pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Good and Pleasant

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind… they shared everything they had”.

What a beautiful picture of the community of faith is painted for us here in Acts 4! The day of Pentecost had just occurred and God added to their numbers in a big way. The power of the Holy Spirit that came at this event also carried Peter and John through their time before the Sanhedrin. There is a buzz and excitement and energy about the church. There is a tangible sense of hope and promise amongst the people. And there is a tremendous feeling of community. All of this is summed up in verse 32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind… they shared everything they had”. It was all the church is supposed to be: community, harmony, love, care, generosity.

I believe this is still God’s vision for the church. When one studies Jesus’ ministry, these are the things that He was all about. He always sought to invite the stranger in, to love and care for those in need, to build a sense of community and belonging, and to do whatever He could to improve someone’s faith and life. In our day and age, at times the church is like this. We rally around our own in times of loss or hardship. We still pull together to do some wonderful things for our church family and for our wider community. Folks will even give a bit extra when they experience God’s blessings in their lives, knowing that the church still does much good in the world.

Yesterday we read these words in Psalm 134: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony”! Yes, yes it is. As communities of faith, when we live with the love and generosity exhibited by the early church in Acts, then others will be drawn to faith. It will not be because of the generosity itself. They will be drawn to the love. Jesus said that they will know we are His followers by the way we love one another. Yes, it is good and pleasant to live together in harmony and unity and love as brothers and sisters in Christ.

What can you do this week to build the unity and harmony and love that is exists in your faith community? What generous act might God be calling you to this week?


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Love and Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse One: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”.

In today’s Psalm, there is a connection between unity and blessing and anointing with oil. The opening verse begins this relationship, stating, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”. Who is it good and pleasant to? Certainly to God but also to the community of faith itself. Living in harmony and unity is how God intends our churches to be.

The psalmist goes on to compare this type of living to an abundant anointing. The overflow of oil is obvious and extravagant – much like the love that pours forth from a community of faith living in unity with each other and with Jesus Christ. This anointing is not the slightest dip of the finger that traces a thin line of a cross on someone’s forehead. It is a pouring out of blessing that runs down the face and through the beard and onto the clothes. The anointing in the Psalm is a thorough and complete blessing that is obvious for all to see.

When people walk into our churches and communities of faith, do they sense and feel unity that pours forth, overflowing like the oil on Aaron’s beard and robes? Does the love and care for one another and for the stranger in our midst burst forth like this oil? Or is there just a hint of unity and love, that like that thinly traced cross that can be seen if one really looks?

The love and unity present in our faith communities should be obvious and extravagant and generous. It should freely flow out to and over all who enter our community. The Psalm closes with, “there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore”. May our love and unity flow out like the oil in today’s Psalm, blessing all who enter our midst.


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More in Love

Reading: Romans 12: 9-17

Verses 9 and 11: Love must be sincere…  Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

For Paul, faith was something that must be lived out in the world.  Faith cannot be just in one’s home or even just within the walls of the church.  Our passage’s key theme today is love and what that looks like in our relationship with God and within the context of community.  The love of Christ that Paul knew and was guided by is the same love that we know and are called to live by.

In today’s passage Paul weaves together the personal and the corporate aspects of Christian love and faith.  He begins with the foundational element: “Love must be sincere”.  Love cannot be faked nor can it be reigned in.  It must be like Jesus’ love: all out for all people.  Paul addresses what our corporate love should look like.  He advises us to be devoted to each other, to honor others above self, and to not be haughty but to associate with all.  Paul also instructs us to be there for one another – to celebrate the joys and to mourn in the sadnesses.  In other words, be a good friend.  For Paul that also includes sharing with all in need, practicing genuine hospitality.

Paul also speaks to our personal relationship with God.  He encourages us to “Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord”.  For Paul, his love of Christ did not waver – it was always full-on, never stop love.  There was always another lost soul to connect to Jesus Christ.  He challenges us to have the same love.  To this end he offers some practical tips: hate evil and cling to good, be joyful in hope, be patient in the trials, and pray faithfully.  These were the things Paul practiced.  He knew that these practices would keep us in love with God.  This relationship with God is like all of our other relationships: the more we put in, the more we get out.

