pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Wonderful Day

Reading: Revelation 21:10, 21:22-22:5

Verse 26: “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there”.

Today’s passage comes at the end of the Bible. The world that we see outside our windows and will step into just outside our doors today will not exist any longer. Our passage opens today with John seeing the Holy City coming down. It is a city of light and love. There is no temple – God and the Lamb are the temple. There is no sun or moon – God is the light and Jesus is the lamp. Only the children of God will inhabit the city and “on no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there”. All whose names are in the “Lamb’s book of life” will come and go freely. The river of life will feed the tree of life. It will bring healing to the nations – there will “no longer be any curse” – no pain, no tears, no grief… God and Jesus will reign forever. It will be a wonderful day.

Yet today, in the world just outside our window, just beyond our door, there is brokenness and evil and despair and division. This vision of heaven in Revelation is a someday vision. We live in this earthly reality. Our task as followers of Christ is to work to bring vision and reality closer together today and each day. We are to seek to build the kingdom here on earth. This heavenly vision draws us and helps us to focus on the task at hand. Our primary focus is how we live our day to day lives, striving to bring healing and hope and love and light to the world we inhabit. In building the kingdom here on earth we seek to end division and to break down barriers that separate us from one another. When we live together, celebrating our differences, not in spite of them, then the peace and love of God and Jesus will reign. If we can live and love and bring hope and light into the world each day, then each day will be a wonderful day. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: Bringer of light and love, of hope and peace, use me as an instrument of yours today. Help me to walk side by side with all of my brothers and sisters in the world today. Enable me to break down all that separates in order to build up your kingdom here on earth. Guide me, O Lord. Amen.

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Outside

Reading: Luke 2: 41-52

Verse 49: “Why didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house”?

The Passover pilgrimage is one of those yearly traditions for Mary and Joseph and family. Every year pick up cousin so and so in this place and then add in uncle so and so in that place along the route to Jerusalem. The caravan grows as it makes its way to the city. Yes, there have been changes – someone had a baby and someone has passed on. By 12 or 13 Jesus has gotten the pattern down quite well. It is no wonder that Mary and Joseph assume Jesus is somewhere in the caravan as they head home. After all, they did tell him that they were leaving that morning at 9.

In our passage Jesus appears to be disobeying Mary and Joseph. Instead of leaving Jerusalem He goes to the temple. In a foreshadowing of what it to come, Jesus amazes the teachers and religious leaders with His answers and understanding. But apparently the temple is not the first place Mary and Joseph thought of to look for Jesus. After three days of searching, they find Him. In response to Mary’s question about treating them this way, Jesus says, “Why didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house”? Of course – where else would He be? For now, Mary and Joseph do not understand what Jesus is saying.

In His Jewish upbringing Jesus would have seen the temple as the place where God dwells. At 12 or 13 this is a logical frame of understanding. To us it makes sense as well. In our worship and in times when we want to be alone with God, we too feel connected to God in the sanctuary or chapel. As Jesus grows, however, His understanding of where we meet God expands greatly. It is along the road, in the house, on the mountain, by the lake, beside the well, and about anywhere else you can name. Jesus does spend some ministry time in the temple, but the vast majority of His ministry is spent outside in the world. This puzzled the religious leaders of the day and it continues to puzzle many today. But the unquestionable reality is that Jesus Christ found the least, lost, and last outside of the temple, in everyday life. That is where we will find them too. So may we go out today to share the light and love of Jesus Christ with the world.

Prayer: Lord, unbusy me. Help me to get outside the walls more and more. Help me to be better at doing your work in the world. Amen.


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Destination God

Reading: Psalm 84: 1-7

Verse 5: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage”.

Today’s Psalm has familiar words to music lovers young and old. The opening verse and bridge to the contemporary worship song, “Better In One Day”, spring from verses one and two. A great old hymn also comes to mind as one reads this Psalm. “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has its roots in Psalm 84. Both of these songs echo the psalmist’s key themes: we are blessed both when we are with God and when we are on the pilgrimage to be with God.

