pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Enemy? Love them!

Reading: 2 Samuel 23: 6-7

Verse 6: “But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns…”.

King David had accumulated a few enemies. He ruled in a time and place where conflict with the tribes and kingdoms around you seemed constant. He also had some enemies within his kingdom and even within his own family at times. In a way, each of these were “evil” – trying to take land or goods or slaves or power from the one who God anointed to rule Israel.

King David’s take on what to do with evil men fits right in with the rest of the Old Testament. Evil is to be destroyed like thorns – cut down with the sword and/or burned in the fire. When we move to the New Testament we get a different approach. Yes, in the end, Jesus did recognize the fact that some will be condemned to the eternal fires and to torment. But for Jesus this seemed like a far-off event.

Jesus also had many people who opposed Him. But I don’t think Jesus would have called them “evil” or would’ve thought they should die by the sword or by fire. Jesus’ first reaction to those who opposed or attacked or threatened Him was to love them. He did not see them as evil to dispose of but as sinners in need of saving. They may have evil intents or may have even done evil, but they were not evil themselves. Some did not agree with Jesus’ teachings or with who He chose to hang out with. His response was to love these too. Jesus tried to show them the better way, the way that God called Him to love God and neighbor. It is not a wonder that Jesus instructed us to love our enemy, to pray for our enemy. It is what Jesus did. May we follow His example well.

Prayer: Lord, help me to do what can be hard – to love those who seek to harm or hurt me. Lead me to love them and to pray for them – not to change them but to change me. May it be so. Amen.


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To Belong Fully

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 29: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

John and Peter have seen the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene has seen and spoken with the resurrected Jesus. This much all the disciples know. Yet the way forward is unclear. Jesus is not in the grave and He has conquered death, but He is clearly not coming back to live amongst them either. So on that first Easter Sunday, they gather behind locked doors. It is into this room still heavy with doubt and fear that Jesus comes. He shows them His hands and feet as proof of who He is. The disciples are overjoyed.

Jesus then announces the plan: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. He then breathes on them the Holy Spirit and commissions them to forgive sins. This was a big deal between Jesus and the religious leaders. Jesus was questioned about this and healed a lame man to prove that He had power and authority from on high. And now Jesus gives this power to His disciples. They were there and witnessed the conflict and anger that the forgiving of sins had caused, so they must know that their road ahead will be hard too. Jesus breathes this same Holy Spirit on you and me. It also empowers us to overcome our doubts and fears and will lead us to help people find a relationship with Jesus Christ that will heal them of their sins.

In the second half of our passage today we focus in on Thomas. He was not there for Jesus’ first visit. When told about it, he says, “Unless I see…”. He too wants to experience what the others experienced. He too wants to see Jesus. A week later Jesus appears again to the disciples and invites Thomas to put his finger in the wounds, to touch and feel that this really is Jesus. For Thomas and all of the disciples it was hard to come to believe. But Thomas does when he sees Jesus for himself. Predicting the many who will come to know Jesus without ever seeing Him, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. It is just the reality for the church as it moves forward without the physical Jesus.

Part of Thomas’ story that we cannot miss is his need to belong. He wants to experience what his friends and future co-workers for the gospel experienced. He wants to be fully included. It is a desire we all have – to know we really belong. As we live out our faith this day, week, and life, may we always seek to help others to step inside the story, to help them know that they belong fully to Jesus as well. May it be so.


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Caught Up in Conflict

Reading: Exodus 17: 5-7

Verses 5 and 6: Walk on ahead of the people… I will stand there before you.

At times we have all experienced flaps and disagreements in our churches.  Generally speaking these conflicts are not over large theological issues.  These issues, for the most part, have been hashed out and settled as the different denominations have formed and defined themselves.  Today the conflicts tend to center around personal preferences and choices.  But some of the conflicts center around important and path-altering issues or decisions.  Such is the conflict Moses faces today, at least on the surface.

The central issue is the lack of water for the people and the livestock.  Water is an essential of life so it is a need, not a want or a personal preference.  But the issue is brought forth with much grumbling and a bit of complaining.  It is not an open and honest conversation.  Couched within the need is a questioning of both Moses’ leadership and God’s care for the people.  Conflict often has multiple layers to it.

Moses has some options on how he could handle the situation.  At first one can read some frustration into his words with God.  Moses could go to the grumblers and react back out of his emotional hurt.  But this does no good so he instead seeks out the one who can give him a little guidance and some empathy.  Moses turns to God and God gives him guidance, directions, and reassurance.  God instructs Moses to “walk on ahead of the people”.  He is instructed to take some elders along – wise and trusted leaders, not the grumblers.  ‘Gather some support around you’ is what God is saying here.  God then says, “I will stand there before you”.  God will be there with Moses.  Then strike the rock and water will pour out.  God will meet the need and He will be present for Moses, bringing him reassurance as God reinforces Moses’ leadership role.

