pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Action

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse Eighteen: “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”.

Already in the early days of the church John was seeing a struggle between the words Christians said and claimed and the actions that they were living out. In the first chapter of 1st John, he encourages the followers of Christ to walk in the light. Walking is an active verb – John wanted them to walk in the faith or to have an active faith. He continues this encouragement in chapter two and then turns to warnings against loving the world and being led astray by false teachings. In chapter three John turns to our call as children of God and how to live righteous lives. It is within this chapter that our passage today lies.

For John and for the church today, we cannot separate the idea of being a Christian from the idea of love. The two cannot be separated. Jesus was all about loving others and that is one of Jesus’ primary directives to His followers. In most churches, we do this very well with each other. Yes, we will disagree now and then, but by and large the folks in our churches love one another well. Those John was addressing must have done this well too. The challenge comes in loving those outside the walls of our churches, those who are different, those who struggle with sin or hardships in their lives.

John was challenging the church to love those in need in a time when persecution was high. We are challenged today in a time when it is pretty safe to be a Christian. Yet we too struggle to always help those who cannot help themselves and to offer self-sacrificing love that goes out and meets people’s needs where they are at. John wrote, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”. Don’t say you love your neighbors but actually go out and love them. Don’t see injustice and do nothing about it. Don’t see the hungry without feeding them, the naked without clothing them, the lonely without visiting them…

There is much need and brokenness in our world. There is much love in our hearts. May the two meet not only in our thoughts and words but out there in the real world too. May we each be a part of making this happen today.


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A Day of Quiet and Reflection

Reading: Matthew 27: 57-66

Verse 59: “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock”.

Today is a hard day for the followers of Jesus. It is a day of waiting. We read today of a brave man named Joseph who wanted to care for Jesus’ body at the end of the day Friday. He did not want the body left on the cross on the Sabbath. So Joseph gets permission from Pilate to place Jesus’ body in his own tomb. We read, “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock”. In John’s gospel we are told that Joseph had a helper. In John 19:39 we read that Nicodemus, the one who secretly visited Jesus at night, helps Joseph. A seed planted by Jesus has obviously been at work in Nicodemus.

Also present are two of the women who were regularly in the group that followed and cared for Jesus. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses “were sitting there opposite the tomb”. They are present maybe for a couple of reasons. One is practical. The placing of Jesus’ body in the tomb was quick and temporary. The women intended to return after observing the Sabbath to properly care for Jesus’ body with the usual spices. They were also present to mourn and grieve. To be physically near the one who has just passed is something that can bring some peace and comfort. In these moments, what else can one do?

This day has traditionally been a day of waiting. For Christians, we know what happens tomorrow – the grave is empty! Today we wait with anticipation and excitement. But, for Jesus’ followers, this day is a day of mourning and a lot of “now what” questions. It is a day of stillness and quiet. It is a day of confusion and discomfort. We have all been through the day after losing someonene dear. We all know the emotions and the thoughts that run through our hearts and minds. We know just what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and all of Jesus’ followers felt that day.

Today, may we too enter the stillness and the emotions of what it would be like to not have Jesus’ presence. In the stillness may we connect to the women outside the tomb. In the consideration of not living in His presence may we come to rejoice in the glory of living daily with the power and presence of the risen Christ. Today us a day of quiet and reflection. For us there is no sadness, for we know that Easter is coming. Hallelujah and amen!


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Narrow and Hard

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s passage is all about commitment, dedication, obedience, discipline, and, ultimately, transformation. This call to discipleship is hard. That is why Jesus said the way is narrow in Matthew 7. Faith is just like all other things of great value – it requires a great deal of effort to attain our goal.

Jesus begins today’s key verse with, “if anyone would come after me”. He is implying the first thing about faith is a choice. All people everywhere have a sense of God one way or another. Some sense a higher power, some sense God in the created world, some sense God in the “there must be more to life than this” feelings. Faith begins with the inner urge to live for and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Beginning a relationship is the first step.

