pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Astonished

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 44: “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”.

All of us like order and rules. Having structure to our lives brings us a sense of comfort and peace. When we know what to do and what to expect, it removes the stress and the anxiety of the unknown. I think that is why it is hard for many of us to fully trust the Holy Spirit to lead our lives. You just never know how and where the Spirit might lead.

Peter was born and raised into the Jewish faith and worldview. He, like many of the apostles, we’re steeped in the Jewish faith with all of its laws and requirements. The Jews were the chosen people – the only chosen people. But in a vision God revealed to Peter that all people were clean because all people were created by God. Then, earlier in Acts 10 and just after this vision, the Spirit leads Peter to go to the house of a Gentile. With some reluctance, Peter goes. This is where we meet up with Peter today in our passage. As if to prove that God is still fully in charge we read, “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”. Right in the middle of his sermon, the Holy Spirit invades. Did not wait for him to finish. Did not wait for the altar call. Just bam! The Holy Spirit goes to work and enters people who are Gentiles. No circumcision, no profession of faith, no nothing. What about all the rules and requirements?

The Holy Spirit totally disrupted Peter’s understanding of the world, telling him there are no clean and unclean, no Jew and Gentile in God’s world. And then the Spirit tosses aside the “that’s just how we do things around here” traditions and comes to dwell in the hearts of these Gentiles. Peter and the believers who came with him are astonished.

When we really allow the Holy Spirit free reign in our lives, then we too will be astonished. May it be so today.

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Abide

Reading: Psalm 22: 25-31

Verse 29: “All who go down to the dust will kneel before Him”.

Today’s passage from Psalm 22 has both a present and a future sense to it. Overall the Psalm is about worshipping and abiding in God’s presence. Verse 26 reads, “they who seek the Lord will praise Him”. What we find when we seek God does lead us to praise God. The psalmist also writes of a future time. Verse 30 reads, “future generations will be told about the Lord”. The continued telling of and living out of our faith will help future generations to know God and to have faith in Him.

In order for us to tell of and to live out our faith we have to have a relationship that abides daily in Christ. To do so, we must practice our spiritual disciplines. This begins with daily time with God. Each day we need to spend time in the Word and in prayer. Finding a time and space each day to abide in God keeps Him always at the center of our life. When God is whom we abide in, God is who flows out of our life through our words and actions. Both how we live our life and the stories of faith that we share help our families and the “future generations” to know of and to have a personal relationship with the Lord.

Worship and thanksgiving are also means to abide in the Lord. When we gather to praise and pray and hear the Word proclaimed we are renewed and strengthened for our personal faith journey. Corporate worship is an essential faith discipline that connects us not only to God but also to each other. A personal part of our worship is our thanksgiving. Taking time to name and give specific thanks for the work of God in our lives helps us to stay in love with God. This essential helps us to abide even deeper in God and His love.

When we abide daily in faith, then we are assured of His presence each day in our lives and we also live with an assurance about our eternity. Both are blessings of nourishing our relationship with God daily. Verse 29 reminds us, “All who go down to the dust will kneel before Him”. The word ‘all’ is pretty inclusive. So this week may we live our faith out loud so that all we meet will experience the light and love of Jesus Christ in their lives too. May Christ brightly shine in us so that others may invite Him to abide in them as well.


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Willing?

Reading: Acts 8: 26-40

Verse 34: “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else'”?

There are three active characters in our passage today. The three are Philip, the eunuch, and the Holy Spirit. As followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit is an active part of our lives, just as it was with both Philip and the eunuch. Sometimes in our lives we are like Philip and like the eunuch is the other. At other times we are like the eunuch and the role of Philip is played by a teacher or a mentor or other more mature Christian. In either case, the work of God hinges on our willingness.

The first level of willingness comes from within and asks, ‘How willing are you to listen to and to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit’? We all hear the voice and feel the nudges. Do we demonstrate a willingness to follow whatever or wherever the Spirit leads? In this, we can be the teacher or we can be the seeker, the one serving or the one in need.

When we are the seeker, like the Ethiopian eunuch in today’s passage, are we willing to say, “Tell me please?” when we have questions or doubts or curiosity? At times we too need another to help us along on our faith journey or on our walk through the dark valley. We must be willing to receive when that is our need in life.

Sometimes we are approached by or encounter the seeker or the one in need. When we sense the Holy Spirit leading us to the other, like Philip was, are we willing to take the time and to take the risk to give of ourselves? We may not think we gave the knowledge or the skills or the… for the situation, but we can trust that with the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, we will. When we are willing, God will provide the words or the way or whatever else we need to help another grow closer to Christ.

This day God will provide opportunity. It may be for us to grow in our faith, it may be for us to help another grow in their faith, or it might just do both. May we be willing servants today. Amen.


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Barriers and Boundaries

Reading: Acts 8: 26-40

Verse 27: “He met an Ethiopian eunuch… this man had gone to Jerusalem to worship”.

I would love to know the faith back story of the eunuch. He lives in a place far from Jerusalem yet worships God. I would love to know how this man came to know and worship God. Did he learn of God from a Jewish person living in Ethiopia? Did he hear of God from a merchant or businessman passing through the court of the queen?

Whatever the case, his faith in God leads him to come to Jerusalem, the home of God, to worship. But he clearly did not know all the ins and outs of the Jewish faith as he left Ethiopia. He now understands a bit more. The eunuch traveled all that way only to discover that he was not welcome at the temple. He did not meet their requirements. Many others did not either.

Exclusion remains an issue today. Even in the modern world some institutions and places and groups of people exclude others based on color of skin, gender or sexual preference, language, social class, educational level… We can also exclude because “that’s not how we do it here” types of traditions and practices. There are many other ways that we can create barriers and draw boundaries.

