pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Alone

Reading: 1st Corinthians 3: 1-9

Verse 3: “You are still worldly… there is jealousy and quarreling among you”.

Paul is known as the apostle to the Gentiles and as the person who spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world. He traveler east and north and west of Palestine, preaching about Jesus and planting churches as he went. Paul helped plant the church in Corinth and he continued to tend to it through letters. In these letters Paul continues to teach them about the faith and he also addresses issues and conflicts that arise. The portion of the letter that we read today addresses a division that has risen up in the church.

Paul begins by addressing the believers as “worldly” and as “infants in Christ”. These terms would have stung a bit and maybe started to bring them to their senses. In essence Paul is calling them to grow up and to act like the mature Christians that they can be. In verse three he identifies the issue: “You are still worldly… there is jealousy and quarreling among you”. Since they are struggling with worldly sins Paul implies that they have lost sight of the main thing: Jesus Christ. Paul himself then demonstrates his own spiritual maturity in the way he advises them. Instead of trying to elevate himself over Apollos he acknowledges that they have both played a role in developing the church. He identifies himself simply as a “worker”. Paul uses the farming analogy saying that he planted and Apollos watered. Then, in verses six and seven, Paul reiterates an important truth: only God can make someone’s faith grow. It is the action of God alone that changes lives. Yes, Paul and Apollos have a function in the process, but the real authority and power rests in God alone.

At times in our churches we can devolve into being small or into being focused on our own agenda. These things only lead to discord and possibly to division. At times a wise and mature Christian will lead the way and peace will be restored. At times the Holy Spirit will nudge and whisper and pull at our hearts, working us towards reconciliation and the restoring of relationships. Just as only God can make faith grow, only God can bring true healing. So in all things may we look to God, being attuned to the Holy Spirit, seeking to walk his path of love. May it be so for all of us.

Prayer: Father God, heal our churches and heal this nation. Heal our hearts and heal our relationship with you and with one another. Amen.


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A Radical Change

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 27-34

Verse 27: “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”.

Change is on the horizon! Last week, in Jeremiah 29, God encouraged the people to build and to marry, to redeem their situation in Babylon, to shine light and love into this sinful place. In today’s reading we begin to hear God’s promise to restore the chosen people. In the opening verse we read, “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. God will replant what was uprooted. God will rebuild what was torn down. God promises to “watch over them to build and to plant”. The exiles must have received these words from Jeremiah with great hope and excitement.

Along with the restoration and relocation back to the Promised Land, there is also a change coming in the people’s relationship with God. No longer will a parent’s (or grandparent’s or great grandparent’s) sin affect the children (or children’s children…). In verse 30 we read, “Instead, everyone will die for his own sin”. In the day to day life, death means separation from God. When on is living in sin or with sin in their heart, the relationship with God is broken. Through the new covenant that God is bringing through Jesus Christ, sins will be forgiven. Through personal confession and repentance our sins will be washed away. In the eternal sense, if one chooses to live in sin and refuses to turn back to God, death refers to an eternity in hell.

Through Jeremiah, God is forshadowing a pretty radical change in Jewish thinking and theology. The idea that disease and illness and blindness and… are the result of sin somewhere in the family tree is deeply rooted in their faith. Jesus will challenge this line of thought. Change will be hard. Some will refuse to accept this shift. Jesus offers insight through his actions. He will touch the leper and the deaf, the mute and the crippled, the outcast and the sinner. His touch indicates love and acceptance, not fear and exclusion. Change is indeed on the horizon!

Prayer: God, thank you for your continuing evolution of our relationship with you. Through Jesus you became more personal, more intimate, more fully known. With the Holy Spirit you moved further into our hearts. Continue to draw me more and more into who and what you are! Amen.


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Welcome and Hospitality

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

Verses 5 and 6: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”.

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles invites them to become a part of the society that they have been forced into. It can be the tendency to try and remain isolated and to hold onto what makes one unique. Thinking back to the high point of immigration in the US, for example, cities had ethnic neighborhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown. In some cases whole towns had a mostly homogeneous ethnic make-up. In our passage today, God is encouraging the Israelites to become a part of where they are. They are instructed to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”. They are to live with and amongst their new neighbors.

Today we have both immigrants and refugees that come to the US. The refugees are most like the exiles because these groups tend to arrive in significant numbers. There are often language barriers and usually social and cultural differences as well. These factors tend to isolate us from our new neighbors and vice versa. But they do not have to. A little north and east of the town I live in is a town that welcomes refugees and immigrants. The school system works hard to help the children and the community provides employment opportunities for the adults. Churches play a role in the acclimation process in a number of ways. The Latino and Hmong people have enriched and have helped the whole community to thrive. They are not without instances of prejudice and intolerance, but overall it is a successful experiment. They are modeling well Jesus’ example of loving the other.

In almost all of our communities we have new people move in. In my town they usually come from another town in or near South Dakota, but occasionally they are from further abroad. In these cases, we too should extend welcome and hospitality to them. We as Christians should do what we can to help them succeed and flourish because when they prosper, we prosper too – not just economically but socially and spiritually as well.

