pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faith Calls

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

Verse 11: “They saw the child with His mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped Him”.

The Magi first noticed the star when it appeared in the sky. They then made the choice to follow it to wherever it leads. They had no map. They simply believed that the appearance of the star had significance. Perhaps they had an ancient Hebrew text from the time of captivity; maybe they had heard long ago the Jews living in exile speak of Isaiah’s prophecies. Whatever was the case, they noticed and journeyed out in faith.

Somehow sensing that they must be close they stop in the big city to inquire, to gain guidance. King Herod hears they are asking around and gathers the Magi and the leading Jews together to help find this newborn King of the Jews. Paranoid Herod helps point the Magi towards Bethlehem. Upon arriving there, Matthew tells us that the Magi “saw the child with His mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped Him”. The Jews knew what they were talking about. The Magi leave gifts before departing for home by another route, foiling Herod’s plan for the time being.

Do you think the Magi ever questioned their journey? Do you think they ever faltered? The Magi demonstrate great faith on the journey. They must have sensed something bigger than themselves and they put their faith into action. Faith called. They were not deterred when they discovered this king they sought was not in the capital, the big city. With new information they continue to follow the star to tiny Bethlehem. Finding the star stops over a meager house, they knock anyway. Upon greeting the young and very poor parents, they still continue on inside. And when the Magi see the mother and child, they somehow know that this is the King that they have traveled far to worship.

I wonder if the Magi sensed what Peter and Andrew sensed, what James and John sensed. He called and they followed. The light called out and the Magi followed. To this day, faith calls. Faith continues to call us to step out, to go beyond the known and familiar, to go where we cannot see. May we, like the Magi, like the first disciples, step out in faith today, trusting where the light leads us. May we see with eyes of faith, guided ever by Jesus’ light and love.

Prayer: Lord, when I wonder, give me a heart willing to follow. When I sense you moving, give me feet willing to step. When I sense you calling, give me hands willing to serve. Illumine my eyes and heart with your light. Amen.

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Blessings That Cannot Be Measured

Reading: Ephesians 3: 5-12

Verse 8: “This grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”.

Today’s passage centers on Paul’s role to preach the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Throughout his ministry, Jesus mainly taught and healed amongst the Jews. Jesus did occasionally encounter and minister to a non-Jew or Gentile. The earliest church struggled with the idea of going out beyond Israel with the good news. Soon enough though it was revealed to the church leaders – especially Peter and Paul – that the good news was for all people. Paul writes, “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel”. The circle of God’s love was expanded to include the entire world. All people everywhere could “share together in the promise in Jesus Christ”.

In verse 7 Paul acknowledges that he became a servant of the gospel through the gift of God’s grace. On that Damascus road Paul met the resurrected Jesus and was changed in an instant. Paul left his hatred of Jesus and the persecution of Christians behind him and allowed Jesus to make him into a new creation – an apostle to the Gentiles. He writes, “This grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”. In another translation unsearchable is rendered “boundless riches”. Better yet, in the CEV translation it reads, “blessings that cannot be measured”. This is what faith in Jesus brings us. Salvation, mercy, grace, hope, love, peace, contentment, assurance, comfort, presence… – a blessing that cannot be measured.

Later in Ephesians 3 Paul goes on to pray that the Ephesians may “grasp how long and wide and high and deep is the love of Christ”. It was a love that welcomed Paul into faith in Jesus Christ. It is a love that led to a 180° turn in Paul. It is a love that can overcome any sin, any barrier, and circumstance. Who do you know that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Share it with them today!

Prayer: Dear God, when I encounter one who needs to know your Son, give me the words to clearly communicate the good news to them. Help me to also search my own heart so that I can come to know you more. Amen.


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Obedient Followers

Reading: Psalm 72: 1-4 & 10-14

Verse 2: “He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice”.