Moses’ example gives us good steps to follow when we feel caught up in conflict.  Don’t take it personal, seek God as trusted friend and guide, proceed forward in God’s presence.  Doing so, we know that God is in our thoughts and decisions and that God is in control.


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Conflict Resolution

Reading: Matthew 18: 15-17

Verse 17: If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Today’s passage deals with conflict resolution in the church.  Although the church is intended to be the loving body of Christ and to reflect His light out into the world, at times there is conflict in the church.  Sometimes the conflict involves just two people, but at times the conflict can involve larger groups of people.

Jesus chooses to address conflict resolution in the church because it does happen.  And it is no coincidence that this address follows the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew’s Gospel.  Perhaps Jesus addresses it so directly because He knows a second truth as well – when conflict arises most of us avoid it at almost any cost.  If we are hurt or offended or sinned against by another at church we would much rather “get over it” and avoid further conflict than go and talk with that person.  Yet Jesus tells us to do just that – go and talk with them.  Why?  Because unresolved conflict becomes a murmur always humming just below the surface.  It becomes a feeling that can pervade gatherings and can inhibit the church’s ability to function as the loving body of Christ.

Jesus also gives two more steps to try next to try and resolve the conflict.  If a one on one visit fails, Jesus says to go back with one or two other believers.  Bring someone wise and respected to navigate the waters of reconciliation.  He is not saying to make it three on one but to bring in others who will help both sides come to the table to find resolution.  The next step, should the second step also fail, is to bring it before the whole church.  Hopefully more heads will work together to find a solution that leads to repentance and forgiveness.

At each step the goal is always reconciliation and restoration.  In the end, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over”.  This is the goal: to help one another along on our journey of faith.  We are called to hold one another accountable.  This is true love in the church – being open and honest and transparent and speaking the truth in  love as we all journey together, each seeking to grow in our faith.


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Good Advise

Reading: 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13

Verse 11: Aim for perfection… be of one mind… live in peace.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth to urge unity and cooperation and love in the church.  The church there is struggling with doing these things.  At times all churches, being filled with human beings with human egos and desires, can have some varied opinions and thoughts.  In Corinth, this has apparently gone beyond the typical disagreement over the carpet color.  Factions have been created and sides have been drawn up.  This can be an occurrence in today’s churches as well.

Paul’s words would have maybe drawn the same reactions​ today as I imagine they did back then.  First it was: who us?  We are getting along fine!  Then it was: get along with who?  Love who?  You’ve got to be kidding.  Paul clearly just did not understand how wrong “they” were.  Sometimes, and especially in the midst of conflict, it can be hard to give any ground or to begin to see the other side’s perspective.  But Paul is looking past the conflict to the bigger picture.  The church was not modeling the love of Christ to one another or to the people outside the church.  Worship as the one body of Christ was no longer occurring.  Times were tough.

Into this Paul writes, “aim for perfection”.  He does not mean for their opinion or argument to be perfect – he is calling them to be like Jesus Christ.  He was perfect in His love.  Paul is calling them to be like Christ.  He goes on to call them to “be of one mind”.  Take on the mind of Christ.  Love and see as Jesus loved and saw the world.  Lastly, also in verse 11, Paul calls on the church in Corinth to “live in peace”.  As Jesus was leaving this earth, He said to the disciples, “Peace be with you”.  In the midst of all they would face, Jesus offered them His peace – the peace that passes understanding.  This is the peace Paul is calling the church to live into.

Paul’s advice is good in conflict as well as in day to day life.  This day, may we each “aim for perfection… be of one mind… live in peace”.b


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Conflict

No one likes conflict.  Often we avoid it.  Maybe we go the other way or we accept another’s idea.  Maybe we simply choose to not be involved or we remain silent.  Yet God calls us to stand against injustice, oppression, and all things evil.  He calls us to always do what is right.  In making these choices we can find ourselves in conflict.

John the Baptist found great conflict at the end of his life.  He spoke out against Herod marrying his own brother’s wife.  This angered her greatly.  It led to John’s arrest and eventually to his beheading.  John’s integrity would not allow him to remain silent.  John’s cost was much higher than any cost I may have to pay for following Jesus, but at times there are still costs.

Living as a follower of Jesus will at times put me in a place where I have to choose between silence and integrity.  This can be a hard choice.  When I am led by the Holy Spirit to speak and I choose to remain silent, I am less than I could be.  I am less than I am called to be.  In silence I sacrifice part of myself and my faith to avoid conflict.

But when I allow the Spirit to lead and I speak out against injustice or oppression or anything wrong or evil, then I am showing God’s ways and bringing His name honor.  When I speak hard words of truth to a friend, I am leading them back to living God’s alternative way.  In turn, I trust they will do the same when I have gone astray or made a poor choice.  Conflict is never easy, But God is always present, there to strengthen, to encourage, to lead, to comfort, and to love.

Scripture reference: Mark 6: 14-29