pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Open to Others

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.

On its most basic level the parable of the rich man is about greed and the negative decisions it can lead to. In the parable a bumper crop triggered the man’s “mine” instincts. He decided he had to build bigger barns to store his new crop. He coveted his grain because in it he saw not only financial security but also a chance to take some time to enjoy life. He was very focused on self.

Possessions and wealth are not the only things we can feel greed over and can seek to covet. This morning I read about a small neighborhood church in a changing community that decided to take a chance and reach out. Instead of holding onto their church, they opened their doors and invited their new immigrant neighbors inside. They invited them in and began praying with them – to find homes and jobs and for comfort to their loneliness. The praying led to relationships and that small church grew as their new friends became brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some churches could see new faces as threats to what they have and know. In many cases immigrants are cast in an “us” and “them” scenario. And immigrants are not the only people groups that can be seen in an “us” and “them” framework. When we create perceived differences between ourselves and another group of people, we are denying that they too were created in the image of God. When we allow greed to put up a barrier between us and our neighbors, we are holding tightly to what we have always known or had and are not allowing God’s love to work in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world, or in our own heart.

The rich man was focused only on self. He could not see all he had to offer his neighbors. His greed prevented him from seeing beyond himself and from experiencing God’s love at work. In the end, what good did all that grain do him? Storing up and holding things for ourselves – goods, money, time, compassion, prayers, empathy, a place at the table – does not make us rich towards God either. May we all learn a little from the rich man and from the church that opened its doors to those outside. May we practice what we learn.

Prayer: Lord God, who is out there today for me to engage? Lead me to share your love with another today. Soften my heart and open my eyes, hands, and feet. Amen.


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All

Reading: Romans 10: 8b-13

Verse 12: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him”.

Verse 12 is a pretty amazing statement when one considers who Saul was. As Saul, Paul was raised as an expert in the Law. He was a Pharisee – a person who dedicated his life to carefully following all of the Law. Saul followed the Laws that called for a strict separation between Jew and Gentile. The Jews were the chosen people of God, a group set apart. Gentiles were all non-Jews. This was a large group of people. As the early church began, Saul’s zeal turned upon the Christians, who were Gentiles according to Saul’s world view. Then Saul met Jesus. His heart was changed and his name was too. Paul is the Gentile version of Saul.

All of us are like Saul to some degree. We are raised with and we can learn stereotypes and prejudices or at least thoughts about certain groups, types, or classes of people. For Saul the dividing line was Jew-Gentile. It varies for each of us, but the list is long when put all together: men-women, black-white, American-immigrant, old-young, Republican-Democrat, white-Native American, jock-nerd, Christian-nonbeliever, white collar-blue collar, rural-urban, straight-homosexual, educated-uneducated, progressive-liberal… The list goes on. And on. But no matter who is on our lists, Paul’s truth remains truth because it is God’s truth: “For there is no difference between ____ and ____ – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him”. God created us all and loves us all as His dear children. All does mean all. Anyone we could name. Anyone we could put on the list. All is a pretty inclusive word. God’s love is inclusive.

We each live within God’s extraordinary love. In the Jews’ world at the time of Paul’s writing, the us-them mentality prevented them from sharing God’s love. This same mentality can have the same effect on us today. It should not be so. We read why in verse 13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. Everyone. That’s a big word too. May our love for all people, for everyone, be that big too.

Prayer: Lord of love, when I begin to see things that divide or separate, tear them down. When I begin to see differences, wipe them from my mind and heart. Create in me a pure heart, O God, a heart of love for you and those you love – all people. Amen.


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Measure Out Love

Reading: Luke 6: 32-38

Verse 36: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”.

Jesus continues in our passage today with the same radical love that we saw yesterday. Today He begins by comparing our call to love with the world’s way of love. Jesus points out that even ‘sinners’ love, do good, and lend to those who do the same to them. “What credit is it to you?” Jesus asks over and over. To just do the things the world does has no value in God’s kingdom. Again Jesus reiterates the call to love, do good to, and to lend to our enemies, but adds, “without expecting to get anything back”. This is nearing a godly love. Love them even though you know they will keep on sinning. Love us anyway God, even though you know we’ll fall short.

Why try and love as God loves? Because then we will be sons and daughters of God most high. Jesus reminds us why, saying, “because He is kind to the wicked and ungrateful”. He could just as well have said, “because He loves you”. With our worldly eyes this is hard to see, to understand. But it is the way of God and will be the way of Jesus Christ. In verse 36 Jesus offers another way to look at it: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”. Over and over again, we sin and hurt our relationship with God. Over and over. And over and over God extends mercy and says, “I still love you”. Over and over.

In the last two verses for today, Jesus gives us some examples of why we are to love even our enemies with this radical, all-encompassing love. It takes us back to the ‘golden rule’ of verse 31. But in these examples there are three parties – us, them, and God. Do not judge them and we will not be judged by God. Do not condemn them and we will not be condemned by God. Forgive them and we will be forgiven by God. Give to them and God will give to us. Love matters. It certainly does in our relationship with God so it had better matter in our relationship with others.

The section closes with this line: “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. Powerful. May we measure out lots of love, mercy, and grace today and every day.

