pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Overflow

Reading: Romans 15: 7-13

Verse 7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”.

Stop. Read verse seven again. Slowly. The words “as Christ accepted you” are powerful. Jesus accepted me as I am. That includes my sin, yes. But, more than that, Jesus accepted me knowing that I would sin again. And again. And again. A love so perfect, accepting me as I am, is a powerful love. The “you” is also universal. Jesus’ love and acceptance knew no bounds. Many rejected Jesus. But that did not stop him from loving even these.

Rejection is something we must consider if we are to really live out this verse. To the proper Jews, the Gentiles were base and vile. They were to be avoided. But to Jesus, to Paul, to the early Christians, the Gentiles became ones to accept, to love as Jesus had first loved them. The Gentiles were simply people in need of Jesus’ saving love. The rejection did not come from the Gentiles. It came from those proper religious folks who would not go there themselves. Jesus experienced this kind of rejection too. He ate with the sinners, touched the lepers, healed on the Sabbath. Oh the things Jesus would do to love another.

That’s what this passage is calling us to. It is so easy to love those like us, those that fit the same boxes we fit. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”. For Jesus, the “you” was universal. Ours should be as well. But be prepared – some will ridicule you for ministering to that people or in that neighborhood. Some will reject you because you love and accept those kinds of people. Do not worry – Jesus was rejected too. To those who accepted Jesus, he was life. That is what brought praise to God.

I close with Paul’s closing: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

Prayer: Oh God! Fill me with that hope, joy, and peace. Fill me so much that I overflow. Use me today as you will, O Lord my God. Amen.


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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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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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All Nations, All Peoples

Reading: Luke 4: 21-30

Verse 23: “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”

It is likely that almost everyone in the synagogue in Nazareth knew Jesus – many since He was a baby or since He was a small boy. As He claims that He fulfills the prophecy from Isaiah 61, many in the crowd think or say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son”? Isn’t Jesus just the carpenter’s boy? Hearing or sensing this, Jesus says, “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”. It is hard to be at home as something or someone different than you were just a few months before. The crowd, who are hanging in the balance, want to see someone new, someone who has made good. To know it is true, they want to see a sign, a miracle. They want proof for who Jesus is claiming to be.

Perhaps the words from Jeremiah 1 – the words that we have been looking at the past two days – began to ring in Jesus’ ears. Maybe Jesus hears God reminding Him of who He was created to be. Jesus knows the plans that God has for Him. Perhaps this is what keeps Jesus from offering a sign at this moment. Pretty fresh off of the temptations in the wilderness, perhaps Satan returns with a fury, egging Jesus on to ‘just do it’. Satan would delight in Jesus using His power for the wrong reasons – to bring Himself glory. But Jesus resists all of this.

Instead, Jesus chooses to redefine their understanding of God and faith. To His audience, who are part of the chosen people, Jesus shares two stories that illustrate that God is bigger than Israel’s God. In reminding them that God rescued a foreign widow’s son fro death and healed a Syrian army commander of leprosy, Jesus is saying that it is not all about Israel. The idea that God’s love extends beyond them, beyond the people who keep the circle tightly closed, beyond the people who look down upon all outside of Israel as Gentiles, this was too much.

Yet we know it is not too much. To go just to Zarephath or to heal just an outsider who wanders in is not enough. Jesus called us to go to the ends of the earth, to make disciples of all nations, if all peoples. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, may I live into Jesus’ vision of the kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom that includes all people. May I see all as a part of your family, especially those who have trouble seeing it themselves. Guide me to help others to become someone who walks in the light and love of Jesus. Amen.


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Come

Reading: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

Song of Songs is one of the five books of poetry that we find in the Bible. In general, poetry is flowing and beautiful and draws us in. Of all the books in the Bible, I think Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) is the most beautiful. This book is primarily an exchange between the “beloved” and the “lover”. It is the story of their young and passionate love for one another.

Today’s passage is set in the springtime. The winter is past and the spring flowers are blooming and the doves are cooing. The lover arrives and says to the beloved, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. He is inviting her to take his hand, to run through the wildflowers, to feel the warmth of the sun. His invitation draws us in as well.

