pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Community

Reading: James 5: 13-20

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.

Suffering, pain, illness, sin – all are a part of our world and our lives. To go through these things alone is a terrible tragedy. For James, and for us, being a part of a faith community and having a personal relationship with God offers the best methods of dealing with suffering…

James invites us to begin with prayer. It is through prayer that we bring our suffering to God and that we seek relief or repentance. In verse 16 James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. Prayer is very powerful. The power is amplified when we pray in community, when we pray as a gathered community. Each day we also lift one another up in prayer just as others do the same, praying together spiritually. Communicating our needs to God also serves to remind us of our absolute need for God’s presence and activity in our lives.

In a similar manner, James encourages us to gather around those in need of healing, to anoint them with oil, and to pray over them. As we encircle them, anointing and praying in the name of Jesus Christ, we are naming our need for God to come and be at work in our lives. James tells us, “The Lord will lift them up”. May we hold to this promise.

James closes our section today with a good accountability reminder. He gives us the example of Elijah’s prayer that brought repentance to a wayward people. Yes, it took three and a half years. Sometimes our sin is stubborn too. Are you prepared to pray three and a half years for a brother or sister and their struggle with sin? I hope so! When the people repented and humbled themselves, Elijah prayed for God’s mercy and blessing to rain down, and they did both spiritually and literally.

These practices done in community – prayer, anointing, accountability – are all more effective and powerful when done together. As the body of Jesus Christ, may we seek to live and be in community, building up one another and the body of Christ each day.

Lord God, help me to build a sense of community with my family, friends, small groups, and with the congregation. May I lead by example with honesty, transparency, and love. Amen.

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Grow

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”.

Our goal in life is to grow. As little children we dream about what we will be – a firefighter, a football player, and eventually a teacher then a pastor. Even once we settle into our “career” for life, the desire to grow remains in us. We do not just want to be a ___, but we want to be the best ___ that we can be. To do so we must continue to read and study and go to conferences…

These same ideas are true of our faith journey. And God has a plan for this! In verse 11 Paul tells us that God created some people to be apostles and some to be prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. At different times in our journey we need people to play these various roles so that we can continue to grow. For example, when we were young we relied on our teachers to plant the stories of faith in us. As we move into our adult years we continue to need teachers to grow in our faith but also find a need for pastors to shepherd and guide us. All of these roles are intended for the same purpose: “so that the body of Christ may be built up”.

Paul tells us why – so that we are no longer “infants”. When we are infants we are not sure of our faith so we are easily influenced and we are more susceptible to temptation and sin. This is a place we can choose to remain and some do. Paul wants more for us. We should each want more for ourselves too. To this, Paul writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”. Sometimes this truth is hard to hear. Accountability is a necessary part of the maturation process. We must be willing to accept “the truth in love” to move into spiritual maturity.

Our goal as faithful followers of Jesus Christ is to attain the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. Although we will never be perfect as Christ was perfect, the goal remains to grow more and more into Christ. As we each play the role that God has blessed us with, the body of Christ, the church, “grows and builds itself up in love”. The question for today is this: how will you help another to grow in faith?


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Community and Service

Reading: Acts 9: 36-43

A true community has many benefits.  First of all, it fills our basic need to belong.  But it also goes far beyond this.  When we are part of a faith community, it allows us to serve together to build the kingdom of God.  Together we find much encouragement and strength.  Together we can more easily express our faith.  Communities of faith can both serve each other and can go out into the world to serve.

A true community of faith also shares we each other.  This does require a level of trust and vulnerability, so it is something that develops and deepens over time.  Joys are lifted up and celebrated; burdens are shared and carried by many.  A true community also shares in the small things and in the daily struggles.  There is an increasing level of accountability that grows and facilitates our day to day living.  When we can be honest and vulnerable with each other we lift one another up in prayer, we check in on how the battle is going, we sharpen and encourage one another.

Tabitha and her community shared many of these traits of true community.  Tabitha shared her talents and resources with those near her by making clothes and other items.  She not only helped with their basic needs but poured love into what she gave.  This is just one example of how Tabitha cared for her friends and fellow widows.  At her passing, it brought great grief to her faith community as she was central to the group and the bonds of community that had developed.  She was the one all sought out in times of need or in a crisis.

Peter must have sensed all of this as he entered into the house that day.  Sensing the community’s deep need for her at this particular time, God, through Peter, restored her to them.  It was an extraordinary act of love.  It reveals His love for us and how much He values community because of how it helps us grow in our faith and service to others.  May we each seek to find and experience and live within a true community of faith.


