pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Suffering with Jesus

Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

Verse 10: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”.

Peter is writing to encourage the followers of Jesus Christ who are in trials and sufferings. As foreign as this sounds to us, suffering for their faith was a regular event. For much of the first 300 years of the church, it was dangerous to be a Christian. The Jews and the Romans were both openly hostile towards Jesus’ disciples and followers. Yet the church thrived and grew. Today we see this same thing happening in places where there is a potential cost to following Jesus. The willingness to risk and to pay the cost refines and bolsters the faith.

Peter encourages the early church to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ”. The disciples in the early church were grateful to suffer for Christ because they understood that they were suffering with Christ. They were literally doing what Jesus did. I once read or heard a quote that roughly said: “If you are not suffering a little for your faith perhaps your faith is too little”. In essence the author was getting at the idea that if no one notices you are a Christian, are you really a Christian? There is a lot of truth to that. Too often we like to fly our faith below the radar.

Peter identifies and warns his disciples about the cause of their suffering. We fly low for the same reason. In verse eight he reminds them that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. Imagine the power of that verse as the Roman practice of throwing Christians to the lions ramped up. The devil continues to prowl today. His favorite weapons are still fear, doubt, anxiety, worry… Peter encourages the early church and us today to “resist him, standing firm in the faith”. Trust that God is really in control. Remain in Jesus Christ just as he seeks to remain in you.

Peter closes with this promise: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”. Yes, we will suffer at times if we are really living out the gospel faith that Jesus modeled. Yes, we will. God is not only with us in the sufferings, but he will always bring us through stronger and with a deeper faith. May we trust in our Lord and Savior, stepping where he leads us today.

Prayer: Lord God, no one likes to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. Yet at times you call me to do just that. I can rejoice and even thank you for my times of suffering. They have been fruitful and have led to growth in me and in my faith. May your Holy Spirit help me to be willing to do whatever you call me to today. Amen.


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As Long As I Live

Reading: Psalm 116: 1-4

Verse 2: “Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live”.

Psalm 116 opens with our four verses for today. These verses are verses that I feel I could proclaim often. As I think back over my faith journey, verse one cries out as a thought that I have expressed many times. This verse reads, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy”. In both difficult situations of my own makings and in times when life just “happened” I have cried out to God and God has heard and responded. These experiences have served to deepen my love for God. Each time that I felt myself in a place like the one described in verse three, I have cried out and God was present in response.

In verse two the psalmist writes, “Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live”. The love that God demonstrates for me has built up my trust in God. It builds upon itself. God’s faithfulness and steadfast love leads my love and faith to be more assured, to be stronger and deeper. That, in turn, leads me to turn to God more quickly. Now, that is not to say that God’s response is always what I thought I wanted it to be. Admittedly it has been a process at times and a sorting out of emotions at times. But one thing that I have learned is this: God’s response is always right and just. God’s good plans for me are always best for me. Using hindsight I have come to understand that this is how God operates. For this, I am grateful. This leads me to say as the psalmist said: I will call upon the name of the Lord as long as I live! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, your love is amazing, steady, unchanging, everlasting. It always guides me in the paths I should walk. It ever reminds me too of how I should respond – by sharing that love with all I meet. May it be so each day. Amen.


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Walking Closer

Reading: Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Verse 26:14 – “And while they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me'”.

Jesus has been in ministry for three years. All of the men who sit around the table with him have been with Jesus for those three years – hearing the teachings, seeing the miracles, observing his example. It is hard to imagine any of these twelve men turning on Jesus. They have gathered to celebrate the Passover, an ancient tradition in the Jewish faith. On this sacred night when they remember and celebrate God’s mighty saving acts that led the Israelites to freedom, Jesus will be arrested, tried, and beaten. As they share the Passover meal, Jesus shares these words: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me”.

