pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Herald, Apostle, Teacher

Reading: 1st Timothy 2: 4-7

Verses 3-4: “God our Savior… wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”.

Paul knows his mission. That certainly comes through in our passage for today. Paul was selected by God to be a herald, an apostle, a teacher of the true faith. Each and every day Paul set out to do these things and in this letter to Timothy he instructs him how to do the same. And if we are followers of and believers in Jesus Christ, then the letter is instructions for us too.

There are three truths that Paul packs into three verses. First, the scope of the mission: “God our Savior… wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”. In a perfect world all people would be believers. One day that world will come. But for now the task is to work into God’s goal, each day adding to those who are saved. To that end we are each called to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those we meet.

Paul’s second truth is that Jesus is the mediator between God and us. He who “gave his life as a ransom” paid for our sins with his blood and gave his life to free us from the chains of death. Jesus walked the earth so that we could see God’s love being truly lived out. In those years Jesus also gained a first-hand connection to our trials, our temptations, our sins. This leads us to Paul’s third truth. Because of that experience Jesus can stand between God and us to speak on our behalf, to help the perfect God know what it is like for us, imperfect as we are.

These three truths work together. Jesus could have returned at any time, but he has not. There are still more people to bring to Jesus, to teach to obey his commands. In love God waits for us to help others to know salvation through faith in Christ alone. Jesus remains on our side, speaking on behalf of those he walked with and stood in for. Today we go forth seeking to connect more souls to faith in the Savior. Today may we be a herald, an apostle, and a teacher!

Prayer: Lord, so many do not know you. I will cross paths with some today. Guide me to share Jesus with them, whether in word or deed. Use me as you will today, O God. Amen.

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Even Me

Reading: Ephesians 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given me for you”.

Paul experienced God’s hand in a powerful way. He had not always been Paul though. He was born Saul and was raised in the Jewish faith. Saul excelled at learning the Law and eventually became a Pharisee, one of their religious leaders. He was very devout and followed the Law inside out. When the Christians began to try and spread the good news of Jesus Christ, Saul made it his personal mission to persecute them, to stomp out this new religion. Saul was enemy #1 of the early church.

And then, one day as Saul traveled to Damascus to arrest and persecute the Christians there, he met Jesus. In a jarring encounter, Jesus changed Saul forever. The #1 enemy became the #1 evangelist, travelling all over the known world preaching about Jesus Christ and His love. Saul took on the name Paul, the Gentile version, and became the apostle to the Gentiles – all who were outside the Jewish faith. His conversion story is what Paul is writing about when he writes, “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given me for you”. His name alone struck fear into Christians; now, by God’s grace, he was one of them!

As I think about and reflect on this mystery, I am convinced of the fact that God can and will use anyone for His glory. He chose Saul. That means that God can do anything with anyone. God can turn the hardest-hearted atheist into a preacher of the gospel. He can take the most vile criminal and turn them into a leader in a church. God can grab ahold of the one we least expect and use them in amazing ways.

Yes, we are all within reach of God’s grace. We are all available ammunition in God’s battle with the evil and darkness in our world. God desires to use us all for the building of His kingdom of love and grace. Thank you God for using even me.

Prayer: Lord, you call me by name. You ask that I lay down my selfish desires, that I take up my cross, and that I follow you. May it be so. Use me as you will, O God. Make me fully yours. 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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Willing Servants

Reading: Acts 1: 15-17 & 21-26

Verse 22: “One of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection”.

Today’s passage reminds me of our church’s last two Christian Education meetings. As we were thinking towards next year we were evaluating who is returning for another year and what openings we had to fill. Fortunately, we do not need to replace anyone for a reason similar to the one in Acts. But like the early church in our passage today, we carefully consider our needs and look for those who are gifted to teach, who love Jesus and children, and who are full of the Spirit.

In Acts, Peter and the other leaders of the church know that twelve is the correct number. Jesus himself told them that the twelve apostles would rule over the twelve tribes of Israel and now there are only eleven apostles. Here is the criteria they used for Judas’ replacement: been with them since Jesus began His ministry, heart for God, good witness to the faith. As they look over and consider the gathering of about 120 believers, two names rise to the top of the list. Both Barsabbas and Matthias fulfill all the qualifications. Peter says, “One of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection”. The group spends some time in prayer and then they cast lots. Through this process Matthias is chosen to complete the group of twelve.

Barsabbas was not chosen but based on his qualifications we can assume that he continued to serve the God he loved. Many of us are like Barsabbas. Maybe we are not chosen for the “special” job even though we are qualified. We still desire to serve God and to bring Him glory. So we humbly find a role to fill and we continue to be a part of the building of the kingdom of God. We do so because we trust in the plans that God has for each of us and for His church.

