pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love Overflow

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 12: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”.

As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica in our passage today, he is writing to the community of faith. Throughout the Bible, God is about community. In the beginning, God lived in community with Adam and Eve. As the Bible progresses, God’s love story reveals that community is the way we are to live out our faith. Much of our faith continues to be practiced in community. Our sacraments focus on being a part of the community of faith.

Our culture today has a mix of community and individualism. Most of the things we do are done in community – family, school, sports, work. But within these is a sense or valuing of individual success or achievement. We hear things like, “they wouldn’t be the company they are without…” or “they would not be the greatest team ever without…”. In our culture we raise individual success over the group’s or team’s success.

In a way the same can be said of people in the Bible. For example, we could say that without Moses the Israelites would either still be wandering around the desert or they would have returned to Egypt. In the Bible, no individual is more important than Jesus Christ. No one was a better example of obedience to God. No one loved God and neighbor like Jesus did. Yet these individuals were different than the individuals that rise to the pinnacle of their fields today. Moses and other important Biblical leaders, and especially Jesus, were not about self and individual glory. They were about living in relationship with God and with their communities. They were not just leaders, they were humble servant leaders.

Above all, Jesus’ life revolved around love. It is the focus of our key verse today: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”. During the season of Advent, may we spend time each day in the Word and will the Lord our God, growing in love. And may that love overflow to each other and to the stranger that we meet as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, may love be evident in our community of faith – in the ways we worship you and in the ways we love each other. May that love flow out into our homes, into our neighborhoods, into our schools and work places, so that all will know the love of Christ this Advent season. Amen.

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Fellow Children of God

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verse 34: “You are not far from the kingdom of God”.

Today’s passage contains what I believe are the two quintessential requirements of our faith. Jesus is asked about the most important commandment and the two He gives summarize our faith practices. If all we do is love God completely and love our neighbors as ourselves, then we will be living out an excellent witness. Today, though, I want to focus on the relationship between Jesus and the man.

We know that today’s interaction occurs within a group of people, but it is as if they are the only two there. In my mind it is a personal conversation that others happen to overhear. It does not matter to Jesus or the man who else us there that day. This happens elsewhere in scripture too. Jesus focuses in on that person and they are all that matters. This is the type of relationship and personal interaction that we are called to have with one another.

People can treat each other poorly. We can have an “I’m the boss and do as I say” attitude that leaves others feeling of little value. We can have a “this is just the way it is (or has always been)” attitude, leaving others feeling powerless. We can interact with people in other ways that diminish, exclude, overlook, discount the other. This is not the way of Jesus; it is not loving God and neighbor.

Instead, Jesus focuses in on the man. I envision Jesus looking him right in the eye the whole time. Maybe He even steps a bit closer or places a hand on his shoulder. This should be the model for our personal interactions with each other. The focus and attention communicate value, worth, importance, acceptance. It says they matter to us, that our relationship is important. As they prepare to part ways, Jesus appreciates the man’s faith, saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. This statement also says “you are drawing close to God”. Jesus sees the heart of God in this man. May our words and actions convey the same to others today as we encounter each fellow child of God. May it be so.

Lord God, slow me down, focus me in. Help me to be one-on-one with each I encounter today. Help me to see you in them. Amen.


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This Cycle

Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-14

Verse 14: “The blood of Christ… cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God”.

The writer of Hebrews references “the blood of goats and calves” that were used to be made right again with God. The Israelites had the same understanding of sin that we do as Christians – sin is wrong, it leads to death, it must be atoned for. To restore our relationship with God we must confess our sins and repent of that behavior or attitude. The offering of a sacrifice would represent a “cost” for the sin. Who or what “pays” the cost is where our understanding splits from the Jewish understanding of atonement.

In our modern culture we continue to do the same thing as we seek to deal with our sins and the guilt that comes along with them. If I say or do something to hurt my wife, for example, I might bring her flowers or chocolate. If I say or do something to injure a relationship at work, I would feel like I should do something to make up for my “sin”. We still feel a need to atone for our sins.

