pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Light and Love

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Verse 3: “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”.

As Isaiah writes today’s words, most of Israel remains in exile in Babylon. Some of those have melded into the culture there and will not return to Israel. Exile has become home. A small remnant has returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but they feel like foreigners in a strange land. They are not strong or powerful; they feel weak and helpless. Yet Isaiah reminds them that God is with them.

Sometimes I think this is what many Christians feel like in this post-Christian era. We feel like we are in the minority. Much of the time our beliefs and understandings clash with today’s cultural norms. It feels like we are a small remnant. And often we feel powerless in the world, like strangers in a foreign land.

Isaiah speaks words of hope to Israel. He writes, “The Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you”. Even though they feel powerless and a bit out of place, God’s presence rises over them. Their power is not in arms or swords or thick walls around Jerusalem. Their power is in God’s presence with them.

We too can claim this message from Isaiah. In a world too easily filled with darkness, we too are surrounded by God’s presence. God’s presence in our lives fills us with a light and love that we can share with those we know and encounter who are living in darkness. In a nation where diversity and differences seem to be the priority, God’s light and love offer unity and cooperation. Verse 3 reads, “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”. As Christians, we know God’s light and love. May we bring that light and love into the broken and dark world, bringing hope and peace. May this verse be our prayer for the day and for the new year that lies just ahead. May our lives and our faith be a blessing to our world.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of peace and hope, of light and love. May your light and love shine out brightly every day. May the light and love of Jesus in my heart become a beacon of light to all who are lost and living in darkness. May it be so O God! Amen.

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Community

Reading: Philippians 1: 3-8

Verse 6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul begins by thanking God for the faith this church displays. Each time that he prays for them he rejoices in their “partnership in the gospel” with him. They must be living out their faith well. Paul also recognizes the end game as well. Their faithful living will lead to the redemption of their souls. In verse 6 he writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Paul is thankful for their place in the family of God both now and in eternity.

Do you have folks in your life that you can say this about? Can you survey those you know and offer up such a prayer of thanksgiving for them? We each have people “in my heart”, just as Paul did, that we too can be lifting prayers of thanksgiving for. There are many in my family and in my circles of church friends and colleagues who have great faith that I am thankful for. Their witness and example encourage and strengthen me on my journey of faith.

For Paul, whether in chains or out preaching the gospel, he appreciated the connection that he has with all Christians everywhere. Paul knows that the family of God extends across geographical spaces and through cultural and social differences. He writes, “all of you share in God’s grace with me”. If he were reading this line aloud, I think Paul would emphasize the word “all”. There is a unity amongst and a connection between all members of the body of Christ. For this too I rejoice. For Christians everywhere, no matter our denominational flavor, we all share the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are all living under the same covenant of grace. In the essentials, we enjoy unity and community. Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for all of those you have and continue to place in my life who live as witnesses to your will and way. They mean so much to me, to my faith. Bless them, O Lord. I also thank you for my fellow Christians, who also seek to bring you glory as together we build the kingdom. Thank you God for the larger community of faith. Amen.


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Prayer for Disciples

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verse Eleven: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – so that they may be one as we are one”.

In the moments before going to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before being arrested, Jesus offers this prayer for the disciples. He knows what lies ahead for Himself and the impact His death and resurrection will have on His followers, so He prays for them.

This prayer begins with thanks for the relationships that He has developed with these disciples. Jesus is thankful for the opportunity to pour into them and to help them know that He was sent by God. Through these three years together, the disciples have witnessed Jesus living amongst and loving fully all kinds of people.

In the first half of verse eleven Jesus acknowledges that it is time for Him to leave the world. The disciples will remain in the world and will be charged with continuing the building of the church. In the second half of verse eleven He prays, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – so that they may be one as we are one”. He is praying for these disciples who are no longer of the world to be protected by God. He is also praying for unity. Jesus knows the trials and persecution they will face. Unity with God and with Jesus and with each other will carry them through all the world can throw at them. They will each remain protected and in unity up to the time of their death.

In the bigger sense, Jesus is also praying this prayer for all of the believers who come after the disciples. He is praying it for you and for me. Once we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are not of this world any longer. Our home is in heaven. Our lives here are but a mist compared to eternity with Jesus. But in the meantime, we do have a role to play. Jesus sent the disciples and He also sends us into the world. In unity with God and Jesus and each other, may we too faithfully go out into the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ. The world needs to hear this message of hope and love. May we share it well.


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Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse Three: “There the Lord bestows His blessings, even life forevermore”.

Psalm 133 is all about the blessing of living in unity. When our relationships are filled with unity and communion, life does not get much better than that. It brings to mind those carefree relationships of early childhood, when we simply played together, and those days of first falling in love, when he or she could do no wrong. Yet as we age our relationships with others grows and becomes more complicated. Even the relationship with the love of our life has times of strife and discord. As we are imperfect creatures, there is no earthly relationship that is perfect.

Still the psalmist is clearly calling us to live with each other in unity. It is a worthy thing to call us to. As he writes, it is good and pleasant when we get along and work well together. The oil on the head and the dew on the land are blessings. We too experience God’s blessings when we live in unity. It is because “there the Lord bestows His blessings, even life forevermore”.

