pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Trust and Pray

Reading: Acts 1: 6-14

Verse 8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”.

Now that Jesus has completed his earthly ministry, maybe now is the time that the mighty, kingly Jesus will appear to restore Israel to its glory. The disciples ask if the time is now. Jesus plainly tells them that it is “not for you to know” when Jesus will return in glory. It will not be as a great warrior in the way they are imagining. Instead of worrying about the future, Jesus focuses them in on the task at hand: to continue his ministry of transforming the world.

But the task will not begin right now either. Jesus tells them, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”. He builds their anticipation and tells them what they will do – soon. Then Jesus ascends into heaven and their waiting begins. As these followers of Jesus return to Jerusalem, they gather together in constant prayer. Yes, they must certainly have been excited at the prospect of being filled with the Holy Spirit. They might not know exactly what that will be or look like, but they do know that they will be empowered to witness to their faith in Jesus.

In the time of waiting, they pray. Although we should turn to prayer as our first option, this is not always our first response. We can sure worry a lot or we can be overcome with doubt. We can decide we are not going to wait and we will try and take charge ourselves. Some of the time we can even get angry or mad at having to wait. The followers of Jesus had learned well from him. In the waiting, they pray. They can do this because they trust in Jesus. In our waiting may we do the same: trust and pray.

Prayer: Dear God, sometimes it is hard to wait, to be patient. Yet at times we must, I must. When I struggle, Lord, remind me to first trust in you, to wait in you. Then turn my heart to prayer. Amen.


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Simple Invitation

Reading: John 9: 24-41

Verse 33: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”.

As we pick up the story half way through today, the conversation becomes much more heated and lively. The religious leaders ask the man to explain what happened a second time and he responds by asking them, “Do you want to become his disciples, too”? This could not be further from the truth. The religious react strongly in a negative way, hurling insults at him. This reveals the true nature of their questions and also the true state of their hearts. They desperately want to discredit Jesus and to maintain their place of religious superiority. The man’s heart is also revealed. He asks a sincere question as his heart is now becoming the heart of a disciple.

In spite of the religious leaders’ harsh and angry words, the man stands his ground. They claim not to know where Jesus comes from. He is happy to tell them. He first reminds them that God does not listen to sinners but does listen to those who do his will. His parting words also ring with truth: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”. At this point he is thrown out of the temple. The light of Jesus Christ shining into their darkness is more than they could take. If we are as brave sharing our faith as this man was, we too will encounter rejection and maybe abuse at times.

Hearing of all that had happened Jesus finds the man. He inquires if the man believes. The man is searching. At this crucial moment Jesus reveals that he is the Son of Man. In pure emotion and faith, the man worships Jesus. This is a scene that has continued to play out over and over as the risen Christ meets people as they seek him. His first calling of the disciples came with the simple invitation, “Come and see” (John 1). That continues to be the simple invitation: come and see who Jesus is, allow him to change your life. As modern day disciples, may we continue to cast the light and to spread the love of Jesus, inviting others to come and see, to meet Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Today, God, today use me as you will. Reveal your will as I seek to live as your hands, feet, and voice. Fill me with your light and love, allow it to overflow. Amen.


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The Way of Life

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verses 21 and 22: “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you…”

As Jesus begins to unpack how he is the fulfilment of the Law, over and over he uses the two statements above. The “you have heard…” part refers to the specific law and the “but I say to you” is Jesus unpacking said Law. In this space we find ourselves between religion (that which can be legalistic and intellectual) and faith (that which is guided by the heart and can be more fluid). Put another way, before Jesus we had religion; in Jesus we find faith. A great example of this would be Jesus’ frequent clashes with the religious leaders over his habit of healing on the Sabbath. The Law said not to work on the Sabbath. Healing was work. Yet Jesus’ compassion led him to do this work on the Sabbath several times.

After a sermon on stewardship and tithing a pastor was approached by a parishioner. He appreciated the call to give to God. But he had a question or two. He wanted to know about exactly what amount does the 10% come from. He asked, “Is that after I pay for my new car, my new phone, my mortgage, and all my other necessities? Or is it based on some other figure”? A legalistic religion looks for loopholes and ways to limit obedience to the minimum letter of the law.