The original purpose of Psalm 84 would have been to encourage pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. They would have sung it as they traveled. The opening lines remind them of the goal – the temple. They would also be reminded of the ‘why’ behind the journey – to be in God’s presence. Verse two expresses this desire well: the soul yearns and the heart and flesh cry out. For those who have arrived, for those “who dwell in your house”, they are filled with praises for God. This joyous end of the journey would be much anticipated by the pilgrims.

The next stanza, verses five through seven, addresses the realities of life for some of the pilgrims. Verse five reads, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage”. This blessing is also ours. Once we decide to set our course with God, we too gain strength and encouragement for the journey. Once we profess our desire to walk with God, then we too are blessed. But the journey is not always joyous, not always easy. In the earliest texts of Psalm 84 the journey would have passed not through the valley of Baca but through the “valley of sorrows”. It was a dry place where the pilgrim’s tears would “make it a place of springs”. God’s presence would have been the “autumn rains” that filled them with blessings and joy. Even in sorrow, God is present. As these pilgrims journey on towards their destination, they know God’s presence as they “go from strength to strength” as they continue towards God’s dwelling place.

Whether we are like the sparrow that has found a home or if we are a pilgrim on the journey or if we now find ourselves passing through the valley, we know the same destination. This day and every day may we yearn for and cry out for God, ever seeking to dwell in God’s presence, drawing strength upon strength from the Lord our God. How lovely it is to dwell with the Lord!


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Anywhere, Anytime

Reading: Psalm 48: 9-14

Verse Nine: “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love”.

The Israelites viewed the temple as God’s dwelling place. It was a sacred and holy place. When the psalmist writes, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love” to open our passage today, he would have really meant it. The temple was the place to connect to God and to worship God. After the period in exile and the dispersal of Jews around the known world, synagogues also became places to meditate and reflect on God’s word and to praise and worship God. Yet even then there remained the connection with the temple as the home of God.

As we jump forward to our time and frame if reference, the church sanctuary is often the place where people feel close to God. Yet it is a place of God’s presence and not necessarily God’s being. The sanctuary is a holy and sacred place, but we do not feel like any of our sanctuaries are the home of God.

This shift has led to two important things for me. It has helped my sense of God’s omnipresence. The idea that God can be present in all places speaks to me of the vastness and unlimited nature of God. This ties into the unfailing love idea expressed by the psalmist. It also speaks of God’s presence in many other places besides the temple or synagogue or chruch. God can be intimately connected to during a walk on the beach, a hike in the woods, on a yoga mat in the living room, at the corner coffee shop… God can be and is encountered in many ways and in many places.

This shift also means that we can help others encounter God anywhere and anytime. This means we can minister to the broken and lost and hurting as instruments of God’s unfailing love wherever we encounter them. God is there too. Through loving others we can help them to meet and connect to God wherever they are at and whenever our paths cross. In doing so we are living out our faith and living into verse thirteen, telling of our God to the next generation of believers.

Lord God, bless us with opportunities to connect with you wherever we are and to witness to your power and presence with all we meet. May it be so today. Amen.


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Our God

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse Fourteen: “For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end”.

For many years the Jewish people found joy in the city of David. It was the place that God called home. It was the place of safety and refuge in times if war. Situated high upon the hill it offered both a commanding view and a strategic military advantage. In fact, we read that for enemy kings, just seeing Jerusalem brought terror and trembling.

As a people, the Israelites saw all of this as God’s handiwork and of His presence with the chosen people. Because it is the city of God, they feel like Jerusalem will the there, as it is, “secure forever”. The city is also the home of the temple – God’s home. In the temple the people can meditate on God’s unfailing love and can be in God’s presence. For many people of faith today, this is how we feel about and in our places of worship. The sanctuary is not just another room in a building we call a church or synagogue or mosque. It is the space where we sense God’s presence with us.