Next Jesus turns to those big words I opened with, saying, “he must deny himself”. Denying self and our own wants and desires is the beginning of living out our faith. When asked, Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. When we truly do this, there is little room for self. In denying self, the transformation process also gets under way. The study and practice of our faith through prayer, worship, Bible study, … is what begins to transform our hearts and minds so that we begin to see and feel and think as Christ did.

Then Jesus turns to our calling. He next instructs us to “take up his cross”. As we are transformed more and more into His image, we come to discover that special blessing or talent or gift that God has given us to serve His will. Some teach, some preach, some feed, some clothe, some visit, some sing, some clean, some sew, some lead, some transport, some… The cross represents Jesus and our gift or talent is how we share Jesus with others. Our “cross” is what helps others to connect to Jesus.

Once we have been drawn into relationship, once we have been transformed to love God and others more than self, once we have found our niche in serving God, then and only then can we say we follow Jesus. May we all choose the hard and narrow way of Jesus today. It is through the Lord that we find the life truly worth living. Blessings on your journey.


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Valued and Loved

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 1-13

Verse Nine: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”.

As human beings, we all have behaviors and inclinations that can be sinful or can lead to sinful actions. For some, it can be an addiction such as alcohol or drugs or gambling or pornography. For some it can be gossiping or judging or being overly critical. For some it can be pride or ego or selfishness. For some it can be the drive to succeed at work or to excel at a sport or activity. There is no shortage of ways that we can can stumble. So when Paul says, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”, he is asking us to filter almost all we do and say and are through this idea.

Paul wants the Christian community to love each other above all else. Paul sees call to love God and to love neighbor that Jesus elevated to top priority as the core of the faith community. When we truly love God we will refrain from believers that are determined to ourselves or to others we love. When we truly love God we will return from believers that are destructive to ourselves or to others we love. When we truly love others, we will not gossip about, judge, … them because these things only being harm and hurt. When we love God other above all else, we will not make work or personal interests our priorities. By choosing to refrain from these behaviors and inclinations we are choosing to not be a stumbling block to others.

When we do avoid these, we open up the possibility to better see as God sees. When we consider God and others before ourselves then we will pour into their lives and build them up as we come to better see the other as valued and loved by God. In turn we also come to better see our own beloved child status. May we all choose love, building one another up as we grow and move forward as the body of Christ.


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One True God

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse One: When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming…

Over and over and over again, God has provided for and protected the Israelites.  Whether it was opposing armies or food or water or which way to go, God has been there.  Moses has been their leader through it all.  He has led by example and has always been faithful to the Lord God.

As we grow and mature in our faith, we come to trust in God and His presence and protection.  Our experiences when God had been there over and over builds our trust in Him and we come to believe that God will be there again and again.  But this can be such a fragile balance.  Something happens and doubt or fear or anxiety creeps in.  We turn to something other than God to curb our doubt…  we ignore what is going on… we cope in some unhealthy way.

We can relate to the Israelites’ choice in our passage today.  Moses has been gone a long time.  A LONG time.  They fear going into the presence of God.  They look up and see the “thick darkness” that Moses disappeared into.  We too can feel that our lives have slipped into such a place.  We can feel as if God were absent during these times.  But God is always present.  Like the Israelites, it is we who turn away.

In Moses’ absence, the people turn to Aaron.  He is #2 in command.  Aaron is a little less steady, a little less assured, a little less connected to God.  He wants to be a pleaser.  He fashions a golden calf to soothe the people’s fears and doubts.  The people willingly worship this idol – they are glad to be rid of their feelings of discomfort.  Our inner self can relate well.  Like Aaron, our inner self is willing to take over, to just do something to solve or at least alleviate our situation.  Like the people, our inner self is willing to do whatever to not feel those bad feelings.  We turn to other or self instead of turning to God and trusting in Him.

In our lives, when the storm clouds rise or when worry or doubt or… well up, may we turn to the only One who can save and protect – our One true God.  May we trust in God alone.


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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.