pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Suffering with Jesus

Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

Verse 10: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”.

Peter is writing to encourage the followers of Jesus Christ who are in trials and sufferings. As foreign as this sounds to us, suffering for their faith was a regular event. For much of the first 300 years of the church, it was dangerous to be a Christian. The Jews and the Romans were both openly hostile towards Jesus’ disciples and followers. Yet the church thrived and grew. Today we see this same thing happening in places where there is a potential cost to following Jesus. The willingness to risk and to pay the cost refines and bolsters the faith.

Peter encourages the early church to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ”. The disciples in the early church were grateful to suffer for Christ because they understood that they were suffering with Christ. They were literally doing what Jesus did. I once read or heard a quote that roughly said: “If you are not suffering a little for your faith perhaps your faith is too little”. In essence the author was getting at the idea that if no one notices you are a Christian, are you really a Christian? There is a lot of truth to that. Too often we like to fly our faith below the radar.

Peter identifies and warns his disciples about the cause of their suffering. We fly low for the same reason. In verse eight he reminds them that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. Imagine the power of that verse as the Roman practice of throwing Christians to the lions ramped up. The devil continues to prowl today. His favorite weapons are still fear, doubt, anxiety, worry… Peter encourages the early church and us today to “resist him, standing firm in the faith”. Trust that God is really in control. Remain in Jesus Christ just as he seeks to remain in you.

Peter closes with this promise: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”. Yes, we will suffer at times if we are really living out the gospel faith that Jesus modeled. Yes, we will. God is not only with us in the sufferings, but he will always bring us through stronger and with a deeper faith. May we trust in our Lord and Savior, stepping where he leads us today.

Prayer: Lord God, no one likes to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. Yet at times you call me to do just that. I can rejoice and even thank you for my times of suffering. They have been fruitful and have led to growth in me and in my faith. May your Holy Spirit help me to be willing to do whatever you call me to today. Amen.


Leave a comment

Persevere

Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-3

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.

The book of Hebrews was written during a time of intense persecution for Christianity. Violence and torture and death were daily possibilities. In this section of the book the author takes some time to remind the Hebrews of the heroes of faith. In chapter ten he begins with Jesus Christ and then proceeds on to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, … in chapter eleven. He is reminding them of all those who have been faithful through challenges and sufferings and trials to encourage them to do the same. This is the “great cloud of witness” that is referred to in verse one of today’s passage. Almost 2,000 years later we all have names that have been added to the list. Some are famous and well-known but most are personal – parents and grandparents, mentors, fellow church goers…

The encouragement given today in our text is to throw off the things that hinder our race and to rid ourselves of those things that entangle us. For some it is fear or doubt or worry that hinders and entangles. For others it is pride or ego or selfishness. For others still it is status or position or possessions. The list of things that can hinder and entangle is long and varied. The writer of Hebrews understood this. So the first encouragement is to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. To persevere means to keep going no matter what. It means to keep at it even in the hardest and most difficult times. The next question that comes to mind, once for me and still for many, is this: what is the course we are to follow? We find the answer in verse two: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”. Jesus set the course. He marked the race. That is why he is the “author”. He is also the “perfecter”. He who was without sin gave us the example to persevere after. We are called to focus on Jesus so that we “will not grow weary and lose heart”. As we run our race today, may we keep our eyes and our heart on Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Lord, as I seek to run the race you lay out before me today, may I run faithfully and obediently. May I see as you see. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit this day. Amen.


Leave a comment

By Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise… but through the righteousness that comes by faith”.

As Paul and the rest of the earliest church were sorting out just how Jewish one must first be to become a follower of Jesus Christ, he penned these words that we read today. Before becoming an apostle, Paul was known as Saul. In that phase of his life he was a self-proclaimed Jew among Jews. He was a very devout Pharisee who knew and followed the letter of the law. As the early church grew and began to add Gentile believers, a huge debate arose over just how much of the Jewish faith must be followed to become a Christian.

In our reading for today Paul points to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Paul chooses him for two reasons. First, he is one of the pillars of Judaism. His faith is one of the models. God declares Abram righteous because of his faith. As we’ve been reading, God called and in obedient faith, Abram went where God led. He stepped out and followed God. Second, at the time there was no law. It had not been given yet. Paul is saying that one can be saved by faith apart from the law. Paul, known as the apostle to the Gentiles, is not in favor of applying Jewish laws to the Christian faith. Paul himself became a believer when he met the risen Lord and then entered into a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. For Paul it had nothing to do with the law. In the next chapters Paul will go on to argue this point further. Martin Luther will pick up these texts many hundreds of years later as he works out his “justification by faith alone” doctrine that will rock the church.

