pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Big Questions, Individual Answers

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 1-9

Verse 9: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”.

On Paul’s second missionary he went to Corinth and helped establish a church there. As was typical, he would begin by preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. When there was a small group who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Paul would help them to become a faith community. Then he moved on to another place, starting the process over. On this journey, Ephesus would be his next stop. Other apostles and disciples were out and about preaching and encouraging as well. As they would pass through Corinth…, they would bring news to Paul as they crossed paths.

The news that was shared would sometimes prompt Paul to write a letter, to go visit again, or both. This would be what happens with the church in Corinth. The body of Paul’s letters usually offered teaching, correction, and encouragement. Almost all of Paul’s letters begin with a greeting, which was and remains the custom. In our letter today Paul continues from there with a few words of thanksgiving. He thanks God that they know Jesus Christ and that Christ has been enriching them in every way. Paul is thankful for their spiritual gifts. He encourages them to wait patiently for the Lord’s return, reminding them that God will strengthen them. Paul then closes the opening with this eternal truth: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”. In short: God is faithful.

These words from Paul make me wonder what would be said about our churches. Would an observer note that the members are being enriched by Jesus Christ, empowered and using the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed on each one? Or does the 90/10 rule apply at your church too? Would the observer find folks eagerly awaiting an encounter with the risen Lord? Or would he or she find pew-sitters waiting to be entertained? Stepping outside the Sunday morning hour, would the observer see disciples living out their faith as they trust all things to a faithful God? Or would they be hard to even identify out there in the world?

These are hard questions that are generally corporate questions. But each one’s answer lies with the individual. God is faithful. Would the same be said of you?

Prayer: Dear God, trusting fully is not always easy for me when life feels a little unsure. Giving fully of my gifts is a little harder as circumstances are unknown. Yet I know that you are in control. You are the only one in control. Draw me into this truth. Help me to be faithful – I know you are. Teach, correct, and encourage me as needed, O Lord my God. Amen.


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Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming near”.

James is encouraging the early Christians to be patient in their suffering. Having patience can be hard, especially during trying times. The early Christians faced persecution and oppression. On occasion they faced turmoil within. James begins in our passage today by encouraging them to be patient until Jesus’ return. The early church thought Jesus’ return would be very soon. 2,000 years later this encouragement takes on a different feeling and meaning.

James chooses the analogy of the farmer and the seed as a model for patience. The seed is placed in the ground and then the farmer waits. The sun rises and falls, rises and falls, and the farmer waits. The rains will come. But not today either. So the farmer waits. How does the farmer wait patiently? Year after year the process has been the same. Year after year new life has poked up from the ground. Year after year the rains come and nourish the plants. Year after year the harvest comes. The farmer trusts in what has always been. God has been and always will be. James writes, “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming near”. Be patient. Like the farmer, trust that God’s reign will come.

The Lord comes near to us in the form of the Holy Spirit. The constant presence of Jesus Christ living in us will speak words of peace into our troubled hearts. The Holy Spirit will bring strength when we feel hard pressed. The living presence will fill us with love instead of anger, with empathy instead of judging. This and more if we are but patient, quieting the voices of the world and of Satan, leaning in and listening for that still small voice.

Our short passage closes with a reminder to consider the prophets of old. When we waver we are tempted to give in to our emotions. When we question if we can go on, James says to think of Moses or Ezekiel or Micah or any of the other Old Testament prophets. Whether it was with a grumbling people wandering the desert for forty years or if it was battling king after king that led the people astray, each prophet drew near to God and found peace and strength and voice. May we too draw near to the Lord, finding there the ability to patiently stand firm.

Prayer: God of all time, just as you always have been, continue to remain present this day. Give me ears to hear and eyes to see the way to walk and to lead. Fill me with your holy wisdom and mighty strength to lead well. With you, may I stand firm. Amen.


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Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.


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Offer Joy and Thanksgiving

Reading: Colossians 1: 10-20

Verse 10: “Live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way”.

Today and tomorrow we will look at this passage from Colossians. Today we spend time with the first five verses and then tomorrow we turn to the last six verses. Paul is writing to the Colossians to first encourage them. Paul acknowledges in verse six that the gospel is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it is in the Colossian church. Paul has been praying for the church too. He prays that God will fill them with the knowledge of God’s will. Paul prays this for a purpose: so that they may “live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way”. This is a great prayer for us to pray for the church universal, for our own churches, and for ourselves.

Paul goes on to unpack what this worthy and pleasing life entails. The first mark is “bearing fruit in every good work”. Fruit is both growth in personal faith AND making new disciples. How are you and your church each doing in these two areas? This first mark ties into the second. The second is being strengthened (or maturing) in the faith so that we have “great endurance and patience”. We must exercise to grow stronger. We exercise our faith by practicing it. As a simple example, did you read Colossians 1:10-20 or did you just read the verse listed at the beginning of this devotional? In a bigger sense, will you worship God with all that you are tonight or tomorrow or will you just show up? We get out what we put in. A good effort with the means of grace (prayer, study, meditation, fasting, worship) will produce much fruit in our lives and for the kingdom of God.

