pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love and Peace

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13

Verse 11b: “The God of love and peace will be with you”.

As we return to Paul’s closing words in his second letter to the Corinthians, we focus in on God’s love and peace. Paul promises the church in Corinth that the “God of love and peace will be with you”. This promise remains true for us today.

Christianity does not have the corner on love and peace. People without faith have love in their lives. They fall in love and they feel loved. People without faith can also experience peace in their lives, although it seems a bit more elusive than love for the general population. I think that is because the source is different. Without God, you are the source of your peace. In that world, one only has peace when things are going well. In life though, one cannot control everything, so peace can become more elusive. The source of peace for the Christian is the God of love. In faith, peace and live are connected together. God is primarily love and once we have decided to declare Jesus as Lord, we become loved in a new and complete and unconditional love. It is a no-matter-what love. No matter what we do, God will not love us any more. No matter what we do not do, God will not love us any less. God’s love is an undeserved and unmerited yet total and complete and unchanging love.

As ones created in God’s image, as ones who know his love, we find a peace and contentment that eludes many in this life. Our peace is from God’s love. We know the one who loves us created all the world and is in control of all things. Because he loves us, God’s Spirit walks with us through all of life. God’s unending love brings us a peace that passes all human understanding. It is a peace that the world does not know.

Many of us are praying for peace in our world and in our nation. As we do so, may we keep in mind that it is all built upon knowing God’s love. This day may we seek to make God and God’s love known. Only then will peace between all peoples begin to take lasting roots. May the God of love rain down unconditional love. Peace will follow.

Prayer: Dear God, in all things and in all ways, you are love. God, this day may I be a conduit of your love. In that love may others find connection to you. Through a relationship with you, may our world find peace. Amen.


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Lead in Love

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 19: “When the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and said, ‘Peace be with you!'”

Following his death the disciples gathered together in their small community and were present to one another. The recent events left them feeling powerless and vulnerable. There was a sense of fear hanging over them. If this could happen to him, it could happen to any of them. If the Jews, the ones filled with power and fears of their own, could flex their muscles and cause this to happen to Jesus, the disciples were well within their reach.

Fear is certainly present in our society today. COVID has created many: fear of dying, fear of sickness, fear or losing a business, fear of financial failure, fear of isolation… Fear is also very present right now in some of our cities and in some of our social groups. Another senseless death has sent another ripple of fear through affected communities. The ripple had become a flood of emotion and response in some places. Even though there is no place for hate in God’s kingdom, it remains something that humanity is struggling with in this world.

As the disciples gathered on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, locked behind some closed doors, he came and said, “Peace be with you”! They were overjoyed. Speaking directly into their fear he said, “I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus encourages them to walk into the world tinged with hate and oppression as people filled with love and power. The Spirit would be the source of love and power and strength and hope. It was a presence the disciples would need as they set out to transform the world.

The Holy Spirit continues to lead with love. It is a love for all people, not just for some. It is a love that leads to compassion and understanding and empathy and unity. It is a love that is both culture blind and colorblind. Just yesterday I read a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “Protest is the voice of the powerless”. Yes, often it is. The root cause is powerlessness. Feeling powerless leads to feeling hopeless and helpless. In moving forward may the disciples of Jesus Christ continue to allow the Holy Spirit to lead in love. We with power must choose to be voices for those without. For the healing of our communities and of our world, may God’s love lead the way. May it start with each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, the Holy Spirit empowered the first disciples to transform their world. It began with them loving you above all else and then spread to loving one another. The community was based upon love and grace and mercy and compassion and justice. Their love changed the world. Make it happen again, Lord. Empower your disciples today to be change agents once again, leading the way across divides and through barriers. Let love be our guide, bringing healing and restoration. May it begin with me, O God. Amen.


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Walking as Witnesses

Reading: Acts 2: 14a and 22-33

Verse 24: “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him”.

As Acts begins, the early church is starting to take shape and to grow. In today’s passage we read part of one of the first sermons given about Jesus Christ. Peter uses Old Testament scripture to connect his audience to Jesus. In verses 17-21 he quotes from Joel 2 and in our passage today he quotes from Psalm 16. In preaching to a mostly Jewish crowd Peter is using their prior knowledge to build new understanding.

