pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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As One

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, and 8-10

Verse 1: “All the people assembled as one”.

On the big picture level, God has begun to end the exile in Babylon, bringing His children back home to the Promised Land. They have begun to rebuild Jerusalem, their homes, and the temple. They are also experiencing a spiritual rebuilding. In today’s passage, “all the people assembled as one”. The people come from the towns they have settled in and assemble as one body before the water gate.

Ezra the scribe and priest stands before them and begins to read from the Book of the Law. This process is similar to what we do in our churches. People come to the church on Sunday morning and gather together in the Sanctuary. Once there, they hear a passage or passages read from the Bible. The spirit of being “one” was present in the gathering that we read about in Nehemiah 8. We all hope to have that same spirit in our churches as we gather for worship. This is our hope because it is pleasing to God when we gather as one.

The reading from the Book is what draws people together and helps them feel as if they were one. Faith in God is the common connection. This too is true for us. Our faith is what unites a diverse group of people who gather on Sunday mornings. As the Book is read, the Levites or priests give meaning and instruction and interpretation to the people. This is done in the message or sermon on Sunday mornings. The text is given meaning and application for our lives. In doing so, it builds unity in the body of Christ. Nehemiah sends the people out after worship to celebrate the sacred day. Worship was for the Israelites and is joyful for us. It should be celebrated. May we worship together as one each Sunday morning in our own congregations, “for the joy of the Lord is our strength”.

Prayer: God, build up your church! Draw us together as one to worship you and to learn from your Word. Amen.

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Pleasing

Reading: Psalm 19:14

Verse 14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer”.

These words are familiar words. The sermon or message in many churches, mine included, begins with these words. These words ask God to be present in and through the Word proclaimed and to guide our thoughts and responses to the message given. It is a prayer for both the pastor and the congregation. I love how this prayer closes with the dual reminder that the Lord is our foundation and our mercy – our guide through life and our help when we get astray.

Many of us walk out the doors of worship on Sunday morning and return to the world and its ways almost immediately – cussing the one who cut us off in traffic or being rude to the waiter. Some if us might manage to make it to Monday morning before the world creeps back in. At work or school we gossip about the weekend or we resume the shady, worldly business or study practices that we felt convicted of just the day before. We find there is no shortage of ways that we can be displeasing to the Lord. The world is always providing opportunities or encouragement to do so. The battle is constant.

But so is God’s love. And His mercies are new every morning. And His grace is unending. The world is where we now dwell, so the lures of this world will be there. But Jesus had overcome the world. Through faith in Him, we too can walk in the light. Just as Sunday morning is that little boost to our faith and walk, so too can be our own daily time with God. When we read and study and meditate on God’s Word daily, He becomes more a part of our lives. When we spend time each day talking with God, our prayers strengthen our faith. When we open ourselves to the guide and direction of the Holy Spirit, our faith grows stronger still. When we choose to be faithful to our daily disciplines – time in the Word, time in prayer, time connected to the Holy Spirit – our walk with the Lord is closer. We find that we grow more and more into today’s verse. More and more often our words of our mouth and the thoughts of our hearts are pleasing to God. More and more the Lord is our Rock and Redeemer. May we each stay deeply in love with God, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, this moment and every moment, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.


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Faith Formation

Reading: 2nd Samuel 2: 18-20 & 26

Verse 26: “The boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

After being dedicated to God, young Samuel continued to grow both physically and spiritually. Hannah would make him new priestly garments every year and would bring them to him at the time of the yearly sacrifice in the temple. Our passage tells us that “the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

As I think about Samuel’s upbringing I think about how we raise our children – both in our nuclear families and in our church families. Just as Samuel was dedicated to God at birth, so too do people of faith dedicate their young children to God. In some faith traditions we baptize our infants, marking them as a member of the family of faith and pledging to raise them in the faith. In other faith traditions, infants are dedicated or consecrated with the same marking and pledge to raise them in the faith. In both cases the congregation has a role to play. The congregation pledges to do all they can to help raise the child in the faith.

As soon as they are able to we begin to bring our children to Sunday school or perhaps to a Wednesday night faith formation class. They learn the stories of the Bible and begin to apply its teachings to their lives and decisions. At some point we hope our children grow out of the faith of their parents and into a faith of their own. In some churches baptism marks this point and in others confirmation does.

As we look at Samuel’s life and at other examples we find in scripture, we see that the plan that God has for all children is to be raised in the faith. May we be attentive to all of our children, ever aware of our roles as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, mentors, teachers, pastors… to be a part of their faith formation, helping them to always “grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be faithful in leading and guiding my children and all of the children that come under my care, helping each to know you more and to draw closer to you. May I ever do these things with both my words and my actions. Amen.


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The King

Reading: John 18: 33-37

Verse 36: “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world'”.

Today is the last Sunday in the Christian calendar. Advent begins next week. Today’s passage speaks of Jesus as king. This Sunday is known in many denominations as “Reign of Christ Sunday”. This morning I read about the history of this special day.

In the 1920s, nationalism was on the rise again. Europe was recovering from World War I and a “narrow nationalism” was on the rise. To both combat this and to recognize and affirm the place of Christ, Pope Pius XI decided to use the last Sunday of the Christian year to honor the reign of Christ. The aim is to declare that, as Christians, our primary loyalty belongs to Jesus Christ.

When Jesus ended up before a political ruler, Pilate did not know quite what to do with Him. Pilate could only understand Jesus and n political terms. As Pilate questioned Jesus, He said, “My kingdom is not of this world”. Yes, Jesus is a king but not in earthly terms. Yes, Jesus does have a kingdom but it is not defined by geographical or political boundaries. Its strength is not based upon the land mass or size of the armies. Jesus’ kingdom derives its power from love.

