pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Good Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 21: “Get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you”.

Our passage from James opens with a good reminder as we start our week. James reminds us that God gives us good and perfect gifts. The unchanging God who is from everlasting to everlasting has given us good gifts. When I think of the gifts that God has given us, I think of God himself. The greatest gifts that we have as human beings are God’s best attributes. “Created in His image” comes to mind. God loves us without fail, always forgives us, always reaches out to us, and always cares for us. These are the good gifts from above.

God uses the Word of truth, Jesus, to give us new birth. Through Jesus Christ we become new creations, born of the Spirit. It is through Jesus and His life that we truly see how to take these gifts of God – love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy… – and to use them in our lives and in the lives of others. This is how we are the “first fruits” that James speaks of. We bear fruit both when we live out and when we share these good gifts with others. This is how we live out our faith.

In verse 19 we shift to some practical advise on how to best live in relationship with others. James tells us to listen, listen, listen. And, then, we are to listen some more. “Be quick to listen”. Why? So that we are slow to speak. Hear the other person. Really understand what they are saying and feeling. Being slow to speak begins with listening and then by not thinking of our reply or response until after the other is done speaking. When we practice these two ideas, it really is amazing how it affects James’ next piece of advice.

James advises us to also be slow to anger. When we have really listened to and understood the other, then anger is harder to muster up. When we do allow anger into our hearts, we are far from righteousness. To help with our anger management, James suggests that we first “get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent”. Thinking of myself, I easily think of ego, pride, the need to be in control, judging others as the filth and evil that must go. Perhaps you too struggle with these or maybe you have others. Whatever the case, may we also follow James advice in the second half of the verse too: “humbly accept the Word planted in you”. We do know how and why God wants us to live as first fruits of His grace, love, mercy, forgiveness… This is how we share the good news with others.

In humility, I bow and ask you, O Lord, to purge me of all evil and wickedness. Fill me with your good gifts and use me to share these with others. May I be a first fruit today, bringing you and your good gifts to all I meet today. Amen.

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Good Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 21: “Get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you”.

Our passage from James opens with a good reminder as we start our week. James reminds us that God gives us good and perfect gifts. The unchanging God who is from everlasting to everlasting has given us good gifts. When I think of the gifts that God has given us, I think of God himself. The greatest gifts that we have as human beings are God’s best attributes. “Created in His image” comes to mind. God loves us without fail, always forgives us, always reaches out to us, and always cares for us. These are the good gifts from above.

God uses the Word of truth, Jesus, to give us new birth. Through Jesus Christ we become new creations, born of the Spirit. It is through Jesus and His life that we truly see how to take these gifts of God – love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy… – and to use them in our lives and in the lives of others. This is how we are the “first fruits” that James speaks of. We bear fruit both when we live out and when we share these good gifts with others. This is how we live out our faith.

In verse 19 we shift to some practical advise on how to best live in relationship with others. James tells us to listen, listen, listen. And, then, we are to listen some more. “Be quick to listen”. Why? So that we are slow to speak. Hear the other person. Really understand what they are saying and feeling. Being slow to speak begins with listening and then by not thinking of our reply or response until after the other is done speaking. When we practice these two ideas, it really is amazing how it affects James’ next piece of advice.

James advises us to also be slow to anger. When we have really listened to and understood the other, then anger is harder to muster up. When we do allow anger into our hearts, we are far from righteousness. To help with our anger management, James suggests that we first “get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent”. Thinking of myself, I easily think of ego, pride, the need to be in control, judging others as the filth and evil that must go. Perhaps you too struggle with these or maybe you have others. Whatever the case, may we also follow James advice in the second half of the verse too: “humbly accept the Word planted in you”. We do know how and why God wants us to live as first fruits of His grace, love, mercy, forgiveness… This is how we share the good news with others.

In humility, I bow and ask you, O Lord, to purge me of all evil and wickedness. Fill me with your good gifts and use me to share these with others. May I be a first fruit today, bringing you and your good gifts to all I meet today. Amen.


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Very Nice Folks

Reading: Mark 2: 23-28

Verse 27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.