Even though the New Testament clearly spells out that one is saved by faith alone we can often feel like we must do good works or follow some set of prescribed steps to be saved. God does not have a giant balance scale that one day weighs out our good versus bad. We know from the scriptures that as soon as we confess and give our sins to God, they are wiped away – they are no more. Nothing is being stacked up on the “bad” side of some mythical scale. Yes, our faith will lead us to do good things. That is how we live out the love of God within us. It is the model Jesus set for us. As we follow Christ, living out our faith, may his ‘why’ become our ‘why’. Jesus loved others because the love of God within him overflowed into the lives of others. May we do the same. May the sharing of God’s love be our grateful response to our God who saves.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your unconditional love and grace. It is certainly not deserved but you pour it out upon me anyway. I definitely cannot earn yet it is still there in unending abundance. It is an amazing love, an amazing grace. Thank you. Amen.


Leave a comment

Consuming Fire

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-18

Verse 17: “The glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire”.

Fire is often associated with God. As Moses ascends the mountain in response to God’s call, he walks into the fire. In verse seventeen we read, “The glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire”. The consuming fire is not destructive or life-taking. God’s fire is transforming and life-giving. In this sense it is like a forest fire. Fire is nature’s way of renewing and sustaining life in the forest. Fire consumes all the old, dead wood, allowing space for new growth. Fire also causes some seeds to germinate, bringing new life. At times, God’s fire is also like a forest fire in another way. It may run wild through our lives, moving quickly and powerfully, burning up the old and dead parts of us, leaving us prepared for renewal.

Fire is also a refining tool. In the world of precious metals fire is used to burn off impurities, leaving behind something much more valuable. God’s fire also works this way in the life of a believer, consuming all of our sins and selfish ways, leaving us more like the Lord. By removing our impurities, God is making us more into his image. Even the “small” sins that we hold onto as immature Christians are touched by the power of God’s fire. The fire changes us from within, reshaping our hearts, over and over, each time making us more like our Lord.

Moses walked up the mountain without fear. He knew the fire to be an extension of God’s love. Entering into God’s presence always resulted in positive change in his life. In our humanity we sometimes are reluctant to enter into God’s fire. Quite bluntly, at times we like to hold onto our sin. Yet we too are called to walk into the fire. As God’s love grows within us, we mature in the faith and become willing to place ourselves within God’s consuming and refining fire. We come to know that there we are made into someone better. There we are made new again. There our old ways are consumed and we are able to be filled with even more of God’s love. In this process, we are made more like him, coming to shine a little brighter, to bring more glory to God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, may your fire burn hot in me, consuming all of me that is not pleasing to you. Consume the chaff, the sins, the selfishness, the pride – all that needs to go. May your fire purify me, each time leaving behind something more and more useful in your kingdom. May the fire of your love burn strongly within me. Amen.


Leave a comment

God Alone

Reading: 1st Corinthians 3: 1-9

Verse 3: “You are still worldly… there is jealousy and quarreling among you”.

Paul is known as the apostle to the Gentiles and as the person who spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world. He traveler east and north and west of Palestine, preaching about Jesus and planting churches as he went. Paul helped plant the church in Corinth and he continued to tend to it through letters. In these letters Paul continues to teach them about the faith and he also addresses issues and conflicts that arise. The portion of the letter that we read today addresses a division that has risen up in the church.

Paul begins by addressing the believers as “worldly” and as “infants in Christ”. These terms would have stung a bit and maybe started to bring them to their senses. In essence Paul is calling them to grow up and to act like the mature Christians that they can be. In verse three he identifies the issue: “You are still worldly… there is jealousy and quarreling among you”. Since they are struggling with worldly sins Paul implies that they have lost sight of the main thing: Jesus Christ. Paul himself then demonstrates his own spiritual maturity in the way he advises them. Instead of trying to elevate himself over Apollos he acknowledges that they have both played a role in developing the church. He identifies himself simply as a “worker”. Paul uses the farming analogy saying that he planted and Apollos watered. Then, in verses six and seven, Paul reiterates an important truth: only God can make someone’s faith grow. It is the action of God alone that changes lives. Yes, Paul and Apollos have a function in the process, but the real authority and power rests in God alone.

At times in our churches we can devolve into being small or into being focused on our own agenda. These things only lead to discord and possibly to division. At times a wise and mature Christian will lead the way and peace will be restored. At times the Holy Spirit will nudge and whisper and pull at our hearts, working us towards reconciliation and the restoring of relationships. Just as only God can make faith grow, only God can bring true healing. So in all things may we look to God, being attuned to the Holy Spirit, seeking to walk his path of love. May it be so for all of us.

Prayer: Father God, heal our churches and heal this nation. Heal our hearts and heal our relationship with you and with one another. Amen.


