pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Light and Love

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Verse 3: “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”.

As Isaiah writes today’s words, most of Israel remains in exile in Babylon. Some of those have melded into the culture there and will not return to Israel. Exile has become home. A small remnant has returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but they feel like foreigners in a strange land. They are not strong or powerful; they feel weak and helpless. Yet Isaiah reminds them that God is with them.

Sometimes I think this is what many Christians feel like in this post-Christian era. We feel like we are in the minority. Much of the time our beliefs and understandings clash with today’s cultural norms. It feels like we are a small remnant. And often we feel powerless in the world, like strangers in a foreign land.

Isaiah speaks words of hope to Israel. He writes, “The Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you”. Even though they feel powerless and a bit out of place, God’s presence rises over them. Their power is not in arms or swords or thick walls around Jerusalem. Their power is in God’s presence with them.

We too can claim this message from Isaiah. In a world too easily filled with darkness, we too are surrounded by God’s presence. God’s presence in our lives fills us with a light and love that we can share with those we know and encounter who are living in darkness. In a nation where diversity and differences seem to be the priority, God’s light and love offer unity and cooperation. Verse 3 reads, “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”. As Christians, we know God’s light and love. May we bring that light and love into the broken and dark world, bringing hope and peace. May this verse be our prayer for the day and for the new year that lies just ahead. May our lives and our faith be a blessing to our world.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of peace and hope, of light and love. May your light and love shine out brightly every day. May the light and love of Jesus in my heart become a beacon of light to all who are lost and living in darkness. May it be so O God! Amen.

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Creation

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34 & 35b

Verse 24: “How many are your works, O Lord! In your wisdom you made them all”.

Here in south central South Dakota it looks a little gloomy this morning. It is overcast and breezy and a little cool. Outside my window I can hear the chorus of many birds filling the morning air. Along the front and side of the house flowers are blooming, bursting forth with color. The leaves on the trees are vibrant colors of green and the lush grass sways rhythmically in the gentle breeze. The world outside testifies to today’s opening verse: “How many are your works, O Lord! In your wisdom you made them all”. Thanks be to God!

If one steps outside my little corner of the world, the diversity of God’s creation grows exponentially. God’s creativity and wisdom brought us thousands of kinds of birds and thousands of kinds of fish and animals and trees and crops and flowers and… and… and… God designed a world that nourishes itself with rains and floods and cleanses itself with fires. He created the seasons not just to bring us variety but also to guide patterns of life. Our world is really an amazing place, all under God’s loving care. As verse 30 says, “You send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth”.

As creatures if this creation, as stewards, we play a role in helping to love our earth and all its creatures. Verse 31 reads, “May the glory of the Lord endure forever”. May it indeed! To this end, may we each play our role well, caring for all that God has blessed us with this day. May our praises to God give thanks for this gift of life all around us and may we rejoice in God’s creation today!


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Barriers and Boundaries

Reading: Acts 8: 26-40

Verse 27: “He met an Ethiopian eunuch… this man had gone to Jerusalem to worship”.

I would love to know the faith back story of the eunuch. He lives in a place far from Jerusalem yet worships God. I would love to know how this man came to know and worship God. Did he learn of God from a Jewish person living in Ethiopia? Did he hear of God from a merchant or businessman passing through the court of the queen?

Whatever the case, his faith in God leads him to come to Jerusalem, the home of God, to worship. But he clearly did not know all the ins and outs of the Jewish faith as he left Ethiopia. He now understands a bit more. The eunuch traveled all that way only to discover that he was not welcome at the temple. He did not meet their requirements. Many others did not either.

Exclusion remains an issue today. Even in the modern world some institutions and places and groups of people exclude others based on color of skin, gender or sexual preference, language, social class, educational level… We can also exclude because “that’s not how we do it here” types of traditions and practices. There are many other ways that we can create barriers and draw boundaries.

Amazingly, the eunuch’s faith is stronger than the rejection he felt at the temple. He is found reading from Isaiah 53. Led by the Spirit, Philip engages the man and answers his question. Philip explains that the passage is speaking of Jesus and then he goes on to share the good news that a relationship with Jesus Christ offers. As they near some water, the eunuch asks to be baptized. Philip baptizes the eunuch. This foreigner, this eunuch, this rejected man is fully accepted by God. In this passage we see that God does not draw barriers or boundaries. All are His beloved and all are welcome to a saving relationship with His Son, Jesus.

The story ends with Philip being taken away to evangelize elsewhere and the eunuch continues his journey, rejoicing in his newfound faith in Jesus Christ. It is a good ending, but we cannot stop here. We must take time to look within and ponder how our churches exclude others. When I look at my church, I see that it does not match the diverse demographics of the community. Does your church match your community’s diversity? If not, you have the same question as I do: why?


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Diverse and Inclusive

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-17

Verse Nine: There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

The opening verse for our passage today again paints a beautiful picture of heaven.  It is the heaven that each who call on the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will inherit.  Verse 9 reads, “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language”.  It is a vast crowd, one so large that it cannot be counted.  It is a very diverse crowd, just as God desires.  This gathering that represents wonderful diversity and open inclusion draws people from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe.  It is the result of the Great Commission.

