pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Plans, Promises, and Our Work

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verse 23: “May God himself… sanctify you through and through”.

Today’s passage is a great conclusion to an epistle letter.  It would be hard to say more in so few words.  Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be joyful, to pray, to give thanks, to keep the  Spirit’s fire burning, to hold onto the good and to avoid evil.  Just reading through these words that Paul offers brings encouragement to our faith.  But faith is about more than encouraging words.  It is also about putting these words in to action.

We really must begin by being faithful in our prayers.  We must be very intentional about having an attitude of joy and giving God the praise for the ways that He blesses our lives.  To be faithful and intentional we have to have a plan.  We cannot just say we will pray every day for example.  We must carve out a time and place to come before God each day in a a time of fervent and dedicated prayer.  If we do not, it will not happen consistently.  We will find ourselves offering up a quick little prayer and hoping that is sufficient for the day.

There will be challenges – that is why Paul encourages us to test everything, to not putout the Spirit’s fire, to hold onto the good and to avoid all evils.  We must test all we face and keep the fire burning by reading our Bibles daily, by being regularly present in worship, by being active in a small group.  In short, we must tend to our faith.  We must put in the work.  Now all of this action and work on our part is not all that is involved.  It is relatively a small piece, but a piece we must tend to diligently.  We are only human.  We are limited.  But God is not.

Paul writes, “May God himself… sanctify you through and through”.  Not just a little, but through and through.  All the way.  While we must do our part, it is God who does the transforming.  It is God who works in us to sanctify us more and more – to make us more and more like Jesus day by day.  He works in us to make our “spirit, body, and soul blameless”.  And God is faithful.  In the end, God will accomplish His purposes for our lives.  May we join in the work of the Spirit as we journey through this life, living as humble servants of our God most high.  May we trust fully into God’s plans and promises to sanctify us through and through. Amen.

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Big

Readings: Psalm 126 and Isaiah 61: 1-4 and 8-11

Key verses: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. (Psalm 126:5) and “The Spirit of the Lord is on me… to preach… bind up… release… proclaim…” (Isaiah 61:1)

In our Advent study this week we are looking at humility – at having the mind of Christ spoken of in Philippians 2.  One of the men in our Tuesday morning study said humility is thinking less of yourself so that you could think more of others.  Humility is an active practice.  These profound thoughts fit well with the humble servant hood that Jesus modeled and calls us to follow.  Our world is certainly in need of more humble servants.

Both the bigger world out there and many people’s lives are filled with hardship and suffering and trials.  There is plenty of oppression and abuse of power, lots of violence and other senseless actions, many struggling with addictions and unhealthy relationships, and a host of other issues.  Individuals we know face some of these issues as do whole groups in our communities.  There are lots of people in lots of places who would love to live into this verse: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

As humble servants of Jesus Christ, we are called to help those in need to do just that.  It is what Jesus did and what He calls us to do.  For all who follow Jesus, we live into the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”  When we read on, we find the “why” – to preach the good news to the poor, to heal the broken, to bring freedom to the captives, to release prisoners from all that binds them, and to proclaim God’s blessings on all.  These are big words and big ideas.  But guess what?  We serve a big God.  We serve a God who wants to work in and through us – just like He did with Jesus – to see all these things to come to be.

Sometimes we don’t see God big enough.  Sometimes we fail to dream and other times we fail to trust.  Sometimes we doubt.  Into all of this God speaks through the apostle Paul: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  May we serve a big God, trusting that all things are possible when we call on the One who can do all things.  Amen and amen.


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Great Things

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse Five: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

Psalm 126 is an interesting mix of past,present, and future.  It recalls the joy of returning home to Zion, yet it seeks for God to restore their fortunes.  It speaks of the great things that God has done for them and it speaks of sowing seed in tears.  This there and here and not yet is much like Advent.  We celebrate the joy of the birth, yet we seek to see the Messiah return.  We sing of the star, the angels, and the other wonders of God and we have moments of sadness and loneliness as we think of loved ones who have passed.

In the Psalm there is longing and there is thanksgiving.  There is the waiting and there is the expectation of God’s presence.  There is weeping and there is joy.  In this way, the Psalm is much like life and our faith.  Both are about holding onto the blessings of God because they strengthen us as we walk through the trials.  Both are about how “those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” because we experience joy even in the sorrows of life, as God is with us in our times of need.  Like the psalmist, we acknowledge that God is near even as we cry out for God to be closer.

And just as the psalmist does, we too have a call to proclaim what the Lord has done for us.  The psalmist declares, “The Lord has done great hings for them”.  Let is also proclaim the good news about what Jesus Christ has done in our lives.  May we help others to know good news in their lives so that they can “reap with songs of joy”, joining us in rejoicing in what great things God has done and trusting into the great things God will do.


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Come and Save Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 103

Verse Two: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s Psalm is written at the time of the Assyrian invasion.  The nation of Israel is divided and the Northern Kingdom has fallen to the invading army.  The psalmist expresses the hope of the Southern Kingdom when he writes, “Awaken your might; come and save us.”  It is a great plea for God’s intervention and help.

At times in our lives we will issue a similar plea.  We may not be facing an approaching army, but many things invade our lives and try to steal our faith in God, our commitment to our family and friends, our joy and peace in life.  The invading force may be ‘small’ things like gossip or jealousy or greed or resentment or pride.  As these things come to permeate our life, they draw our focus away from God.  ‘Larger’ forces such as addiction, slavery to our jobs, and selfishness can steal time and attention from things that really matter in our faith and in our lives.No, we may not have a vast army with horses and chariots on our border, but we do have plenty of things in life that can make us cry out for God’s might to save us.  And He does.