The Pharisees lived by a lot of rules. The many, many rules had become their way of life and their religion. Following the rules had even obscured their common sense. They were rule followers instead of God followers. This concept is sometimes seen in our churches today.

Jesus’ disciples are walking along and they are hungry. They pick a few heads of grain to snack on. To us this does not seem to serious, but the Pharisees asks, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath”? You see, picking grain was work and work is illegal on the Sabbath. It does not matter if they were hungry. It wouldn’t even have mattered to the rule followers if the disciples were starving to death. It does not matter. They should have planned ahead – they know when the Sabbath is!

Jesus takes this in and responds thusly, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. He is saying to look beyond the rule so they can see the need. Look past being rule followers and become God followers. Have compassion. Show mercy. Extend love. But these are hard choices because this goes against the rules. Sometimes we see this in our churches too.

On Sunday mornings we are a pretty homogeneous bunch. On the last Sunday evening each month, we offer a free community meal. There is not a lot of homelessness in the community, but there is some poverty. Last night we had a struggling family come to the meal. Really nice folks – husband and wife and six young kids, plus Grandma in tow. Kids had big smiles on their faces and I had a nice chat with Mom and Dad. Very nice folks.

As I consider the Sabbath rules that caused so much tension in today’s passage, I wonder how things would go if this family showed up next Sunday morning at 9:00 for worship. Sometimes we can allow rules to get in the way of love and compassion and empathy. Sometimes we can be rule followers instead of Jesus followers. Sometimes it is hard. I hope these very nice folks come this Sunday morning. It is good for us to practice being Jesus followers. Sometimes what we practice becomes what we are. Very nice folks, hope to see you this Sunday morning!


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Here I Am

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verse Five: Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

Moses’ life has settled into a simple daily rhythm.  Life consists of eat, sleep, and take care of the sheep.  For Moses, the wilderness is a welcome refuge.  He grew up safe and protected and in need of nothing as the son of the daughter of Pharaoh.  Then he found out about his heritage, defended a fellow Israelite, and ended up fleeing Egypt in fear for his life.  Jethro had taken him in and life was slow and quiet and peaceful, just as Moses wanted it.

Moses is not alone in his preference for the simpler, more relaxed lifestyle.  Many people choose to do not something because it is just easier.  There is more ease and less commitment to sit on the couch after supper instead of going for the walk.  It is easier to sleep in and watch cartoons than it is to get the kids up and ready for church.  It is easier to ignore the problem when a child has stolen something than it is to knock on the door and engage your neighbor in the difficult conversation.  It is easier to change the channel than it is to watch the news footage and to feel the urge to send some money.  This list can go on and on, can’t it?

Moses encounters the God that he has largely been absent from in the burning bush.  Moses is drawn to this strange site.  Once there at the bush, God has his attention and He calls Moses’ name.  Moses senses who he hears and responds, “Here I am”.  He accepts God’s call to engage again.  God goes on to instruct Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”.  It is a gentle reminder that to be in the presence of God is to be in a holy place.  When Moses realizes just where he is at and just who he is with, fear overtakes him and he hides his face.

At times we too can wander into the presence of God.  Life is just rolling along as we tend our sheep (or sit on the couch or snooze or turn away…) and suddenly God intercedes in our lives.  An injustice or a tragedy or something else triggers compassion or righteous anger or empathy and we are called by God to engage, to get involved, to make a difference.  The unjust or unfair situation is our ‘burning bush’.  Then we too must decide.  As God calls “John” or “Susan” or “Henry” or “Jen” or …, do we too say, “Here I am”?  May it be so.


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God in Us

Reading: 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23

Through Jesus we have a personal, tangible connection to God.  Just as at Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit descended and dwelled in Him, so too does the Spirit come and dwell in us once we ask Jesus into our hearts.  Once we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then we live with God’s presence within us.  This personal, tangible connection is so much more powerful than God just dwelling in the temple or only being found in our churches today.