As individuals, as churches, and as communities, may we be people of love, extending radical hospitality to all we meet. In doing so we also extend God’s love.

Prayer: Father of all, help me to be a friend to all. Empower me to love others unconditionally, just as you love me. Create in me generous hands and feet and a giving heart, just as Jesus modeled for us. Thank you, Father God. Amen.


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Worthy of Love

Reading: Isaiah 5: 1-2

Verse 1: “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside…”

Love provides great care. Isaiah speaks today of a gardener – his loved one – who finds a fertile hillside for his vineyard. He tilled the soil, cleared it of all the rocks, and planted the choicest of vines. While the grew and matured so they could produce a crop, he built a wall to protect the vines and a watchtower to guard them and to watch over the vines. Then, in anticipation of a great harvest, he built a winepress. Love did all it could to insure a good harvest. But the vines yielded bad fruit.

God’s chosen people were brought to the Promised Land – the land flowing with milk and honey. God went before them and protected them over and over from their enemies. God sent prophets that sought to guard the people’s hearts from idols and other temptations of the world. Love has its limits, it can only do so much. God awaits the day and hour of the final harvest.

This Old Testament plan and reality is not quite complete. Love also encompasses mercy and grace and compassion. These were added to the plan more completely through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is our wall and watchtower, guiding us, leading us, helping us stay on the right path. Love continues to do all it can to prepare a great harvest.

God, the loving and caring gardener, knit each of us together in the womb, created each of us with great care. As our faith matures and grows, God tills our soil, nurtures our faith, shapes us more and more into the image of his son. God gifted each of us as well. God blessed each of us with our own unique talents and abilities so that we can help produce a crop. Jesus called all followers to make disciples of all people. The Great Commission is for the harvest.

To be all we were created to be, to do all we were formed to do, we must seek to cultivate our faith. We must make intentional and regular efforts to know Jesus more, to become more like him. Then we need to use the gifts that God has given us to share our faith with others for the transformation of the world. It is God’s plan for each of us and for the great harvest to come. May we play our part with a love that is worthy of Christ our Lord.

Prayer: Today, O God, show me the ways to share my faith with others, adding to your kingdom here and to the one to come. Amen.


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Creation Care

Reading: Psalm 29

Verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”.

In our Psalm today we see God’s action in the heavens and on the earth. God remains present in all of creation – not just in us. Both the universe and the earth are alive with birth and death. Stars are no more and new ones are created. The same is true here – plants, animals, fish, birds, insects, and human beings are no more and new ones are created. The hand of God is present in each death, in all new life, and at every point in between. This is as true of the grass of the field as it is of our very dearest loved one. God’s hand touches all of creation.

When we think of our interconnection with all of creation in this sense, then our understanding of stewardship is a bit different. We see the image of God in our fellow humanity; therefore we strive to treat them well and with kindness and love. If we saw all of creation – all of it – as being touched and held by the hand of God and therefore as sacred, then our treatment of the earth and all that is upon and in the earth would be better. More thought and care would go into how we care for and interact with the land, plants, animals, water, fish, birds…

Verse 10 reminds us that God “sits enthroned over the flood”. We can extend this idea – God sits enthroned over all of creation. Over you and me and over all the earth. In verse 11 we read, “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”. In turn may we give strength and blessing to all that we share and inhabit the earth with – our brothers and sisters as well as all of creation.

Prayer: Father God, help me to care well for all I meet – for the stranger on the street, for the cat by the curb, for my friends and family, for the earth upon which I walk. Amen.


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Priesthood

Reading: Hebrews 5: 1-4

Verse 2: “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness”.

Today’s passage speaks of the priest and the roles the priest played for the people. In Biblical times, the priest offered gifts and sacrifices for the people and he taught the people, often calling them back to a faithful walk with God. Verse two speaks of this. At times the priest, being human, would go astray as well. In these cases, the priest would do as he did for the people – offer a sacrifice for the sin.

At the time of our writing, all official priests would come from the Levites, the family line of Aaron. Aaron and his descendents were identified by God to be the priests for Israel. From within the clan or tribe of Levi, men would be called by God to serve as a priest. From within this group, one would be selected to serve as the high priest. This role brought special duties and was a great honor.

For clergy down through the ages and in our present time, the role has changed slightly. Men and women are still called by God to serve His people, but they can come from any family and from all walks of life. Clergy still perform religious duties such as leading worship, teaching on God’s Word, offering guidance and direction, and so on, but do not offer sacrifices on the altar for the sins of the people.

The expansion of the clergy to a much bigger pool has also led to an expansion of the roles played by the people in the pews. Many churches and denominations have something called the “priesthood of all believers”. This concept began with Jesus. He was the rabbi amongst His followers. Jesus sent out His followers to teach and to heal, including them in the role traditionally held only by the Levites. Today, in many churches, we also see our members in this way. Each Sunday all people are encouraged to go forth to be the light and love of Jesus Christ in the world – to minister to others on behalf of Jesus.

