pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Tell, Tell, Tell

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 16: “And he told them this parable…”.

Jesus loved to tell a story. His stories always taught something about faith and they usually connected to everyday life. All in the audience could usually relate to the story, often called a parable.

Although it is not as common today, there are still cultures and people groups who still tell their history through stories. Oral traditions are how much of a people’s story gets passed along to the next generation. Much of the Bible comes to us as oral tradition that was finally written down. For example, the gospel we read today was compiled and written at least forty years after Jesus died.

Many people in the less developed areas of our world still rely on oral tradition. Literacy rates are low and books are scarce within some people groups. Here the stories of the group, the family, the individual is passed on in story form. Stories are easier to remember than factual lists or straight history accounts. Much care and attention is given to knowing the story well in order to pass it along well to those who do not know the story. Knowing the story well and passing it along are two key components of living out our Christian faith.

There are actually two stories we need to know well as Christians. The first is the story of the Bible. We do not need to memorize the whole Bible but we do need to understand the overarching story and the important details related to personal salvation and faithful living. The second story we need to know well is our own faith story. We must be able to tell the story of how and why Jesus matters in our life. We must be able to tell the story of what Jesus does for us.

Once we know these stories, our task becomes telling the stories to others. The story of the Bible is big and we can share that with anyone. Our personal faith story is a little more specific, yes, but there are many who need to hear it. We just have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to these people. As faithful followers may we tell the story of faith well and often – both of the stories!

Prayer: Lord, Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is a big story. Help me to continue to be faithful to learning more of the story. Day by day increase my understanding. Grant me then the words and actions to tell your story and my story well. Amen.


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Saved

Reading: Colossians 1: 1-14

Verse 13: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”.

Paul is writing to encourage the Christians in Colosse. He begins by celebrating their faith in Jesus Christ that is based upon the good news they heard from Epaphras. These Christians have “the faith and love that springs up from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven”. They know God’s grace and, just like all over the world, the good news is bearing fruit and growing in their lives and in their community. Things are going great in the Colossian church. Yet this is not the end of Paul’s letter or even the end of our reading for today.

Paul knows it is not enough to hear the good news and to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul knows this is only the beginning of the journey of faith. In verse 9 he shares that they have been praying for them to continue to be filled with knowledge and spiritual wisdom and understanding. He prays them on to “live a life worthy of the Lord”. Paul prays for them to bear fruit in every good work and to have great endurance and patience. He encourages them to joyfully give thanks for their “share in the inheritance” in the kingdom. Paul concludes this opening section with this communal statement: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”. God has saved us from the world through his son, the one he loves. This is indeed good news. Saved. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the love you poured out for me. May it bear fruit in my life and in the lives of others as I seek to live a life worthy of the gospel. Amen.


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The Way

Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Verse 9: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”.

Peter, like almost 100% of the early church leaders, is a Jewish Christian. Yes, they are Christians first, but their Jewish upbringing is still a big part of their faith. All of the dietary laws, the rite of circumcision, the Sabbath observation… are keys to the new Christian faith. To become a believer and to be baptized into the Holy Spirit one must become a proselyte – in essence, a believer in training. One must prove their faith over a period of time by following all of the rules and only then could you become a baptized believer. The church has not existed for very long and they already have a set method to join! The idea of having a clear process to follow and a defined set of rules to obey sounds very much like another establishment of the day.

Our passage today opens with the aftermath of Peter going to Caesarea. The other leaders of the church in Jerusalem say to Peter, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them”. You broke rule 19.a.2 and rule 27.f.4. How could you. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” in what we read in Luke 15:2. The Pharisees make this statement just before Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. You might recall each parable ends with a celebration when the lost are found.

In our passage today, Peter uses some of the rules to establish why he broke the rules. First, he was praying. Second, God brought him a vision. Third, God explained the vision to Peter. Not once but three times. Peter even shares that he protested what God was instructing him to do, saying to God, ‘I have never broken rule 4.e.3’. God responds by saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”. Rule 4.e.3 had been revoked. Peter then goes on to tell the story of what happened in Caesarea.