Because Christ dwells in us once we accept His Lordship, the living presence of God makes each of us holy.  Once the Spirit dwells in us, we are carriers of Christ’s holiness, we are bearers of His light and love.  There can be no presence of darkness in our hearts once Jesus dwells there.  Yes, Satan can whisper lies and dangle bright, shiny objects before us, but he cannot abide in our hearts.  Once we invite Christ in then Satan must work on the perifery of our lives.  Once we begin to live as a Christ-follower, we are filled with Christ’s goodness and are able to tap into that to make Satan flee.

There also communal aspects to Christ dwelling in us.  The living Spirit within causes us to look outward instead of inward.  Christ living in us gives us eyes that see with compassion and empathy and understanding and hope and love.  Through His eyes we see needs and places to share our faith.  Through Christ’s presence in us we are moved to action, being His hands and feet in our world.  This same outward focus helps us build community with our fellow believers.  In the same way that we focus outward with those in need, we also look to be of service to one another and to our communities of faith.  We share and use the gifts and talents that God has given each of us to build up one another for service outside the church walls.

The indwelling of God in us is a wonderful thing.  It forever changed us and our role in the church and in the larger community.  Each day may we live into all God calls us to be, allowing God to work in, through, and out of us.


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Tears of Joy

Reading: Psalm 137: 1-6

Psalm 137 is also a song of lament.  The Israelites held captive in Babylon are strangers in a foreign land.  They miss Jerusalem, their homes, the temple.  The culture and the ways of the Babylonians are strange and often run counter to the faith in God that the Israelites practice.  On top of all this, the Israelites must endure taunts and torment from the Babylonians.  The Israelites are asked to sing the songs of God – the God who loves and saves them.  How ironic the twist as they live in exile.

We look at the news and see the things going on around us and we too lament.  As followers of Jesus Christ we are often “strangers in a foreign land”.  We miss the good old days when everyone knew God, when the churches were full, and when the name of God drew only respect.  The culture and ways of the world are strange and often run counter to our faith and to God’s ways.  And on top of all this, the calls of hypocrites, elitists, and judgmental ring out from those who stand against God and the church.  We often feel and act small for a people who worship the God of all creation.

Our sadness and tears for our world are much like the years shed by the Israelites.  We shed tears of alienation and rejection.  We too are reminded of our reality that we are in this world but not of it.  Our home is in heaven.  We, however, also shed tears of sadness and empathy.  We see so many who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and we are sad.  This great gift of salvation that we received from God is a gift for all people.  The sadness and empathy that wells up in us and knowing the gift of life that we have leads us out into the world to share Christ’s light and love.  As we bring Christ into the world, as we see others coming to know Christ, our tears will become tears of joy over another won for Christ.  We go forth knowing we serve and love a mighty God.  Thanks be to God.


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Pray for All

Reading: 1 Timothy 2: 1-7

Paul opens this section with a universal appeal for us to pray for everyone.  Paul even says to pray for the King and all in authority.  Today he would tell us to pray for the President and all elected officials.  For some this may be a challenge.  Some dislike the King.  But as a Christian, we cannot argue with Paul’s logic: God wants all people to be saved and to come to know the truth found in Jesus.  So Paul calls us to pray for all people.

There are always reasons or obstacles that can make praying for all people difficult.  First of all is our own self-interest.  We want to know what’s in it for us.  It can also be hard to pray for someone who seems to have little connection to our life.  Second, we do not like all people.  It can be very hard to pray for someone we dislike or disagree with.  Yet we are called to pray for all people.  So that they can be saved.

In addition to bringing others before God, praying for all benefits us as well.  We are being obedient to God’s word and this shows respect and love to God.  Praying for all is what Christ did and still does, so doing this brings us nearer to Christ.  Praying for all opens our eyes and hearts to others.  It makes us more loving and empathetic.  It places neighbor ahead of self.  Praying for all replaced judgment with empathy and love.  It helps us to see all as children of God in need of salvation.  Praying for all also leads us to offer healing and hope to a world so in need.  It changes how we speak to and treat others.

Pray for all.  Not only does it bring them before God, it also changes our attitude, our heart, and our outlook.  Prayer draws us into being more Christ-like.  May we pray often.  May we pray for all.  May our prayers draw us ever closer to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.