The third mark is to “joyfully” give thanks to God. This also is tied to the first two marks. We are blessed in so many ways. Whether the blessing is family or health or financially or occupationally or all of these, joyfully thanking God should be our response. Paul also points to another blessing: our inheritance in the kingdom of light. Paul is not speaking of heaven here. Yes, that too is an inheritance. Today he speaks of the privilege of walking in the light in this life. This has two parts. First, Jesus rescues us from the darkness of this world. In the light we have hope, joy, peace, love, contentment, and so much more. Second, Jesus redeems us from our sins, bringing salvation to our souls. Wiping away our sins, Jesus removes the guilt, shame, regret… freeing us to walk as children of the light. This allows us to grow in our faith, to bear fruit for the kingdom, and to joyfully thank God for our place in his kingdom of light. Let us offer our joy and thanksgiving to the Lord!

Prayer: Living God, you are so, so good to me. Your grace draws me in, deeper and deeper. Your Spirit strengthens and encourages me for the day to day journey and for the long journey through life. Your mercy makes me new every morning. All praise to you, O God! Amen.


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Strength, Hope, Power

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2: 1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”.

Paul opens chapter two by addressing the return of Jesus. Some have claimed that Jesus has returned and the Thessalonians fear they missed out. Paul encourages them not to be deceived but to remember what they were taught. The basic plan has been laid out. The time has not yet come. At times we too can wonder if we are on the brink of the return. Natural disasters and plagues and wars and violence have led people to wonder if the end is near. After all, these are signs to look for. We must also balance this with what Jesus said – he will come again like a thief in the night. The accompanying advice was to always be prepared and ready. If we are stuck in worry and fear, we are not prepared and ready.

In Paul’s time and in our time many live with fear and anxiety and worry over happenings in our world and in their lives. To hear and understand the truths and promises is not the same thing as living into them. I can hear and understand Jesus’ words to be prepared and ready to meet him at any moment. But can I live my life always within that reality? Therein lies the struggle.

In today’s passage Paul reminds the Thessalonians that “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”. God has chosen each who believed on the gospel and in Jesus. Because of their good confession of Jesus as Lord, they are saved. Paul goes on to encourage them to “stand firm and to hold onto the teachings”. The promises and truths that Paul and others taught will help them to stand firm in the face of fear and anxiety and worry. Paul closes this chapter by praying to the Lord Jesus Christ for the Thessalonians. Paul seeks encouragement and hope and strength for them as they continue to live out their faith.

These words of Paul speak to us as well. When the clouds seem to be rising, may we too remember that we who have confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior are saved. Our salvation is secure. Nothing in this world can separate us from that. May we also remember that the Holy Spirit and Jesus himself, the mediator, continues to offer prayers and intercessions on our behalf, keeping us ever before the throne of God. Knowing all this to be true, may we lay our worries and burdens down before the Lord as we call upon his strength, hope, and power to live this day for the glory of the Lord God. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for all you have done and for all that you continue to do. Thank you too for the gift of your constant presence in my life. As the Holy Spirit lives and dwells in me I am reminded again and again of your love and truth. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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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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Encouraging and Uplifting

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4: 16-18

Verse 17: “The Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that the message might be fully received”.

As a young married couple my wife and I became part of a couple’s group at our church. Each month when we would gather, we would talk about marriage and we would listen to the stories of the two older couples who led the group. Their experiences made our marriages better. Over the course of the past 20+ years I have been blessed to be in and eventually to lead numerous Bible studies and other small groups. In each of these settings there were always more experienced disciples of Christ. From these would and do come stories of faith and of when God acted in their lives. These witnesses to the faith were encouraging and uplifting for my journey of faith.

Paul has been mentoring young Timothy. He has chosen him to carry on the work of spreading the gospel. Paul is entrusting his life’s work to this young disciple. Timothy has shown himself capable and gifted. This is not a random selection. So in today’s passage Paul has a few stories to share with Timothy. He begins by sharing that at times one may feel alone in ministry – “everyone deserted me”. Paul quickly follows up with a deeper truth: “The Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that the message might be fully received”. God did not ever desert him! Just the opposite – God delivered him “from the lion’s mouth”. With an assurance based on both faith and experience, Paul adds that God has rescued him from every evil attack and will continue to do so as God brings Paul “safely to his heavenly kingdom”. Paul is sharing his faith and his experiences as a way to encourage and uplift young Timothy.

As I have progressed into my middle years, I find that I too have some stories to share. On the journey of faith we all have experiences when God guided or intervened or rescued us. These are the stories we have to tell to encourage and uplift those that we gather with on Sunday mornings, that we sit around a table with, that we work with… Like Paul, may we be intentional about passing the faith along to both those in our lives who are on the journey with us and to those yet to begin the journey, all for the glory of God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the journey so far. You have been with me in many ways and many times. Each experience with you builds up my faith and helps me grow closer to you. Open my eyes to the blessings and to the opportunities to share my faith with others. Amen.