pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In Mission?

Reading: Haggai 1:15b – 2:5

Verse 5: “This is what I covenanted with you… my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear”.

Haggai the prophet is sent to the people who have returned to Israel and are working to restore the city and the temple. The bulk of the exiles remain in Babylon. The work has been slow and has had plenty of obstacles and challenges. God sends Haggai to Zerubbabel the governor, to Joshua the high priest, and to the remnant – the people who have come back to Jerusalem. God’s purpose in sending Haggai is to encourage, to remind, to recommit them to the task at hand. The temple is not what it once was. Some there now can remember the beauty and splendor and glory of the old temple. What appears to be shaping up pales by comparison.

The situation into which Haggai speaks brings to my mind the current state of affairs in my denomination, the United Methodist Church. Many cannot or will not consider that maybe God is doing a new thing. An equal number believe God is in the process of doing just this thing. One group seeks to hold fast to the Biblical truths that have always been truth. Others believe God is speaking a new word into our time. Both sides have dug in and their agenda has become their focus. What has been sacrificed is the mission of the church: to make disciples for the transformation of the world.

For Zerubbabel and Joshua and the remnant, the voices of doubt and discouragement, the pressures applied by those not wanting to see things rebuilt, the weight of continuing to work for God in the midst of all the turmoil – it led them to a place of resignation and despair. I am sure there were still some that held onto God’s vision of rebuilding, but the majority had lost it. To the majority, God said, “Be strong… I am with you”. The Lord Almighty goes on in verse five to say, “This is what I covenanted with you… my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear”. Through Haggai, God’s message is to be strong, to take courage, and to know that God is present and in control.

The message remains true today. As Christians we are called to follow Jesus as we seek to grow in our faith in him and as we seek to be in mission to the world. Yes, some still visit the jail and others care for those in the care centers. But the majority has lost the focus on mission. The eyes and hearts are largely turned inward. The mission of the Christian church universal remains the same that it always has been: to make disciples for the transformation of the world. This was Jesus’ driving focus. May it be ours as well.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, when I too get sucked down by all that surrounds the church, pour your strength and courage upon me. Remind me over and over that you are in control. Lead me to step where you guide as I seek to live in mission to the church and to the community. Use me today O God. Amen.


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Hard Decisions, Challenging Steps

Reading: Psalm 79: 1-4

Verse 4: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors”.

The Babylonians invaded Israel and left a wake of death and destruction in their path. In Jerusalem, the city walls were destroyed and the temple was leveled. For the Babylonians this was just one more nation to conquer. But for the Israelites, the killing was the murder of God’s chosen people and the destruction of the temple was the defilement of God’s home. What is left is not a pretty sight. “They have poured out blood like water” paints a grim picture. To add insult to injury, “we are objects of reproach to our neighbors”. The tribes around them mock what is left of Israel.

As people of God living in an increasingly non-Christian world, we can have similar experiences and emotions. In parts of our world Christians face persecution and even death. In most of our lives, however, persecution does not rise nearly to that level. Yet being a Christian is not always easy in our modern, secular world. Many of the more recent cultural norms are decidedly anti-Christian. The rugged individualism of the past and the me-first attitude of today combine to make being a humble servant countercultural and difficult. To think less of yourself and more of others can lead to questioning and ridicule. To refuse to be immoral or unethical at work can cost one promotions and can draw the ire of those above you.

Satan works in these and in many other ways to draw us away from God and into the ways of the world. It can be hard to look at what your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are doing and to not want to go along. Inside we all have a strong desire to fit in, to belong, to be liked. At times our faith will deny us these things. Something else inside of us – the Holy Spirit – is also at work to lead and guide us to be faithful and true to the Lord our God. One day we too will be poured out and will breathe our last. But between now and then may we make the hard decisions and take the challenging steps to walk as a child of the light in a world of darkness. May we live a life worthy of the one who called us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Guiding God, sometimes it can be tempting to go along with the crowd or to say what pleases. Keep me ever focused on your will and your ways in my life. Hold my hand as I try to walk as a humble servant today. Amen.


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Like Him

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verses 6-7: “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”.

Today’s passage is at once both awesome and humbling, inspiring and challenging. It is awesome and inspiring because the divine chose to become human. Jesus stepped out of heaven and became one of us. This is a deep, awesome display of love. That Jesus would take on flesh and dwell among us is hard to fathom. Then to look at how Jesus lived, that is inspiring. Paul encouraged the Philippians and encourages us to have the same attitude. He writes, “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”. Jesus set aside His divinity and lived as a servant. He let go of divine power and grasped the role of a servant instead.

Jesus could have summoned a legion of angels or done a little wham! and bam! and been rid of the Romans, the religious leaders, and the whatever else was inhibiting a fuller understanding of God’s kingdom. He could have placed Himself as the next great king, ruling from Jerusalem like King David used to do. Instead, though, Jesus taught little groups, small crowds, and mostly individuals. He met and ministered to people right where they were at. For some this meant a story or a teaching that called them to a better walk with God. For others Jesus healed them of whatever it was that bound them or kept them from community or relationship with God and others. In all He did and said, Jesus modeled God’s love.

