pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Body and Work

Reading: Romans 12: 3-8

Verses 4 and 5: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”.

In today’s reading Paul gives some guidance on how to be (and not to be) “living sacrifices”. He begins with a warning: “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”. He is warning against arrogance and pride. When talking about gifts or talents, we can tend towards comparison and competition. For each of the gifts that Paul lists in verses six through eight there are ways to wrongly use each gift. For example, if a leader refuses to listen to others, then his or her pride soon leads to them leading a group of one. Or if God has blessed someone financially or otherwise and their gift is generosity, then giving can become a public display or it can come with strings attached. Both of these examples are getting away from the example set by Jesus.

Before reminding us that we are each uniquely gifted, Paul reminds us that the church is like the human body. He writes these words in verses four and five: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”. Although unique, as the church we still form one body of believers. He continues in verse five to write, “and each member belongs to all the others”. Imagine if we truly lived this out in our churches and in our own personal faiths! Paul is implying, rightly so, that we are all of equal worth or rank or value – whatever word you prefer. That means the newly confirmed or newly converted member has the same place as the 40-year member, as the pastor, as the lead elder… If the church as a whole lives into this kind of unity within its diversity, God’s power is at work.

In these types of churches each member feels like they matter and that they have something to offer to the whole. If all are valued and seen as bearers of God’s gifts, then all members seek to help others find, develop, and use their gifts. Doing so, the work of kingdom building becomes the work of the whole church. May we all seek to be a part of both sides of this equation: first, offering our gifts and talents as a living sacrifice and, second, helping others to do the same through words of encouragement, support, and love.

Prayer: God, as I consider this new body of Christ to which I belong, help me to lead well and to get to know and understand the gifts and talents of each sheep. Guide me with Holy Spirit discernment to how to best build up the body for your glory. Amen.


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Into the Presence

Reading: Matthew 17: 1-9

Verse 2: “There he was transfigured… his face shown like the sun… his clothes became as white as light”.

Tomorrow is known in many denominations and churches as “Transfiguration Sunday”. The three disciples closest to Jesus are selected to go up the mountain with him. Peter, James, and John enter into the mystery of God atop the mountain. “There he was transfigured… his face shown like the sun… his clothes became as white as light”. In many ways these three men experience something totally unique and absolutely foreign to them. And yet they are drawn in. There is something powerful about the mystery of God.

Peter’s first reaction is to preserve the moment. He knows it is “good” for them to be there and he offers to build three shelters. Maybe his mind is not making sense of what he sees and he wants time to be in the moment and to wrap his head around it. Maybe he is connecting to the presence of these two Old Testament icons and that is what he wants to hold onto. Like many of us do with Jesus, perhaps Peter has some questions to ask Moses and Elijah. Whatever the cause for wanting to preserve it, Peter is a good example for us.

Peter first recognizes the sacredness of the moment. He is present to something wrapped in mystery and power and he sees that in the moment. He recognizes God in that space. Second, Peter does not shy away. Instead of being fearful or being paralyzed by the mystery, he invites its continued presence. Our first reaction may be to turn and hide or even to run. Being that close to the holiness of God may be challenging to us. It was a life-changing moment for Peter. That has been revealed in our reading and considerations on 2nd Peter 1 these past days.

When we find ourselves in God’s presence, within the mystery, do we seek to make it last? Do we step into that sacred space and allow the whole point of today’s passage to be what consumes us? Do we stop and become fully present to the presence of God? Do we listen to him?

Prayer: God, when you are present to me in those blessed moments, may I be like Peter. May I humbly step into that sacred place, inviting what you have for me to become my reality. May it ever be so. Amen.


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Welcome and Hospitality

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

Verses 5 and 6: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”.

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles invites them to become a part of the society that they have been forced into. It can be the tendency to try and remain isolated and to hold onto what makes one unique. Thinking back to the high point of immigration in the US, for example, cities had ethnic neighborhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown. In some cases whole towns had a mostly homogeneous ethnic make-up. In our passage today, God is encouraging the Israelites to become a part of where they are. They are instructed to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”. They are to live with and amongst their new neighbors.

Today we have both immigrants and refugees that come to the US. The refugees are most like the exiles because these groups tend to arrive in significant numbers. There are often language barriers and usually social and cultural differences as well. These factors tend to isolate us from our new neighbors and vice versa. But they do not have to. A little north and east of the town I live in is a town that welcomes refugees and immigrants. The school system works hard to help the children and the community provides employment opportunities for the adults. Churches play a role in the acclimation process in a number of ways. The Latino and Hmong people have enriched and have helped the whole community to thrive. They are not without instances of prejudice and intolerance, but overall it is a successful experiment. They are modeling well Jesus’ example of loving the other.

