pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


1 Comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.