pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Lord’s Renown

Reading: Isaiah 55: 10-13

Verse 11: “My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”.

Isaiah was a prophet that wrote to a nation who was astray from the Lord. Chapter 55 opens with a beautiful invitation from God to his wayward children: “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters”. God is flinging open the doors for his people to return, to come and drink of his mercy and love. Isaiah encourages the people to “seek the Lord while he may be found”. They have the opportunity to turn back to God so that they can experience God’s mercy and free pardon. In today’s passage we hear God speaking through the prophet. In these words we can hear God’s hope for his children.

In verse ten God says that just as the rain and snow that come down from heaven brings life to the earth, so too will “my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”. As Isaiah and others share the word of God, it too will bear fruit. God has prepared Israel’s soil. He has made it into good soil – into soil ready to receive the word. God’s purposes will be accomplished. Israel’s soil has been prepared through the trial and sufferings of defeat and exile. This experience has made them aware of their sins and of their need for God. We too know this experience. Times of pain and loss have driven us to God. Times of sin and suffering from it have driven us to our knees. Times of hardship and testing have driven us to cry out to God. We have all had our soil tilled by the hand of God as a means to ready us to hear his word. It has then filled us. It does not return empty.

In verses twelve and thirteen we see the result of God’s word. People who receive God’s word will “go out in joy” and will be “led forth in peace”. The earth will also rejoice and bring forth good life – the pine tree and myrtle will replace the thorns and briers. It will all be for the Lord’s renown.

As you reflect on your life, how and when has God’s word brought you new life? How did God work within and through you to accomplish his purposes? How did this all bring God the glory and renown? As we ponder these thoughts today, may we seek opportunities to share the story of what God has done.

Prayer: Loving God, each time I thirst, each time I cry out, each time I wander a bit – you are right there. Your Spirit reminds me of your promises, it brings gentle mercies, it leads me to kneel at your throne of grace. May your word dwell richly in me, yielding a crop that brings you the glory and renown that you desire. 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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Daily Walking

Reading: Colossians 1: 9-12

Verse 9: “Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you”.

Today we return to the letter Paul wrote to the church in Colosse. He has heard that they have a solid faith in Jesus Christ and that their faith has led them to become a growing and serving church. In our verses for today, Paul lets them know, “Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you”. Paul and his fellow servants of Christ have been praying daily for the church to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Knowing God’s will is essential to living out one’s faith in the world. Paul covers them in prayer because he knows that living out one’s faith in the world is difficult.

As we read in Amos 7 this week, as we can infer in today’s words from Paul, as we experience in our own lives, walking out our faith in the world is hard. Paul encourages the Colossian church and he encourages us 21st century Christians to live a faith that is worthy of the Lord and that is pleasing to the Lord. The goal is that at the end of each day God looks down from heaven and says, “Well done good and faithful servant”. In our passage today, Paul gives us four practical ways to live faithfully in the world. They should sound familiar.

Paul begins in verse 10 with “bearing fruit in every good work”. In this Paul is compelling us to live out our faith in service to others. Specifically, what did you do yesterday to serve another or to help another grow in their faith? How did your work bear witness to the faith you profess?

Next Paul encourages us to grow in the “knowledge of God”. We do so through daily time with God. We grow in our knowledge of God by reading and meditating upon the word of God – the Bible. How did your time with your Bible yesterday grow or deepen your faith?

Paul’s next step is to be “strengthened with all power”. This happens by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our daily lives. When we are sensitive to and responsive to the whispers and nudges, then the Holy Spirit fills us with power from on high to accomplish the work that God sets before us each day. To what end did the Holy Spirit lead you yesterday?

Lastly, Paul asks us to “joyfully give thanks”. This is not just a Sunday morning or Wednesday night thing. On Thursday, July 10, when did you stop and take time to joyfully thank God for his presence and blessings in your life?

These are hard questions to consider. But as James said, we must not only be hearers of the world but also doers. As we seek to live out our faith in the world, the daily challenge requires daily effort. When we seek to grow in the faith and when we seek to live out our faith in the world each day, we bear witness to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May it be so every day.

Prayer: God, the walk is not ever easy if we are engaging the world. Strengthen and encourage me today to bear witness to my faith. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Saved

Reading: Colossians 1: 1-14

Verse 13: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”.