Jesus was the atonement for the sins of the world. It is through His own blood that He attained “eternal redemption”. It is through the same blood that Jesus can “cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death”. Instead of being stuck and dead in our sin, His blood washes it away. Instead of remaining separated from God because of our sin, Jesus removed our sin and the guilt and shame, allowing us to re-enter our relationship with God “so that we may serve the living God”. Through our earthly redemption we can again live out our faith daily, loving God and loving others.

Praise be to God – our redemption is not just earthly. Just as Jesus entered heaven, His eternal redemption, we too may one day join Jesus in eternity. Our earthly journey draws us ever closer to the image in which we are created – God’s image. As we mature in the faith, we become more and more like our Creator. Through the continuing cycle of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption we are being sanctified. We are being made more and more like Christ. As this cycle continues, it works in us to grow our love of God and neighbor. Thanks be to God.

Holy One, thank you for being the atonement for all of my sins. Thank you for being my way, my truth, and my life. Amen.


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Service = Greatness

Reading: Mark 10: 41-45

Verse 43: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave to all”.

The ten are upset with James and John for their request. James and John want places of power and authority. What led them to make this request is unclear, but the ten assume the request is not coming from a good place. Because all twelve need a worldview adjustment, Jesus gathers them around and reorients their viewpoint.

Jesus begins by reminding them how the worldly leaders lord their power over their subjects. Those in places of worldly authority exercise it at will. The disciples probably first thought of the Romans who occupied their nation and then thought of the religious leaders who so often flaunted their power – both over their fellow Jews but especially over the Gentiles. Jesus often clashed with the religious leaders “do-as-I-say…” attitude that was far from how God viewed leadership. The disciples would have no shortage of examples of those who abuse their power and authority.

Jesus begins to counter this worldly understanding of power by saying, “Not so with you”. This worldview is is not the model for the disciples or for any follower of Jesus. Jesus offers a better way – a way that aligns with God’s worldview. In verse 43 He lays it out, saying, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave to all”. This viewpoint is totally upside-down from the world’s viewpoint. To further drive His point home, Jesus reminds them of the example that He is setting. God incarnate, the most powerful One in all of creation, took on flesh not to rule over others but to serve others. And not only that, but He also came to give His life up as a “ransom for many”. Jesus came to serve others and demonstrates this in His willingness to die so that others can find salvation and eternal life. Talk about being a slave to all!

This view of service and sacrifice as the goal of discipleship must have reoriented James and John’s way of thinking. It must have realigned the thinking of the ten. May it realign our way of understanding how we are to live out our faith in the world as well. This day and each day, may we seek ways to serve others, building God’s upside-down kingdom, bringing God all the glory.

Lord of all, help me to be humble, to willingly look first to the needs of others. Make me willing to seize the opportunities to be of service to all I meet. May my life be about giving and lifting others and their needs above my own. Amen.


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Serving God, Serving Others

Reading: Mark 9: 33-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”.

The disciples are arguing about something we can argue about from time to time. As kids, we all argued with our siblings about who was our parents’ favorite. As we got a little older, we discussed who was the teacher’s or coach’s favorite. As we entered into adulthood, the discussion took place most often in our heads. Whenever we did voice our opinion concerning someone being the favorite, it was usually a manner of complaint or gossip.

Unfortunately, most people want to be #1. Some express this by being large and in charge. Some simply want to be the one others look to. Deep down, we all want to be important, to matter. Society teaches us that worth is in our possessions, our titles, our status. This equates out to being the greatest. Faith runs counter to these values and ideas. Knowing what the disciples were arguing about, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”. If you want to be the greatest in God’s kingdom, be the last to consider yourself, be the first to offer yourself in humble service to one and all. How counter-cultural this is. What a radical way to consider greatness.

