pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Central Command

Reading: 1st John 3: 18-24

Verse 23: “This is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another”.

We are reminded many times in 1st John that we are “children” of God. In calling followers of Jesus children of God, John is establishing a certain relationship. As children of God we have a father who loves us and cares for us. God is a father that wants the absolute best for His children. God is an understanding father that accepts us as we are yet always wants to see more out of us as we grow to become more and more like His Son, Jesus.

Like we are with our earthly fathers, we too want to please God our heavenly father. John echoes this as he writes, “we obey His commands and do what pleases Him”. The result is also the same as it is with our earthly fathers as we “receive from Him anything we ask”. My dad would have given me anything I wanted on two conditions: if he could and if it was good for me. Our heavenly father does not deal with the first limitation but does give in accordance with what is best for us.

John identifies a central command in today’s passage: “This is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another”. The first part is to believe in Jesus Christ. To do so we first confess Jesus as the Lord of our life and we accept Him as our Savior. In belief we receive the Holy Spirit, which dwells in us and leads and guides us to be ever more like Jesus. The second part of the command flows out of this first part. As we grow to be more and more like Jesus, we naturally do more and more of what He did. Jesus’ key action was to love others. This too is our command: love one another.

Both parts of this command are challenging at times. Our inner self seeks to be in control as the desires of the flesh rise up from time to time. At other times we find it hard to love one another as Satan works to separate us from His love by deceiving us and by telling us lies. Yet even the powerful allies of self and Satan cannot ever fully overcome the love of Jesus Christ that is in us. This love is always in us. John writes, “this is how we know… by the Spirit He gave us”. The Holy Spirit is also always at work, countering the desires of self and the work of Satan, always reminding us that we belong to Jesus and that we are a dearly beloved child of God. Thanks be to God for the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. May the Spirit ever lead and guide us. Amen.

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Anticipate

Reading: Isaiah 64: 1-4

Verse One: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.”

As we begin Advent today, we are preparing to remember when Jesus first came as a baby.  There is an anticipation that builds as we walk through this holy season.  There is an excitement that grows as we draw nearer to the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Part of our excitement and anticipation is built upon what comes next though.  The birth is exciting and grand partly because of the life that is then lived by Jesus the Messiah.  Jesus the Savior brought new life and love into the world.  Jesus allowed people to connect to God in a new way and also opened up the way to eternal life for all who believe.

As Isaiah wrote today’s passage, there was a deep longing for hope and God’s presence.  The Israelites had just returned from a long period in exile.  Things were not as they had been.  Life was hard.  Isaiah voices the people’s deep-felt need for God when he writes, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.”  It is a plea.  He is begging for God to come down and to intercede for the people.  The people long for God to come down to “make your name known” as God once again does “awesome things”.  The people of God are anticipating the restoration of God’s reign.  It is a waiting they want ended very soon.

On the edge of Advent, we too anticipate God’s reign.  Many people long for God to intercede in their lives today.  They long for God to bind up their hurts, to end their season in exile, to make all things new, to once again feel hope and love.  We all long for the God who “acts on behalf of those who wait upon Him”.  We too wait with hope and excitement for Christ to come down once again, to begin His forever reign.  In the interim though, we live now with the risen Christ, daily looking forward to His presence and activity in our daily lives.

As we wait, we pray for Jesus to be near the broken, to heal their hurts, to restore their lives to wholeness.  We ask that we may be used in the process, to have open hearts and willing hands.  May it be so.  Amen.


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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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Anything

Reading: Romans 9: 1-5

Verse Three: For I could wish that myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.

Paul writes of the sorrow and anguish he feels because his fellow Jews, his brothers, have rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  Paul initially rejected Jesus too.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection Paul, then known as Saul, was one of the greatest persecutors of the new Christian faith.  But after his face-to-face with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was converted and became one of the greatest evangelists ever.  His conversion brought him great joy and peace in his life.

Yet he would willingly give all of this up for his people, the Israelites, who refuse to accept Jesus as Lord.  He writes, “For I could wish that myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers”.  Paul is ready to give up the best thing that ever happened to him so that the Jewish people could come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It pains him greatly that the chosen people reject Jesus.

On our own faith journeys we too will encounter people who reject Jesus.  Many will choose to walk away from the faith of their childhood.  We may have family members and know close friends who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.  For many a parent it is a very painful experience to have a child choose to live without Jesus in their life.  For those we have a deep personal relationship with, it is indeed painful to think of one we love missing out on the joy and peace and mercy and forgiveness and all else we have, nevermind the eternal consequences.

In this many of us are like Paul.  We would give anything, even our own faith, to see ‘that’ person or persons accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  We pray for them, we try and share our faith with them, we do all we can.  Lord God, may our work be fruitful in bringing those we love into relationship with you.


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He Is Alive!

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse 18: Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news, “I have seen the Lord”!