Paul is writing to encourage the Christians in Colosse. He begins by celebrating their faith in Jesus Christ that is based upon the good news they heard from Epaphras. These Christians have “the faith and love that springs up from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven”. They know God’s grace and, just like all over the world, the good news is bearing fruit and growing in their lives and in their community. Things are going great in the Colossian church. Yet this is not the end of Paul’s letter or even the end of our reading for today.

Paul knows it is not enough to hear the good news and to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul knows this is only the beginning of the journey of faith. In verse 9 he shares that they have been praying for them to continue to be filled with knowledge and spiritual wisdom and understanding. He prays them on to “live a life worthy of the Lord”. Paul prays for them to bear fruit in every good work and to have great endurance and patience. He encourages them to joyfully give thanks for their “share in the inheritance” in the kingdom. Paul concludes this opening section with this communal statement: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”. God has saved us from the world through his son, the one he loves. This is indeed good news. Saved. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the love you poured out for me. May it bear fruit in my life and in the lives of others as I seek to live a life worthy of the gospel. Amen.


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Spirit Led

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 16-25

Verse 25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”.

The passage for today contrasts the fruit of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. In many ways these are polar opposites. The works of the flesh are the selfish desires that we all have inside and that lead us to living a life that is not in alignment with God’s plans and purposes for our lives. On the other side of the spectrum are the works of the Spirit. When we live in alignment with these godly things we produce good fruit.

The works of the flesh are many. We are each familiar with these things. Paul provides a list in verses 19-21 that are “obvious”, to use Paul’s word. This list of sins contains many that most of us struggle with: jealousy, selfish ambition, envy – just to name a few. We each could add to the list as well: pride, lust, greed, and gluttony – again, just to name a few. Paul warns us that those living this way “will not enter the kingdom of God”. It is the reality that we all live within and that we all struggle with because we are creatures of the flesh.

Even though we are of the flesh, our inheritance does not lie here on earth. As heirs with Jesus Christ, we are children of God. When we keep ahold of this side of our character, then we are led by the Spirit. There is still this conflict within us, but we are not fighting the war alone. We are not even in charge. When we live by the Spirit our lives are different. Instead of the fruit produced by the flesh, we produce Holy Spirit fruit. Instead of guilt and shame and doubt and fear and condemnation we experience love and joy and patience and kindness and… The fruit is both within and without. When led by the Spirit we produce good fruit for the building of our faith and for the building of the kingdom of God here on earth. Therefore brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my battle within is almost constant. But the presence of your Holy Spirit is always constant. Attune me better to the lead of the Holy Spirit so that the fruit of my life may ever be pleasing to your sight. Amen.


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One More Year

Reading: Luke 13: 6-9

Verse 8: “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it”.

God made the tree in our passage today. In John 1:3 we read, “Through Him all things were made”. This tree, this tree that produces no fruit, was made by the loving hands of God. Just as it was with all of the rest of creation, this tree has the fingerprints of God all over it. In our minds and hearts we believe that we all have a purpose and a place in God’s plans. So it is for this tree as well. The man who planted the tree came to look for fruit. At this time it would have been a primary purpose for trees. The other primary purpose would be to become wood.

Our tree is young – the man has only been coming for three years to check for fruit. It is just beginning to mature to the point that it can bear fruit. At just 6 to 8 years old, though, it probably is not big enough to produce much wood for a project of any size. So, finding no fruit on the tree once again, the planter says, “For three years now… Cut it down”! The man is tired of waiting and getting no results. Let’s clear that little patch of ground and plant another tree in its place. Maybe this next one will be able to produce the fruit that is so desired.

But the gardener, the one who tends the tree, asks for patience. He says, “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it”. Just one more year. This is a big request. Imagine starting a new job and on day one your boss says, work one year and then we’ll start paying you. Imagine three years. For the owner, fruit probably equals money. Fruit has value. At a minimum, fruit will feed the family.

We too have similar expectations. Of young people, we often ask, “When will they grow up”? In our minds, they are past the point when they should be acting a certain way. Even of some adults we think a similar question: when will they ever quit doing ___? I suppose God looks down at me at times and sees the tree. I suppose God looks down and wonders, “When…”? Like the gardener, God is patient. God’s love and patience does not just ask for one more year either. God’s patience is extravagant with me. God patiently waits for me to produce fruit. He tends to me, fertilizes me… One more year. Yes, one day this will end too. One day we breathe our last. But until then, may we live to mature in our faith, producing fruit for the building of the kingdom. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, do a good work in me – today, tomorrow, and each day after that. Continue to make me a work in progress, a creation that seeks to grow and mature. May my life be one that produces fruit. Amen.