In our reading the first law is “Do not murder”. For most people this is a pretty easy command to keep if you are only willing to take it at its surface level. After the “but I say to you” the command becomes much more difficult to fully obey. Jesus begins by saying that we cannot even be angry with another. He also adds that this means to not speak harshly of another. Certainly this does not include gossip and slander and half truths, does it? Of course it does. Jesus backs this up by saying not to come before God if you have an unsettled disagreement still out there. What was that about “forgive us our trespasses just as…”? Jesus concludes unpacking this command by telling us to make things right with our adversaries. When one dives down deep with Jesus and looks at the heart behind “do not murder”, one begins to see the way of life that God calls us to.

Take some time to consider the depth behind the commands on adultery, divorce, and oaths. If you find these helpful to your walk of faith, consider working your way on through verse 48. That one is the real clincher. May our faith deepen more and more as we delve into the faith that Jesus taught and practiced.

Prayer: Dear God, what a challenge. In some ways religion is easier than faith – just tell me what to do. But you call me to faith – to living out a heart connection with you. Walk with me into the depths of your love, O God. For there I begin to see and understand what Jesus is unpacking in passages like today’s. Thank you for calling me to more. Amen.


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May Love Guide

Reading: Matthew 5: 17-20

Verse 17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets… but to fulfill them”.

What does Jesus mean by “to fulfill them”? The Law and the Prophets all had the same basic function: to teach us how to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Beginning with the first laws, for example, this has always been the case. The first part of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship with God and the rest deals with our relationship with each other. In choosing the word “fulfill” though, Jesus is not implying simply following the letter of the Law, but is hinting at how we also fully live out the intent of the Laws.

As the rest of the Sermon on the Mount unfolds, this is just what Jesus does. He begins with “Do not murder” in the next section. Jesus explains that there is so much more to this law than just not killing someone. Jesus, in essence, begins long before this step and tells us that being angry with another or speaking words of contempt put us in danger of “the fire of hell”. When we allow these evils in our heart, Jesus says we are already on the road to murder. It may not end in physical death but maybe it does end in emotional or relational death. All of this violates the rule of love that is supposed to be how one is identified as a disciple of Jesus Christ and as a child of God.

In the rest of the Sermon, Jesus unpacks laws relating to adultery, divorce, honesty, revenge, loving our enemies, giving, prayer, fasting… Each and every one has the same focus. God’s intent is not just the words on the paper but it is more. The Law and the Prophets should lead us into deeper relationship with God and one another. To get to this place, one must allow the words we find in the Bible to become the way we love, see, interact, and treat God and each other at the heart level. Please take some time today to read through to the end of Matthew 7, understanding how Jesus unpacks many more laws.

We fulfill God’s plan by loving unconditionally, by loving just as Jesus first loved us. As we read and seek to understand our Bibles, seeking to discern how to model our lives after our Savior, may love be our guide.

Prayer: God of love, I’ve heard it said that if I do not have love, I am just a clanging cymbal. I’ve heard it said that love can conquer a multitude of sins. I’ve heard it said that if I am your disciple others will know me by my love. May it be so. Amen.


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Healing and Freedom through Trust in God

Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Verse 22: “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people”?

Much of Israel is in exile. They are living in a foreign land. The people want to be restored, they long for freedom. Jeremiah pleas with God to “listen to the cry of my people”. The people feel as if God were no longer there. Jeremiah mourns and cries right alongside the people. Today many people feel trapped and long for freedom. The things that enslave are many and are quite varied. Some feel that the systems of the world are entrapping them. For example, those struggling with the poverty of the inner cities and reservations cannot see hope. Those dealing with addictions live often with a sense of hopelessness. Those who return to the same sin over and over question God’s presence and power. No one wants to live in these valleys. All want to be restored. Every one longs for freedom and a future with hope.

The people that Jeremiah is serving want freedom, but are still being influenced by and are still clinging to the world around them. God remains angry because the Israelites are still worshipping foreign idols. They say they want God to free them but they are still holding onto those idols with one hand. We fall into this trap too. We pray to God to intervene or give guidance or direction and then we blast out the door to do our own thing. We ask God to help while still keeping one hand on the steering wheel. When we fail to allow God to be the one in control, when we take matters into our own hands, when we still trust at least partly in our abilities or in the ways of the world, we too will end up asking, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people”? Tears in heaven are shed because we cannot quite turn it all over to God.