Today, may we each take a moment to recognize Jesus as the king of both heaven and earth. In our own hearts may we acknowledge Jesus as Lord. In the world, may we live to bring glory and honor to the one true King.

Prayer: Lord, I invite you to be the King of my heart. Rule in me and through me. Amen.


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Simple Relationships

Reading: Mark 7: 1-8

Verse 6: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.

Today’s passage deals with who we are as opposed to who we want to appear to be. This passage applies to us as individuals and to our churches as well.

The Pharisees and religious leaders notice Jesus’ disciples doing something that they think shouldn’t be done. They are eating with unclean hands. The disciples did not wash their hands before eating. Yes, there is a practical side to this. But the religious folk aren’t concerned with this aspect. They are concerned with the spiritual implications of eating with unclean hands. By simply being in the world, one can possibly touch something that itself is unclean. If you then eat without ceremonially washing, then the sin or impurity enters you. So they ask, “Jesus, why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders”?

Jesus does not really answer their question. He turns the subject back on them. Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13, saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. The religious folks know what to say. They also ought to know why they are saying it. They have lost their connection with the source of the Law. Over the years the Torah or law has grown to the point of being cumbersome. Many of the traditions or rules are things that man has added over time. The intent was to help people follow the law, but it has become a long list of things to do or to check off the list. It has moved far away from worshipping God. Jesus reflects, “You have let go of the commandments of God and are holding onto the traditions of men”.

We too can fall into following man-made traditions or rules and can allow these to drag us far from God. If we go to church on Sunday morning but it becomes a burden or hardship, is it really worshipful to God? If we go up and eat the bread and drink the juice but do not confess and repent of our sins, is it really holy communion? If we say we are a welcoming church but do not engage the stranger who enters our midst, are we really loving all people? If we read our Bibles each day but do not apply the Word to our lives, is it really a meaningful discipline? Yes, this is just the beginning of a long list of questions.

O Lord, give us faith and not religion. Give us relationships and not lists of rules. May our faith be about simple relationships – loving you and loving neighbor. And may all we say and do and think flow from these two central commands. May it be so. Amen.


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Divine and Human

Reading: Mark 11: 1-11

Verse Two: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”.

Today is Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem amidst a cheering and excited crowd of supporters. It is a proclamation of hope and longing by the people. They so want someone to free them from the Romans. For the most part, over the past three years, they have clearly missed seeing the type of kingdom that Jesus is building. It is not a kingdom of might and military power but one of grace and love and mercy and forgiveness and community.

Today’s first clue comes in the mode of transportation. Jesus does not select a fine warhorse to ride into the city. Instead He gives these instructions to the disciples: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”. Jesus chooses a meek and young animal. That He is able to ride the colt amidst all the noise and celebration testifies to His quiet power. But at the time only His inner circle of disciples would marvel at this. The masses ignored the colt because they wanted and could only see one thing – a possible Messiah to save them from the Romans.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, He goes to the temple. Many probably followed His there, presuming that He would raise His hands to quiet the crowd before giving a rousing speech to stir up the people even more. But Jesus enters the temple and simply looks around. He then quietly exits the city. Perhaps Jesus was just taking stock of the state of the temple and beginning to formulate a plan for His last week.

Jesus and His disciples quietly clip out of town and go to Bethany for the night. No crowds follow, eager to see what is next. We know that Jesus and company often take rest when they visit Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, so we assume this is where they went to spend the night. Their home is a place that is special to Jesus. It is a place where He finds rest, peace, and community, surrounded by people He loves and that love Him. With the week that lies ahead it is a good place to be for a night.

In the small details of the passage today we get a glimpse into both Jesus’ obedience to God’s plan and into His humanity in needing to surround Himself with a loving community. One shows His strength and true power and the second shows a humble need to be loved and to belong. The divine and the human in one. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Transform

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verse Seven: “A voice from the cloud: ‘This is my son, whom I love. Listen to Him!'”

Today is known as Transfiguration Sunday. It is the day when Peter, James, and John get a glimpse into what the heavenly Jesus may look like. To be present in his moment is a powerful and life-changing moment for the inner three. In its own way it was unique and special. But it is just one of many such moments that forever changed Peter, James, and John.

We too will have these mountaintop, transforming moments. We will also have our share of life-changing moments in the valley. Those moments on the mountaintop are things such as the birth of a child or the day we accepted Jesus. Our valley moments are the times we lost someone or something dear to us or the day life radically changed. Each of these unique and special moments also work within us to transform us, to make us more and more like Christ.

In the transfiguration, Jesus is elevated to a better and more perfect version of His earthly self. As we experience our own God moments, we too can be transfigured. Through our unique and special moments with God – whether on the mountaintop or in the valley – we can be changed and shaped more into the image of who God created us to be. I say ‘can be’ because we do have a choice. In those valley moments we can choose to continue to cling to God and to walk through it with God. During those mountaintop moments we can give God all the glory and honor, bringing Him praise. Both are choices. One choice is God’s path and that choice elevates our faith journey and brings us closer to Jesus Christ.

In our faith journeys and in life may we always choose to walk with Jesus. We were created in God’s image, chosen since we were woven together in the womb, marked as a child of God in the waters of baptism. May we ever choose to live into our identity in Christ, allowing each God moment to transform us one experience at a time, bringing us ever closer to our Lord and Savior. Amen.