Leave a comment

Blessings to Praise

Reading: Psalm 119: 1-8

Verse 7: “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous ways”.

Psalm 119 is a very long, long song of praise. The song speaks of the joy found in faithful living. For the Israelites this revolved around the covenants and their relationship with God. To live faithfully brought both joy and blessings to their lives. The psalmist uses the word “blessed” twice in the opening verses. The blessings come when one walks according to the law of the Lord and when one seeks God with all their heart. The blessings are not worldly but are spiritual. The simple presence of God in one’s life and the maturing of one’s faith are the blessings that come through obedient and faithful living.

As Christians we add another layer to this idea of faithful and obedient living. Adding to and fulfilling the Old Testament commandments and bringing a new covenant into the mix, Jesus provides us the best example to follow concerning obedience to God and faithful living in this world. Like our lives, Jesus’ life was not always happiness and hugs. He experienced times of trial and suffering. Jesus had times of grief and sadness. Jesus felt the sting of rejection and the challenge of those who read and interpreted scripture differently than he did. In all cases, though, Jesus consistently looked first to God and not to his own wisdom or strength or to the ways of man. Whether in the moment during ministry or alone on a hillside in prayer, God was always present to and in Jesus’ life. God desires the same relationship with you and with me. Following obediently and living faithfully leads to a close, intimate, personal relationship with God. This is the same blessing that the psalmist speaks of in Psalm 119.

In verse seven we read of the psalmist’s response. Here we read, “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous ways”. What a joyful response to God’s blessings! This should be our response as well. Our praise can be in worship. It can be in a prayer. It can be in serving another. It can be in walking with someone through their grief or trial. There are many ways to praise the Lord. This day may we seek to be obedient and faithful servants, taking Christ to all we encounter today.

Prayer: Lord God, there is no better journey than the one I walk with you. Whether life is awesome or as bad as it can get, your abiding presence is my constant companion. Help me to walk faithfully all of my days, offering all of me as a fragrant offering to you. May it be so. Amen.


Leave a comment

Blessed

Reading: Matthew 5: 1-12

Verses 11-12: “Blessed are… rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”.

Today’s and tomorrow’s passages come from the opening teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The section for today is called the “Beatitudes”. This translates to ‘supreme blessedness’ or ‘utmost bliss’, depending on your dictionary. As one reads through the list given by Jesus, one might wonder how you are blessed in some of these verses. Some might even think, ‘I’d rather skip that blessing’! Others yet will look at the list and think, ‘When’?!

We must first look at the Beatitudes as a list of characteristics of those who are in a close relationship with God. As such, we have experienced some, we are living out some of them now, and have not yet experienced others. As one matures and as ones relationship with God grows stronger, we do experience more and more of the list, often with increasing depth. Second, we must remember what we have been focusing on the last two days – sometimes God’s ways appear as foolishness to the world. For example, most of the world would hear the start of verse four, “Blessed are those who mourn”, and not ever want to hear the rest. Not only will they say no one is blessed when they mourn, but they will add that no one really was able to comfort them in their deepest grief. And they are right. No one can. But God can. That’s the point of the Beatitudes. We experience the “blessed are…” parts and God supplies the “for they…” parts. This allows us, as Christians, to walk forward into difficult places and into trial and suffering assured that we do not walk alone. As we step forward in faith and in trust, we are made more and more into the image of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes remind us that the path of discipleship is not always easy, but it is blessed by God’s presence. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the blessings that I have experienced on this list. It wasn’t always easy, but you were always there. Continue to be present to me and in my life. In turn, may I follow faithfully. Amen.


Leave a comment

Love and Grace

Reading: Philippians 3: 1-12

Verse 8: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”.

The title for today’s passage in my Bible is “No Confidence in the Flesh”. It is a good reminder. In verses four through six Paul reminds us of how we can trust in the old and in the things of this world. We may not connect circumcision or our tribe or our nation as sources of confidence. But we can count our position or title or status as things we place our confidence in. We may claim the tag “Christian” instead of Pharisee and we may go about persecuting all who don’t see or interpret things just as we do. Some even see their confidence in the two areas as just cause for their legalistic righteousness that is far from the love and grace that Jesus exemplifies. Paul sees this in his former life as Saul.

