pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Step Two

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”.

The early church fascinates me. All they knew was Jesus. They preached about salvation – the blessing that came with entering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They told others about how Jesus changed their lives and offered Him to them so that they too could be born anew. The early church lived out their faith boldly and as a witness to Jesus and His love. They lived out in and with the world, sharing the good news with any and all. In them we can see just how easy it is to share the good news – we just have to tell others what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives, opening their eyes to what Jesus can do in their lives.

The early church learns that some in Samaria have accepted the word of God and were baptized with water. The Spirit had not yet come. So Peter and John are sent to help these new believers through step two. There, in Samaria, “Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It was simply an invitation to go one step further, one step deeper – to not only be baptized into Jesus’ name, but to invite and accept into themselves Jesus’ living presence, the Holy Spirit. This second step brought the relationship with Jesus to fullness.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is still the second necessary step. One can come to understand that Jesus is the way, truth, and life. One can come to know that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. We can share Jesus and people can comprehend that Jesus is the Messiah. All of this is just head knowledge. Until they claim Jesus as their own and invite Him into their heart, to dwell in them, then Jesus is just head knowledge. This second step – inviting Jesus to be a daily presence – is essential. The invitation brings the daily guidance and presence of Jesus into a believer’s heart. Then Jesus becomes king not only of their mind but also if their heart. We can lead people to know who Jesus is and we can share the power He has to change lives, but only that person can invite Jesus into their heart.

Prayer: God, allow others to know Jesus through my life – my words, my actions, my teaching. Allow my witness to draw others closer to you so that they can invite indwelling presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, into their lives, making them fully yours. If I am but one step in their journey to you, thank you for allowing me to play that role too. Thank you Jesus! Amen.

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Present

Reading: Job 2:1-10

Verse 10: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble”?

Job was put forth by God as a man of deep faith, a man who was blameless and upright. Prior to the current trial, Job has had a wonderful life. Job was blessed – a wife, ten children, many servants, large flocks and herds. Then one day Satan is allowed to test that faith. Job loses all but his wife in one fell day. Even after this massive loss, Job remains faithful to God. Basically he says to his wife, ‘God gives, God takes – may the name of the Lord be praised’.

In our passage today, Satan requests and is granted one more degree of trial. Satan afflicts Job with painful sores from head to toe. As Job is sitting in ashes scraping his sores, his wife says, “Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die”! Not exactly supportive, but very realistic in terms of how people thought then and of how many think today. There is an imagined connection between sin and suffering and between blessings and righteousness. When something bad happens to a good person we wonder, ‘Why them’? When something good happens to a bad person we also wonder, ‘Why them’?

Not Job. Job remains steadfast. Job knows that God is always present. His trust and faith in God are not dependent upon his situation in life. In response, Job asks his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble”? When good or blessings come in our life, we don’t refuse it. How can we accept only the good? For Job, we cannot. To go through so much and to remain do true to his faith is a great witness to us. As life brings its ups and downs may we remember the servant Job and his faith that remained strong. God is present in it all. May our faith cling to this truth.

Lord God, in the trial and in the joy, may I praise your name. In the mundane and in the exciting, may I praise your name. In all things, may I praise your holy name. Amen.


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Loved, Welcomed, Chosen

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 22: “In Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by the Spirit”.

All of the early builders of the church had to work through age-old divisions and lines. The Jews, the chosen people of God, looked at all others as not chosen. It was like all other people were like that last kid that always gets picked last for any and all pick-up games. The Jews’ understanding of themselves as the chosen people led to a pretty isolated mindset. They did not intermarry, they did not adopt anything from another culture. ‘Just stay in our own little group’ was the thought. For any of us who were routinely picked last or who often found ourselves on the outside of the “in” crowd, we can relate to those who lived outside of the Jewish faith.

Saul was a Jew. He was proud of his position as a Pharisee. He was an ardent follower of the Law. He would have been seen as aloof and arrogant by most people. But then he met Jesus. Then he became Paul. Instead of saying you are not one of us, Paul preached that all are welcome. Instead of saying one must know and follow all of these laws, Paul preached that one must know Jesus. Paul was a radical shift from the norm. When he preached the message that, “In Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by the Spirit”. It was like saying to the one always picked last or to the outsider always looking in, you are invited, you are worthy, you are a part of us – we love you.

It was a message of love and inclusion and acceptance. But to those hearing it, there was hesitation. Is this for real? Is this some trick? Am I really wanted, really acceptable? Could God really love me? Some today see Christians as snobby, hypocritical, judgmental, hateful, isolated. We too may encounter doubting and questioning. We too may encoubter people who question our motivation. We too may encounter people who question their worthiness. For one and all, may our message be just like Paul’s: in Jesus Christ, you are loved. In Jesus Christ, you too are welcome. In Jesus Christ, you too are chosen. May we persist through the barriers, loving all as Jesus loves them. Amen.


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Ring, Ring

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse Nine: “If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'”.