Jeremiah sees this in the people and he mourns as horror grips him. He wishes his head were a spring so that he could cry more tears. In heartfelt prayer Jeremiah longs to pour out his heart and his sorrow to God. We too mourn at times. It may be for ourselves, for one we love, for our church, or for events in the world. When we do mourn, may we be like Jeremiah, asking God with all that we are, trusting in God alone to bring the freedom and healing that is so needed. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, my heart grieves for those hurting and for those who feel alienated. My heart pours out tears for the church. Help me to put my trust in you alone to lead and guide us. It is only through your love and power that we have a future with hope. O great Jehovah, make me fully yours. Amen.


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Mediator

Reading: Hebrews 12: 18-24

Verses 23-24: “You have come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”.

Verses 18-21 remind us of many people’s image of the God of the Old Testament. God was seen as frightening and distant, as angry and vengeful. Even Moses, the one who talked with God and glowed after being in God’s presence, at times trembled with fear. The covenant established in the desert with Moses and the Israelites became a hard and fast set of rules to follow. To a large degree, the rules were followed out of fear and out of the desire to avoid upsetting God.

The vision shifts in verse 22. The writer of Hebrews reminds the people of the new covenant that we have “come to Mount Zion, to the new Jerusalem, to the city of the living God”. Many angels sing praises of joy to God. The righteous have been made perfect. There, the faithful have “come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”. Through the gifts of his body and blood, Jesus Christ himself replaced the old covenant that required sacrifices to atone for sin and to find forgiveness. Jesus was and is and ever will be the atoning sacrifice for sins. And he is the mediator. Jesus stands between us and God. Jesus stands in our defense, in our place even. Jesus walked the earth. He knows our trials and our struggles. He knows our pains and hurts. In the person and Spirit of Jesus, God has become a very personal and loving God. We now follow out of love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for being willing to do so much for me. You took on flesh, becoming weak and poor. You walked the earth, giving us an example of God’s love. Then you gave your life for our sake. You gave so much. Help me to give to others this day and every day. Amen.


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Just Pray

Reading: 2 Kings 5: 1-14

Verse 1: “He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy”.

Naaman was a great man: valiant, highly regarded, a man of authority. But he had leprosy. His title, his authority, his strength – nothing could save him from this painful and incurable disease. Except God. It must have been hard for such a man to be powerless to do anything about his disease.

Then God goes to work. First step is to place someone in Naaman’s home who can begin the process. The young Israelite slave girl says there is someone who can help. It probably would have been hard for Naaman to accept help from her, but he needs healing. The king hears his request and sends him off with a letter to the king of Israel asking to heal Naaman. He receives the letter as an attempt to pick a fight. He is distraught. But Elisha hears of his plight and intervenes, telling the king to send Naaman his way, to the prophet.

Naaman makes his way to Elisha’s home. He expects to be treated in a certain way. He expects Elisha to come out to receive him, to do something wonderful to cure his leprosy. But Elisha just sends out a servant with some basic instructions. Naaman has had all of the following of orders that he can take. He becomes angry and is ready to storm home, leprosy and all. Again, God intervenes through a servant – another without power who is now powerful. The servant calms Naaman and convinces the master to follow God’s simple plan. He does and is cured.

How often I am like Naaman. I think I can do something even when I obviously cannot. My faith tells me to pray. I think God must act in some big and amazing way. My faith tells me to just pray. How simple is it: just pray. Trust in God, the only one in control. Follow the simple path that he is leading me on. Turn to him in all things through prayer. Just pray. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when I think I can, remind me again that it is only through you and your power that all is possible. May I turn to you in humble prayer. Amen.


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Faithful God

Reading: Acts 16: 25-34

Verse 34: “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”.

Paul and Silas find themselves in prison. They were falsely accused, beaten, and thrown into prison. They could have been angry at the magistrates or the people who falsely accused them. They could have been mad at God. Either of these would have been our reactions. But instead we find them praying and singing hymns. We do not know if they were joyful in their spirits, having suffered for Jesus’ name. We do not know if they were fervrently praying for God to intervene in their bleak situation. We do not know if they were seeking the next opportunity to witness for Jesus Christ. We do know that in spite of their circumstances their faith was still very strong and was what they looked to first in this time of need.