May we each follow the call by Jesus to make disciples of all peoples and nations.

Lord, you call each follower to plant seeds and to meet needs. This day, may all I do and say bring glory to your name, drawing others to you as I love my neighbors. Amen.


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Small Seeds

Reading: Mark 4: 30-34

Verse 32: “Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants”.

Jesus begins today’s passage by setting the stage, asking, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like”? Before we start thinking of angels dancing around the throne, we need to realize that Jesus is speaking of the kingdom here on earth. He is speaking of the activity and reign of God in the here and now.

A mustard seed is the object lesson in today’s teaching by Jesus. It is a tiny little seed that grows into a huge plant, providing safe harbor for many birds. The idea of planting seeds connects back to what He just said in verses 26-29. There Jesus spoke of how we plant but it is God who makes them grow. Both of these teachings are, of course, not about real seeds. The parables are about planting seeds of faith.

Jesus was a great seed planter. He took twelve men and a small group of followers and He planted seeds of faith in them. He took time to plant seeds of faith in about everyone He met. It was just Jesus’ DNA. In turn, the disciples and followers of Jesus used the faith that grew from the seeds that Jesus planted and planted seeds in others. We are the continuation of this process. Someone took the time to plant seeds of faith in us and now that these seeds have grown into faith, we take our faith and go forth to be planters.

As we go out into the world today, may we be intentional about planting seeds of faith. Even though we plant seeds of faith as small as a mustard seed, God can grow that faith into something that one day may change the world. May we be faithful in our small role, trusting God with the rest. Amen.


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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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Grow Well

Reading: John 15: 9-17

Verse Sixteen: “You did not choose me, but I chose you… to go and bear fruit”.

“Love each other as I have loved you”. This is the command we find in verse twelve of today’s passage. But Jesus, you were perfect, the incarnation of God in the flesh. And I am just a simple human being, often tempted by the things of this world. Jesus, you were so smart – you knew just what to say or do at just the right moments. I stumble and bumble and bumble opportunities.

Yes, this passage from John 15 is beautiful in its imagery of a loving relationship, but sometimes I feel inadequate. Yes, this passage promises that God will give whatever I ask in Jesus’ name, but at times I feel unworthy and powerless to ask. I do try to remain in God’s love and to obey the commands. On our own, we are destined to fall short and to fail. But through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, “everything I learned from my Father I have made known to you”. The Spirit reminds us and teaches us what we need to know, helping us to live in an intimate connection with Jesus.

In our passage we see that Jesus makes the choice to exit the master-servant relationship and to enter into a friend-friend relationship instead. This new relationship is based upon love instead of on hierarchy and power. It also shifts our role in the relationship. Instead of doing because we are “supposed” to or because it is our “job”, we do out of a mutual love and affection. When this is our perspective, we “abide” in His love. It is from this place of constant presence that we can love one another as He first loved us.

Jesus also says in our passage today, “You did not choose me, but I chose you… to go and bear fruit”. Much like the first twelve disciples, we are chosen by Jesus. It feels good to know that Jesus picked you and me. He does have an expectation that He voices. Jesus picks us to go and bear fruit. Bearing fruit comes after planting seeds. We plant seeds by sharing the Word and by being Jesus to others. In doing so we become more like Him.

Athanasius, an early church father, wrote, “He became what we are that we might become what He is”. Jesus lived and modeled love so that we could live and model love. In doing so, we grow in His image. May we grow well today.


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Bearing Fruit

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse Eight: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”.

As the branches connected to the vine, we have a relationship with Jesus. This relationship is like most of our other relationships – it has an ebb and flow to it. There are moments when the connection feels rock solid and moments when it feels very distant. Most of the time the relationship is spent somewhere between these two extremes. Verse five reminds us of an important truth: “apart from Me you can do nothing”. Now, Jesus is talking about spiritual things here, the things that really matter in life.

The core of being connected to and in relationship with Jesus is bearing fruit. The acts of sharing His love and serving others are lost when we allow the relationship to become disconnected. When we allow this to happen then we are not making an impact for the kingdom and we are not bringing glory to God. Therefore, we need to make every effort to remain connected to Jesus.

Our society is now an instant gratification culture that tends to focus inward and on our own pleasure. Fortunately, the act of bearing fruit often runs against these two norms. Our faith and the practice thereof make us stand out from the secular culture and draw attention to God. When we are doing the work of sharing our faith and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, we are aiming to bear fruit.

More often than not, the seeds we plant will not bear fruit for a while. Every once in a while we might be blessed to be the one when another finally decides to confess faith in Jesus. More often than not we are just the twentieth or the sixty-third or the seventy-fourth person to plant a small seed of faith in someone’s life. We are most often just one more step towards someone entering a saving relationship with Jesus. Nonetheless, we are a part of another’s faith journey and are therefore part of bringing glory to God.

Our passage today closes with this verse: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”. Today, may we show ourselves to be His disciples, bearing much fruit. May it be so today. Amen!