pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living Out Faith?

Reading: Luke 12: 49-56

Verse 56: “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time”?

Sometimes when I read the Bible I forget that the people are living long ago. Sometimes I imagine Jesus talking to me instead of to a crowd of first century Jews. When Jesus says things like “I have a baptism to undergo”, I think of something much different than his audience would have thought. For those new to Jesus maybe they’d have thought it a bit late to be baptized. For those following Jesus they’d have remembered John baptizing Jesus in the wilderness and they would be confused. But when we read the words many years later we connect them to Jesus’ crucifixion. At the time, only Jesus would have this thought.

After acknowledging the crowd’s ability to predict the weather based on the signs they see in the sky, Jesus admonishes them for not being able to see who he is. He asks them, “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time”? We can look back, again, knowing how the story ends and we can think the same question as Jesus asks. But hold that thought for a second.

Jesus’ audience is steeped in the Old Testament. They have read and read the Messianic prophecies and other writings scattered throughout the scriptures. These are signs predicting the coming Messiah. As his birth, life, and ministry have unfolded, many have been fulfilled. These are the signs that Jesus implores them to read, see, and interpret. But many in the crowd are not really looking. Most Jews want a Messiah that is another David, a triumphant leader who defeats the Romans. Others there are curious – they hope see or perhaps receive a miracle. They want a peek at this Jesus character. Not many are not looking for the servant king predicted in the Bible.

Let us return to the question for a moment. We have read the end of the story and we know that Jesus is the Messiah. We know the gift of salvation, the promise of eternal life, the daily presence of the Holy Spirit… In turn, do we live out a life of faith seeking to make disciples of all people? Or do we live out a personal, private faith?

Dear God, I can do better. Help me to better live out my faith. I do not always love the least and the lost. I do not always share the good news with the broken and hurting. Lead me outside my comfort zone, O God. Amen.

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Lord of Life

Reading: Galatians 6: 11-16

Verses 14-15: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… What counts is a new creation”.

I am a rule follower by nature. Yes, I may stretch the speed limit by a few mph, but I won’t intentionally run a red light or drive the wrong way on a one-way street. I’m not saying I’ve never done these two things either. But when I did, I felt guilty because I did something wrong and wouldn’t have been upset if I received a consequence for my error. Most people feel like following the rules is a good and right thing to do, especially when the rule has been around for a long time.

Paul comes to battle this idea in Galatia. When he came there on his missionary journey, he started a church there. He taught them that faith in Christ alone was the priority. They were to learn to be like and to follow Jesus. This was the practice until some came and began to teach otherwise. Confusion arose. It would be like me standing up next Sunday and quoting an Old Testament verse and proclaiming that all must follow this to belong to the church. No more shellfish (Leviticus 11:9)!! For Paul’s audience, the practice of being circumcised was more serious. This action physically identified or set apart God’s people. The new teachers were circumcised and wanted all in the church to be circumcised. Some questioned this demand. The people did not know what rule to follow. People in the church who were Jews wanted to go back to the old Torah law. Non-Jews questioned it because Paul had said nothing about this. Now he must address it. Paul reiterates that following Christ is most important. In verse 14 he says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The people were allowing circumcision to be a higher sign of belonging. Paul wants to refocus them on Jesus Christ. Circumcision was not essential. Paul goes on to state, “What counts is a new creation”. Being made new in Jesus Christ is the sign of belonging. Being made into a new spiritual creation is the physical sign of faith. Declaring and living with Jesus as the Lord of your life is the priority. It was for Paul and he wanted it to be so for those in the Galatian church. May it be our priority as well!

Prayer: Dear God, may Jesus ever be my first, my last, my all. May following your son be my only priority. Amen.


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The Way

Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Verse 9: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”.

