pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love to Give

Reading: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-8

Verse 8: “Love never fails”.

Today we turn to the famous “love chapter”. It is popular at weddings because love is the core ingredient of a lifelong commitment. But Paul did not write these words as a homily for a wedding that he was going to officiate. Paul wrote these words because he knew that love had to be the core of all of our relationships – with our siblings and parents, with our spouse and our children, with our teammates and workmates, with our friends and with the stranger that we meet.

Paul seemed to know a few folks who were talented – one could move mountains – or who were kind – one who gave generously to the poor. He also knew that we can do good things yet they can be meaningless to God. Yes, giving food to a hungry family is good and meets a need, but if I do it grudgingly in my heart or with a look of contempt on my face, then it is “nothing”. It matters not to God if not done in love.

Paul also must have known what we ourselves experience. It is not always easy to love. He reminds us of what love is and does: patient, kind, rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. And he reminds us of what love is not: envious, proud, boastful, self-seeking, easily angered, score-keeping. Loving others is hard. Yet as followers of the One who was love, it is what we are called to be too.

Our passage today closes with, “love never fails”. Paul is speaking of God’s love here. Because Jesus was the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, His love is eternal. It will never fail. Yes, prophecies and tongues and knowledge will pass away. But love will always remain. In Jesus, we find the unending well of love. It is a love that is always poured out upon us, a love that we always have to give to others. May we share love as Jesus does – freely, lavishly, openly, to one and to all.

Prayer: Lord, may I know your love so completely that it becomes who I am. Amen.

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Clothe Yourselves

Reading: Colossians 3: 12-14

Verse 12: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”.

In these quiet and slow days between Christmas and New Years, we can either drift along or we can be anxious about the year to come. In both cases it can be a time when we lose sight of the birth of Jesus that we just celebrated. Today’s passage is a good connection back to the birth story.

Coming into the world as a helpless infant leaves one very vulnerable and dependent on others. When Jesus Christ entered the world, Mary took Him into her arms and wrapped Him securely in swaddling clothes. This replicates the feeling and safety of the womb, bringing comfort to the baby. Mary provided all the Jesus needed to survive and then to thrive. We find a parallel to this in today’s reading.

In Colossians, Paul encourages us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”. We are to wrap ourselves in these qualities so that we can best survive and thrive in the world. To help us understand what it looks like to live out these five qualities we need look no further than Jesus. Every day He modeled these qualities. It was how God designed us to live. When we follow Jesus and emulate the model He set, then we are living as God desires.

Paul then goes on to encourage us to “bear with one another” and to “forgive as the Lord forgave you”. These two practices acknowledge our imperfections and limitations. We are what we are – the imperfect striving after the perfect. So Paul encourages us to show one another grace and mercy. Our passage ends with Paul’s directive to “put on love” as the thing that covers all of these other qualities and in fact “binds them all together”. Like the swaddling clothes of baby Jesus, when we allow love to be our primary quality, when we allow love to cover all we say and do, then we find comfort, assurance, courage, and strength to live as His witness in the world.

As we go forth into the day ahead, may we be compassionate and kind, gentle and humble, patient and forgiving. And over and before all of these, may we love just as Jesus Christ first loved us. In doing so, we share Jesus with the world.

Prayer: God, in love may I be all these things to those I meet today, bearing witness to your Son, my hope and the hope of the world. Amen.


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The Good

Reading: James 3: 9-12

Verse 11: “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring”?

James wants us to be consistent in our Christian walk. He encourages us to be faithful all if our days. But this is not the behavior that he always sees exhibited. We too struggle with this so today’s passage applies well to life as a Christian in 2018. Truth be told, it applied well in 407, 1268, 2001… and will apply well in 2047, 2206…

James uses some good examples to follow up his main point. We do use the same tongue to praise God and to curse our fellow men – “who have been made in God’s image”. We cannot love the Creator and hate His creation. That is as crazy, James says, as expecting fresh water out of a salty spring or figs from a grapevine. If in nature none of this occurs, then how can it occurs in us, the masterpiece of God’s creation?