To a small degree we have the choice to love as God loves.  We, at times, can make the choice to love or to hate, for example.  But in general we are of the flesh and cannot always make the good or loving choice.  God’s presence and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are the keys to a steady walk with God.  The more we choose to seek God’s presence, the less we rely on self.  The more we listen for and heed the voice of the Spirit, the louder that voice grows.  Day by day may we seek God’s presence and may we strive to hear the voice of the Spirit above the din of the world.  In doing so, we will walk more and more in God’s love and grace.  May it be so.


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Radical and Generous

Reading: Genesis 18: 1-15

Verses Four and Five: Let a little water be brought… let me get you something to eat.

Abraham and Sarah receive three men and they extend gracious welcome to them.  They recognize them as strangers.  Abraham first requests that these three men stay for a while.  To help them in their decision, he offers, “Let a little water be brought… let me get you something to eat”.  In showing good hospitality, Abraham offers them a way to clean off the dust of their journey and a way to refresh themselves.  They prepare bread and meat for their guests, sharing abundantly with these three guests.  It is an illustration of generous hospitality.  The men stay and in the end bless Abraham and Sarah with the promise of a child, even though they are very old.

Often we too have the opportunity to offer welcome to the stranger.  On any given Sunday morning they are in our churches.  On any given afternoon we may cross paths with them on the street.  In these encounters at the personal level, do we quickly extend radical and generous hospitality?  Or do we quickly pass them by, instead focusing on our own needs and concerns?

On the national level, the larger struggle with offering radical and generous hospitality swirls around immigrants and refugees.  Most are seeking freedom or a better future, yet many do not receive a warm welcome.  We turn to fear and worse to deny welcome and to keep up a wall between us.  It is a struggle our nation has always had.  Being a place of freedom and the “land of opportunity” has brought millions to our country.  As Christians living here, what should our response be?

Of course, Jesus called us to love neighbor as self.  He illustrated the results of loving or not loving neighbor in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  He lived the commandment to love others out with all He met so we would have plenty of examples to follow.  The blessing of Isaac was a great blessing to Abraham and Sarah.  For you and I, the stranger also offers great blessings.  It is only when we take the opportunity to engage the other and to offer our love through radical and generous hospitality that we experience the blessings.  This day may we live as He first loved us.


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Generous Living

Reading: Luke 16: 1-9

In today’s passage a manager is fired for poor job performance.  He has mismanaged the owner’s resources.  We do not know if he is incompetent or lazy as well, but we do know he is somehow being dishonest and is wasting the owner’s resources.  The shrewd manner in which he then acts would maybe rule out incompetent.  In a handful of quick transactions, he not only shores up his future, he also gains commendation from the owner.

If we are honest, there are times we too waste the company’s resources.  There are times when we check our Facebook or when we text back and forth solidifying our weekend plans or update our fantasy football lineup at work.  And there are other times when our mind simply drifts for a few minutes.  Some days we would really like to just lay our heads down on our desk and take a little nap.  If the boss notices these types of things a few times, we too could find ourselves unemployed.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to offer our best effort in all we do.  We are called to work joyously in all of our labors – to work as if we were working for the Lord.  Always putting in a good days effort is a witness to our faith.  It is about respect for others and being personally responsible.

Personal responsibility forms us another way as well.  In the parable Jesus offers advice on the use of our resources.  He says to be generous with our money – it will gain us friends.  This idea also extends to our time and talents.  We should be generous with these as well.  When we share what God has blessed us with to help others, we are building up a treasure in heaven as well.  Generous living is a blessing all around.


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Generous

Jesus was all about giving.  He was all about the ways in which He could offer Himself and His gifts to make other’s lives better.  He gave away all that He could for the sake of those He encountered.  Ultimately Jesus gave even His life for us.

The king of the universe who could control anything He wanted – nature, death, physical disabilities and limitations – humbled Himself and took on human form.  He who is more powerful than anyone, stooped down to our level and gave and gave and gave.  He calls us to follow.

Paul writes, “he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”  He was encouraging the church in Corinth to recognize the gift Jesus gave as a means of inspiring them to be generous.  Paul saw the church as a connected body.  He encouraged them to give now when they can and trust, in faith, that when they are in need, others will provide for them.

Jesus taught by example the practice of “self-emptying.”  He showed us the way.  As we give to others, we become less and Jesus becomes more.  In this process we die to self and come to see the world through His eyes.  John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer offers these words, “Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”  God fills us up so that by giving to others we can be empty.  God blesses us so that in turn we can bless others.  This day may we be generous with all we have.

Scripture reference: 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15