Peter, like almost 100% of the early church leaders, is a Jewish Christian. Yes, they are Christians first, but their Jewish upbringing is still a big part of their faith. All of the dietary laws, the rite of circumcision, the Sabbath observation… are keys to the new Christian faith. To become a believer and to be baptized into the Holy Spirit one must become a proselyte – in essence, a believer in training. One must prove their faith over a period of time by following all of the rules and only then could you become a baptized believer. The church has not existed for very long and they already have a set method to join! The idea of having a clear process to follow and a defined set of rules to obey sounds very much like another establishment of the day.

Our passage today opens with the aftermath of Peter going to Caesarea. The other leaders of the church in Jerusalem say to Peter, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them”. You broke rule 19.a.2 and rule 27.f.4. How could you. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” in what we read in Luke 15:2. The Pharisees make this statement just before Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. You might recall each parable ends with a celebration when the lost are found.

In our passage today, Peter uses some of the rules to establish why he broke the rules. First, he was praying. Second, God brought him a vision. Third, God explained the vision to Peter. Not once but three times. Peter even shares that he protested what God was instructing him to do, saying to God, ‘I have never broken rule 4.e.3’. God responds by saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”. Rule 4.e.3 had been revoked. Peter then goes on to tell the story of what happened in Caesarea.

This passage leads to the question: what rules or traditions or unwritten codes are we hanging onto that are preventing unbelievers from becoming believers? Yes, change is hard. What new understanding might God be bringing to Christianity today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes that I may see. Holy Spirit, speak into my life and my heart, illumining the way you would have me go. Amen.


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Celebrate, Rejoice!

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 & 9-10

Verse 3: “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”.

The Jews are living as a foreign people, living in exile, scattered throughout the land. In the midst of the foreign culture all around them, they are trying to hold onto their faith, their beliefs, their traditions. Over the years, the Jews have become a part of the fabric of society. One happens to win what is in essence a beauty contest and becomes the queen. Her Jewish faith is strong, but it is practiced privately. A man, her uncle in fact, also has kept his faith in God as an essential part of his life. In doing so, he refused to bow down to a high court official. This slight enrages the man, Haman, and he gets the king to sign an edict to wipe out the Jews. It wasn’t enough to just get revenge on the man.

As the date for the Jews’ destruction nears, Mordecai, the man who refused to bow down, enlists his niece, Esther, to help stop this evil plan. Esther also happens to be the queen. After fasting and praying for three days, Esther approaches the king and sets up a fancy dinner that includes Haman. It is in this setting that the king asks Esther what her petition and request are. Esther answers, “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”. King Xerses is outraged that anyone would dare to do such a thing to Esther and her people. Haman suffers the consequence, being hung on the gallows that he had made especially for Mordecai.

This is a great story of faith in God and of God saving His people. The story is remembered in a yearly festival called Purim. Corporately we also have great stories of faith that we remember each year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost… We celebrate yearly to remember God’s love and care for us, His children. The story of Esther and many others in the Bible remind us of God’s presence and provision. This day may we rejoice in the stories of faith and in our own personal experiences of God’s hand at work in our lives. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for the reminders of your steadfast love in stories like Esther’s. Thank you for your hand at work in our lives as well. Thank you for being my God and our God. Amen.


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Pentecost People

Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Verse Four: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

The holy day of Pentecost has gathered Jews from all over the known world into Jerusalem. Jerusalem is also home to the newly formed church that follows Jesus. God uses a very loud sound, something that sounded “like the blowing of a violent wind”, to bring these God-fearing Jews and Jesus-loving Christians together in one place.