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Nathans

Sin can so easily slip into our lives.  Sometimes it is ‘small sin’ – unkind thoughts, jealous thoughts, angry thoughts.  We catch ourselves quickly, often wonder where that thought came from, and we seek forgiveness from God in order to mend our relationship with Him.  Maybe we do not check it so soon and the thoughts become words.  Then we must also seek to mend that human relationship with the one we offended or hurt.  In both cases we must look within to find the cause of the sin and work to make that right as well.

Sometimes the temptation is a little bigger and we succumb to it.  The pull is more that we think we can withstand on our own and the draw is greater than our desire to turn to God for help.  We head down a road we know we should not be on, moving forward anyway.  We have all been here before and will probably be there again.  Maybe we did not go as far as David went but we can certainly relate.

Nathan was a true friend to David and he was faithful to God.  He had these two characteristics we all need in those closest to us.  Led by God, Nathan came and spoke truth into David’s life.  He called him out and forced David to look at his sin.  I am positive that David knew he was sinning every step of the way.  We always do too.  David just needed a good friend like Nathan to name it so that he could own it.

Do you have a Nathan or two in your life?  Are you a Nathan to a couple people close to you who you value?  No matter how big or small we each are in the grand scheme of life, we all need to have accountability partners.  I need people willing to say, “John, we need to talk.”  Others need me to do this for them.  It is together that we grow in faith; in community we are each better.  May we each be the iron that sharpens iron.

Scripture reference: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a


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In Weakness and in Strength

We all like to accentuate our ‘strengths’ to a degree.  What we and others view as strengths can be physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual.  Everyone has been blessed by God in many ways.  Each of the strengths we have been blessed with are gifts we have been given for building up the kingdom of God.  Many of these gifts are also used in endeavors such as work, athletics, school, and relationships.

We also all have weaknesses.  Most of the time we prefer to keep these hidden away.  We prefer to keep these tucked into a dark corner.  But when we do this, we are limiting the power of Christ in our lives.  Even though we try to keep them hidden away, they are still there.  Even though we pretend they do not exist, our weaknesses still rise up from time to time.  In turning them over to Christ and calling on His power to come along side us in our battles, we can experience His strength in our lives.

One of the best ways to build your strengths and to work on your weaknesses is to be in a small group.  For example, my brothers in Christ have come to know my strengths over time.  They encourage me to use these strengths in helping others grow in their faith.  But they also have come to know the weaknesses in my life.  My brothers in Christ hold me accountable.  They check in with me to see how I am doing in relying on Christ for my strength in these battles.  These men of God pray for me in my struggles.  To them, I offer the same things in return.

God made us just as we are – the good and bad alike.  Like with Paul, these ‘thorns’ we all have keep us humble.  They keep us within the knowledge that we really need God to make it through life.  God desires to use both our strengths and weaknesses to build His kingdom here on earth.  May we all learn to offer both up to God for His glory.

Scripture reference: 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10


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Fellow Travelers

Often times when we go on a journey, we like to have company go along with us.  This is especially true if it is a long journey.  We have someone to talk to, someone there in case we have trouble, and someone to keep us focused on the journey.

Our journey of faith is long and should be one of continual growth and development as we move along our “path.”  It is a journey meant to be made in the company of other Christians, but how often we try to go it alone.  We don’t usually mind sharing the good things in life or even coming together at a funeral in or common time of grief, but sharing our inner demons and struggles is much harder.  Yet it is in the honesty and accountability that we find strength and power.

Jesus himself turned to others in times of trial and struggle.  The Holy Spirit walked with Him in the desert and often He turned to the disciples for prayer and support.  If Jesus needed others to be with Him, how much more so do we.  May we find and be for others fellow travelers along the road of faith.

Scripture reference: Judges 4: 1-9


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True Fellowship

Our churches provide us with some great opportunities to connect to Jesus, to God, and to each other.  We connect to God and Jesus in corporate worship and individually through the practice of our spiritual disciplines.  Through these experiences we continue to grow and to become more deeply connected to God and Jesus.

We all probably ‘know’ people in our churches and many we count as friends.  But how many of them know the trials and struggles that you face, can pray for you by specific need, can encourage and uplift you, can challenge and hold you accountable?  It is within the connection that can develop in a small group or life group that we find others who can do these things for us and where we find we can offer this to others.   Make no mistake about it, we all need other Christians in our life to fill these roles.

I love my Monday night small group.  We have just begun to be on the journey together.  We are not nearly 100% transparent with each other, but we are heading there.  Yes, there is an inherent scary factor to being transparent and in being in such a group.  Yet it is still my prayer that everyone in our church finds such a group.  It is my prayer for you too.  If you are not in such a group, seek one out. If there are none at your church, pray and be led to others of like mind and heart and start a group.  Seek help from those who work at your church.  You too will be richly blessed.

Scripture reference: Matthew 18: 15-20