Today’s passage from Psalms speaks of a king who is “endowed with your justice”. All kings have power. Kings are at the top of the power structure and can act about any way they want. Justice may not be their top priority. This is too often the case with rulers today and with some in other positions of power. But our passage today is not about any earthly king. It is about the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the judge today and one day will be the final judge. As such, “He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice”. We will all face judgment one day. On that day I believe the question will be: “Did you know me as Lord and Savior”? Jesus will judge our answer based upon the fruit of our faith as we lived out our life as His follower. If we lived a life of faith that was obedient to the King then great will be our reward.

Psalm 72 tells us that a righteous king will defend the afflicted and save the children of the needy. A righteous king will crush the oppressor. A righteous king will take pity on the weak and needy and will rescue them from oppression and violence. All people will live in freedom and safety. Unity and equality will be the standards. Justice will be fair and unbiased. A righteous king sounds ideal. Yet is it possible?

When Jesus ministered here on earth, He lived as this type of king. He cared for the weak and the needy. He treated all people with justice and compassion. He welcomed and engaged one and all. When He returns in glory and establishes the new kingdom here on earth, the righteous King will once again reign.

In the interim, Jesus had commissioned us, His followers, to act as He acted. He charged us with living out a faith that cared for the orphan and widow, that visited the sick and imprisoned, that spoke against violence and injustice and abuse. If we truly know Him, if we truly worship and follow the King of Kings, then we will be obedient disciples. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, lead me to follow well, to lay aside self, to love all deeply, to stand for justice and righteousness. In me may others see you. Amen.


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Faith Formation

Reading: 2nd Samuel 2: 18-20 & 26

Verse 26: “The boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

After being dedicated to God, young Samuel continued to grow both physically and spiritually. Hannah would make him new priestly garments every year and would bring them to him at the time of the yearly sacrifice in the temple. Our passage tells us that “the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

As I think about Samuel’s upbringing I think about how we raise our children – both in our nuclear families and in our church families. Just as Samuel was dedicated to God at birth, so too do people of faith dedicate their young children to God. In some faith traditions we baptize our infants, marking them as a member of the family of faith and pledging to raise them in the faith. In other faith traditions, infants are dedicated or consecrated with the same marking and pledge to raise them in the faith. In both cases the congregation has a role to play. The congregation pledges to do all they can to help raise the child in the faith.

As soon as they are able to we begin to bring our children to Sunday school or perhaps to a Wednesday night faith formation class. They learn the stories of the Bible and begin to apply its teachings to their lives and decisions. At some point we hope our children grow out of the faith of their parents and into a faith of their own. In some churches baptism marks this point and in others confirmation does.

As we look at Samuel’s life and at other examples we find in scripture, we see that the plan that God has for all children is to be raised in the faith. May we be attentive to all of our children, ever aware of our roles as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, mentors, teachers, pastors… to be a part of their faith formation, helping them to always “grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be faithful in leading and guiding my children and all of the children that come under my care, helping each to know you more and to draw closer to you. May I ever do these things with both my words and my actions. Amen.


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Where’s Your Bethlehems?

Reading: Micah 5: 2-5a

Verse 4: “He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord”.

Out of tiny Bethlehem will come the ruler of the world. Out of this small village will come Jesus Christ, the Lord. It is a great claim to fame for a really little place. In reality, it is a small place in a small country. Israel today is only the size of a small state – closest to Massachusetts or New Hampshire. But size – big or small – is not what is important or relevant. What happened there is what matters. Bethlehem is where love and peace and hope and mercy and grace and forgiveness took on flesh and entered the world.

We often encounter Jesus in church. At times I will find myself overwhelmed with His presence, tears streaming down my face as we sing a song or hymn. But Jesus is not just in church. He came to “shepherd His flock” everywhere, not just inside the walls of our churches. This leads me to consider where else I have met Jesus. Each of these is my own little Bethlehem – relatively unimportant in the big scheme of things, but very significant to me and my faith. It was once in the balcony of my home church on a Friday night during a retreat. It was once in the emergency room in tiny Torrington, Connecticut. I have encountered God over and over in so many places. Each has been a blessing to me.

