pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Find Unity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 10-18

Verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”.

In our passage today Paul addresses the division in the church in Corinth. He begins by appealing to them to agree with one another so that there may be no divisions. The quarrels are not over the carpet color or whether or not to have a praise band. The quarrel is equally silly. They are arguing over who to follow. Most have gone astray but a few are still focusing in on the only one to follow: Jesus Christ.

It appears that many are following men who teach about Jesus. This is where the disunity comes in. They have allowed a secondary issue (human leaders) to shift their focus away from the primary belief (Jesus Christ). On one level the quarreling is good. Secondary belief issues do matter. Things like how one understands communion and baptism are, for example, secondary issues that are important. Carpet color? Style of worship? Third level topics at best.

In verse seventeen Paul focuses in on the primary belief. Here he writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”. The message of the gospel is the only primary belief. To know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to know what the life, death, and resurrection mean as a follower of Jesus – this is the one core belief of the faith. This belief in the gospel is the “power of God”. Paul is calling the church in Corinth to find unity in the one core belief. The same call remains today for us. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, it is easy to get upset over second and third level beliefs. It is easy. Too often we take the easy way out. Draw us together in the good news of Jesus Christ. Your son told us to love one another just as he had first loved us. Help us to truly do so, God. Amen.


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Epiphany Moments

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

Verse 11: “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”.

Today is Epiphany!! An epiphany is a “sudden and profound understanding” of something. In the Christian church, Epiphany, or the feast of the Magi, celebrates the visit of the wise men to the Messiah. The original Epiphany had celebrated the baptism of Jesus, when God gave those present and all who would read the account the sudden and profound understanding that Jesus Christ is God’s son. With said understanding came the directive to listen to him.

The visit of the Magi became the focus of Epiphany in early church times. Looking back on the early story, the church came to realize the true epiphany in the story – Jesus Christ came for the whole world. These men from the far east would certainly be seen as Gentiles. They were clearly outside the Jewish faith. Yet God called them. Through a sign in the heavens – a new star – one that God knew would get their attention, God called. Using their belief that the world and nature reveal things to humanity, God led the Magi to come and see the newborn Jesus.

Following the star was the Magi’s natural instinct. Once they arrived, something else took over. We read, “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”. Jesus was not on a throne. He did not dwell in a palace. Nothing about his surroundings or his mother or his economic status would ever suggest “king”. Yet in great joy they knew – this is the one! They worshipped and gave gifts. Guided by God, they then return to their country.

Today or tomorrow or the next day, when we have an epiphany moment, seeing God anew or in the face of one we encounter, will we too stop and praise God? Will we even recognize the hand of the divine at work? If we, like the Magi, head out seeking God, then God will find us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of all nations and all people, thank you for being such an inviting and welcoming God. You brought the Magi in, you welcome sinners like me. Your love abounds for all people. May my love look a little like your love. Amen.


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Enduring Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”.

Patience, patience, patience. Patience is such a tough thing to practice, especially when the situation is difficult. The difficulty can come from a variety of angles. For the brothers and sisters in Christ that James is writing to, the difficulty comes from the persecution and suffering that they are enduring. When we have been experiencing times of stress or distress, we have known how hard it is to patiently endure. This is what James is addressing in our passage today.

James turns to a familiar test of patience. He encourages them to consider the farmer. The farmer sows the seeds and then he patiently waits. With the sun and the rain that will surely come, he waits, trusting that the land will “yield its valuable crop”. It can be hard to have patience when growing crops. I have had a home garden for many years now. As I reflect back on each season I can now remember a familiar scene playing out. We would plant carrots, lettuce, and so on. Then about a week later I would go out to the garden, sometimes multiple times each day, checking to see if those little green shoots had popped up yet. Soon it became a practice in patience. Early in my gardening career my mind would question or doubt if the shoots took a little too much time to come up.

Our faith is a lot like that too. When the first trials or seasons of suffering come along, we do not have much patience. We quickly cry out, “How long, O God”? But as we spend a few more seasons in the valleys, experiencing God’s presence and strength and guidance… over and over again, we begin to build trust in God. Our doubts and questions and fears ebb away. We soon see these seasons as times of growth and maturing.

In verse eight James writes, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”. Be like the farmer, trust in God. For all who are struggling in the trial right now, cling to these words of hope and promise. To do so yields an unshakable belief that becomes your rock. As the faithful Christian endures the storms with patience and faith, we do come to know the truth of Jesus coming near. He never leaves us or forsakes us, especially in the trials. Be near to us, Lord Jesus, this we pray.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my anchor in every stormy gale. In the lows and in the highs and everywhere in between, your Holy Spirit is ever present. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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God Radar

Reading: Acts 5: 27-32

Verse 29: “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men'”.

Emboldened by seeing the risen Christ several times and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the apostles go forth and proclaim the good news with the people. They are preaching that Jesus has been resurrected and that He “gives repentance and forgiveness of sins” to all of Israel. They are preaching in the temple when the religious authorities come to arrest them. Brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, the high priest reminds them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in His name”. He also reveals a concern – that their teaching makes the council appear guilty of shedding Jesus’ blood. The Sanhedrin’s attempt to silence Jesus has spawned more voices proclaiming His message.

Peter, who is becoming the leader of the group, speaks on behalf of all the apostles, saying, “We must obey God rather than men”. It is a hard claim to argue against – especially when the ones saying it believe it with all of their heart. They are 100% sure that Jesus is alive and risen. No matter what anyone else says and no matter what they might do to the apostles, their belief in Jesus Christ will not change. They know the power of Jesus in them through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This presence keeps their witness strong and powerful. It will be what propels the early church across the known world.