In today’s passage Peter recounts the basics of the crucifixion before turning to the reality of the resurrection. In verse 24 he writes, “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him”. Impossible. As Peter links into all the Old Testament scripture that speaks of and prophesies about Jesus, he believes that the plan, God’s plan, was perfect. All the dots connect. Therefore it is impossible for death to interrupt God’s perfect plan. Peter then uses the quote from Psalm 16 as his proof text. He reads these words of David as words about Christ – David’s promised heir upon the throne forever.

Peter closes his case with an eyewitness claim. Not only do the scriptures speak of Jesus’ resurrection, but Peter and his fellow disciples are eyewitness – they have seen the risen Lord. Peter is so sure that he states that they are “witnesses of the fact”. Peter is as sure of what he has seen as he is of the Old Testament passages that speak of the Messiah. All of this leads Peter to the place David found too – to “live in hope”. Jesus Christ is our hope too. He is our promise of God’s love. As we begin to walk anew as Easter people, may we too walk as witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Father God, may I bear witness to the truth of the resurrection today. May all I do and say and think point to the risen Lord, my Savior. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring you all the glory today. Amen.


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Filled to Love

Reading: Matthew 17: 1-9

Verse 5: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him”!

Leading into chapter seventeen Jesus has just finished speaking about his impending death. Peter speaks quick words once again, saying, “This will never happen to you”. Jesus rebuked him, explaining that one must deny self and take up the cross. This chapter draws near to a close as Jesus says, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul”? In humility and obedience to God, Jesus will do just the opposite on the cross.

Six days later Jesus takes Peter, along with James and John, up the mountain and is transfigured before them. The light that surrounds Jesus is a peak at resurrection light. There will be no sun or moon in the new creation – the light will shine forth from the one who sits on the throne. This moment affirms what dying to self and finding true life looks like. God also offers affirmation of Jesus and the path ahead, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him”! Love. Humility, obedience, dying to self, losing one’s life – all require love. Love of God and love of one another lead and guide these actions. Ultimately love leads us to listen to Jesus and to do what he says and does. When we love as Jesus first loved us, the light of God shines within us too.

When we are filled with the light and love of God, that love flows out of us and into the lives of one another. When we love as Jesus loved, we offer forgiveness, care, comfort, presence, support, understanding… In doing so we experience a little bit more of heaven here on earth as we seek to build the kingdom here. When we choose to live a life of love and self-sacrifice we choose to be used by God. In doing so we are also pleasing in God’s sight. This day and every day, may we listen well to Jesus, filling ourselves with his light and love, being prepared to go forth to share these with the world.

Prayer: Father God, Jesus touched the disciples and said, “Do not be afraid”. Touch me too Lord and whisper those words to me. Send me out with courage to love and live boldly for you. Fill me with your light and love, then empty me, pour me out into the world. Thank you, God. Amen.


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You Are Loved

Reading: Psalm 8:1

Verse 1: “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice”?

God is wisdom. God calls out to us in many ways. God is understanding. God raises her voice to help us to have understanding too. God calls out with a raised voice to get our attention, to help us hear the message: you are loved.

In our world there is plenty of negativity. On social media we find lots and lots of negativity. News outlets of all kinds overflow with negative stories. In our personal lives we too often deal with critics and others who are negative towards us or our efforts. Add to all of this the normal trials and hardships of life. Taken together, this can be difficult to deal with and it can quickly feel defeating.

In the selection from Proverbs 8 that we read yesterday, we saw how God delights in us and rejoices over us. God calls out to us over and over in scripture to let us know how much we are loved and valued. In Genesis 1:27 we read that we were “created in his own image”. In Psalm 139 we are reminded that we were knit together in the womb by God’s own hand. In Jeremiah 1:5 we read that “before you were born you were set apart”. We are reminded in Matthew 6 that we are loved and cared for by God – and are much more beautiful than the lilies! In John 14:18 we are told that we will never be orphaned – Jesus will always be with us. These are but a handful of the many passages that tell us how dearly we are loved. In so many ways, God shouts out: you are loved.