This passage leads to the question: what rules or traditions or unwritten codes are we hanging onto that are preventing unbelievers from becoming believers? Yes, change is hard. What new understanding might God be bringing to Christianity today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes that I may see. Holy Spirit, speak into my life and my heart, illumining the way you would have me go. Amen.


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Carriers

Reading: Acts 9: 1-16

Verse 16: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…”

Saul has become the face of the enemy for the early church. He has taken on the role of chief persecutor, judge, and executioner. Saul hears the church is starting to grow in Damascus, so he heads there, armed with letters of authority to arrest all the Christians. But on the road to Damascus, Saul meets Jesus. Jesus asks him, “Why do you persecute me”? Saul is struck blind and told to go into Damascus, where he will be told what to do. Saul spends three days fasting and praying.

The Lord also calls upon Ananias. He is a disciple in Damascus who knows Saul’s reputation. Jesus instructs him to go to the house where Saul is staying. There Ananias is to lay hands on Saul to heal him of his blindness. Ananias questions this idea – he knows who Saul is. But the Lord knows who Saul will become. The Lord says to Ananias, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…”

Ananias is being sent to the enemy. He probably knows some of the people that Saul has arrested or killed. To go to him is risky. To heal him seems like the last thing to do. It calls on Ananias to trust God and to imitate the loving forgiveness of Jesus. It calls on Ananias to allow God to work through him. God has clearly chosen Saul to use for His purposes. Ananias will dutifully obey and go to heal Saul.

God has chosen Saul to be His instrument to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. This is a big audience. The Gentiles are all the non-Jews. This represents almost all of the known world since the Jews are a relatively small group of people. It is a big mission. Saul is tasked with carrying the message to the people. This is different than bringing the message. To bring is to share the message that someone else told you. To carry is to be the message, to live it out with all you are. Saul will carry the good news. He will become so filled with Jesus that he will preach and heal just as Jesus did.

When we consider our role in following the Great Commission to make disciples of all people, are we bringing the message or are we carrying the message? May we be infectious carriers.

Prayer: Fill me with you so that I carry the message of your love and hope and healing to all I meet today. 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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Day by Day

Reading: John 12: 20-36

Verse 25: “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”.

Our passage today opens with some Greek Jews in town for the celebration of the Passover. They would like to meet this Jesus guy. We can only assume that they have heard something about Him. We do not know if news of Jesus has spread to where they live or if they have heard stories once they arrived in Jerusalem or if they were there for the triumphal entry and are curious.

Many people today are like these Greeks. They have heard of Jesus or have crossed paths with someone who follows Jesus and they’ve become curious. But often there is something else driving them to want to know more. Sometimes life takes a turn or twist and they are searching for understanding or peace or comfort or strength or… Sometimes one just arrives at a point where they realize that there must be more than “this”. For many other reasons, folks come looking for Jesus.

Jesus replies by saying that a seed must die in order to produce more seeds. This is a great analogy. If we remain centered on or just focused on ourselves, then we will remain just one seed. But if we are willing to surrender self, then we can live for much more. In verse 25 Jesus says, “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”. When we hold onto our earthly titles and possessions, then we love our life. When we do not cling to the things of this world then we focus in on eternal things and we find eternal life.

Jesus goes on to equate the idea if dying to self with serving and following Jesus. We must follow Jesus’example if we are to be a Christian, a disciple, a follower. Jesus’ example centered first on loving God with all of our being and, second, on loving others as He first loved us. Love was at the core of who Jesus was and it guided all of His decisions, words, and actions. The first question Jesus asked was: how can I love God fully today? The second was like it: how can I fully love all that I encounter today? Great questions to live by. May we do so this day and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me to love as you love. You are awesome and wonderful and loving and forgiving. You are easy to love. This day and every day, may that love grow. As I live out each day though, my struggle is in loving all I meet. Work on that in me, O God. Help me to die within to those things that limit my capacity and ability to love others as you love them. Day by day, make me more like Jesus. Amen.