This leads me to invite you to take a few moments to recall your Bethlehems. When and where have you encountered the peace or love or grace or… of Jesus Christ? This day, take some time to celebrate and thank God for His presence in your life. May it be a time of blessing for you.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for meeting me in church, in the woods, in the ER and birthing rooms, in the mission field, and in many other places. Thank you God. Amen.


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Why Am I So Blessed?

Reading: Luke 1: 39-45

Verse 43: “Why am I so blessed, that the mother of my Lord should come to me”?

Luke begins his Gospel with the angelic visits to Zechariah and to Mary, each time proclaiming a special and holy birth. Zechariah is told that his boy will go before the Lord, preparing the people for His coming. Mary is told that she will bear the Son of the Most High. She is also told that Elizabeth will give birth too, even though she is old and barren. Gabriel closes his visit with Mary by reminding her, “For nothing is impossible with God”.

This quick recap gets us to today’s passage. Mary gets ready and heads off to see her relative Elizabeth. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, her baby leaps within her womb. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she identifies Mary as “blessed among women” and declares the child to be blessed as well. Elizabeth, through the power of the Spirit, knows she is in the presence of the Lord. She then asks, “Why am I so blessed, that the mother of my Lord should come to me”? She wonders honestly why she is so blessed.

Every day we cross paths with many people. Often they are familiar to us and sometimes we meet someone new or someone we only occasionally see. This last one was the case with Mary and Elizabeth. Some of our encounters each day are opportunities to be people of faith. Maybe it is by simply rejoicing in someone’s presence in our lives, thanking them for the positive ways in which they bless us. Maybe it is ministering to their need in that time and place – offering food or clothing or gifts for their children, praying with them, or just being present during a time of loss. Maybe it is sharing the good news with someone who does not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

We do not know if it is a familiar face or a stranger that God will place in our path today or tomorrow. We do not know what task God will set us to. But we do know that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us to accomplish God’s purposes if we are as willing and receptive as Elizabeth was. If we are, we too will be blessed. Like her, we may walk away wondering why we were so blessed to be in Jesus’ company. If we are faithful, we will be truly blessed.

Prayer: Lord, may the Holy Spirit be active and present today. May my words and actions bring your light and love into people’s lives. In doing so, I will be blessed to be in your presence as well. Thank you for the opportunities you bring my way. May I be faithful to be your hands and feet and voice. Amen.


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Community

Reading: Philippians 1: 3-8

Verse 6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul begins by thanking God for the faith this church displays. Each time that he prays for them he rejoices in their “partnership in the gospel” with him. They must be living out their faith well. Paul also recognizes the end game as well. Their faithful living will lead to the redemption of their souls. In verse 6 he writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Paul is thankful for their place in the family of God both now and in eternity.

Do you have folks in your life that you can say this about? Can you survey those you know and offer up such a prayer of thanksgiving for them? We each have people “in my heart”, just as Paul did, that we too can be lifting prayers of thanksgiving for. There are many in my family and in my circles of church friends and colleagues who have great faith that I am thankful for. Their witness and example encourage and strengthen me on my journey of faith.

For Paul, whether in chains or out preaching the gospel, he appreciated the connection that he has with all Christians everywhere. Paul knows that the family of God extends across geographical spaces and through cultural and social differences. He writes, “all of you share in God’s grace with me”. If he were reading this line aloud, I think Paul would emphasize the word “all”. There is a unity amongst and a connection between all members of the body of Christ. For this too I rejoice. For Christians everywhere, no matter our denominational flavor, we all share the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are all living under the same covenant of grace. In the essentials, we enjoy unity and community. Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for all of those you have and continue to place in my life who live as witnesses to your will and way. They mean so much to me, to my faith. Bless them, O Lord. I also thank you for my fellow Christians, who also seek to bring you glory as together we build the kingdom. Thank you God for the larger community of faith. Amen.