If we are striving to live a Christian life, I do not think we want to intentionally cause harm to others. We do not wake up in the morning looking to curse at and fight with others. But we are imperfect beings living in a broken world. We will cross paths with people who hurt or wrong us or others. Satan causes greed and jealousy and pride and… to drive a lot of people’s decisions. Into all of this we are called to be light and love. When we are hurt or wronged, we are to handle it with grace and love and forgiveness. When we stand against injustice or bias or prejudice… we are to do do with peace and understanding and empathy. We are called to walk alongside those who are hurting and broken, bringing a burst of joy and mercy and compassion.

Sometimes it is hard. In those moments we must really search deep within the other to find the Creator. We must be patient and must persevere to find that which God created and seek to draw that out. There is good within all of us, just as there is evil. As followers of Jesus Christ may we work to be and bring forth the good in us and in the world.

Lord, give me patience when I want to react and perseverance when I want to just give up. Give me mercy when I want to judge. Give me grace when you just want to condemn. Most of all, give me eyes to see you in all and a heart to love as you love. In His name, amen.


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One

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”.

In a different season in my life I went backpacking once a year. The backpack was my existence for that week. The pack would carry the tent, my pad and sleeping bag, my food and cooking gear, the stove and fuel bottle, my clothes, my Bible and devotionals, my toiletries, a shovel and some toilet paper, and a water filter. Each of these was essential for my week trekking around the wilderness. If I discovered six miles into the journey that I had forgotten the fuel for the stove, I was in trouble. In a similar way, Paul describes today the essentials for our Christian journey. If we do not have all of these traits inside of us on our journey of faith, we are also in trouble.

Paul encourages us to be completely humble, to be patient, to bear with one another in love. He also encourages us to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. At times our journey is not always easy. To represent Christ well, it requires humility and patience and love and peace. In the good and especially in the bad these traits are essential because they help us through and they are the things that others notice. The peace in the suffering, the patience in the trial, the love for the unlovable or the unloved – these are some of the marks of the Christian. When we fail to love the other or when we demonstrate arrogance instead of humility, then we do harm to our Christian witness. We must carry all of these traits with us all of the time if we are to live out our faith well as we interact with the world.

Paul closes this section with a great reminder of what unites us as people of faith. He writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”. We are all one body of believers throughout the world. We are all connected to and through the head, Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we find humility, patience, love, and peace. May others see these traits in us today as we bear witness to our faith in Jesus Christ today.


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Seeds

Reading: Mark 4: 26-29

Verse 27: “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how”.

The gospel today speaks of the ‘miracle’ of life. Each year I experience this in my garden. I saw rows of carrots and lettuce and peas and so on. Then I wait. Some time passes and I begin to see little green shoots coming up. Although I know scientifically why it happens, it still amazes me that these tiny hard seeds that I bury in the earth become live plants that will produce a harvest. The time in between planting and sprouting is not easy. Verse 27 reads, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how”. While I know this is true, each morning I got up and looked upon my garden to see if life had yet sprung forth.

Waiting is hard to do. Our society is a “now” culture. We expect our browser to pop up answers for what we typed into the search box before we’re even done typing. And watch out if the little wheel spins too long! We want quick results in our personal and business endeavors. We want a million sales by Tuesday for the add that just started airing Monday. We want that non-believer that we talked with on Friday to show up to church on Sunday and to leave that day asking to be baptized and to join the church on the following Sunday. But Jesus is telling us to be patient, to wait upon God’s timing.

In the passage, the soil is like the Holy Spirit. As evangelists of the good news of Jesus Christ, we are planting seeds all the time. Always with our actions, sometimes with our words, we are sharing our faith with others. We do not know if our actions or words will lead someone to faith in Christ. It may happen ten people later or it may be that the 243rd person after we sowed is the one who finally leads that person to belief. It may happen and we never know about it. But we are assured that the seeds of faith that we plant in others will be nurtured by the Spirit and will one day, in God’s timing, bear fruit. We do not know how or why or when the seeds will sprout into faith. But we do know that we are called to plant seeds.