It amazes me that Jesus could share this sacred and special time of faith and fellowship with the one who betrayed him. It is hard for me to even see someone who has betrayed me, never mind to sit and share a meal with them. It is hard to be kind and pleasant to one who has turned on me, never mind serving them the bread and cup. In passages like these I see face to face with my reality: I have a long ways to go in my walk with Jesus.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry today, we are on the edge of Holy Week. On Thursday we will again come face to face with this story and then with the crucifixion on Good Friday. Events along this week’s journey will again serve to remind me of my love of Jesus as well as of my areas of needed growth. I can envision what it would look and feel and be like to fellowship with my Judases and to offer them the Lord’s Supper. As I walk the road to Calvary with Jesus this week, may I come nearer to the place of loving those who harm and hurt me and those I love. As I follow in Jesus’ footsteps, may I come one day to walk in them.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for where I am in my journey of faith. I am grateful for my place in your family and for the walk so far. I know I am not what I was, but can also see that I have far to go. Lead and guide me to follow closer and closer, day by day. Amen.


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By Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise… but through the righteousness that comes by faith”.

As Paul and the rest of the earliest church were sorting out just how Jewish one must first be to become a follower of Jesus Christ, he penned these words that we read today. Before becoming an apostle, Paul was known as Saul. In that phase of his life he was a self-proclaimed Jew among Jews. He was a very devout Pharisee who knew and followed the letter of the law. As the early church grew and began to add Gentile believers, a huge debate arose over just how much of the Jewish faith must be followed to become a Christian.

In our reading for today Paul points to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Paul chooses him for two reasons. First, he is one of the pillars of Judaism. His faith is one of the models. God declares Abram righteous because of his faith. As we’ve been reading, God called and in obedient faith, Abram went where God led. He stepped out and followed God. Second, at the time there was no law. It had not been given yet. Paul is saying that one can be saved by faith apart from the law. Paul, known as the apostle to the Gentiles, is not in favor of applying Jewish laws to the Christian faith. Paul himself became a believer when he met the risen Lord and then entered into a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. For Paul it had nothing to do with the law. In the next chapters Paul will go on to argue this point further. Martin Luther will pick up these texts many hundreds of years later as he works out his “justification by faith alone” doctrine that will rock the church.

Even though the New Testament clearly spells out that one is saved by faith alone we can often feel like we must do good works or follow some set of prescribed steps to be saved. God does not have a giant balance scale that one day weighs out our good versus bad. We know from the scriptures that as soon as we confess and give our sins to God, they are wiped away – they are no more. Nothing is being stacked up on the “bad” side of some mythical scale. Yes, our faith will lead us to do good things. That is how we live out the love of God within us. It is the model Jesus set for us. As we follow Christ, living out our faith, may his ‘why’ become our ‘why’. Jesus loved others because the love of God within him overflowed into the lives of others. May we do the same. May the sharing of God’s love be our grateful response to our God who saves.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your unconditional love and grace. It is certainly not deserved but you pour it out upon me anyway. I definitely cannot earn yet it is still there in unending abundance. It is an amazing love, an amazing grace. Thank you. Amen.


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All in Praise

Reading: Psalm 27: 4-6

Verse 6: “I will sing and make music to the Lord”.

If you are a fan of contemporary Christian music you probably cannot read verse four without a song running through your head. This line appears in the song “Better Is One Day”. The author of that songs proclaims that “better is one day in you house than thousands elsewhere”. While this is true, David’s hope is much greater. In verse four he writes, “that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days if my life”. Not just one day but every day. That too should be our goal.

To be present to God, to “gaze upon his beauty”, is possible in many ways. We can do this when we are in spiritual connection with God through prayer or meditation or study. We can do this through a physical connection, such as seeing God in the beauty of nature or in the face of one who we are serving or ministering to. And, of course, we can do it as David does, when worshipping God.

In the Psalm, David rejoices in the times that God has kept him safe in days of trouble, rescuing David. This also leads David to praise God. With shouts of joy David offers himself in worship. There, in the temple, “I will sing and make music to the Lord”. This is David’s grateful response to God. In whatever shape or form that takes, may we too offer all of ourselves in praise to our God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Father God, you alone are worthy of my praise. You lead and guide me, you protect me. Time and time again you have saved me and set my feet upon the rock of Jesus Christ. This morning I praise you! I ask that you would be the Lord of my life all of my days. Amen.


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Tell of His Love

Reading: Luke 15: 1-10

Verse 4: “Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it”?