Prayer: God of love, may I practice daily what your Son lived out every day. May love be my guide as it was Jesus’ guide. Amen.


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For Us

Reading: Mark 9: 38-41

Verse 40: “For whoever is not against us is for us”.

Who is in? Who is out? What do I have to do to be a part of this group or organization? What are the rules?

These are the questions we ask. We prefer rule and order. We like to be around people who are like us, people who have similar interests and hobbies, people who see the world as we see the world. It is even the way of the natural world. Lions hang out with lions, chickadees with chickadees.

In today’s passage, John asks Jesus about a man they do not know. This man was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. The disciples initial reaction was to tell the man to stop because he is not one of them. Who could walk into the church tomorrow morning and draw a similar reaction?

John is struggling with the opening questions that I posed today. This man is out, he is not part of their group, he is not following all the right rules. To John, one must be part of the group that follows Jesus 24-7. If you do not follow this rule, you better not be doing miracles in Jesus’ name. Jesus does not see it this way. Not even close. Jesus says to John and the disciples, “Whoever is not against us is for us”. Here we see Jesus once again being inclusive instead of exclusive.

If Jesus were the pastor left in our church tomorrow and “that” person or persons walked in, He would welcome them, introduce himself, help them to find a good seat, and would make sure they got coffee and cookies after church. He sees this man driving out demons as being for the kingdom. He wants His disciples to see people this way too. If you are not against us you are for us. For Jesus, all are welcome in the kingdom, all are invited. May we see all people this way too.

Lord, help me to be inclusive and welcoming and open to all people. When my heart or mind begins to erect barriers, smash them down. Give me eyes to see as Jesus saw and a heart to love as He loved. Amen.


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God’s Good

Reading: Psalm 125

Verse 4: “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright”.

For the psalmist and his contemporaries, trusting in God and doing what God said to do was how life was to be lived. A hop, skip, and a jump to the west or south or north and religion was what one must do to please Baal or some other god. Even today, as we scan the world, we find that religion is still essentially these two components: worship God or a god or gods and live a good life to gain an improved state in the next life. Naturally there is conflict between those who seek to worship their god and to do what is right according to that god and those who do not. All religions have an “us” and “them” mentality to some degree. In Judaism, you were one of the chosen people or you were not. In Christianity, either you are saved or you are not.

Psalm 125 clearly paints this picture. Trust in God and you will not be shaken. God surrounds His people. God banishes evildoers. In the context of this Psalm, the Jews were a closed group. They practiced circumcision as a physical sign of belonging to God. Either you were or you weren’t. The Law kept the Jews from mixing with others. Verse 4 fits right in: “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright”. Follow God and be blessed. Sin and be cursed was the flip side of this.

And then came this radical evangelist and his followers who shared a message that God loves all people. They took the idea that God was the omnipotent and omnipresent creator of all and applied God’s love in this way – to all people and to all situations. They acknowledged that we are all sinners. And then the leader, Jesus, gave His own life as the perfect sacrifice for all sins. He who was without sin, God’s own Son, gave His life to atone for all sin. Once and forevermore. Jesus defeated the power of death and rose to be the first of many to experience God’s grace. Grace – this purely Christian manifestation and experience of God’s love – says “I love you” over and over, to all people in all situations. Oh yes, God is good. God pours out grace upon grace freely. There is no condemnation, there is no punishment, there is no banishment.

Thank you God for your good grace – a grace that allows us to be forgiven and to walk upright in a continuing relationship with you. Thank you God for your goodness and your love. May both be evident in our lives. May both overflow from us so that all may come to know your love and grace. Amen.


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Room to Improve

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 45: “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”.

Mankind has long had an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. The dividing line can be drawn over many different characteristics and usually is drawn because of some level of ‘better than’ beliefs. Whether it has to do with race or nationality or ethnicity or education or socio-economics or gender or age or religion or… there is an artificial distinction created and an air of superiority floats over it all. There is a natural tendency to do this. To a degree we all like to be the best or at least to see ourselves or the group we belong to as the best.

Peter and the rest of the Jewish Christians thought so. Jews who had accepted Christ were the best, followed next by the regular Jews, and then there were the Gentiles – everyone else. It was ‘us’, ‘almost us’, and ‘them’. We still do this today. We each think this of our church or of our denomination. There is the Methodist Church, other Christian churches, and then non-believers. Each of us would substitute our own church or denomination in the first place. If we did not we would be attending a different church each Sunday morning. But ‘our’ must be universal, not singular and exclusive.

In today’s passage God demonstrates that all people are invited into faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit blows across all barriers and distinctions and includes all people. Verse 45 reads, “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”. The words ‘even on’ indicates the early church’s struggle with this new revelation. We too may struggle at first. But if we are open to the work of God in all forms then we too will accept all whom the Spirit calls. Once we get to know another and discover their heart for God, then we will see them as just another brother or sister in Christ. When we see the image of God in others, then we grow to love them as God loves them.

We remain far from being an ideal church. Individually we all have room to improve. In all, love remains the key. Each day may we strive to be more like Jesus Christ, to love more like He did. Today may we be more like Christ. And tomorrow may we love more. And the next day too. Holy Spirit, blow into our lives each day, leading us to love more fully and more completely. Amen.