pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.


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Love Well

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Verses 8 and 9: “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”.

Psalm 66 is a song of praise to the Lord. It recognizes some of God’s mighty acts on behalf of the people of Israel. It speaks of how God has refined the people too. There is a corporate feel to the Psalm. But there is also a personal feel. Often when visiting the older members of our congregation, they express gratitude that God has granted them one more day. That spirit also exists in the Psalm.

Many will come to worship in an attitude of gratitude. They enter the sacred space ready to rejoice and to praise the Lord. But each time we gather for worship some come with burdens or grief to bear. The recent loss of a loved one still stings. The news of cancer or some other illness is still rocking their world. The pressures of school and/or sports feels like a heavy weight upon their shoulders. These folks feel like they are in the refining fire or that the water has risen pretty high in their lives. Some will share their burden or grief yet will still leave with it. They are the ones that really need to hear the story of what God has done and can do. They come to worship seeking a little hope.

In verses eight and nine we read, “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”. For most of us, this is where we are. We’ve not always been here though. Because life is life we all can relate to those who question their situation, who question God, who do not feel that they are standing on a solid foundation. Because we have been there, we can provide encouragement and we can offer the hope of Jesus Christ to those with burdens or grief. To know that God is good and to be reminded of God’s love helps them to take one step forward. As people of God, may we love well those that are most in need.

Prayer: God, you are abundant in your love. Your mercies keep coming, new every morning. My life is the story of “come and see what God has done”. Help me to share that story well, introducing others to what you can and want to do in their lives. Amen.


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In Control

Reading: Psalm 137: 1-4

Verse 4: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land”?

The sin abounded, the prophets warned, the tide rose, the Babylonians arrived, Jerusalem fell, and the people were hauled off into exile. Once the world stopped spinning, the Israelites have a moment to catch their breath. It is then that they wonder, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land”?

In our modern world things change at a rapid pace. Advances in technology, science, and medicine, just to name a few, often seem to move at a pace that we cannot keep up with. At times we too pop our heads up and wonder how we got to where we are. Society and culture do have a hand in all of the change and, as a part of these groups, we play a role, each to varying degrees. In spite of that, the world can change around us in ways that we do not like or do not understand. This creates in us the sense of loss and disorientation expressed today by the psalmist.

As people of faith we tend to want to cling to the way things were and we resist change. A big part of faith is built upon our traditions. Yet when we look at the Biblical record we see two big themes of change. First, God is often at work leading us forward. God led the people out of famine, out of Egypt, out of the desert, out of exile. Jesus and the apostles continue this theme in the New Testament, leading us out of Israel and on to the ends of the earth. A second and corresponding theme is the widening or enlarging of the circle. The story behind with one man, then a woman, and soon God’s chosen family grows to be as numerous as the stars in the sky. The family gets even bigger in the New Testament as Jesus and invites in the outcasts, the lepers, the sinners. The circle gets even bigger as the apostles are led to bring the Gentiles into God’s family. In and through all of this God has been in control. God continues to be in control. God will always be in control.

As we continue to experience change, may we trust in the hand of the Lord at work in our lives and in the world. God has a plan. God is in control. May we trust fully in the God of all.

Prayer: God, help me to trust in you. Sometimes I do not understand where or why you are leading; sometimes it is not easy to step out or to keep walking in faith. Increase in me my trust in you alone. Amen.


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Moments of Faith

Reading: 2 Kings 5: 9-18

Verse 17: “Please let me… be given as much earth as two miles can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord”.

Naaman humbles himself and does what Elisha told him to do. It seemed so simple. On the journey over to Israel and then to Elisha’s house, Naaman must have envisioned some grand process to be healed. He must have thought a lot about returning to normal life. He would no longer be an outcast. No longer would his only human contact come through the violence of battle. No longer would others look at him in disgust. There would be a lot of emotions inside of Naaman.

After dipping himself seven times in the Jordan, Naaman’s flesh is restored, becoming “clean like the flesh of a young boy”. Healing! Healing! Naaman and his folks head back to Elisha’s to give him the thank you gifts that they brought. Elisha refuses the gifts. The proud Naaman would have become angry and perhaps left the gifts in a pile in the road. But Naaman is not so proud any more. He knows how he was healed: by the one true God. We cannot miss Naaman’s request: “Please let me… be given as much earth as two miles can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord”. He wants dirt. He must return home to continue his service to the king. But he wants enough dirt to stand or kneel upon to worship God. This request shows how grateful he is for his healing and how moved he is by God. To take a physical piece of Israel home to worship on speaks volumes about the impact of the healing upon Naaman. He wants to remember his God moment.

This is something we all do. As I look back over my faith journey, I can recall images of God moments. These experiences are etched in my mind. There are also physical items – like Naaman’s dirt. Each item is tied to a faith experience that moved me forward on my journey of faith. Take a moment or two and recall your God moments. Join me in thanking God for each and every one of them.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the many ways and times that you have touched my life, reminding me over and over of your love for me. Please continue to do so. Amen.