As we read these two stories, we begin to understand how important it is for God to find the lost. It has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus told these stories. The first disciples thought Jesus’ return was going to be soon – certainly during their lifetime. I believe this expanse of time shows both God’s love for humanity and God’s love for the lost. There are still souls to be saved.

We were once one of these lost souls. We were the sheep or the coin (or the prodigal son in the next story). During the first part of my college experience I was the lost sheep. I was raised in the church and was active in youth group through high school. In college, my faith took a back seat for a few years until God found me again in a pile of grief. A few years later I was like the lost coin – still somewhere in the house but not really connected or engaged. We went to a church most Sundays but it wasn’t ever our church. It was more like checking the box than being a part of a faith family. God was present in my life, but was mostly hidden. We all have experiences or seasons where we wander a little bit from the faith we once knew and lived. Like the shepherd and like the woman, God searches for us. “Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it”?

I am so very grateful that God sought me out when I was lost. Once it was a trial, a suffering, that drew me back. Other times it was a gentle whisper, a soft nudge. All of these are a part of my faith story, a part of who I am today as a child of God. I rejoice that God loves me so much that he never gives up on me. Is that your response too? If so, may we tell others of Jesus’ love for them.

Prayer: Loving Father God, when I think about your love, I both marvel at it and am humbled by it. My response: thank you for your love. May my witness today help others to know that love too. Amen.


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Living as an Example

Reading: 1st Timothy 1: 12-17

Verse 15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”.

Earlier on in life Paul was known as Saul. Saul excelled at being religious. As a boy he showed great promise in school (which was studying the scriptures). He quickly worked his way up the religious leaders ladder, becoming a Pharisee at a young age. He was full of confidence in his knowledge of God and the Law. Saul was arrogant and prideful. As the early church began to grow, it became Saul’s personal mission to stomp it out. He watched with approval as Stephen was stoned to death. Saul set out from there to persecute and arrest and kill as many followers of Jesus as he could. He refers to all of this in verse thirteen.

I’d like to say I used to be able to relate to Saul. My pride and arrogance are still things I wrestle with. It is sometimes a struggle to keep God #1. My need or desire to be in control occasionally makes it hard to let go of the steering wheel. I can see my path and head off without ever consulting God. Falling into gossip and being judgmental comes too easily. I require redirection often. The Holy Spirit keeps busy with me. Yes, I often need God to pour out abundant grace on my life. More often than I’d like to admit. There is that pride again. Every now and then, I too feel like the worst of sinners. I wonder, ‘how can a pastor have so much doubt’? Or worry or fear or confusion or unbelief or lack of trust…

In these moments, the Holy Spirit always reminds me: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. Ah yes, even for me. Even for me! Through his mercy and saving grace the Lord Jesus redeems me and sets me back on the right path, back on the road that follows him. I cannot forget the ‘why’. Paul writes,”so that in me… Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe”. This is evangelism 101. By living as an example of Christ, others come to know him. May it be so today.

Prayer: God, may my grateful response to your mercy and grace be service to you, my Lord. In and through me may others experience Jesus today, so that they too might come to believe in the King immortal, invisible, and eternal. Amen.


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Saved to Save

Reading: 1st Timothy 1: 12-17

Verse 14: “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”.

In our passage today, Paul gives thanks that Jesus Christ intervened in his life. One can feel the emotion of Paul as one reads verses twelve through fourteen. He knows that he would still be a blasphemer, a persecutor, a violent man – a sinner – without Jesus’ intervention. Can you recall when Jesus Christ first intervened in your life?

In verse twelve Paul thanks Jesus for choosing him and for considering Paul worthy of service. He is grateful for the strength that Christ gives him so that he can be faithful in his service to God’s kingdom. Paul recognizes that he was chosen. Christ identified Paul as one to serve and called him to discipleship. As unlikely a choice as Paul was to be a leader in the early church and to be the main missionary to the Gentiles, God still used him. Paul, who had been acting in “ignorance and unbelief”, experienced the mercy of God.

In verse fourteen we read, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”. Paul recognizes the fact that the unmerited, undeserved free gift of God was poured out abundantly upon him – like a heavy rain during a powerful summer thunderstorm. As God’s grace cleansed Paul of all the sin and hatred and violence, he was refilled with the faith and love of Jesus Christ. It was a complete transformation.