When God needs someone to step up and serve, we can trust that just the right person will be selected. Sometime that will be us. Maybe the Spirit will nudge us to volunteer, maybe someone will see the gifts and graces in us that leads them to ask us to serve, or maybe God just keeps leading us back to that opportunity and we finally say yes. However we serve God and neighbor, we help to build the kingdom. May we ever be willing servants, loving God and neighbor. May it be so.


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Loving and Caring

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verses 33 and 34: “Much grace was upon them all… There were no needy persons among them”.

In the early church the love of God and one another was clearly evident. In the lives of the apostles the power of God was clearly evident. These factors made the church stand out from the larger culture around them. In many ways these things were even counter-cultural. They certainly are today.

There are three outcomes of the presence of God and His love in our text today. The first is the great power that the apostles had to preach the gospel news of Jesus Christ. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the apostles were boldly proclaiming the truth and they were bringing people to faith. The second outcome was the grace that they all had upon them. They were willing to look past faults and small disagreements because they saw the community as more important than the individual. This led to a willingness to sell things to help with the common good. This led to the third outcome: “There were no needy persons among them”. All were loved and cared for.

Does this unity and level of love and care for one another typify churches today? This model is still very possible and I think exists in some of our churches today. When someone loses a loved one they are surrounded with love and care and often food. When someone experiences a tragedy like a house fire they are invited into someone’s home and needs for clothing and other necessities are met. When someone loses a job, assistance is given. We may not sell our home or some land, but there is still much love in a church that makes it stand our from the larger society.

Could our churches be closer to the model we see in Acts? For sure! Let us remember then that the church is still made up of people. So, like each of us on our own journey to become more like Jesus, the church itself is also ever on a journey to become more loving and more caring. The church is only as loving and caring as the individuals that make up said church. That brings us to a question: how am I becoming more loving and caring so that my church becomes more loving and caring?


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Approved

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 1-8

Verse Four: We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.

Paul comes to his position as an apostle through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  He encountered Jesus in a powerful way and has been a devoted follower ever since.  All that Paul does and says he credits to the presence and guidance of God.  This comes to him through the Holy Spirit and through his relationship with Jesus.  For Paul, his authority as an apostle comes from God.  He writes, “We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel”.  Note the plurality in the “we”.

Paul does not work alone.  He has a group he travels with and each shares the same goal – to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  They have all been entrusted with the gospel.  Because of this trust, Paul and his fellow workers are honest and hard-working.  They are shining the spotlight on Jesus and His good news, not on themselves.  Paul and his fellow believers want to please God alone.  What men think of them does not matter.

The “we” that Paul writes of does not stop with Paul and his contemporaries.  In Matthew 28, when the great commission was given, Jesus was also speaking to all who would claim a personal relationship with Him.  Both Jesus and Paul knew that the work of spreading the gospel was a long-term project.  When Jesus said, “therefore go and make disciples” He was and is speaking down through all generations.  Jesus went on to say to do so “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.  In the same way that Paul was “approved” to speak the gospel, we too have been commissioned and approved to speak the good news of Jesus Christ.

May we each claim our authority today as people approved by God as we go out into the world to be the light and love of Jesus Christ as we share the good news with all we meet.


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Us?

Reading: Acts 7: 55-60

Verse 58: …and the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Oddly enough, in the middle of our passage today, the author mentions that Saul is there.  That people laid their clothes at his feet would indicate that maybe Saul is “in charge” of the stoning of Stephen.  He may not cast a stone, but he is there to make sure the job is done right.  Saul is becoming the leading figure in the efforts to persecute and eliminate this fledgling church.  In Stephen we find one absolutely willing to die for his faith.  Saul is just as passionate and dedicated to upholding Mosaic Law as he and many others interpret it.  Just as much as Stephen loves Jesus, Saul hates Him.  It is quite a contrast, but it is a contrast we can relate to.  While we may never “hate” Jesus, at times our lives may look like we certainly don’t love Him.

As Saul’s story unfolds, his reputation for attacking the church and all followers of the Way grows to the point that the mere mention of his name brings shudders to all believers.  It is quite the shock to the young church when Saul suddenly becomes Paul just a couple of chapters later in Acts 9.  Many asked the question people may ask if us: him?  How could this man who killed and arrested so many Christians become one of Jesus’ greatest apostles and champions?  How could this man so filled with hate become so filled with love?  Jesus.

Once Jesus got ahold of Saul and changed him into Paul, he was fully dedicated to the good news.  This leads us to ask, what about me? Maybe we do not need the 180° change that Saul needed, maybe we do.  But let us ask, what about me?  What would Jesus like to change in me?  If Jesus could change Saul into such a way, imagine what He could do with us.  May it be so.