In verse seven there is a shift. All of this earthly confidence Paul now considers a loss for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ. He goes on to explain in the next verse, saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”. Paul willingly laid aside the titles… in exchange for coming to know the Savior. He calls all that earthly stuff “rubbish” as is willing to throw all that away so that he may “gain Christ”. It amazes me what a little encounter with Jesus did for and to Paul’s life. All that he had grown up knowing and believing and living – holding this above all else – was rubbish once he knew the love and grace of Christ. Today some continue to live out the law without knowing Christ. Some even live with the Christian tag and live a life that does not bear witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Instead of an earthly, human righteousness based upon the law and strict adherence to the rituals and practices, Paul has found a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus. It is not the high and mighty righteousness negatively associated with the super religious. It is a righteousness based partly on the resurrection of Jesus. It is also based on the love and grace that comes by “sharing in his sufferings”. In losing all the earthly trappings, through the grace he himself experienced in Christ, Paul was left with a love for Jesus and for all who did not know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We too can know this love and grace. Like Paul, may we know Christ crucified and risen. And may we share Christ with all we meet, seeking to work out our mandate to make disciples of all nations and peoples. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, at times I can be a bit like Saul – feeling good about my titles or position or religion. When I do, bring me face to face with the sufferings of Jesus, made real in the realities of a hurting and broken world. There, fill me with only grace and love, that I may represent you well in the world. Amen.


Leave a comment

Our Call

Reading: Isaiah 42: 1-9

Verse 6: “I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles”.

As Christians, we see the Bible as God’s continuing revelation of who God is. The love story between God and humanity unfolds from Genesis through Revelation. We receive the fullest revelation of God in the incarnate Jesus. He is our Immanuel – God with us. Jesus was physically present for about 30 years and has been spiritually present in the Holy Spirit ever since.

When we read our passage for today, as Christians we see and identify Jesus in these words. We cannot be 100% sure that the servant of whom Isaiah writes is Jesus. But we can be sure that Jesus himself takes on this identity and these qualities. At the time, Jesus did not appear to be the Messiah most Jews were looking for. They expected and longed for another leader like King David – one who would slay giants and enemies alike, one who would restore Israel to greatness on the world stage. Jesus was and is instead a servant who builds a very different kingdom one lost soul at a time.

In verse six Isaiah writes, “I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles”. Reading with New Testament eyes we see these words fulfilled in the new covenant founded upon Jesus’ sacrifice. When thinking of justice, the justice that God offers is not the justice of the world. Here justice means you pay and/or spend time incarcerated, depending on your offence. Jesus suffered and died to pay the price for our sins. Because he made atonement, God grants us mercy and grace and forgiveness. God’s justice seeks to restore and redeem, to bring back wholeness and abundant life. Jesus picks up these themes and runs with them. He ministers to those in need, giving sight to the blind, freedom to the captives, shining light into the darkness. Jesus fulfills God’s justice for all people. He will commission the disciples and all else who follow him to continue to bring the good news to the ends of the earth. As believers, this too is our call.

Maybe you call begins at home with a non-believing spouse or child or parent. Maybe it begins down the street, in your neighbor’s front yard. Maybe your call begins at school with your classmates or teammates or at work with your coworker or employee or boss. Most often the mission field is close to home. But maybe yours is far away. Step one is still the same: follow where God leads. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: God of abundant love, you are ever inviting more and more people into your love. Through me may some outside the family of God hear your invitation to wholeness and abundant life. Use me as you will, O God. Amen.


Leave a comment

Servant?

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Verse 1: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”.

Paul begins his letter to the Roman church by first identifying himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ”. Pause for a moment and consider what that word really means – servant. In Paul’s time a servant was totally subservient to the master. As such, their whole life was wrapped up in doing things for the master. They would go where told, would do whatever they were told to do. Their own will, desires, wants, thoughts, feelings were rarely considered. Paul sought to be a servant of Jesus Christ.

Today titles are important. Back in Paul’s day family names and birth places were important – Jesus of Nazareth, the sons of Zebedee… These adjectives described someone. Today we are first identified by our occupation. Meeting someone new, the first question is usually ‘What do you do’? When asked, I tell people that I am a Methodist pastor. Our own self-identity is very much wrapped up in what we do. So imagine, for a moment, the reactions and responses I would get if I answered as Paul did, telling others that I am a servant of Jesus Christ. You too can imagine the responses that this answer would draw.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are supposed to be servants of our Lord and King. Jesus himself came to be a humble servant and called us to follow his example. Because we do not first self-identity as a servant of Jesus Christ, there are two truths we must wrestle with. These truths are at the core of why we do not identify this way. Perhaps we are unwilling to really assume this role. We are reluctant to make all of our desires and all of our will subservient to Christ. We are OK with “most”. The second truth is the reality that would come with claiming such a title. To say we are a servant of Jesus implies quite a commitment. In the Advent series at our church we have been talking about what it would mean to be an “altogether Christian”. Such a person is a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul is making a high claim in his title of “servant”. Are we willing to do the same?

Prayer: God, the journey has been one of committing more and more to you and to doing your will. Even then, though, I know I am just “mostly” committed. Help me to move closer to “all in”, closer to loving and serving you with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. May it be so. Lord, may it be so. Amen.