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Calling

Reading: Mark 10: 46-52

Verse 50: “Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus”.

Jesus arrives to where Bartimaeus is at in today’s passage. The hope that Jesus would pass by is becoming reality. Bartimaeus shouts over and over, “Son of David, have mercy on me” in spite of the crowd trying to quiet him. This will be Bartimaeus’ only shot – the blind man could never get up and go searching for Jesus. This is his one and only chance. Bartimaeus declares who he thinks Jesus is in the name he uses, calling Jesus the ‘Son of David’ acknowledges Jesus’ messianic lineage.

As Jesus and the crowd move along, passing Bartimaeus, Jesus hears Bartimaeus’ calls. Jesus stops and asks the people fo send Bartimaeus His way. Hear the hope realized in Bartimaeus’ response to the call: “Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus”. Leaving all he owns on the ground, Bartimaeus rushes to Jesus and in no time he can see. Jesus tells Bartimaeus that his faith has healed him. Leaving all behind, Bartimaeus then follows Jesus.

All Bartimaeus had to leave behind was his cloak. It is not much – most would probably refuse the tattered thing if it were offered to them. I’d like to think that if all I had was an old coat, I could leave that behind to follow Jesus. I have much more than an old coat to leave behind. How about you? It is paradoxical, but perhaps because I have so much, it is harder to give up a little to follow Jesus.

The voice of God continues to call out through the Word and through the Holy Spirit. Over and over, Jesus calls out. God calls for obedience and love. When our faith cries out, or when it gently nudges us, may we respond as Bartimaeus did – throwing all aside, rushing forward to Jesus.

God, help me to be willing to follow. Help me to lay aside myself and my ‘things’ to follow you. May my faith lead me on, drawing closer and closer to you. Amen.


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An Honest Look

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

A new covenant. A new promise. Hope. Opportunity. How we sometimes long for a fresh or new start. For the Israelites long in captivity in Babylon this word from Jeremiah had to bring great hope. Suddenly there was possibility and hope ahead again. They must have certainly felt like the old covenant was a thing of the past. They were living without a temple and without the systems that had connected them to God. Oddly enough they saw change as a good thing. They did not simply want a return to the way things were. Where they were spiritually and relationally was broken and needed changed. They were full of joy to hear, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

Today we can find ourselves here too. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere. For example, one day we find out that our job has been eliminated or that our spouse is asking for divorce. These types of disruptions are forced upon us and we have no choice but to adapt. But sometimes it is a slow creep instead. This happens in life sometimes. We look up and suddenly realize where we’ve gotten to and know in an instant that something must change. Sometimes this can happen in our institutions as well. Our church that used to have hundreds in worship and dozens in Sunday school suddenly seems a bit empty and without much life. At this point, whether personally or institutionally, we can look for and seek for God to do a new thing or we can continue the slow fade. Sometimes this is the easier choice.

We are still in Lent, so I challenge you to look within – to both yourself and to your church. Do you see growth and movement forward or do you see plateau or regression, complacency or death? These are hard questions to consider. Take an honest look within and go to God accordingly.


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All Things New

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-6

Verse Five: “I am making everything new”.

Welcome to 2018!  The passage of time rolls on.  At this time of the year we naturally reflect on our past year and the passing of time.  It is an opportunity to live for a moment in the space between the past and the future.  This helps us remember that time is temporal.  All that was in 2017 does not necessarily have to be in 2018.  This is one gift of time.

Time keeps us moving forward.  Our sense of time always being in motion does not allow us get stuck.  Yes, we can procrastinate, but we still have this sense that things are moving forward anyway.  On the positive side, this sense also brings us an awareness of new possibilities and allows us to look forward to the next thing that God may bring our way.  What may this be for you in 2018?

Thinking about time also allows us to consider what has been and what is.  Within these considerations we find opportunities for fresh starts and for dreaming.  In these considerations we can also choose to change things or to make efforts to correct or fix things – relationships, choices, habits…  Just as our God is the God of second chances, a new year is also a time for us to make amends and to chart a new course as we enter a new year.  It is in this space that we must pay attention to the Holy Spirit.  Where in our lives is the Holy Spirit bringing conviction?  Where in our lives is the Holy Spirit nudging us to step out in faith or to tiptoe outside of our comfort zones?

In our passage, Jesus says, “I am making everything new”.  This is both a present and a future reality.  Yes, one day Revelation 21 will occur as God returns to dwell among mankind once again.  All will be healed and restored.  Let us not lose the present reality though.  Jesus will make us new every day as well.  He will dwell with us now in Spirit and will restore and redeem all things each day.  Yes, He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.  But He is the Lord of today as well.  This day and every day of 2018, may we call upon Jesus to make us a new creation, holy and perfect in God’s sight, ready to go out to be the hands and feet and love of Christ in the world.  Blessings to all!