The basic conflict in today’s passage remains a conflict for Christians today. There will always be times when the ways of God conflict with the ways of the world. There will always be times when our “God radar” goes off and we know in our heart and mind that something is not right. On the big stage, the Nazi assault on the Jews comes to mind. The government went about a process and people knew it was wrong and some stood up against it. More recently we can observe people who refused service based on their religious convictions. What is “right” in the world’s eyes is not always “right” when seen through the lens of faith.

In our own lives we will also experience moments when our “God radar” leads us to stand up for our faith. Sometimes it is to speak for someone who is without voice. Sometimes it is to step in to stop an unjust situation on behalf of someone without power. Sometimes it is to defend someone who is powerless against another in authority. Sometimes it is to love someone whom others cannot or will not love. When, like the apostles, we trust in God and bear witness to His light and love, we will find that God goes with us too. God will lead and guide when we are willing to trust in our faith and in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It will be so. God is faithful.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see the places and times that I can be a voice for the other, that I can serve the one in need. Grant me the courage to not only see but to act as well. Amen.


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Strong in the Lord

Reading: Ephesians 6: 10-20

Verse 12: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood… but against the powers of this dark world”.

In our passage, Paul is clearly stating that we are in a battle. As Christians, we must be aware of this. We do have hope and we can stand against the enemy because we do not fight alone. We begin the battle with verse ten: “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power”. God is on our side. Next, Paul encourages us to “put on the full armor of God”. Paul is using militaristic terms to reinforce the fact that we are in a battle for our souls.

Verse twelve indentifies the enemy. Paul writes, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood… but against the powers of this dark world”. We do not fight for our souls against earthly enemies but against Satan and his spiritual forces. Satan’s ways are clever and his attacks come from many angles, so the full armor protects us so that we can “stand our ground” and so that we can “stand firm”. Standing our ground and standing firm entails holding onto our beliefs and faith in God – standing solidly on our firm foundation.

The armor Paul lists is both offensive and defensive. He calls for us to use truth and righteousness and faith and salvation and the Spirit and the gospel to defend ourselves and to remind us of the power we do have when we are strong in the Lord. He encourages us to be offensive at times, taking the gospel to others and to use the Word of God as a sword, defeating the enemy’s attacks just as Jesus did when tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

Paul closes with perhaps our greatest weapon: prayer. He reminds us to connect to God “on all occasions” and by using “all kinds of prayers”. When we are connected to God, Satan flees. When we are connected to God then we are strong in the Lord. May we be strong today, praying always to stand against the powers of evil, rejoicing in our strong defender and our eternal hope, Jesus Christ.


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Testify

Reading: 1st John 5: 6-13

Verse Eleven: “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son”.

John writes of testimony today. He is not writing of the kind of testimony someone gives in court, but more of a testimony or accounting of an event that we would give our friends. Court is concerned with the hard, cold facts. John is writing about the testimony that we can “feel” and “know” in our hearts. In verse ten John writes of the testimony concerning Jesus: “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart”. Although we still have not gotten to the testimony itself, John makes an important point: we must believe in Jesus to have this truth.

Belief is an important part of faith. It is even an important part of receiving someone’s testimony in court. If, for whatever reason, we do not believe the testimony of a witness, it does not matter how many titles or accolades come attached to their name. Much of our life and decisions and relationships are based on a degree of how we “feel” it what we “sense” about something or someone.

In verse eleven, John reveals the testimony for us, writing, “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son”. God’s free gift is eternal life through the Son. It is a wonderful gift. One finds this eternal life in a relationship with Jesus. When one comes to faith in Jesus, this testimony is “known” in the heart. John goes on to write, “He who had the Son has life”. Belief in Jesus comes with trust that He conquered sin and death. Jesus’ victory over the grave allows us to claim eternal life, just as He did. Jesus’ victory over sin allows us to claim redemption and new life each day. In these claims we find courage to face each day and the hope that allows us to live without fear of death. We begin to truly live life when we know that Jesus leads us through this life and calls us to life beyond our earthly existence.

Once we know the Son, we too can testify to these truths so that all can live in Jesus’ light and love. May we share what we know in our hearts with those living in darkness and despair, so that all can know the hope of His Son.


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Unity or Less?

Reading: Romans 14: 10-12

Verse 11: Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.

Paul continues his conversation about diversity in the body of Christ.  He emphasized that most of us are at differing spots in our faith journeys and that we come to the church with our own unique backgrounds and traditions.  Therefore unity must come in and through Christ.  Christ must be the one thing that unites the church.  Jesus is our “bottom line” so to speak – He is Lord of all.

Paul asks why we must judge or look down on our brother or sister in Christ who does not do exactly as we do.  When we choose to judge or condemn or belittle another’s faith or their practices of faith, we are putting ourselves in a place we should not go to.  For example, just because I prefer to read and study and pray in the early morning and another prefers the quiet of the evening does not make one of us “right” or “better” than the other.  If one church uses bread and another crackers, one communion is not better or more acceptable than the other.

The time or particular way we practice our faith are small details we use to accomplish the same goal – to grow closer to Christ as we seek to become more like Him.  This is the goal for all Christians – to become more like Christ.  But at times we fail, so Paul includes a warning, quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God”.  He will not only want to know what we did with the least and the lost, but also how we treated all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Did we practice unity and did we work to bring harmony to the whole body of Christ?  Or did we remain divided, allowing it to be less?