Just as each of our journeys has been long and is not yet complete, so too is it with those who have not yet found Jesus. May we be ever faithful in our role in God’s big plan, doing all we can to plant seeds in the lives of all we meet.


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Righteous Love

Reading: Psalm 50: 1-6

Verse Three: “Our God comes and will not be silent”.

The Psalm begins with God summoning all people – “from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets”. The purpose of the summons is made evident in verse six: “for God himself is judge”. All peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, will one day be summoned for judgment. While this does sound a little ominous and apocalyptic (one day it will be both), there is also glimpses of beauty and relationship and love in our Psalm.

First, the psalmist reminds us that God shines forth, “perfect in beauty”. The light of God goes out into all the world. It is through the light if God’s love that we can see how to live more holy and righteous lives. The light guides the way and it also exposes the temptations and sins in our lives, allowing us to repent and walk with God. Second, we are told that “Our God comes and will not be silent”. Through the refining fire, God makes us to be more and more of who He created us to be. For Christians, the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit continues to help us hear God speak.

In verse five the psalmist speaks of covenant made by sacrifice. For the Israelites, the sacrifices were made on their part for God. In our New Testament understanding, we know that Jesus was the final sacrifice, made by God for us. Through this, God established the new covenant based upon love and grace. And lastly, we are reminded that God is righteous. It is not a condemning righteousness, but a righteousness also built upon love. God’s righteousness wants what is right for all of His beloved children: a saving relationship through Jesus Christ. So God’s righteousness gives us one more chance after one more chance, so that one more can be saved. God is patient. He waits to judge.

Whether we meet God at the end of our earthly life or when Jesus returns, one day we will all be judged. Between now and then I rejoice in God’s light, love, presence, and righteousness, all of which allows me, a sinner saved by grace, to live in relationship with a holy and loving God. It is a love and mercy that I do not fully comprehend, yet I am profoundly grateful for. Thanks be to God for His righteous love. Amen.


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Patience

Reading: 2 Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse Eleven: “What kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives.”

The followers of Jesus that lived in His lifetime thought that He would return very soon – in weeks or maybe in months.  But as the months turned into years and the years into decades, it became harder and harder to wait.  Not only did Jesus not return, but the Jews and other non-Christians were more than willing to remind them.  Over time the faithful began to wait with a patient and enduring hope.  Peter writes of this, saying, “He is patient… not wanting anyone to perish”.  Maybe God has not allowed Jesus to return just yet because there are still more souls to be saved.

I read a story in my devotional this morning about a woman who also held onto hope.  The militia had arrested her husband and son three years before, yet she continued to come every Monday, to the local police station, to hold a prayer vigil for her husband and son.  One day a guard mocked her and she replied with faith: “God’s justice will never fail.  It may come today or it may come in a 1,000 years, but it is coming”.  Her rock-solid faith allowed her to stand in the face of beatings and other persecutions to continue to pray for her family.  She stood on God’s promise to one day return and make all things new.

While all this is to say that God is patient, Peter also reminds us that the return will come like “a thief in the night”.  It will be quick and unexpected.  This idea makes me think of the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 attacks.  The Wall had seemed to stand forever – as long as anyone could remember.  Then one day, it was suddenly torn down.  The twin towers had always seemed to be in the skyline view, then one day they suddenly were not.  In light of this unknown time, Peter asks us, “”What kind of people ought you to be?”  Without pause he continues to answer the question, saying, “You ought to live holy and godly lives.”  He calls us to live as Jesus lived, holy and godly.

Yes, we will fall short at times.  Yes, we lose our grip on the promise now and then.  In our last verse, Peter adds a word of encouragement that we need to hold fast to: “Bear in mind that the Lord’s patience means salvation”.  It is a love that never ends and a mercy that washes over sin after sin.  Thanks be to God for your steadfast love and your patient mercy.