The psalmist closes with two encouragements. First, to “walk about Zion”. For the reader, this was Jerusalem. For us, where is our Zion? Where is that place that you feel most connected to God? Spend some time there today or this week. Sit or stand or walk about in that space, feeling and being in God’s presence. The second encouragement is to tell the next generation. We learn best by doing. Bring a child or a friend to your Zion. Allow them to experience what you experience there. When we take the time to enter into God’s holiness, into God’s presence, we begin to know and feel as the psalmist did when he wrote, “For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end”. May this be our God too.


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A New Thing

Reading: John 2: 13-22

Verse Fifteen: “He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area.”

Today’s passage is one of those instances where we see Jesus is mad. He creates a big ruckus in the temple by driving out all the merchants who sold animals for sacrifices and the money changers who exchanged coins so that people could pay the temple tax.

Although there was certainly corruption in these two systems, they did help facilitate worship for many of the pilgrims who came to the three yearly festivals. For some pilgrims it was impractical and for others it was just easier to buy a dove or sheep or cow once they arrived at the temple to offer the sacrifice. Many of these pilgrims were from foreign countries and their own coins with earthly images could not be used to pay the temple tax.

So it seems odd at first that Jesus would disrupt something that is helping people to practice their faith. Maybe it was because they were taking advantage of a captive audience. Maybe it was because they were inside the temple courts instead of outside of the sacred space. Maybe it was because the people were simply going through the motions instead of giving up an animal that really meant something to them. Ultimately, though, I think it was because they were continuing a system that must change. Jesus came to be the new system. He came to be the final, perfect sacrifice for all humanity. Jesus came so that people would have faith based on a relationship rather than on the rule-keeping, works-based system that had evolved.

Sometimes in our churches we also hold onto practices and traditions that are antiquated or are not serving their purpose anymore. When change is suggested it is met with resistance and questioning. Yet when we get stuck in some of our ruts, church feels stale, old, dead. It has ceased to be vibrant and life-giving. Yes, some traditions and practices still have great value and are great pieces of how we worship and grow closer to God. But not always. So may we trust into the Holy Spirit and seek the new thing God may be worked in our midst. Amen.


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Body, Mind, Heart

Reading: 1st Corinthians 6: 12-20

Verse Fifteen: “Do you know know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself”?

The believers in Corinth were not quite living a 24/7 faith.  They were living a faith that at times was disconnected from daily life.  Paul begins today with a statement that sums up this attitude: “Everything is permissible for me”.  The Corinthian believers were living however they wanted to, falsely thinking that they body and soul could be separate.  They were involved with prostitutes and were trying to say that this just involves the body – the soul is disconnected from this immoral act and therefore remains faithful to God. But Paul reminds them that when one unites with another they become “one flesh”.  He reminds them that they are part of the body of Christ and then asks if we should unite Christ with a prostitute.  “Never!” is Paul’s answer.

Prostitution is the apparent issue in the church in Corinth, but it is not the only struggle we wrestle with today.  The battle to keep our bodies and minds pure includes pornography, alcohol and drug addictions, verbal and physical abuse, gluttony, gossip, judging, and many, many more.  Just as Paul asked the church in Corinth, “Do you know know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself?”, so too must we ask ourselves this question today.  We cannot allow these sins to enter our bodies or minds without facing negative consequences both to our physical as well as spiritual being.  What we do with our bodies and minds is connected to our hearts and therefore to our relationship with God.

Paul goes on to write, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”.  As such, we should be careful how we treat our bodies and minds.  Paul reminds us, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price”.  Christ gave all for us.  This is another way of reminding us that since Christ dwells in us, we need to guard against sin entering our bodies and minds and hearts.  Just as Christ is pure and holy, so too are we called to live pure and holy lives.  As we seek to do this daily, we will bring all of the glory and honor to God in all we do, say, and think.  May it be so.