in our lives, we feel joy in our hearts. For example, today when we partake in communion and once again remember the love that Jesus poured out with His life, we will feel joy in our hearts.

The second way we can have our joy made complete is by being Jesus’ hands and feet, by bringing His light and love to others. When we take time to stop our busy lives to love and serve another in need, the Lord fills our hearts with joy. This happens frequently for me on mission trips. It can be through the changes I can see happening as God goes to work in that young person’s life. It can be in the absolute gratitude expressed by someone we have blessed with a handicap ramp or new roof. And sometimes this joy sneaks up on you. It happens when someone you have not seen in a while comes up to you and says, “Do you remember the time when…?” and goes on to tell you how much what you did or said meant to them. They say it made the difference. Your heart is suddenly filled with joy.

Jesus’ command was to love as I have loved you. His love was limitless and knew no bounds; it was given to all. Jesus loves you and me. May we go forth and love as He loves you and me. Amen and amen!


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Salvation Call

Reading: Isaiah 52: 7-10

Verse Ten: “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God”.

Isaiah writes to a people who are broken, bringing them words of hope and good news.  Our passage opens with, “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news”.  In our brokenness, we too need to hear good news from God.  It is in those moments that perhaps we hear best what God has to reveal to us.  We are receptive and we are searching for something to bring us hope and joy.  So, in a way, at times we would rewrite this verse to say, “How beautiful in the valleys…”

Isaiah speaks to his people of hope through God and salvation through the Lord.  Isaiah speaks of a time when they are no longer in exile, of a time when Zion will once again be home.  When we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with one living in ‘exile’ we also invite them to live into the hope that Jesus gives and to see a time when God redeems and restores them.  In sharing the gospel and our love, we too will help others begin to sing “songs of joy” as God begins to work in their lives, bringing hope, redemption, and liberation from their brokenness.

As faithful followers of Jesus Christ we have many experiences where God has become present to us in our lives.  We have these tangible moments that we treasure; we cling to these experiences in times of trial and testing.  These are the nuggets we must mine and share with others who are where we have been.  It is those stories of when God rescued us from the pit or when God healed our brokenness or when God redeemed us from our sinful ways that help others to see that God could make a difference in their lives too.  It is one way that God calls us to be actively engaged in our broken and hurting world.  It is our call.  Our passage today concludes with, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God”.  May we each be a part of helping those we engage to see this too.


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For Others

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse Three: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty… oil of gladness… a garment of praise…”

The opening lines to Isaiah 61 are a clear call to love all of our neighbors.  These are the words that Jesus read after He came out of the time of testing in the wilderness.  As He stood in the temple, these words from Isaiah 61:1-2 were used as the announcement for what He had come to do.  As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, it becomes clear that these things are what His disciples and all who will follow Him are called to do as well.  There is much joy in proclaiming these words as Jesus did and claiming our role to follow in His footsteps.

During this Christmas season, the children have risen to a new level of awareness in my heart.  Perhaps it is because these are the ones who often have the least and who are most vulnerable.  Whether it is buying gifts for an “Angel Tree” child or assembling a “Christmas ShoeBox” for one in need, it makes a difference.  Whether it is ringing the Salvation Army bell for an hour or two or helping to assemble a holiday food basket for a needy child’s family, it makes a difference.These are but a few of the ways that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, can help a child or their family to feel loved this holiday season.  In doing so, we will “bestow on them a crown of beauty… oil of gladness… a garment of praise…”

May we each find ways to do for others this Christmas season.  Whether big or small, it all makes a positive difference.  May we bless the children with God’s love this Christmas season!


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Remember and Retell

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4 and 12-16

Verse Four: We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.

Today’s Psalm is about remembering and retelling.  It is about remembering the times of God’s presence and activity in the past and retelling it to others.  The Israelites are very good at doing this.  It keeps reminding them over and over of both God’s love and their status as the chosen people of God.  Remembering and retelling keeps them intimately connected to God and His love.

As Christians, we also are called to remember and retell.  We are first called to tell the good news of Jesus Christ.  The Great Commission charges all believers to tell of Jesus to all nations.  In doing do we help people to connect to the Savior.  In telling the story we also remind ourselves of how Jesus saves, loves, forgives, … each of us.  This personal story is the second calling we have to remember and retell.

Each of us has our own personal faith story.  It is the story of how Jesus Christ makes a difference in our lives.  It is the story of how Jesus is better – better than any other god we can chase after, be it money or power or some other religion.  It is the story of how Jesus walks with us through the joys and the trials, lifting us up at times and carrying us at others.  It is a deeply personal story because Jesus is a deeply personal Savior.  And it is a story that others need to hear.  We remember and retell our faith story so that others can see how the good news of Jesus Christ can be good news to them as well.