Can you remember what you and your life were like before you knew Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Can you relate to these words of Paul: “Christ Jesus came to save sinners”? We all can answer these questions. The answers are part of our faith story. Paul knows that Jesus changed him so that he could be used “as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life”. Paul knows that he was saved so that he could help Jesus save others. That too is part of our story. We too are saved to save. Today and every day may we make Jesus known. May it be so!

Prayer: God of all, you poured out your mercy upon me too. In your infinite love you continue to pour out your mercy and grace. I would be so lost in my sin without you. Continue to do a good work in me; help me to bear witness to your love today. In and through me may others know Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Generously and Joyfully

Reading: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11

Verse 10: “I will bring the first fruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me”.

Being thankful or grateful is such an important part of our faith. It was so important to God that this practice is one of the key tenets of the chosen people’s faith. Every year it was celebrated. Today we read, “I will bring the first fruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me”. By bringing the first fruits we act in faith and trust. Abel brought the first lambs of his flock trusting that God would give him more. In faith Abraham offered his only son Isaac on the altar trusting that God would provide.

In our passage today, the first fruits are being offered as a “thank” offering. The first grapes or wheat or olive oil or lamb or goat or… was brought and sacrificed to God along with prayers of thanksgiving for the blessings in their lives. It was a time of joy. Our passage closes with, “rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given you”. These offerings also acknowledged that it is God alone who provides. This is still an important perspective for us to keep.

These two practices remain essential to healthy faith. Our first fruit is often referred to as a tithe in the church. We usually think of it as money but it can also be our time or our talents too. Either way, God still calls for it to be the first fruits. In practice that means we write the check or give the gift at the start of the month. This demonstrates trust and faith in God. It requires much less to wait until the end of the month to give what is left. No one wants leftovers. To give thankfully and joyfully is also an essential. To give willingly with a heart that rejoices in all that God has done is pleasing to God. Remember cleaning your room grudgingly because you had to? Don’t give that way.

Lest we think it too easy, we must remember that God calls us to this thankful giving so that we learn to always live with a generous and giving heart. In the day to day of life we are also called to give of ourselves when opportunity arises. It may be time for a lonely friend, it may be a meal for a hungry person, it may be watching a young mom’s kids so she can go to the grocery store. In all we do may we be thankful to God and may we share richly with others.

Prayer: Lord, may I hold loosely to all you bless me with so that it may freely go to those in need. Amen.


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 124: 1-5

Verse 1: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

Today’s Psalm is a great reminder of God’s presence with us. The psalmist remembers when they were attacked, when the enemy’s anger rose against them. He remembers when the tipping point was tangible, when they could have been engulfed and swept away. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” reminds him and all who read these verses of why we are not swept away – God’s presence. God was with them. God is with us.

In our lives we have these experiences too. Upon reflecting on just this past week, I can think of times when I could have been pulled off into sin. None were huge or monumental this week, but at times we all have those moments when we are on the brink or when, if not for God’s presence, we do not want to think of how things could have turned out. There was the divorce when I was in sixth grade. There was the car accident my junior year of college when one person did not survive. Recently, in our community, three young teens walked away from a rollover. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” applies in all of these situations. Thanks be to God.

While it is good and right to recognize and rejoice in all of the times and ways that God is with us, we cannot allow ourselves to use this as a dividing line or to judge others. There are many who feel like God does not care about or love them, nevermind whether or not God is on their side. There are others who feel the opposite – that God is against them. Instead of being content in our relationship with God and keeping it to ourselves, our grateful response should be to share God’s love with others. Instead of being comfortable with an us and them attitude, may we recognize that all people are dearly loved children of God and may we make efforts to help the estranged to become part of the family. This day, may we help those who are living outside of a relationship with God to come to know His love and presence in their lives.

Lord God, you are my all in all, my strength when I am weak. Each moment of each day you are with me. Like the psalmist, I cannot imagine life without you. Yet many live this way. Today, may my words, actions, and thoughts help to decrease the number of those who are lost. Thank you, Lord, for your presence in my life. May I share it well today. Amen.