In the original garden, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God.  They had a close, personal relationship.  Their sin cost them much: they were forced from the garden.  With sin, death also entered the world.  We fast forward to another garden, this time the garden of Gethsemane.  In a moment of weakness, we find a human Jesus worried about death.  He does not want to die.  The physical part of Jesus knows what it will be like to be crucified.  But Jesus masters the fear and prepares to walk to the cross.  The divine Jesus triumphs and He is willing to drink of the cup for us.  The cup represents the new covenant, made with His blood.  This cup of forgiveness is for all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior.  His blood was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).  The sin that had entered in the first garden is defeated by Christ on the cross.  In the new covenant, we are freed from the power of sin.

Today’s story takes place in another garden.  Hope seemed lost.  Mary and the disciples have seen that the tomb is empty, but the do not understand.  The one they called “Messiah” – Savior of the world – was gone.  Mary stands alone, weeping.  Then angels appear, almost to announce what happens next.  Mary turns and asks for the body.  “Mary”.  Jesus speaks her name.  “Mary”.  With her name spoken, suddenly she knows it is Jesus.  She knows His voice.  He calls her by name.  In John 10:14, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”.  At His voice, Mary knows it is Jesus.  On the cross, Jesus defeated sin.  From the grave, He defeats death.

Jesus continues to call out, calling us each by name.  He calls us by name, into a personal relationship with Him.  When we open our hearts to Jesus, He comes and dwells within us.  In this relationship, we know Jesus, just as He knows us.  In this relationship, we experience what He experienced – victory over sin and death.  May we join many, proclaiming what Mary proclaimed: “I have seen the Lord”!  Hallelujah and amen!  He is risen!  He is alive!!


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Son of God

Reading: John 1: 29-34

John the Baptist operated from outside the traditional corridors of power.  He was not a Pharisee or a Sadducee or any other type of official religious person.  John lived a life of simplicity and sparsity.  He dressed very plainly, ate locusts and wild honey, and lived in the wilderness.  One day he simply showed up and started preaching about repentance and living according to God’s ways.  People soon came to see the deep connection John had with God that revealed itself in how he lived and in how he preached.  Many people came out to hear John.  Many were moved and were baptized in the waters of the Jordan, symbolizing cleansing and a commitment to more holy living.

By the time Jesus came by to be baptized, John had a lot of followers and had developed a lot of credibility from his preaching and lifestyle.  John was popular but had always claimed a lesser role since the beginning of his ministry.  When the Pharisees questioned who he was and what he was doing, he quoted from Isaiah, saying he was “preparing the way for the Lord”.  He went on to say he was unworthy to even untie the sandal of the Lord.  Even with droves of people coming to see him, to hear him, and to be baptized by him, John remained true to his calling.  Even though jealous religious authorities came to question him, he never claimed any credit or power.  John never lost focus on his ultimate mission.

So when Jesus approached, John declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”.  John testified about Jesus’ baptism, stating, “I saw the Holy Spirit come down from heaven” when he baptized Jesus and goes on to identify Jesus as the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  This section concludes with John’s testimony: “I testify that this is the Son of God”.

John was popular.  John was drawing a good crowd.  John knew his purpose: to point people to Jesus, to prepare the way.  John used his popularity and authority to declare who Jesus was.  John wanted them to know Jesus.  May we, like John, seek to reveal Jesus to those in our lives so that they too can come to know the Son of God, the Savior of the world.


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Grace and Peace

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Paul opens with a thought: “set apart for the gospel”.  We are called to this.  We are called to be different from the secular culture and the worldly values by which so many live.  We are called to Christian witness in a post-Christian time.  Jesus did say that the road is hard and the way is narrow that leads to eternal life.  It is work, at times, to hold fast to the faith we profess.  Although narrow, the way is open to all who choose to live with Jesus as Lord.

In Rome, Caesar was lord.  To call upon Jesus Christ as Lord was to be set apart.  As we we’ll know from our own daily struggles to keep Jesus #1, there can only be one Lord.  So to profess Jesus is Lord implies that Caesar is not.  This was risky back in Paul’s time.  Today many think it a bit risky to profess Jesus Christ as Lord all the time and in all aspects of our lives.  This can be risky to our jobs, our friends, our hobbies, our money, and, perhaps most significantly, to our self.

As a church we can choose to be set apart.  We can have doors that are open to any and all instead of just to some.  We can offer communion to any and all who seek to be made new instead of just to those who meet our qualifications.  We can invite and welcome the whole community into our sacred spaces instead of just our church members.

As individuals, we can take these ideals and apply them to our lives as well.  W can engage any and all as we live out our lives as slaves to the gospel.  We can welcome all guests who come to our places of worship and to the events we put on or host.  We can invite all of our neighbors, coworkers, and classmates to be a part of our communities of faith.  Our lives too can have open hearts and open doors.

Paul writes, “grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”.  May we choose to live as disciples and apostles each day, bringing peace and grace to the world, to any and all we meet.