pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Praying for Our Leaders

Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7 and 10-14

A good king in Israel would rule with justice and righteousness.  A good king would protect the people and provide for their needs.  A good king was sensitive to the needs and concerns of the poor and needy, giving them voice and meeting their basic needs.  A good king ruled according to God’s will.  The people prayed daily for the King, asking God to bless their reign with justice and righteousness.  Life was simply better when a good king reigned.

Today we do not have kings but have presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, senators, representatives, judges, governors, legislators, mayors, councilmen, and councilwomen.  The titles have changed by the roles should not.  As whatever level one serves, it should still be with righteousness and justice.  All should serve for the good of the people and the prosperity of the nation, state, city, or community.  It should not be a self-serving role.  Our role should not change either.  Our role is still to pray daily for all of our leaders.

As the people of God, we should pray each day for our leaders, at all levels, whether or not we align with their political leanings.  Each day we should pray for our leaders to govern with righteousness and justice, with compassion and understanding.  Each day we should pray for our leaders to be sensitive to the needs of the poor and the outcasts, for those without voice.  Each day we should pray that our leaders would lead according to God’s will.  And each day we should pray for our leaders to know and walk with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

May we be faithful in our daily prayers for our leaders so that God’s blessings and justice and righteousness may touch the land.  May we ever lift up our leaders so that God’s glory may shine through them.


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God’s Kingdom

Reading: Isaiah 11: 6-10

The vision Isaiah lays out is hard to wrap our minds around.  We can picture a wolf with a lamb or a lion eating straw.  But to imagine this and all the other images Isaiah presents as the daily reality for all of the animals of the world really stretches our minds.  When Isaiah writes, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my Holy mountain”, he means everyone and everything – man, animals, plants, nature…

We imagine heaven a number of ways.  Some see a beautiful city with streets paved with gold.  Some see us floating up in the sky, lounging on the clouds.  Some imagine a giant mansion with endless rooms in it.  But even more than what heaven will look like, we ‘know’ what it will be like.  We will constantly be in the light and live of God.  There will be no tears, no pain, no hurt, no hunger, no injustice, no oppression, no sin.

Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray… your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6: 9-10).  These familiar words from the Lord’s Prayer tie into the vision in Isaiah 11.  When Jesus taught the disciples this prayer, He included the idea of God’s kingdom coming here.  God’s will for the earth is peace, love, understanding, reconciliation, mercy.  God’s kingdom vision for the earth is the same as the vision for heaven.

So, what would our world look like if we put an end to all the harm and destroying?  What would life be like for all people if there was no violence, no abuse, no injustice, no oppression?  What would the world look like if there were no famine or drought or pestilence?  We, as God’s people, are kingdom builders.  What are you going to do today to help bring God’s kingdom to all the people you will encounter this day and to all the places you will be this day?


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The Journey On

Reading: Colossians 1: 15-20

Jesus, Paul declares, is the “firstborn of all creation”.  Since the beginning of time, Jesus has been the creator and the purpose for all that has been created.  He is therefore supreme over all.  Yet counter to all of this, Jesus is also the one who humbled Himself to death on a cross, becoming the “firstborn from among the dead”.  In doing so, Jesus became the way to true and eternal life.  Only through His blood can we be made righteous.

Jesus rule and example were so countercultural.  Jesus loved instead of conquered.  Jesus healed instead of killed.  Jesus forgave instead of holding grudges.  Jesus sacrificed instead of taking advantage.  Jesus offered compassion instead of judgment.  In all these ways, Jesus gave us an example we can each follow.  Love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, understanding, servant.  Jesus’ power comes from His heart, not from His brain or His brawn.  We are each born with the spark of the divine in our hearts.  We can thus all live a life that follows the ways of Jesus.  We were created in His image, intended to follow after Jesus as His disciples.

Next Sunday begins a new year in the church calendar as Advent begins.  Like the end of the calendar year, may it be a time when we pause and take stock of our journey of faith.  John Wesley called this life of faith a “journey towards perfection”.  It is a place we never reach, yet one we should always be arriving towards.  Jesus was the perfect example of God’s love lived out.  This week may we look at our journeys of faith – at both our times moving forward and at our times of failure.  May we each commit to a year of growth in our faith, seeking to ever become more and more like Jesus Christ, the one true King, the one and only Way.  May it be so.