If Jesus were a powerful political king up on a big throne, you and I and most people would think we could never do that. And we would be right. So here is where it gets humbling and challenging. Jesus became one of us. Yes, a perfect and far superior one of us. But in many, many ways Jesus was a common person – a basic human being. This means that we can be like Jesus. We can’t be Jesus, but we can be like Jesus. The divine took on human flesh. This human flesh that we are can take on the divine. We can be Christ-like servants living out God’s love. To understand this is both humbling and challenging.

Jesus became like us so that we could become like Him. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me an example that I can try and live into. I fail often and I don’t always have a servant’s heart. You are divine with a little flesh. I am a lot of flesh reaching for the divine. Please make me more and more like you, Lord Jesus. Amen.


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In Love

Reading: Ephesians 4: 15-16

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

Words are powerful. James compares our tongues to the rudder of a giant ship. This small piece of equipment can easily direct a huge ship. He also compares the tongue to a spark – with just a quick flash it can set a whole forest on fire. Perhaps like me you too have said a word or two in anger or in the heat of the moment and have just been engulfed in a firestorm. Words are powerful.

In today’s passage Paul advises us to “speak the truth in love”. There are two parts to this statement. The first is to speak the truth. We have all been in situations where this is hard. We will all encounter times and situations when truth needs to be spoken. Perhaps a child has gone a little astray or a brother or sister in Christ is struggling with some poor choices. They need us to be prophets, reminding them of God’s ways and to call them back to faithful living.

The second half of Paul’s advise is to speak the truth in love. Yes, at times it is harder to speak in love. Yes, at times it is downright challenging. Yet it is still what we are called to do. This may require taking a deep breath or even stepping away for a little while. It will definitely include swallowing our pride or our inclination to judge or condemn now and then. In spite of the difficulties, we can make the choice to speak truth in love. In the Gospels we have a wonderful example to follow: Jesus Christ. He is also the “why” behind speaking the truth in love.

The rest of verse 15 reads, “We will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”. When we practice Paul’s advise, we will grow in all things to be more and more like Jesus Christ. That is ever our goal on this journey of faith. Our short passage today concludes with this: “From Him the whole body grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work”. Each of us – each of us – doing our part, helps to build up the whole body. May we each be connected to Him, the head. May we each allow His Holy Spirit to lead and guide our words and actions today so that they will build up our family of faith. Amen.


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Attitude

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verse Five: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

The opening verse from today’s passage is challenging. To try and take on the attitude of Jesus feels like a pretty daunting task. After all, He is Jesus.

Regardless of the pursuit or goal, a good attitude goes a long way in determining success. Some might even argue that it is one of the most important characteristics of people who are successful. I think this applies two ways when we think about our attitude as a follower of Christ. First, our personal attitude or outlook must believe that we can be like Christ. Trusting in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit goes a long way in thinking we can follow Jesus. Second, we must understand Jesus’ attitude and seek to live out what He lived out.

Jesus’ attitude is revealed in two actions in today’s passage. First, He “made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant”. For us to take on this attitude, like Jesus, we must first die to self. Only when we have given up the rights to our own selfish desires and wants can we truly take on the heart of a servant. From this place of surrender, Jesus was able to meet all where they were at and to meet their needs as He could. The idea expressed by John the Baptist applies well here: I must become less so that He can become more.

The second attitude we see today is, “he humbled himself and became obedient to death”. In many ways, the second is like the first attitude. It is maybe an extension of the first too. Humility does have something to do with becoming nothing, but it also acknowledges God’s role in our successes. We see God’s presence as what brings us success in following Jesus. It is not our own doing. Over and over Jesus credited God. So too should we. The idea of becoming obedient to death helps us to understand the depth of commitment to the other. First most of us, sacrifice of time or resources is what will be required. But for some, it may be the giving one’s life. It is hard to know if we could do such a thing when pressed to the choice.

Today and every day, may we strive to have the attitude of Jesus Christ, loving and serving all we meet.


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Worthy

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verse 38: Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Today’s passage is tough.  Jesus’ words confront and challenge and shake us.  Or so they should.  This is not the warm, fuzzy, lovey-dovey Jesus talking here.  This is the Jesus that makes us squirm in our chairs as we read and contemplate this passage.

Jesus begins by encouraging us to be like him – “the student is like his teacher”.  He encourages us not to fear “them” but instead to speak the good news in the bright daylight and to proclaim it from the rooftops.  Jesus advises us not to fear men but to fear the one who holds our soul.  He clarifies this by telling us that if we acknowledge Him before men, He will acknowledge us before God in heaven.  He holds our souls.

Just as with those who heard Jesus speak these words, our choice is the same: Jesus or “them”.  He was probably referring to the religious authorities and the Roman occupiers at that time.  Today, our “them” can be similar but is more complex.  Of particular concern would be our choices of popularity, power, and position over the narrow way of Jesus.  It would be our pursuit of wealth and possessions instead of chasing our relationship with Him.  We must daily ask who we place as Lord of our lives.

Jesus continues to bring it, telling us that He did not come “to bring peace, but a sword”.  Nothing warm and fuzzy here.  In case they (or we) were thinking a little repentance and pruning to cut away the sin in their (our) lives, He clarifies.  Jesus says we must love Him more than mother or father, sister or brother, …  We must love Jesus above and over all else.  It is hard.  It is challenging.  It is a full-time commitment.  Jesus defines it this way: “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me”.  It is a daily choice.  Am I worthy?