pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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To Belong Fully

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 29: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

John and Peter have seen the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene has seen and spoken with the resurrected Jesus. This much all the disciples know. Yet the way forward is unclear. Jesus is not in the grave and He has conquered death, but He is clearly not coming back to live amongst them either. So on that first Easter Sunday, they gather behind locked doors. It is into this room still heavy with doubt and fear that Jesus comes. He shows them His hands and feet as proof of who He is. The disciples are overjoyed.

Jesus then announces the plan: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. He then breathes on them the Holy Spirit and commissions them to forgive sins. This was a big deal between Jesus and the religious leaders. Jesus was questioned about this and healed a lame man to prove that He had power and authority from on high. And now Jesus gives this power to His disciples. They were there and witnessed the conflict and anger that the forgiving of sins had caused, so they must know that their road ahead will be hard too. Jesus breathes this same Holy Spirit on you and me. It also empowers us to overcome our doubts and fears and will lead us to help people find a relationship with Jesus Christ that will heal them of their sins.

In the second half of our passage today we focus in on Thomas. He was not there for Jesus’ first visit. When told about it, he says, “Unless I see…”. He too wants to experience what the others experienced. He too wants to see Jesus. A week later Jesus appears again to the disciples and invites Thomas to put his finger in the wounds, to touch and feel that this really is Jesus. For Thomas and all of the disciples it was hard to come to believe. But Thomas does when he sees Jesus for himself. Predicting the many who will come to know Jesus without ever seeing Him, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. It is just the reality for the church as it moves forward without the physical Jesus.

Part of Thomas’ story that we cannot miss is his need to belong. He wants to experience what his friends and future co-workers for the gospel experienced. He wants to be fully included. It is a desire we all have – to know we really belong. As we live out our faith this day, week, and life, may we always seek to help others to step inside the story, to help them know that they belong fully to Jesus as well. May it be so.


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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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Belong

Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 10-16

Think about the groups you belong to.  Some are social, some are work-based, some are faith-based, some are by interest or hobby.  Now, think about why you are a part of each group.  Membership and participation are choices, so why do you belong to these groups?

All humans have a need to belong.  If we do not feel welcomed or included when we first try something out, we are very unlikely to go again or to remain a part of that group.  Once in a while we will give a group a second chance if we see real value or significance in belonging to that group.  Our sense of belonging is very important.

Belonging gives a sense of worth, a sense of support, a sense of strength or togetherness.  Belonging brings with it a sense of security and a feeling of being loved and cared for.  I would guess these are reasons we all belong to groups or the reasons we long to be a part of a group.

In our passage today Paul is addressing a group.  But this group is experiencing some disunity and discord.  The church in Corinth in identifying with different leaders and this is causing division.  Paul is calling them back to the only true leader of the church: Jesus Christ.  In reality, Jesus is the only head of the church.  All else is secondary to Jesus and His love.

At times, we today allow things to divide us.  By “we” I mean the church universal.  Christ is what still binds us all together.  All Christians believe in one God and in Jesus resurrected and alive.  Unity in the church universal is needed more today than at almost any time in our history.  May we as part of the global church follow Paul’s advice and go forth hand in hand with all brothers and sisters in Christ, seeking to make God and His love known in all places.

This must of course begin in each of our own churches.  We must be groups that anyone can be a part of.  And by ‘anyone’ I do mean anyone.  So I ask, can anyone from your community walk into your church and feel welcomed, included, loved?  Anyone?  If our answer is not an honest and robust “YES!” then we have work to do.  Jesus began the church based on love and acceptance of all.  May we be Christ-like in this practice too.


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Bringing Glory

Jesus seeks to draw all people to himself.  In today’s story Andrew and Philip bring some Greek Gentiles to meet Jesus.  The religious leaders note that this Jesus is drawing “the world” to himself.  Their exclusivity is just the opposite of Jesus’ desire to bring all people together.

Jesus declares that the time of judgment is near and that the prince of peace will soon drive out the rulers of this world.  As His death is drawing very near, He again states that it is why He came – to glorify God.  Did the religious leaders see their role in these two things?  Or were they like the disciples, only becoming fully aware after He had risen?  Or were they so blind and jaded that they never got it?

Jesus, our Prince of Peace, came not to drive people apart but to unite them in love.  He came to break down barriers between Jew and Gentile, between haves and have-nots, between religion and faith.  Jesus came to forge a new community based on love, peace, and forgiveness.

Do we today, as His disciples, see our role in this plan?  Do we, as His followers, walk where Jesus walked, inviting all into our fellowship?  Do we, like our Prince of Peace, seek to remove all barriers to our community of faith, encouraging all to share in His love, peace, and forgiveness?  May we too bring glory to our King!

Scripture reference: John 12: 27-33