pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Love Well

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Verses 8 and 9: “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”.

Psalm 66 is a song of praise to the Lord. It recognizes some of God’s mighty acts on behalf of the people of Israel. It speaks of how God has refined the people too. There is a corporate feel to the Psalm. But there is also a personal feel. Often when visiting the older members of our congregation, they express gratitude that God has granted them one more day. That spirit also exists in the Psalm.

Many will come to worship in an attitude of gratitude. They enter the sacred space ready to rejoice and to praise the Lord. But each time we gather for worship some come with burdens or grief to bear. The recent loss of a loved one still stings. The news of cancer or some other illness is still rocking their world. The pressures of school and/or sports feels like a heavy weight upon their shoulders. These folks feel like they are in the refining fire or that the water has risen pretty high in their lives. Some will share their burden or grief yet will still leave with it. They are the ones that really need to hear the story of what God has done and can do. They come to worship seeking a little hope.

In verses eight and nine we read, “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”. For most of us, this is where we are. We’ve not always been here though. Because life is life we all can relate to those who question their situation, who question God, who do not feel that they are standing on a solid foundation. Because we have been there, we can provide encouragement and we can offer the hope of Jesus Christ to those with burdens or grief. To know that God is good and to be reminded of God’s love helps them to take one step forward. As people of God, may we love well those that are most in need.

Prayer: God, you are abundant in your love. Your mercies keep coming, new every morning. My life is the story of “come and see what God has done”. Help me to share that story well, introducing others to what you can and want to do in their lives. Amen.


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God Calls

Reading: Isaiah 1: 16-20

Verse 17: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”.

Verse sixteen opens with God’s admonition to “wash and make yourselves clean”. It continues the strong language of verses ten through fifteen. God continues on to tell his people to “stop doing wrong, learn to do right”! One can hear the frustration in these words. God set the law before them long ago, had led by example, has sent prophetic voices that have called the people back over and over. Once again, they have wandered away. Once again God seeks to call them back.

God does offer instruction on how to ‘do right’. In verse seventeen God implores the people to “seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”. These are common themes throughout the Bible. Moses dealt with it, Micah addresses it. In the New Testament Jesus addresses the cause of justice, care for the other… often. Jesus himself quotes from Isaiah 61, revealing how the oppressed, the widow, the orphan have a special place in God’s heart. God is clear that these should have the same special place in our hearts. Why is this?

Most of us are secure in life, confident in who and what we are. We have position and status that allows us to voice our needs, our thoughts… We also have people and a community around us that will listen, that will care for us. Through Isaiah today and throughout the Bible, God is calling us to stand with those who do not know these privileges. God is calling us to walk beside those who are powerless and who are often outside of community. God is calling us not only to stand with and walk beside these, but also to bring them into community, into relationship. God calls us to love as God loves so that WE can become more like him. The prophets and then Jesus echo this call over and over again. May we join them all as we seek to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, to release from darkness the prisoners, and to comfort all who mourn. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, break my heart for what breaks yours. Pour into me your compassion and love so that I may minister to the oppressed, to the poor, to the widow, to the captive among us. Grant me your heart, Jesus. Amen.


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When I Fear…

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 1-9a

Verse 3: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”.

Elijah is threatened by Jezebel, the queen of Israel. He has angered her and she pledges to take his life. Like most of us would do, he assesses the situation and immediately flees. Elijah flees out into the desert and tells God that he has had enough. He just wants to die. Elijah fears dying at Jezebel’s hand, but out in the quiet and peacefulness of the desert would be just fine.

I have a hard time relating to all of Elijah’s decisions. If I were in such a position, threatened by someone powerful, I would flee too. I probably would. But my next thoughts would turn to resolving the issue or doing something about it. I feel like there is a lot of productive life ahead of me. Elijah feels old and tired at this point. Maybe in 30 or 40 years this will be my response too.

When I consider Elijah’s story to this point though, I realize that he has seen the power of God over and over and over. He has just finished seeing God defeat 950 prophets of Baal and of Asherah in a sacrifice showdown. Slaughtering all of these prophets is what draws Jezebel’s threat. In spite of his history with God, Elijah reacts with fear. We read, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. If anyone should trust God, it’s Elijah. Yet he fears and flees. Instead of turning to God, he fears and flees. Instead of calling on the power that he has seen demonstrated over and over and over, he fears and flees. How like Elijah I am.

What is God’s response when Elijah fears and flees instead of turning and trusting? God meets Elijah where he is at – right in the middle of his very real human emotions. God provides food and water and rest. God gives Elijah what he needs. God does not condemn or judge or scold him. Elijah is accepted as he is and is strengthened for the journey ahead.

What is God’s response when I fear and flee? It is the same. God loves me and cares for me, encouraging me for the journey ahead. May you allow God to do the same for you.

Prayer: Providing God, you never give up on me. In spite if my human weakness and emotions, you pursue me, you find me, you sustain and encourage me. Thank you God. Amen.


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Witness

Reading: Acts 5: 27-32

Verse 32: “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him”.

Jesus’ followers, friends, and disciples went through a horrible experience. They watched Jesus die on a cross. The whole community that would become the early church went through loss and grief and mourning together. They were a close-knit bunch. Their mourning was turned to dancing quickly as the risen Jesus appeared to them and assured them that He had defeated the power of sin and death. Because He lived, they too would live. Jesus commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will empower them, embolden them, encourage them, strength them, and fill them with power from on high. It will be the living presence of God and Jesus in them. The appearances of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit bring healing and restoration to their grief and they restore hope and life to their faith.

These men and women take up the call to preach the good news to the world. They begin in their known world, in the city of Jerusalem. Just as Jesus did, they encounter some resistance and opposition from the Jewish religious leaders. Today’s passage is not even the first case of persecution or arrest. In fact, they were just released from jail. They were put in jail just the day before for teaching about Jesus and for healing in His name. In the night and angel came and set them free. They do not celebrate their release and slink off to someplace safe. They return to the temple and resume preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. When Peter and the apostles say to the religious leaders, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him”, they are not just talking the talk. They are walking the walk, knowing that they will continue to face persecution, arrest, and possibly death.

We too know the stories of Jesus’ life and teaching. We know the resurrection story. We too have the Holy Spirit alive in us. We have personally experienced healing and restoration and forgiveness. May we too be a witness of Jesus Christ for the continuing transformation of the world. May it be so today and every day.

Prayer: God, may I witness bravely for you today. Maybi seize every opportunity to bring your light and love into my world today. Send me out into the world with Holy Spirit power to transform the world. Amen.