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Either Or

Reading: Psalm 1 and Luke 6: 22 and 26

Verses 1 and 2: “Blessed is the man… delight is in the law of the Lord… he meditates day and night”.

In both readings today there is a distinct “this or that” choice to make. There is no middle ground. According to the psalmist and according to Jesus in Luke’s gospel, you are blessed when your life is aligned with God. Conversely, you are not blessed when your life is not aligned with God. In both readings, the blessings are God’s blessings, not the world’s rewards.

The psalmist connects meditating on God’s word to being blessed. In the reading of scripture we come to know God and how God desires for us to live our lives. For the psalmist, the scriptures nourish the soul. The faithful follower is like a tree planted by the stream, growing and yielding fruit in season. Fruit is the work of God evident in one’s life. For the Jews, this would look like devout worship, giving to and caring for the needy, studying the law, teaching and modeling love for God to family and neighbor.

The inward change that comes with and through the daily study of scripture is then reflected in outward behavior. Inner change, drawing closer to God, causes us to change how we act. Loving God more necessarily leads to loving neighbor more. Luke picks up on this idea too. In our two verses from Luke, Jesus addressed that fact that these inner changes and outward manifestations do not always sit well with the world. In verse 22 we are reminded that at times our faith will draw persecution from the world. When we speak out against injustice and violence, when we speak up for equal treatment and just laws, then we can draw some negative attention. In verse 26 Jesus contrasts this with how the world treats us when we act like a false prophet – speaking the world instead of God. The world likes us then and speaks well of us. But inside we are far from the ways of God.

This faith thing is an either-or choice. We can strive to live for God or we can choose to live for self and the world. We might like to try, but we cannot walk the middle road. We cannot waver between discipleship and the ways of the world. We cannot love two masters – we will come to love one and hate the other (Matthew 6). This day and every day, may we choose to love God and to pursue God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord, give me a heart that loves you alone. Break me of my fleshy desires. Cast them out of me! Daily draw me more and more into your love. Amen.


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Connection

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 7-8 and Psalm 1: 1-3

Verse 7: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

In both Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 we read about being connected to God. It is a connection that helps us avoid those who are wicked and who are sinners. It is a connection that lessens our fears and worries. In Jeremiah 17:7 we read of the benefits of staying connected to God: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

The psalmist identifies the connection point. When we delight in the law and when we meditate on it, we are blessed. When we read our Bibles and when we meditate on what we read – seeking understanding and application for our lives – then we are blessed. For the psalmist, this is the source that is like water to the roots of a tree. Water is essential for life. It nourishes the tree. In time, the tree produces fruit. Its leaves do not wither, it prospers. So it is with us when we sink our roots down into the Word, delving into our Bibles, soaking up God’s word.

Jeremiah also speaks of blessing when we are connected to God. When ‘heat’ comes we do not fear and when hard times come we do not worry. If our roots are connected to God, then we can rest in God’s presence and peace. The things of this world do not consume us. In those times when life ramps up and we feel the heat, we can turn to God for assurance and refuge. When we face difficult situations, instead of worrying, we can turn to God and place our lives in His hands, trusting in His love.

This metaphor is also picked up in the New Testament. Just yesterday I shared a message from John 15. In the first five verses, Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches. Jesus emphasizes our absolute need for connection too. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. And just as Jeremiah and the psalmist speak of bearing fruit, so too does Jesus. In verse 4 Jesus shares the key to bearing fruit: “remain in me and I will remain in you”. We do this by spending time in our Bibles and by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In these ways we remain connected to the true vine – Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus, our commission is to make disciples. By sharing the good news of Jesus and by telling the story of what He has done in our lives we help others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. As others come to know and accept Jesus as Lord, our lives are bearing fruit. In John 15, Jesus tells us that when we remain connected to Him we will bear much fruit.

This day and every day may we connect to our Bibles, drinking deeply from the connection that we find in Jesus. May this be the source of life that we share with the world!

Prayer: God of all creation, help me to know you more intimately today. Strengthen my connection with you, build up our relationship. Fill me with you so that all I do and say brings you glory. 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.