As the Jews hear the sound, they are drawn to find the source of this strange phenomenon. At the same time, the Christians are anointed with what appears to be “tongues of fire” that come to rest on each of them. The fire represents the Holy Spirit. It is a physical sign of a spiritual gift. The Holy Spirit is the gift that Jesus promised in Acts One. With the promise of the gift came a responsibility: “you will be my witnesses”. As the crowd of Jews arrives, the believers “began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. The believers are witnessing to their faith in the languages of the crowd that is now arriving. People from all over the world hear the good news of Jesus Christ in their native tongues. They were “utterly amazed”.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we too have been blessed with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and have received the same charge to be witnesses. The same power that the original Pentecost believers had is also in us. The Holy Spirit will help us to speak to the non-believers that are all around us as well. If we are willing to allow the Spirit to be at work in our lives, to lead and guide us, we too will have opportunity to witness to those who do not know Jesus Christ. We may not speak in exotic or foreign languages, but the Holy Spirit will enable us, giving us the words of life that a non-believer needs to hear to come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. This action of the Holy Spirit is just as amazing as the work done that first Pentecost long ago.

To this day we remain Pentecost people. We are people filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. May we faithfully use the gift that God has given each of us to speak words of love and words of hope to our world in need. Holy Spirit, lead us each and every day. Amen.


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Room to Improve

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 45: “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”.

Mankind has long had an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. The dividing line can be drawn over many different characteristics and usually is drawn because of some level of ‘better than’ beliefs. Whether it has to do with race or nationality or ethnicity or education or socio-economics or gender or age or religion or… there is an artificial distinction created and an air of superiority floats over it all. There is a natural tendency to do this. To a degree we all like to be the best or at least to see ourselves or the group we belong to as the best.

Peter and the rest of the Jewish Christians thought so. Jews who had accepted Christ were the best, followed next by the regular Jews, and then there were the Gentiles – everyone else. It was ‘us’, ‘almost us’, and ‘them’. We still do this today. We each think this of our church or of our denomination. There is the Methodist Church, other Christian churches, and then non-believers. Each of us would substitute our own church or denomination in the first place. If we did not we would be attending a different church each Sunday morning. But ‘our’ must be universal, not singular and exclusive.

In today’s passage God demonstrates that all people are invited into faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit blows across all barriers and distinctions and includes all people. Verse 45 reads, “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”. The words ‘even on’ indicates the early church’s struggle with this new revelation. We too may struggle at first. But if we are open to the work of God in all forms then we too will accept all whom the Spirit calls. Once we get to know another and discover their heart for God, then we will see them as just another brother or sister in Christ. When we see the image of God in others, then we grow to love them as God loves them.

We remain far from being an ideal church. Individually we all have room to improve. In all, love remains the key. Each day may we strive to be more like Jesus Christ, to love more like He did. Today may we be more like Christ. And tomorrow may we love more. And the next day too. Holy Spirit, blow into our lives each day, leading us to love more fully and more completely. Amen.


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Astonished

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 44: “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”.

All of us like order and rules. Having structure to our lives brings us a sense of comfort and peace. When we know what to do and what to expect, it removes the stress and the anxiety of the unknown. I think that is why it is hard for many of us to fully trust the Holy Spirit to lead our lives. You just never know how and where the Spirit might lead.

Peter was born and raised into the Jewish faith and worldview. He, like many of the apostles, we’re steeped in the Jewish faith with all of its laws and requirements. The Jews were the chosen people – the only chosen people. But in a vision God revealed to Peter that all people were clean because all people were created by God. Then, earlier in Acts 10 and just after this vision, the Spirit leads Peter to go to the house of a Gentile. With some reluctance, Peter goes. This is where we meet up with Peter today in our passage. As if to prove that God is still fully in charge we read, “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”. Right in the middle of his sermon, the Holy Spirit invades. Did not wait for him to finish. Did not wait for the altar call. Just bam! The Holy Spirit goes to work and enters people who are Gentiles. No circumcision, no profession of faith, no nothing. What about all the rules and requirements?

The Holy Spirit totally disrupted Peter’s understanding of the world, telling him there are no clean and unclean, no Jew and Gentile in God’s world. And then the Spirit tosses aside the “that’s just how we do things around here” traditions and comes to dwell in the hearts of these Gentiles. Peter and the believers who came with him are astonished.

When we really allow the Holy Spirit free reign in our lives, then we too will be astonished. May it be so today.