We probably will not be falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned today. We might face hardship or a difficult situation though. Maybe there are big stressors at work. Maybe an illness or disease has beset us or a loved one. Maybe we are dealing with a loss or a major change in life. There are many things that can befall us. These trials and tribulations can easily lead us to be angry or upset or to blame God. We often teeter on that line when we face distress. We can also tend to try everything but prayer and faith, turning to these options only when all else has failed. Today in our passage it is what Paul and Silas turn to first.

Paul and Silas are faithful to God and the calling that God has placed upon their lives. They see faith as primary and mission as secondary. All else does not matter too much. Because they are faithful, so too is God. A violent earthquake opens cell doors and unlocks chains that bind. The jailer fears the worst but Paul seizes the opportunity and offers a better solution. The jailer seeks what Paul and Silas have to offer, asking, “What must I do to be saved”? They preached Jesus Christ to him and “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”. God worked in another unexpected way, bringing one and his whole family to faith in Jesus Christ.

Who will we encounter today that will recognize the faith we have? Will we be prepared to share the joy and hope we have in Jesus Christ, encouraging another to believe and to be saved?

Prayer: Lord of salvation, give me a faith that overflows into all that I do and say and think today. May I turn first and only to you in all things – good and bad. Let my faith in you open doors and break chains today. May it be so. Amen.


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A Faith Still There

Reading: Mark 10: 46-52

Verse 46: “As Jesus and His disciples… were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside begging”.

As Jesus is beginning His last journey to Jerusalem, He encounters a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. In Jesus’ day, the term ‘blind beggar’ would maybe seem redundant. Almost all who were blind or lame or deaf or otherwise disabled had to beg to survive. There were no social services in Jewish society, no places that cared for those with a disability. Yes, the Jews had a place in their hearts for the orphan and the widow, but not for people like Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus’ life would be lonely and hard. His blindness would carry the stigma of sin and, with that, he would be shunned and ignored. Life would be lived on the fringes of society, survival dependant on what folks who passed by on the street would give to this man. The regular passersby would quickly grow accustomed to the man always there begging. These people would quickly become like the many in cities today who walk right past the homeless as if they were not even there. After a while the emotional weight of this would be greater that the affects of the physical disability itself.

When people are ignored, intentionally passed by, it affects how they feel inside. Questions of worth begin to mount. Anger against those who just pass by builds. It would be easy to question God and to become bitter towards God. It would’ve been understandable for Bartimaeus to disconnect from God. But he does not. His faith is still there. And Jesus is on the way.

Lord, help me to see those on the fringes. Continue to create in me a heart that sees and responds. Build up the Holy Spirit in me so that the voice is loud and the nudge is strong. Give me a soul that cares as you care, that loves as you love. Amen.


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The Spirit Prays

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”.

Prayer is our personal, frequent conversation with God. On most days we lift up our thanks, our joys, our concerns, and our requests to God. We have a real sense that supports what we read in the Bible – that God hears our prayers and desires for us to come to Him in prayer. Prayer is an intimate connection to God.

On occasion we also have seasons or days or moments where either we cannot pray or do not know what to pray for. At times in my life I have felt so hurt or have been so angry at God that I couldn’t quite form a prayer. The emotions were just too great. At other times I have been distant from God and did not even think about praying very often. Sometimes I’ve felt so lost that I could not even begin to formulate words for a prayer. The whirlwind around me made it difficult to lift up a prayer.

In all of these scenarios, even though I could not or did not pray, I still had a sense of God and His presence. I think this is like the inward groanings that Paul writes about in today’s passage. It is this guy level feeling or instinct to reach out to God. A part of us longs to connect with God, but we just can’t quite do it. But, thanks be to God, we are not alone.

In verse 26 we read, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In all the scenarios above, plus any other we can think of or experience, the Spirit helps us. Paul goes on to write, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”. In groans without words the Spirit prays for you and I. When we are angry, the Spirit prays for us. When we are hurting, the Spirit prays for us. When we wander away or when we fall into sin, the Spirit prays for us. The Spirit prays for us. All the time. Thanks be to God. Amen!