God is also a part if our community of faith. We are also called to live in unity with God. This is a little different than living in unity with one another because God is perfect. In covenant, God promised to be our God and to always love us. He does so without fail. But fail we do! We fall to sin and create separation from God. But through the covenant of Jesus’ blood God offers us mercy and grace and forgiveness over and over and over. Through this gift we are restored to the holy and perfect person that can be once again in relationship with God.

From our relationship with God we learn what it requires to live in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It starts with love. As Jesus said, they will know we are His disciples by how we love one another. Next we must be quick to add mercy and grace and forgiveness to our human relationships too. When we focus on these qualities, then we can experience unity and live in communion with each other. May we ever practice love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. May we ever live in unity with our community of faith, bringing God honor and glory.


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Good and Pleasant

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind… they shared everything they had”.

What a beautiful picture of the community of faith is painted for us here in Acts 4! The day of Pentecost had just occurred and God added to their numbers in a big way. The power of the Holy Spirit that came at this event also carried Peter and John through their time before the Sanhedrin. There is a buzz and excitement and energy about the church. There is a tangible sense of hope and promise amongst the people. And there is a tremendous feeling of community. All of this is summed up in verse 32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind… they shared everything they had”. It was all the church is supposed to be: community, harmony, love, care, generosity.

I believe this is still God’s vision for the church. When one studies Jesus’ ministry, these are the things that He was all about. He always sought to invite the stranger in, to love and care for those in need, to build a sense of community and belonging, and to do whatever He could to improve someone’s faith and life. In our day and age, at times the church is like this. We rally around our own in times of loss or hardship. We still pull together to do some wonderful things for our church family and for our wider community. Folks will even give a bit extra when they experience God’s blessings in their lives, knowing that the church still does much good in the world.

Yesterday we read these words in Psalm 134: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony”! Yes, yes it is. As communities of faith, when we live with the love and generosity exhibited by the early church in Acts, then others will be drawn to faith. It will not be because of the generosity itself. They will be drawn to the love. Jesus said that they will know we are His followers by the way we love one another. Yes, it is good and pleasant to live together in harmony and unity and love as brothers and sisters in Christ.

What can you do this week to build the unity and harmony and love that is exists in your faith community? What generous act might God be calling you to this week?


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Love and Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse One: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”.

In today’s Psalm, there is a connection between unity and blessing and anointing with oil. The opening verse begins this relationship, stating, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”. Who is it good and pleasant to? Certainly to God but also to the community of faith itself. Living in harmony and unity is how God intends our churches to be.

The psalmist goes on to compare this type of living to an abundant anointing. The overflow of oil is obvious and extravagant – much like the love that pours forth from a community of faith living in unity with each other and with Jesus Christ. This anointing is not the slightest dip of the finger that traces a thin line of a cross on someone’s forehead. It is a pouring out of blessing that runs down the face and through the beard and onto the clothes. The anointing in the Psalm is a thorough and complete blessing that is obvious for all to see.

When people walk into our churches and communities of faith, do they sense and feel unity that pours forth, overflowing like the oil on Aaron’s beard and robes? Does the love and care for one another and for the stranger in our midst burst forth like this oil? Or is there just a hint of unity and love, that like that thinly traced cross that can be seen if one really looks?

The love and unity present in our faith communities should be obvious and extravagant and generous. It should freely flow out to and over all who enter our community. The Psalm closes with, “there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore”. May our love and unity flow out like the oil in today’s Psalm, blessing all who enter our midst.


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Worthy Conduct

Reading: Philippians 1: 27-30

Verse 27: Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

In today’s passage, Paul encourages the church in Philippi to talk the talk and to walk the walk that Paul himself has talked and walked.  This is, of course, to follow Jesus – the original model.  Paul’s opening line today is both challenging and inspiring: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.  What a charge Paul gives to the Philippians and to all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

Over the next few verses, Paul unpacks what it looks like to live this life worthy of Christ.  The first step is to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man”.  Paul wants them to be unified under Christ and to hold fast to Jesus’ teaching and example.  He knows they are stronger together than as individuals so Paul encourages unity.  Next Paul tells them not to be frightened by those who oppose them.  In this world trouble will come.  In fact, Paul is writing them from prison.  He is under arrest for spreading the gospel.  Just as Paul’s trusts in and rests in God, he is encouraging the Philippians to do the same.

Lastly Paul says that it has been “granted” to them not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer for the gospel.  He says they do so “on behalf of Christ”.  Any and all suffering done on behalf of Jesus is a glorious witness to their faith in Christ.  It reflects the promise that He and we will overcome the world.  Just as Jesus willingly suffered on the cross for us, Paul gladly suffers for the sake of the gospel.  He encourages the Philippians and us to do the same.

These few verses pack a lot.  They are a great reminder of what worthy conduct looks like as we respond to our call to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To summarize: stand firm, do not fear, be a suffering servant.  All were modeled by Jesus.  May we go and do likewise.