pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.


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Unity in Love

Reading: John 17: 20-26

Verse 22: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me”.

Our passage today focuses on unity. Jesus prays for unity between and among the believers. Unity was essential for the early church – the Jews and the Romans would put a lot of pressure on them to try and snuff out the early church. In both verses 20 and 22 Jesus prays that they “may be one” and He connects this prayer to how He and God are one. Jesus defines this further in verse 23, praying for “complete unity” among the believers. Such a unity reveals their absolute faith in Christ and also the love of Jesus that is in them and flows through them.

The second unity that Jesus focuses on is between the believers and Jesus himself. A unity between Jesus and those who follow Him is also essential. A relationship with Jesus is the core connection. It is the foundation upon which the believers’ relationships with one another will stand. Their personal relationship with Jesus is also what connects them to God. In verse 22 Jesus prays this prayer: “I in them and you in me”. It reveals this connection.

Throughout His time on earth Jesus revealed God’s love. All that Jesus did and said and prayed was based upon this love. Our passage today closes with a prayer for this love to be in the believers. In verse 26 Jesus prays, “I have made you known and will continue to… in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them”. If we have the love of God in Christ inside of us, it will be revealed to the world. Just as Jesus came to reveal God’s love, we too are sent into the world to be like Christ, revealing God’s love by all we do and say. May it be so this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, dwell fully in me this day. May I so know your love that it is evident to all. Fill me with your love so that I may share it with others. Thank you Jesus. Amen.


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One in Christ

Reading: John 17: 20-26

Verse 20: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message”.

Today’s prayer from Jesus is a prayer for unity. It is a prayer not just for His current disciples and immediate followers but for all people who will hear the good news and come to faith. The opening verse reads, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message”. The prayer continues asking God to make all believers one. Jesus prayed for a church universal. He also prayed that they would be unified to God through Himself. Jesus is speaking of the essentials of the Christian faith. To call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the central idea of Christianity.

The idea that we are all children of God runs throughout the Bible. Our oneness is revealed in many ways in different communities. In some it is shown in churches that gather people from all walks of life to worship and share life together. In some it is revealed in the outreach efforts of some churches. They aim to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others. In some it is shown in the cooperative efforts of churches working together to have community events and ecumenical services sprinkled throughout the year. There are many ways that we can witness God building unity in the diverse body of Christ.

Jesus’ prayer also asks “that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me”. May it be so today.

Prayer: God of all people, this day may I reach across the gap to include others in the unified kingdom of God. Amen.


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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.