pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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 Rule 4.e.3 had been revoked.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.


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Ambassadors

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-21

Verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us”.

Today many will gather in churches and homes to worship. We will sing, pray, read scripture, hear a message,… An outside observer could probably identify us as Christians. Then we will leave our places of worship and enter the world. When observed there will we still easily be identified as Christians?

Paul encourages us to not see people as the world sees them. He reminds us that once we are “in Christ” we are a new creation. We no longer see as a person of the world but now see as Jesus Christ saw the world. As such, we are called to first reconcile ourselves and then the world to Christ. We confess and repent and seek to live like Jesus. In turn we are called to help others do the same. Paul writes, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us”. As ambassadors we should represent Christ well and should help others to know the One that we know.

In a general sense, folks should see Christ in us. This emerges in how we treat others, in the ways that we live with integrity and honesty and love and compassion and mercy… People should notice that we are different from the world. But being “in Christ” also calls us to go a step further. We should also see and act as Jesus did. That means noticing the one who feels unlovable and then loving them as Jesus does. It means noticing the one that feels trapped in their sin or the guilt and shame and then helping them to be freed. It means seeing the one in need and then meeting their needs as we are able. It means seeing oppression and injustice in our community and addressing it. In living out our faith in real and practical ways we serve as good ambassadors for Jesus Christ. In this process, we also become more and more “the righteousness of God”.

This day and every day, may we not only live as good examples of Christ, but may we also be Christ’s love.

Prayer: Lord, help me to not only see as you saw and to not only love you, but also to see and love my neighbors in both word and deed. Amen.


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Ever Growing, Ever Reflecting

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 3: 12-18

Verse 18: “We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory”.

Paul connects back to our passages from Exodus 34 and Luke 9. He uses the language connected to Luke 9 and the transfiguration of Christ to help us understand that we too are transformed day by day as we grow closer to Christ. He uses the veil language of Exodus 34 to speak of how some things remain hidden from people. Paul is looking at this Old Testament passage with his Christian eyes. This is a common practice for many in the New Testament, including Jesus. Jesus quoted the prophets and parts of the Law and then went on to explain how He fulfilled those words or to talk about divorce and other topics from the Old Testament. Jesus always sought to deepen our understanding and therefore our faith. Paul likens the veil that Moses had over his face to cover up God’s radiance to the Jews’ hearts that are veiled to Jesus Christ. To Paul, if one does not trust in Jesus Christ, the veil remains. If one professes faith in Christ, then the Holy Spirit comes and lives in that believer. The Spirit would lead and guide the life of the believer.

The Holy Spirit is our continued remover of the veil. When we choose Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit dwells in us as Christ’s living presence. With this presence, we gain new understandings and insights into the faith we profess and live out. We do not know it all at once. It is an ongoing process. This is what Paul writes about today. He writes, “We… are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory”. Day by day we grow in faith. As we do we reflect more and more of Jesus Christ out into the world. Each day we should strive to grow closer to our Lord and Savior.

Paul’s New Testament eyes are eyes we continue to see through. Over the ages we have relied on the lead and guidance of the Holy Spirit. At times this has led to changes in the church and in how we understand and interpret scripture. For example, at one point in our history we used the Bible to justify slavery. Even though those verses remain in the Bible, our context and our understanding has led to a new understanding concerning owning another human being. This process happens at different rates and in different ways for different people and churches. For example, there are things in my life that I now see as sin that I did not see as sin when I was less mature in my faith – pride, judging… This is a process that I want to continue within myself. In doing so I am growing and becoming closer to God, reflecting more of His light.

As individuals and as churches we continue to turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction and understanding. Collectively we also turn to the Word – both written and revealed – to grow in faith and to reflect His light and love out into the world. May it ever be so.

Prayer: God of all creation, you are eternal, just as your love for each of us is eternal. I beg you to continue to reveal your will and way to me and to our churches. Be loud and clear in our lives. Lead us, O great God. Amen.


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Through God’s Mercy

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 1-2

Verse 1: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”.

The call of every church and of every Christian is to be in mission. The main mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are called to bring all people to Christ and to walk together as we each deepen our relationship with Jesus. For most people, the call is answered one person at a time through a one-on-one relationship that is formed and cultivated and is given time and attention. These relationships may come through a specific ministry – a feeding program or a diaper ministry – or they can come simply by crossing paths with another and engaging in life together. This second mode is how Jesus most often operated.

Even though all are called, many question or are hesitant. Some feel like their past disqualifies them. Our past is often one of our best resources. Those struggles that we have overcome offer hope and possibilities to the one still in the struggle. Our story is what makes our faith and our relationship with Jesus real to another. Others think that they do not know enough or that they lack the skills or talents to accomplish something for God. God places skills or gifts or talents in all of us. They do not need to be perfected or polished. God just needs us to be willing to step out in faith and to trust in God to do the rest. If we seek it, the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us in all things.

The author of our text today is just one of many, many imperfect and flawed people that God used to build the kingdom and the church. One does not have to turn too many pages in the Bible to find the next one in a long line of ordinary, regular folks who did extraordinary and wonderful things for God. Paul began life as Saul. He hated the church and did everything he could to stomp it out. Talk about an unlikely candidate to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world! In a display of mercy and love, Christ called him Paul and set him loose on the world. Who Saul was became forgotten as the new creation Paul began to serve the Lord in faith.

This unlikely servant writes, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”. God chose him. God set his ministry in motion. Therefore, Paul does not lose heart. God chose you and me too. Therefore, may we each step up and out today in ministry to the world, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the Lord goes with us, guarding our heart. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, prepare my heart and mind to be in ministry today. May the Spirit lead and guide me in all I do and say and think, ever seeking to build your kingdom here. Amen.