We are loved indeed. Today, may we go forth to share that love with others, helping all to know God’s love today.

Prayer: God of love, so fill me with your love so that it overflows into the lives of all I meet today. Amen.


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In All Things

Reading: Philippians 4: 4-7

Verse 7: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ”.

Paul writes these encouraging words to the Philippians from prison. Even though he is in chains, his outlook and attitude are the same as always. Paul lives into the words he writes; he prays that the people of Philippi do too. The living Word of God encourages us to do so as well.

Paul begins our passage today with “Rejoice!” twice. In all cases, good or bad, Paul encourages us to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the One who is ever present in our lives. Because we rejoice, we are not always anxious or worried. This leads to the gentleness that Paul implores us to exhibit. Be at peace. “In everything”, by prayer, present our requests to God. If something is on your heart, bring it to God in prayer.

Bringing all to God in prayer accomplishes at least four things. First, it helps us recognize that we are dependent upon God for much in this life. We can do very little on our own. Second, it deepens our relationship with God. By being honest and intimate with God, we are building that connection. Third, it helps us live in a place of humility. The first two things fight against the arrogance that seems to be so natural. And, lastly, it brings us peace as we turn the cares and worries of life over to God.

In verse 7 Paul writes, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ”. Yes, the peace that settles over us is of God and, therefore, it does transcend our human understanding. It is a peace that stills the anxiety. It is a peace that brings the gentle demeanor. It is from this place of peace that God guards our hearts and minds. God guards us against the lies and slings of Satan and the world. We rest in our place in God’s kingdom, knowing that in Jesus Christ we are blessed with the salvation of our souls. It is a very good place to be.

In all things, may we trust in the Lord, finding peace for our lives and hope for our souls. Amen.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, may I always turn all things over – the joys and rejoicing as well as the trials and sufferings. In all things, you are my God, my hope and peace. Amen.


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Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse Three: There the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.

Unity is fragile and something we must be aware of and be willing to work to maintain.  In this sense, unity is a mindset.  It is something either we value and are willing to give effort towards or it is not.  Unity and the desire to have unity are fueled by love and faith.  As unity is something that can be broken easily, we need to recognize that our humanity makes unity hard to maintain.  This difficulty grows with each person or group added to the mix.

Within our families, unity is driven most by love.  We want those we love to be happy and cared for and content.  Yet every once in a while we do or say something selfish or in anger and unity is temporarily lost.  As our desire for unity is driven by love, we quickly work to restore it.  We apologize or we correct the wrong and receive forgiveness.

But as the circle grows, unity becomes increasingly harder.  Other people and groups we are not a part of have differing thoughts, interests, and opinions.  At times these seem to be in contrast to our thoughts, interests, and opinions.  If we truly see all as dearly loved by God and all as worthy of our love as well, then we must begin to seek to understand those who are not just like us.  It is only when we stop and listen to the other that we can begin to find some common ground.  This common ground allows us then to speak the truth in love.  We must be careful here – the truth is God’s truth in love, not our truth in love.  From here we must be willing to seek a way forward.  We must be open to envisioning the way forward as God envisions the way forward and we must allow God to lead.  For our part, we must live into God’s plan.

Over all of this is love and forgiveness.  Recognizing our own humanity, we should be ready to offer love and forgiveness in heaps.  Unity is how God designed creation and how He intends the world to be.  “There the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore”.


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Delve Deeper

Reading: Matthew 13: 24-30

Verse 24: The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.

Today’s parable immediately follows the parable of the sower with the four soils and the parable’s explanation.  Just as the audience is nodding in approval as they wrap their heads around this teaching, Jesus begins another parable with, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field”.  Yes, God is good so He would sow good seed.  Many would have thought back to the thorny soil in the last parable and connected the thorns with the evil one.  It is a logical connection.  But maybe not.  This is the nature of the parables.  They are intended to make us think, to lead us to delve deeper than the surface understandings, to challenge and push us forward, to pull us up short and to lead us to repentance.