So what is your faith story?  Why Jesus?  Just as the Israelites pledged to “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord”, we too are called to follow the same.  Jesus put it this way: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  May we go and tell all we meet of our faith in the only one who can save.


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Tell

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6

Verse Two: Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts.

The opening verses to Psalm 105 encourage us to sing our praises to God for all that He has done for us in our lives.  It encourages us to make known to all the nations what God has done.  The psalmist reminds us that the great works of the Lord bring rejoicing and to look to the Lord always to find strength.  It is a wonderfully encouraging opening few lines to a great Psalm of praise.

Remembering and singing of God’s actions in our lives serves two main purposes.  The first is to strengthen and increase our own faith.  When we joyously praise God for all He does for us, then we are reminded of His great love for each of us.  This, in turn, deepens our love for Him.  If we make a regular habit of joyfully thanking God for those times when He was very present to us, they also more readily come to mind in our trials, bringing us a strength and a peace.

The second purpose is evangelism.  These stories of God in our lives that have strengthened and encouraged us and that have helped us mature in our faith are a huge part of our own personal God story.  In answering the Great Commission, Jesus’ call to each believer to share the good news, our God story is the center piece.  Yes, we need to tell of Jesus’ life and teachings and witness, of the gifts of grace and mercy and forgiveness and eternal life, and of the power Jesus had over sin and death.  But we must also tell the story of how God makes a real difference in our lives.  Each of our unique stories of God’s hand at work in our lives will help others to see how God can also bring them the hope, strength, peace, love, mercy, forgiveness, … that they so desperately need.

This day and every day, whether in voice or in deed, may we each, “Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts”, bringing God all the glory and honor.  Amen!


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Unity or Less?

Reading: Romans 14: 10-12

Verse 11: Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.

Paul continues his conversation about diversity in the body of Christ.  He emphasized that most of us are at differing spots in our faith journeys and that we come to the church with our own unique backgrounds and traditions.  Therefore unity must come in and through Christ.  Christ must be the one thing that unites the church.  Jesus is our “bottom line” so to speak – He is Lord of all.

Paul asks why we must judge or look down on our brother or sister in Christ who does not do exactly as we do.  When we choose to judge or condemn or belittle another’s faith or their practices of faith, we are putting ourselves in a place we should not go to.  For example, just because I prefer to read and study and pray in the early morning and another prefers the quiet of the evening does not make one of us “right” or “better” than the other.  If one church uses bread and another crackers, one communion is not better or more acceptable than the other.

The time or particular way we practice our faith are small details we use to accomplish the same goal – to grow closer to Christ as we seek to become more like Him.  This is the goal for all Christians – to become more like Christ.  But at times we fail, so Paul includes a warning, quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God”.  He will not only want to know what we did with the least and the lost, but also how we treated all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Did we practice unity and did we work to bring harmony to the whole body of Christ?  Or did we remain divided, allowing it to be less?


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A Wider Circle

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 27: Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.

A woman whose daughter is demon-possessed comes to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter.  She must have heard of the miracles that Jesus was performing and she comes seeking a miracle for her daughter.  But she does not fit into the mold.  She does not check off the boxes of belonging.  She is not of the chosen people.  She is a Gentile.  The man we know as love rejects her.  In our mind’s eye we see a Jesus who always leads with love and who welcomes everyone, even sinners.  Suddenly our vision is a bit blurry.

After ignoring her for a while, she becomes annoying and the disciples ask Jesus to send her away.  His response: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”.  But she does not give up.  She comes and kneels before Jesus, saying, “Lord, help me”!  It is a desperate mother’s cry for healing.  Surely Jesus will show her love and cast out the demon from her daughter.  Nope.  He tells her He will not take the children’s bread and give it to the “dogs”.  Not only ‘no’ but an insult to boot!

In the first half of the passage, we recall Jesus trying to correct the Pharisees for a law that was a barrier keeping people from God.  And now Jesus himself uses a ‘rule’ to keep a woman at a distance, certainly outside of God’s love.  It is a game we are good at too.  If you are not dressed right or if you don’t have membership or if you are of another culture or if…  We also easily erect barriers that keep people out or at least at bay.  In a similar way, we allow differences to become reasons for why we do not go out and engage the lost.  But she does not give up.  She is persistent.

“Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”.  She says, ok, you can try and reject me and you can insult me, but I still want your help.  It’s hard to say what affected Jesus more – her deep love for her daughter or the faith she had that He could heal her.  He heals her daughter.  And she leaves Jesus changed.  The human Jesus now loves more.  He sees a wider circle.  God’s love is for all people.  Today, may we too look beyond the barriers in our own hearts and may we begin to love a wider circle.