In almost all of our communities we have new people move in. In my town they usually come from another town in or near South Dakota, but occasionally they are from further abroad. In these cases, we too should extend welcome and hospitality to them. We as Christians should do what we can to help them succeed and flourish because when they prosper, we prosper too – not just economically but socially and spiritually as well.

As individuals, as churches, and as communities, may we be people of love, extending radical hospitality to all we meet. In doing so we also extend God’s love.

Prayer: Father of all, help me to be a friend to all. Empower me to love others unconditionally, just as you love me. Create in me generous hands and feet and a giving heart, just as Jesus modeled for us. Thank you, Father God. Amen.


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Sacred Worth

Reading: Philemon 1-21

Verse 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ”.

Paul writes this letter to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. He is a slave that ran away from Philemon and served Paul during this time. We do not know when Onesimus became a Christian. We do know that slavery was common and was accepted during this time. Paul implies that Onesimus is a changed man and that Philemon should accept him back as such. Paul encourages him to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a “dear brother” in Christ. There is an implication that Onesimus would be more useful and would serve him better if Philemon treats him as an equal rather than as a slave.

Although slavery is not legal in most places today, the implication still has application for us today. In our day to day lives we see and encounter all sorts of people. Society and groups within society often have a social order established that says this person is better than that one and that person is lower than those people. It happens at school, at work, on our teams, in line at the store, driving down the street… None of us are exactly alike. We not only have physical attributes that make us each unique, we also have different intrinsic abilities that add another layer to our individualism. Society often places arbitrary value or worth on this attribute or that ability. Paul is saying that the only thing that matters in how we treat others is our inherent status as children of God. If that is our only measuring stick, then we will treat all equally. When we treat one person this way and that person another way, then we are straying from Jesus’ example. Jesus treated the prostitute the same way he treated the Pharisee. He treated the leper the same way he treated the closest disciples.

Paul’s plea is for Philemon to treat Onesimus as a fellow brother in Christ. Sometimes we will be the one serving or working or playing for another. Sometimes we will be on the other side of the equation. In either case Christ is our example. If all we do and say and think is modeled after Jesus’ example, then we will see all people’s sacred worth and we will treat all people equally and fairly. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to see you in all I meet today. In all I encounter may love be the guide and the driving force behind all I do and say and think. Amen.


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Gifts

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 1-11

Verse 7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”.

Our youth group decided to have a pot luck dinner before we met. Everyone was to bring their favorite dish. The kids were excited and talked about what they were going to bring. I got busy that day at church so I grabbed a bag of chips. All kids like chips, right? Stacy, our adult volunteer, had to visit a sick friend that afternoon, so she just stopped on the way to church and grabbed a bag of chips. One youth was in wrestling, a few were in basketball, a couple were in the play, some had a lit of homework to do – and they all brought chips. Would you like to come to our pot luck?

I make a really good scalloped potatoes and ham. Stacy, she makes the best chocolate cake ever. Tom works part-time at the Greek restaurant and make a great antipasto salad. The twins, Ann and Stan, are competitive and have each developed their own unique but awesome spins on carrot dishes. Been loves to bake with his mom and makes these buttery and flaky croissants that melt in your mouth. In fact, all of our youth have dishes that they can each make that are pretty outstanding. Would you rather come to this pot luck? I would!

We can play this scenario out in our churches. We can say we are too busy to offer our gifts to God. We can even deny having a gift. Paul writes about gifts or manifestations in our passage today. Paul begins by reminding us that although we are each different in our gifts, service, and works, we all belong to the same God, Lord, and Spirit. Our common faith is what connects us together. In verse 7 Paul writes, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”. We all have gifts that have been given to us. These gifts – wisdom, knowledge, healing, prophecy, … – are given for a purpose. We are each gifted for the common good. Our churches are better pot lucks when we each bring and use our gift that the Spirit has given us. What is your gift? How are you using your gift to make your church and world a better place?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gifts your Spirit had given me. May I be faithful in using them to bless my church and those I meet out in the world. Amen.


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Present

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18

Verse Eighteen: “When I awake, I am still with you”.