Our Psalm today begins by calling God a shepherd.  This image of God evokes care, protection, guidance, and watchfulness over the sheep.  As our shepherd, God provides all of this for us, the sheep of His flock.  As our shepherd, God also helps us avoid dangers and evils while trying hard to guide us to good and safe pastures.  It is through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that God leads and guides us as we journey through life.  When we listen to and follow the guidance of the Spirit, we find peace and rest and joy and contentment in this life.  These things help us to fend off those invading armies and to keep to the path that God intends for our lives.

We are saved not to simply rest in our salvation, to enjoy a quiet God-centered life.  We are not called to be silent, isolated sheep.  We are called to be in the world, trusting God to be with us as we go forth to share our peace, joy, love, and contentment with other sheep who are lost and are seeking these things for their lives.  We are called to bring God’s love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to others so that they too may come to know the Good Shepherd.  May Jesus flow out of us today, so that in all we do and say others may see Him today, coming to know the Good Shepherd as Lord of their lives.


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Are We Willing?

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.

Ezekiel is writing to a people who are discouraged and downtrodden.  They feel like the sheep he is describing who are lean, weak, and driven away.  The Israelites have been in exile for many years.  The years have separated them from each other and many of them from their faith.  Even those who did not go into exile have become mixed in with the people living around them.  Ezekiel looks at the people and sees their deep need for a shepherd to rise up who will gather the scattered flock, protecting the weak and poor among them while ruling with justice, compassion, and love.

The need for a good shepherd is very real today.  On a personal level, we need one to walk the walk of faith.  Our inner bent towards sin is in almost constant need of the voice of the good shepherd to guide is on the right path and to keep us from wandering off of the narrow way.  We also need the good shepherd to lead us where we should go at times – to those green pastures.  As we follow Jesus and His teachings and example, we are following the one true good shepherd.  As we follow, we in turn open ourselves up more and more to the voice of the good shepherd as we feel the nudges and hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

This voice calls us to the least and the lost.  It calls us to those who do not know the good shepherd.  The lost are wandering around in the darkness, going from one thing to another, never finding what they truly need.  Others are marginalized and struggle in the simple day to day of life.  The Holy Spirit calls us to them as well.  The least often cannot begin to hear the voice of the good shepherd calling out to them until their basic needs are met.  The need for shelter, food, and safety must be met before there is space for the good shepherd to speak into their lives.

The Good Shepherd says, “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.  He says this to us in our times of need and encouragement.  He calls us to help bring this message to those who are hurting and broken and lost and discouraged.  Are we willing?


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Word

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 9-13

Verse 12: You accepted it not as the word of man, but as it actually is, as the word of God.

As children we would often use the phrase, “Stick and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”.  It was a way to try and deflect and minimalize the teasing and bullying that were part of childhood, but but in reality the words were powerful and often hurtful.  As a people who communicate primarily with words, words are the foundation of knowledge and understanding and even of faith.

On the surface level, the Bible contains just words.  As Paul wrote and spoke to the many churches he founded, he used just words.  In more recent times people like Martin Luther King, Junior, just spoke words.  Words are powerful.  Words can change how we see the world, how we understand things, and how we believe and think.  Paul came to the Thessalonians and preached the gospel.  As Paul and his companions were among them, they were “holy, righteous, and blameless”.  To be heard, one must first walk the walk.  Paul and friends went on to encourage and comfort the Thessalonians and also urged them to live lives “worthy of God”.  Yet as Paul preached, it wasn’t just words.  He writes, “You accepted it not as the word of man, but as it actually is, as the word of God”.  The words Paul spoke took on life and were heard as the Word of God.  The scriptures continue to be the living Word of God and will always be alive.

The Word continues to be alive as it works in and through each of us.  As we read the Bible and hear the Word proclaimed, it creeps into our hearts and minds and takes root.  It shapes and forms and refines us.  It challenges and convicts us.  It becomes who we are as we grow in our faith and deepen our relationship with Jesus.  And when we share our faith with others, it becomes a word planted in their lives, waiting for the living God to take that seed and to make it grow.  As we go forth and live holy and righteous lives we are encouragement and love and hope to the world around us.  As such we too will have the opportunity to share our faith and the story of the good news of Jesus Christ.  This day, may the living word flow in and through us, bringing Christ to the world.


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Remember and Retell

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4 and 12-16

Verse Four: We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.

Today’s Psalm is about remembering and retelling.  It is about remembering the times of God’s presence and activity in the past and retelling it to others.  The Israelites are very good at doing this.  It keeps reminding them over and over of both God’s love and their status as the chosen people of God.  Remembering and retelling keeps them intimately connected to God and His love.

As Christians, we also are called to remember and retell.  We are first called to tell the good news of Jesus Christ.  The Great Commission charges all believers to tell of Jesus to all nations.  In doing do we help people to connect to the Savior.  In telling the story we also remind ourselves of how Jesus saves, loves, forgives, … each of us.  This personal story is the second calling we have to remember and retell.

Each of us has our own personal faith story.  It is the story of how Jesus Christ makes a difference in our lives.  It is the story of how Jesus is better – better than any other god we can chase after, be it money or power or some other religion.  It is the story of how Jesus walks with us through the joys and the trials, lifting us up at times and carrying us at others.  It is a deeply personal story because Jesus is a deeply personal Savior.  And it is a story that others need to hear.  We remember and retell our faith story so that others can see how the good news of Jesus Christ can be good news to them as well.

So what is your faith story?  Why Jesus?  Just as the Israelites pledged to “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord”, we too are called to follow the same.  Jesus put it this way: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  May we go and tell all we meet of our faith in the only one who can save.