If this is what heaven will be and look like, is this what our churches and our circle of friends should be and look like?  Absolutely.  Most churches think they are welcoming and open and, indeed, most are.  Most people think of themselves as caring and loving and friendly people, and most of us are.  But being welcoming and caring and loving and friendly doesn’t necessarily include or draw in those who are the least and the lost of our communities and our neighborhoods.

Our church is like most.  There are two main tribes of people in our community, but only one tribe is represented in our church.  There are rich and poor and people in between in our community, but not many who are struggling economically call our church home.  These two examples are but two of the many who are missing from our body of Christ.  A snapshot of worship on a Sunday morning would reveal that we are very homogeneous.  Our community is not.  Our question may be asked at many other churches as well: how do we become more wonderfully diverse and openly inclusive?

It begins by getting to know those in our community who are not present in our churches.  We then must shift to being continually invitational with those we meet and get to know.  As Christians, we must be invitational, inviting others into Jesus’ love.  Then we must be willing to offer radical hospitality.  It is the hospitality practiced by Jesus.  It is the live modeled by Jesus.  It is the love of a humble servant, willing to give of oneself for the other.  It is a love that seeks to make people’s lives better – spiritually, emotionally, economically, socially,…  It is a love that engages people from all walks of life and from every neighborhood in our communitied.  May this be the love that is in us and is in our churches.  May this be the love that flows out of each of us and out of all of our churches.


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One – Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13

Verse 13: We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The church today is made up of many different parts.  Paul uses the body as an analogy for the church.  Our bodies have many, many parts that all come together to form a cohesive and functioning body.  Within the body, each part is necessary and needed for the body to function at its best.  So it is with the body of Christ we call the church.

When we look at the world of Christian churches out there, there are hundreds and hundreds of different denominations. As with all things, diversity is both good and bad.  In most ways, our faith diversity is good and healthy.  Diversity provided options and leaves room for personal thought and opinion and belief.  If every single church were exactly alike, then it would not appeal to nearly as many people as our many denominations do.  But diversity can also work against unity.  It can be too easy to get caught up in our differences.  And sometimes we do.

Verse 13 reads, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”.  The key words in this verse are: all, baptized, one Spirit, one body.  To me, “all” implies a high level of unity.  No matter what our denominational preference, we should all, first and foremost, be Christians – Christ-followers.  Christian first, denomination second.  We are all “baptized” into Christ’s one body.  We are not baptized into a particular denomination.  We are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, into the universal Christian church.  This work is done by the Holy Spirit alone.  It is “the Holy Spirit”, not the Episcopal Holy Spirit or the Baptist Holy Spirit or …  By the Holy Spirit.  There is just one Holy Spirit just as there is only one God and one Jesus.

Yes, the body of Christ is indeed diverse denominationally, yet we are unified as Christians.  May we rejoice as much in our unity as in our diversity.  May we all focus on Christ and our common call to build His kingdom here on earth.


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New Jerusalem

Reading: Revelation 21: 10 & 22-27

In our community, and perhaps in yours, there is a large diversity of places of worship.  There are not only a variety of Christian denominations but other faiths as well.  In a smaller community the diversity is probably less and in a larger city the diversity is probably greater.  Diversity implies a positive.  Diversity adds variety.  Diversity can also bring out our differences and can create divides.  Yet we must remember that our call is to go out and make new disciples of all nations.  When we do this, we must do this in love.

Today’s passage speaks of a time when all will worship God alone.  When the new Jerusalem comes down, it will be heaven here on earth.  There will be no places of worship because all everywhere will worship God alone.  His glory will light up the city all the time; there will be no night.  In God there is no darkness.  The city’s gates will never be closed.  The text says that nothing impure will enter the city.  All in the new Jerusalem will be holy as He is holy.

One of my favorite parts of confirmation every year is our trip to a large city.  We visit a mosque, a synagogue, and an Orthodox Church.  At each house of worship we meet with the leader who shares about their faith and answers any questions we have.  Each visit builds our understanding of others who are not like us in our beliefs.  It also offers us an opportunity to talk to about why we believe what we believe.  It is a great experience that enriches my life and my faith every year.  After each stop I pray for God’s word in Christ to one day be revealed to them. Knowing God’s plan for eternity, may we pray for all not on a journey towards the new Jerusalem to join us on our walk as God calls all of us heavenward.


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Unity and Love

To live in unity and peace as the community of faith can be a challenge.  It takes effort.  Paul reminds us of our call as the body of Christ to work together for the common good.  To best accomplish this he offers three key characteristics to strive for: humility, gentleness, and patience.  When this is how we each walk, unity is much easier to accomplish.

Paul also calls for us to bear one another up in love.  What does this look like?  It looks like coming alongside a brother or sister in Christ when they have lost a loved one.  It looks like showing up when a single mom needs a hand around the house.  It means showing up to babysit a young couple’s children so they can have a date night.

At first glance maybe it seems unity may be hard because we appear to be quite diverse.  But diversity is good.  When we are diverse we all have unique gifts, perspectives, and thoughts that we can offer to each other.  Paul reminds us, though, that we do have much in common.  We worship one Lord and are guided by one Holy Spirit.  We share one common faith.  We practice one baptism.  We hold onto one hope.  We come together as one to worship one God and Father over all and through all and in all.

Together in unity we are strong and powerful and able to do much for God.

Scripture reference: Ephesians 4: 1-10