To drive His point home, Jesus has a child stand among them. In His day, children were at the bottom of the social and familial ladder. Jesus tells His disciples that when we welcome one of these – the least – we welcome Jesus and we welcome God into our lives. When we feed the hungry, visit the sick and the lonely, clothe the naked… then we are serving our needs last, we are being the servant of all. In the process, we often see the face of God in those we meet.

Lord God, this day may I seek to be last instead of first. May I be a giver and not a taker. May I be a person of humble faith, not a person of aloof religion. In all I do and say, maybe serve you as I serve others. May it be so each day. Amen.


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Heavenly Wisdom

Reading: James 3: 13-18

Verse 13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, be deeds done in humility”.

In our passage from James 3, he compares earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. Earthly wisdom is concerned with the self. It focuses on our own preferences and is driven by envy and selfish ambition. In our churches we can see this type of wisdom now and then. It usually arises when change is on the horizon. Change necessitates leaving the familiar and the comfortable. Individually we also cling to earthly wisdom when the Holy Spirit is nudging us to say or do something – for the same reasons. James reminds us that such wisdom is “earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil”.

Our alternative is to choose heavenly wisdom or wisdom from above. This wisdom is the opposite of earthly wisdom. Hear again the words that James uses to describe heavenly wisdom: “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere”. What a contrast! This wisdom leads us to think of God and others more than ourselves. This wisdom leads us to see and love all people as God does. This sounds a lot like how Jesus operated.

Our passage today opens with this verse: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, be deeds done in humility”. In essence, James is asking us who is wise by God’s standard. In a return to the theme of James 2, it is again our works and the fruit of our faith that reveals the true condition of our hearts. When we are allowing God’s wisdom to be our guide, we live out of a good place in our heart, following Jesus’ example. We love and care for those in need. We enjoy good relationships with God, our family, friends, co-workers, teammates, and even with the stranger. We seek good rather than evil. We maintain a humble servant’s attitude as we interact with God and neighbor. In turn, we experience the good life, blessed by God. May it be so for you and for me.

Dear God, fill me with your wisdom – a wisdom that is pure and considerate and compassionate and humble and loving. May all I do and say lift others up. Empower me to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to shine a light on Jesus and His love. This day and every day, may your wisdom guide me. Amen.


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Your Love

Reading: James 2: 8-13

Verse 8: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, you are doing right”.

James was connecting to Jesus and back to Leviticus in the Old Testament with our opening verse: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, you are doing right”. Jesus quoted from Leviticus when asked what the greatest commandment was. This was the second part of the answer Jesus gave. Jesus began with a commandment from Deuteronomy: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. He continued support on by connecting today’s commandment to it. For Jesus and for James, loving the other flows from our love for God. It begins here for us too.

Jesus modeled what it looked like to love God with all of one’s being. In the day to day of life, Jesus reflected God’s love of all people. Jesus welcomed all, extending love while never rejecting or judging them. When the religious leaders came to test or trap Him for the eighty-third time, Jesus responded with loving words from the Scriptures. Yes, at times it was tough love, like with the rich young ruler, but it was always love. Even in such cases, Jesus was always trying to draw the person or persons closer to God.

Jesus understood something we can struggle with. He loved all people because He knew God created all people. Therefore, Jesus knew that God loved them and created them with a good inside of them. Jesus sought to bring this out so that all could be in a righteous relationship with God. Sometimes we can struggle to see past a person’s appearance or beyond their situation in life. When we stop at the color of their skin or at their socio-economic status or at their addiction or with their past sins, then we are not seeing the end product that God created them to be. And if we cannot see it, we cannot be a part of helping that to come out and of seeing it blossom into a new creation in Jesus Christ.

Father who loves all, sometimes I struggle with how I see people and with judging on a shallow level. God, rid me of my limited vision and understanding. Give me eyes that see as you see and a heart to love as you love. Help me truly understand your love so that I may extend that love to others. May it be so for each and every person I meet. Amen.