pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Represent

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 1: 1-10

Verse Three: Work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, endurance inspired by hope.

Thessalonica was a large city.  It was an economic and political hub.  In the city was a mix of Romans, Greeks, and some Jews.  It was a worldly city – a place with lots of idols worship and plenty of wild living.  Paul had been there on a missionary journey and had begun a church.  It was a challenge to be a Christian in such a setting.  Our world today is still filled with many false idols and it is easy to stray from the faith into the dark side of the world.

Yet the Thessalonicans remain faithful.  Paul commends the church for the faith that they have and live out in the city.  Their faith has drawn some persecution yet they remain steadfast and joyous.  Their faith is known around the city and region.  Paul notes the three ways in which their faith is seen: “Work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, endurance inspired by hope”.  Their faith has gone from their head to their hearts and pours out of their mouths, hands, and feet.  It is a faith that is easy to see.

In our daily lives, is our faith so easy to see?  By simply watching us, can others see the joy of the Lord in us?  When the storms of life come, can others see our endurance that is inspired by our hope in God?  Our faith should pervade our lives in the good and the bad, being on display for all to see.  Do people see us as the hands and feet of Jesus in our daily lives?  Do they see in us a servant’s heart, offering our work and labor as an offering of love and faith?  In our daily living others should see the ways that we serve Christ.  In these three ways, we model Christ and introduce the world to our Lord.  May we represent well today.


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Contentment

Reading: 1 Timothy 6: 6-11

Paul calls us to what really matters in this life and in the life to come.  He states in verse six, “godliness with contentment is great gain”.  When we live a godly life and are content with God’s blessings, then we do find much joy, peace, and happiness.  But it can be a struggle to live this way all the time.

Even though Paul reminds us in verse seven that we brought nothing into this world and can take nothing out of it, sometimes we sure act differently.  We eye the latest cell phone, tablet, or other gadget.  We see the newest model of our favorite car and think our 2015 version is getting a bit old.  We hear the Jones’s got a new boat and we think it sure would be nice to take the kids out tubing or fishing anytime.  Pretty soon it can be easy to not be so content.

Paul spells it out very clearly when he says, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”.  He does not say money is bad but that the LOVE of money in bad.  This love causes us to pursue much instead of God.  When we love something more than God, soon enough we “wander from the faith” and we find ourselves”pierced with many griefs”.  Money, possessions, status, … do not last.  When we chase after such things all we want is more, more, more.  Enough never comes.

“Flee from all of this!” is Paul’s advice.  Instead, Paul encourages us to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  When we fill our lives with these things, contentment is not far away.  When we pursue these things we soon realize the depth of God’s care and love for us, each a child of God.  When we realize this, we trust in God that all of our needs will be met and that our lives will be richly blessed no matter how much or how little we have.  When we live pursuing God, we find true contentment.  May God be our all in all.


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Patience and Endurance 

Reading: Colossians 1: 9-14

The Colossian church is doing well.  Paul recognizes the growth of their faith and how this is leading to a growth in numbers.  He is proud of this little church that he planted that is continuing to share the gospel.  Paul also hopes and prays for more.  His prayer for them is that they continue to grow in knowledge, that they find strength in God, and that they would have great endurance and patience.

The things Paul hopes and prays for the church in Colosse are the same things we should all pray for for all of our churches.  All churches should be sharing the gospel with the lost in their community to help more and more people to come to know Jesus Christ.  All churches should be filled with members living lives worthy of the Lord, loving and serving all their neighbors.  All churches should be leading their members in spiritual growth.

But in reality, to constantly be focusing on evangelism and growth is difficult.  Sometimes it seems like we are not making any progress.  Sometimes it seems like there is no end to the road.  This is precisely why Paul prays for great endurance and patience.  Paul has been out on the road for a long time, constantly going from one place to the next.  He knows the need for patience and endurance for the long haul.  So he names this need and lifts it in prayer.  It is our need as well.

For the person we have been reaching out to who has not quite said ‘yes’ to Jesus, for the person who seems to desire a relationship with Jesus yet keeps sliding back to old habits, and for the many others who do not have a relationship with Jesus for one reason or another, may we continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them.  May the Lord our God fill us with great endurance and with great patience, so that all may come to know the redeeming love found in Christ.