Amazingly, the eunuch’s faith is stronger than the rejection he felt at the temple. He is found reading from Isaiah 53. Led by the Spirit, Philip engages the man and answers his question. Philip explains that the passage is speaking of Jesus and then he goes on to share the good news that a relationship with Jesus Christ offers. As they near some water, the eunuch asks to be baptized. Philip baptizes the eunuch. This foreigner, this eunuch, this rejected man is fully accepted by God. In this passage we see that God does not draw barriers or boundaries. All are His beloved and all are welcome to a saving relationship with His Son, Jesus.

The story ends with Philip being taken away to evangelize elsewhere and the eunuch continues his journey, rejoicing in his newfound faith in Jesus Christ. It is a good ending, but we cannot stop here. We must take time to look within and ponder how our churches exclude others. When I look at my church, I see that it does not match the diverse demographics of the community. Does your church match your community’s diversity? If not, you have the same question as I do: why?


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Bearing Fruit

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse Eight: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”.

As the branches connected to the vine, we have a relationship with Jesus. This relationship is like most of our other relationships – it has an ebb and flow to it. There are moments when the connection feels rock solid and moments when it feels very distant. Most of the time the relationship is spent somewhere between these two extremes. Verse five reminds us of an important truth: “apart from Me you can do nothing”. Now, Jesus is talking about spiritual things here, the things that really matter in life.

The core of being connected to and in relationship with Jesus is bearing fruit. The acts of sharing His love and serving others are lost when we allow the relationship to become disconnected. When we allow this to happen then we are not making an impact for the kingdom and we are not bringing glory to God. Therefore, we need to make every effort to remain connected to Jesus.

Our society is now an instant gratification culture that tends to focus inward and on our own pleasure. Fortunately, the act of bearing fruit often runs against these two norms. Our faith and the practice thereof make us stand out from the secular culture and draw attention to God. When we are doing the work of sharing our faith and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, we are aiming to bear fruit.

More often than not, the seeds we plant will not bear fruit for a while. Every once in a while we might be blessed to be the one when another finally decides to confess faith in Jesus. More often than not we are just the twentieth or the sixty-third or the seventy-fourth person to plant a small seed of faith in someone’s life. We are most often just one more step towards someone entering a saving relationship with Jesus. Nonetheless, we are a part of another’s faith journey and are therefore part of bringing glory to God.

Our passage today closes with this verse: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”. Today, may we show ourselves to be His disciples, bearing much fruit. May it be so today. Amen!


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The Vine…

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse Four: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself”.

Today’s vine, branches, and gardener example is a great illustration of our relationships of faith. The illustration could have used a fruit tree or a blueberry bush or any number of other plants and still been a good illustration. But a grape vine is best, so that’s what God chose!

Jesus is the vine. The vine begins in the ground, with lots of roots soaking up water and nutrients needed for the branches to be healthy and to bear much fruit. The vine is the thickest and strongest part of the plant. Jesus’ words and the rest of the Bible are the life blood of our faith and our growth. They provide what we need to grow and be healthy in our faith.

You and I are the branches. We are connected to the vine and get all we need through the root – Jesus. Whereas the vine is stable and rooted, we the branches can grow this way and that. We often intertwine with other branches. In our faith journey we live and grow in community. Like a branch, as we grow and mature, we begin to produce fruit. Fruit is acts like loving our neighbor, helping those in need, offering forgiveness and mercy…

God is the gardener. He tends the soil and cares for the plant. Sometimes the gardener must add support to a new branch so that it can grow well. In our faith journey, at times we come alongside each other offering support and encouragement. At times God also prunes the branches, removing things that inhibit the production of fruit. As a branch, at times I can get going a lot of different directions. In those times, I need God to prune away some things so that more of my energy goes into producing fruit.

In order for this to “work”, for us to continue to grow in our faith and to produce fruit for the glory of God, we must stay connected to Jesus. In verse four we read, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself”. In this passage we see what happens when we disconnect from Jesus: we wither and are thrown into the fire. This cannot be! My fellow branches, stay connected to life, to Jesus. In doing so, may you bear much fruit!


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Live in Love

Reading: 1st John 4: 13-21

Verse Sixteen: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in Him”.

In today’s passage there are a lot of references to “in”. The passage begins with “live in Him” and “He in us”, illustrating the connection we have between us and God. This connection is made through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Once we acknowledge Jesus as Savior, then this “in” relationship is established, allowing us to “know and rely on the love God has for us”.

This relationship is based upon love and the connection that being in love brings. In verse sixteen we read, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in Him”. It does not say ‘dabbles in love’ or ‘occasionally strays’ into love. Living in love connects us to God. The more time and energy we invest in love, the more that “love is made complete”. As we approach this completion, we also gain confidence in our eternity. John writes, “perfect love drives out fear”. Our love of God and God’s love in us assures us of our everlasting relationship with God.

To live in love requires a constant attention. This relationship is built and grows only through attention. Like all relationships, it will wither and fade if we neglect it. We must take the time to invest in our relationship with God. Verse nineteen does say, “we love because He first loved us”. It is also true that God will continue to love us no matter what because “God is love”. But the development of a relationship and the reciprocation of love requires our intent and our commitment. It is not enough to say that God first loved us. We must also return that love. In doing so we will be filled with love and as we begin to live in love, that love will naturally flow out to our brothers and sisters as well.

We build our love for God by spending time with God. In can be through time in prayer and reading and studying His Word in the quiet of the morning or in the stillness of the night. It can be time spent in joyful worship at church or in peaceful and still reflection beside flowing waters or in the beauty of the forest path. It can be in a conversation with God during the commute to school or work or in the few moments we steal away waiting in line at the store or in traffic. There are many ways to connect to God to build our love. May we each find many today.