Today we have Samuel’s call story. Before he was born his mom dedicated him to the Lord. As soon as he was able he began serving in the temple. This life is really all Samuel has known for his twelve or thirteen years of life. I suppose he could have rebelled as a young boy, deciding this was not the life he wanted for himself. He wouldn’t be the first. Today people do this all the time – leaving one vocation for another or transferring to someplace else where it must be better.

Then one night God calls out to Samuel. Three times. It is only when old, wise Eli realizes that it was God calling did Samuel know to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”. Only with Eli’s help. This makes me think of my call story. God began to give a call to me way back when I began adult life as a middle school teacher in the early 1990s. As I grew in my own faith and became more involved at my church, volunteering in various capacities, the call grew louder. The voices of good friends and total strangers eventually joined the echoing of God’s call. Then, twenty-something years later, I accepted the call to full-time vocational ministry.

Although the span of time was much greater that Samuel’s, over and over I heard God calling. It was a long process convincing me that God was indeed calling. It was like a slow sunrise that quietly creeps across the landscape as God’s light spread more and more into my life. Certainly not all are called into vocational ministry. Most folks are called into a relationship with God that leads them to serve God in their daily lives as doctors or construction workers, as secretaries or teachers, … A few receive a lightning bolt call – one day an overwhelming voice or event catapults them into a relationship with God.

This all leads to the question: what is your call story? Or is God still calling you? We all have a story to tell. When someone asks, as one surely will, about this joy and peace that you have, what will you say? What is your story of faith? How will you explain how God has been and is at work in your life? When someone asks, how will you explain the call of God upon your life?


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Spirit Led

Reading: John 16: 26-27

Verse 26: “When the Counselor comes… the Spirit of truth… He will testify about me”.

Jesus’ departure from life on earth brought down the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, to dwell in all believers. His physical presence was replaced by the spiritual presence. Instead of one man teaching and leading, now the Holy Spirit dwells simultaneously in millions and millions of Christians.

Verse 26 tells us, “When the Counselor comes… the Spirit of truth… He will testify about me”. This is a key role that the Holy Spirit plays in each of our faith journeys. Over and over and over the Spirit reminds us or testifies about who and what Jesus was and is and about the ways we can help others to know Jesus. Not all people could hear and accept Jesus’ teachings then and some struggle today. At times we also struggle to follow the testimony of the Holy Spirit. On occasion we will miss an opportunity to share Jesus or we will refuse to listen or to follow the guide of the Holy Spirit.

While verse 26 contains an essential of the Christian faith, verse 27 contains an equally important practice of the faith. Verse 27 begins with, “and you also must testify”. We too must testify about Jesus Christ. We do this in many ways. Some are easier and some are harder. Our most basic testimony is the way we live our lives. The words we speak, the way we conduct ourselves, the way we treat others – these all are testimonies. We also offer testimony in the ways we serve and give of ourselves – in our families, in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in the community. Generally all of this is done in love and as a witness to Jesus’ love. Sometimes we must also engage the “truth” and while hard words can be difficult to speak, at times they too are a part of our testimony.

The Holy Spirit will always testify to Jesus and will always lead and guide us to the truth we find in Jesus and in our faith in Him. May we have open ears, willing hearts, and obedient hands today and every day. Amen.


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Spirit of Truth

Reading: John 16: 4b-15

Verse Thirteen: “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”.

In a lot of ways, our faith journey is much like the disciples’ faith journeys. At some point we too heard Jesus calling us, saying, “Come, follow me”. Maybe right then, maybe a bit later, we accepted the call. As we began to walk through life with Jesus, we too came to a point of saying, like Peter, “You are the Messiah” and we confessed Jesus as the Lord of our life. Then the journey really began.

In today’s passage, Jesus tells the disciples, those who have been with Him for three years, that He has much to share with them – “more than you can now bear”. This is not the first time that Jesus had to meter out a concept or skills to these men. At times, after teaching to a group or crowd, Jesus would have to explain the teaching to the disciples. In other cases, they take in the words, only to get the meaning later. Such was the case when He spoke of His death and resurrection, for example.

We too experience these things. We can read a Bible passage for the tenth time and suddenly God speaks a new truth to us. The other nine times we read it, those same words were there. We just were not open to or ready for that truth yet. Other times we take in the words and then later, in a different setting, suddenly the meaning springs to life. That voice that speaks to us is the same voice that Jesus promised the disciples in today’s passage. In verse thirteen Jesus says, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”. The same Holy Spirit reveals new truths and brings life-giving meaning to us as we read or meditate on scripture.

Jesus also speaks of the Holy Spirit convicting the world of its sin. We still experience this gift of the Spirit of truth in our lives. This is part of the guiding us to live in the truth. The Spirit redirects us when we’ve gone astray, convicts us when we sin and when we miss opportunities, reminds us when we forget, teaches us when we don’t quite get it, and nudges us when we need prompting or a push. I am grateful for the gift of the Holy Spirit in my life. Thanks be to God for this gift of constant presence. 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.