Most folks who walked up as Jesus began the parable would understand the opening scene.  Evil has always existed in our world and evil men do evil things.  In almost all fields,weeds seem to be a constant presence.  And no, I did not plant weeds in my garden; but, yes, there are a lot of them.  So maybe the people there that day just dismissed the weeds as the ‘staff’ of everyday life.  For some, maybe Satan was the planter.  After all, he sows temptations into our lives all the time.

But then comes the twist.  No, don’t pull the weeds.  Let them grow alongside the wheat.  Huh?  The audience with the nodding heads would have become still.  Quizzical faces would have developed.  I imagine a long pause here by Jesus – for full effect.  Today we read the last verse and our mind connects to the judgment that will come.  Weeds to hell, good crop to heaven. Got it!

But do we?  Was or is that Jesus’ meaning?  What else could it mean?  How else could it apply to our lives?  What if the parable is about how we mature in our faith, not removing the sin until our roots are strong enough not to fall right back into it?  Just one of many possible applications!  Think, delve deep, wrestle with the things of God, find meaning for yourself.  God’s blessings on the journey.


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Extreme Love

Reading: Romans 5: 6-11

Verse 8 – God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Sometimes it is hard to really understand how much God loves us.  Sometimes it is hard to fathom how a pure and holy and perfect God could want to have a relationship with humanity.  One looks at the world and society at times and wonders why God is still engaged.  Yes, the faithful do offer some hope.  Those who are followers of Christ do try and live according to God’s ways and try to live in ways that are pleasing to God, in ways that shine His light into the world.  There are many folks working to build God’s kingdom here on earth.

But Paul is not writing about today.  Paul is writing in a world that was drifting in the other direction.  The Jews were not seeking to spread the news of God, to bring new people to the faith.  It could be argued that the faith had become religion – more about following all of the rules and less about a relationship with God.  Looking back over the course of the Old Testament, there is cycle after cycle of disobedience, punishment, eventual repentance, restoration of relationship.  Over and over again.  It was into this scenario that God sent His only Son.  It was into this world of sinners that Jesus came.  Verse eight reads, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.  While the world was broken, sinful, far from God, it was then that Jesus came.

It would be like taking time today to help that coworker who always gets on your nerves.  It would be like giving a ride to that dirty, stinky person who you know is going to ask for money before you reach your destination.  It would be like bringing a meal to that neighbor who never says thankful and always has something to complain about the meal the next time you talk.  It would be like saying hello to that older gentleman again this Sunday when all he does is scowl and grumble something under his breath.  Each of these and any worse one can imagine are just a sliver of the love that God showed in sending Jesus.  It was a show of love beyond our wildest understanding.  It is extreme love.  May we go and do likewise.


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God in Us

Reading: 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23

Through Jesus we have a personal, tangible connection to God.  Just as at Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit descended and dwelled in Him, so too does the Spirit come and dwell in us once we ask Jesus into our hearts.  Once we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then we live with God’s presence within us.  This personal, tangible connection is so much more powerful than God just dwelling in the temple or only being found in our churches today.

Because Christ dwells in us once we accept His Lordship, the living presence of God makes each of us holy.  Once the Spirit dwells in us, we are carriers of Christ’s holiness, we are bearers of His light and love.  There can be no presence of darkness in our hearts once Jesus dwells there.  Yes, Satan can whisper lies and dangle bright, shiny objects before us, but he cannot abide in our hearts.  Once we invite Christ in then Satan must work on the perifery of our lives.  Once we begin to live as a Christ-follower, we are filled with Christ’s goodness and are able to tap into that to make Satan flee.

There also communal aspects to Christ dwelling in us.  The living Spirit within causes us to look outward instead of inward.  Christ living in us gives us eyes that see with compassion and empathy and understanding and hope and love.  Through His eyes we see needs and places to share our faith.  Through Christ’s presence in us we are moved to action, being His hands and feet in our world.  This same outward focus helps us build community with our fellow believers.  In the same way that we focus outward with those in need, we also look to be of service to one another and to our communities of faith.  We share and use the gifts and talents that God has given each of us to build up one another for service outside the church walls.

The indwelling of God in us is a wonderful thing.  It forever changed us and our role in the church and in the larger community.  Each day may we live into all God calls us to be, allowing God to work in, through, and out of us.