Song of Songs, like most romantic poetry, reminds us of love. It also reminds us of the power of love. For me, these things draw me to God and on to Jesus. Both represent love. In the Old Testament, it was the God of the chosen people, the Jews. Above all others, God loved and cared for the Israelites. In the New Testament, Jesus continues the work of loving one. Jesus was a Jew but His love was soon carried to the Gentiles as well. Jesus extended God’s love by also loving the outsider, the leper, the prostitute, … The disciples continued what Jesus started with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) by following Jesus’ command to bring the good news to all people of all nations.

In the New Testament we also find the language of bride and groom. This language evokes the images of young love that we find in today’s passage. In the New Testament, Jesus is the groom and we, the church, are the bride. One day we will be united with the eternal Jesus. In Revelation 22:7 we read, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come'”! A few verses later, Jesus responds, saying, “Yes, I am coming soon”.

Lord Jesus, whether you come in final glory today or whether we simply experience you in our hearts today, we too invite you to come. Come, be with us Lord Jesus. Come and be present to your faithful ones today. May it be so today. Amen.


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Room to Improve

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 45: “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”.

Mankind has long had an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. The dividing line can be drawn over many different characteristics and usually is drawn because of some level of ‘better than’ beliefs. Whether it has to do with race or nationality or ethnicity or education or socio-economics or gender or age or religion or… there is an artificial distinction created and an air of superiority floats over it all. There is a natural tendency to do this. To a degree we all like to be the best or at least to see ourselves or the group we belong to as the best.

Peter and the rest of the Jewish Christians thought so. Jews who had accepted Christ were the best, followed next by the regular Jews, and then there were the Gentiles – everyone else. It was ‘us’, ‘almost us’, and ‘them’. We still do this today. We each think this of our church or of our denomination. There is the Methodist Church, other Christian churches, and then non-believers. Each of us would substitute our own church or denomination in the first place. If we did not we would be attending a different church each Sunday morning. But ‘our’ must be universal, not singular and exclusive.

In today’s passage God demonstrates that all people are invited into faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit blows across all barriers and distinctions and includes all people. Verse 45 reads, “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”. The words ‘even on’ indicates the early church’s struggle with this new revelation. We too may struggle at first. But if we are open to the work of God in all forms then we too will accept all whom the Spirit calls. Once we get to know another and discover their heart for God, then we will see them as just another brother or sister in Christ. When we see the image of God in others, then we grow to love them as God loves them.

We remain far from being an ideal church. Individually we all have room to improve. In all, love remains the key. Each day may we strive to be more like Jesus Christ, to love more like He did. Today may we be more like Christ. And tomorrow may we love more. And the next day too. Holy Spirit, blow into our lives each day, leading us to love more fully and more completely. Amen.


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Astonished

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 44: “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”.

All of us like order and rules. Having structure to our lives brings us a sense of comfort and peace. When we know what to do and what to expect, it removes the stress and the anxiety of the unknown. I think that is why it is hard for many of us to fully trust the Holy Spirit to lead our lives. You just never know how and where the Spirit might lead.

Peter was born and raised into the Jewish faith and worldview. He, like many of the apostles, we’re steeped in the Jewish faith with all of its laws and requirements. The Jews were the chosen people – the only chosen people. But in a vision God revealed to Peter that all people were clean because all people were created by God. Then, earlier in Acts 10 and just after this vision, the Spirit leads Peter to go to the house of a Gentile. With some reluctance, Peter goes. This is where we meet up with Peter today in our passage. As if to prove that God is still fully in charge we read, “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”. Right in the middle of his sermon, the Holy Spirit invades. Did not wait for him to finish. Did not wait for the altar call. Just bam! The Holy Spirit goes to work and enters people who are Gentiles. No circumcision, no profession of faith, no nothing. What about all the rules and requirements?

The Holy Spirit totally disrupted Peter’s understanding of the world, telling him there are no clean and unclean, no Jew and Gentile in God’s world. And then the Spirit tosses aside the “that’s just how we do things around here” traditions and comes to dwell in the hearts of these Gentiles. Peter and the believers who came with him are astonished.

When we really allow the Holy Spirit free reign in our lives, then we too will be astonished. May it be so today.