Each of us are unique creations of God’s mighty hand. We are all “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Each of our days are ordained or blessed by God. Sounds pretty wonderful, doesn’t it?!

The Psalm gives us a feeling of being intimately known by God. On our good days this does feel like a blessing. To know and to feel like God is present is reassuring and comforting. But on our days when we wrestle with the things of this world and when we sin, that presence can feel a little uncomfortable. When we stumble because our flesh is weak, it is disconcerting to know that God is present for those moments too. Yes, God is right there then too.

And then there are those times when life happens – when there is a cancer diagnosis or when someone dear passes or when our job suddenly comes to and end or… We are not the cause and we are not caught up in sin or evil, but these days come too. And in the midst of all this, God too remains present. Sometimes God even enlists helpers. Friends drop by with a meal or just to visit. The church seems to become a little closer too as people check in on you. Phone calls and texts and cards arrive from folks you forgot you knew. God’s love and care comes in many ways. The Holy Spirit even joins in, reminding us of those passages that we need to hear again. We think, along with the psalmist, “How prescious to me are your thoughts, O God”!

In our days of faithful obedience, in our days of rebellion, and in our days of trial and suffering, our one constant is God’s presence. God brings us hope and strength and reassurance and comfort and … God has been present since we were knit together and God will ever be present to us – in this life and in the life to come. Each and every day we can offer up this praise: “When I awake, I am still with you”. Thanks be to God for always being present! Amen.


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Creator

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18

Sometimes the amazing work of God leaves me speechless.  The intricate beauty of a spider’s web or the complex and exact design of a honeycomb catches my attention.  The stunning colors of a field of wildflowers reveals to me God’s unlimited vision.  The power of a huge thunderstorm gives me a glimpse of the might found in God’s fingertips.  The sun rising in the stillness of a calm morning brings more insight into God’s creativity.

Yet nothing reveals God’s ability to design and create more than the human being.  We are so complex physically and emotionally.  A multitude of processes happen in our body each second without a conscious thought on our part.  We can think and learn and invent and solve almost without limit.  Human beings are God’s masterpiece.  No two of us are exactly alike so we are each one of billions and billions of individually hand-crafted masterpieces.  Amazing.

The psalmist writes, “you created my inmost being” and “your eyes saw my unformed body”.  In these verses we gain a sense of the time and care God put into each one of us.  It is humbling to think that the God of the entire universe, the God who made and makes everything, takes the time to knit each of us together, to weave us together into a handmade creation.

God values each of us deeply as our Creator.  The God who formed us also desires to dwell in us and to be an active part of our lives.  The presence of God within each of us calls us to live a holy and righteous life.  Our response to God within us is to share God with others.  In word and deed we have the privilege of living as a unique child of God every day.  May we bring praise and glory to the Lord this day with our every act.  May our lives today reveal our Creator to the world.


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Love with All

Reading: John 14: 23-24

When asked by the teacher of the Law what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded with two and they both had to do with love.  The first was to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  This is a tall order.  In my mind the Word ‘all’ means 100% of the time with 100% of my being.  I can certainly love God a lot most of the time, but all?  The second was to love your neighbor as self but soon became love neighbor as I first loved you.  In the first form the love was a human love.  When Jesus added “as I first loved you”, it took it up a notch.  Jesus loved all people all of the time.  There is that ‘all’ word again.

In today’s passage, Jesus reveals one of the reasons we are to love God.  When we love God, we obey God.  If this is the choice we make and the path we try to walk daily, then the second command becomes easier.  Jesus promises that when we obey and follow Him out of love, then He will come and dwell in our hearts.  It is a much deeper connection to God when all we do is done out of that love that now dwells in our heart as the Spirit leads and guides us in living love out.  It is miles beyond trying to love God and neighbor because that’s what the Law or other parts of the Bible says we are supposed to do.

And in reality we struggle at times to love God with all that we are.  We drift, we doubt, things don’t go our way, we get too busy.  We also have a hard time loving that guy or a girl like that.  We are unique people and sometimes another’s uniqueness is hard for us to understand or to be around.  The goods news, though, is that when we fall short of ‘all’, it is not the end.  Not even close.  Part of “as I first loved you” is His never-ending promise of love.  It is a love that wipes away our failure and covers it with grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  Whether through prayer, time in the Word, in worship, or any other means that reconnects us to God, we can again walk in His love, feel His Spirit dwelling in our hearts, and again begin to walk seeking to love God with all that we are and to love others as He first and still loves us. 🙂