pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God’s Design

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:11

Verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

On our faith journeys, we can try and go it alone. We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our sins and failures. We go through the motions of faith and pretend we are doing okay when our faith feels dry or when a trial has beset us. We try and push through seasons of doubt because society tells us we just need to try harder. Our pride and ego refuses to ask for help. But God did not design faith to be this way. God designed faith to be a communal pursuit. Yet if we are to truly be a part of the community of faith, if we are going to have real and deep relationships, then we must be honest and transparent, authentic and vulnerable, committed and compassionate.

Our passage today is just one verse. Again, it reads: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. Because the world is challenging, because the dark and evil are ever present, Paul knows that the believers need to be surrounded by Christian community. Paul begins by telling us to encourage one another. To be able to encourage one another, we need to really know how we each are doing. This is where honesty… comes into play. We must be willing to share our burdens with one another. We must also be willing to carry another’s burdens at times. We must be willing to tell others when our faith feels thin, allowing them to pour into us and to fill us up. Similarly, we must be willing to give of ourselves, to pour into another as we are able. Paul also urges us to build one another up. We do this by sharing our faith. This can be actual teaching or it can be living the faith so others can see what it looks like. Pastors and teachers and small group leaders and mentors are all a part of this process. We also build one another up by being present. We celebrate successes and achievements, we rejoice when a baby is born, we bring food and love and presence in times of hardship and suffering and loss.

The church in Thessalonica was living as a community. It was how God designed the church. As we ponder these thoughts today, may we each consider how we could encourage and build up the body of Christ this week.

Prayer: Living God, lead me by the power of the Holy Spirit to be an encourager and a builder. Help me to see the ways that I can help the community of faith to be like a family, like the heavenly fellowship that we all await. Bind us together in your love. Amen.


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Moving Forward in Trust and Faith

Reading: Joshua 3: 7-17

Verse 11: “The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you”.

In today’s passage the nation of Israel is finally to the point of stepping into the Promised Land. Their forty year trek in the wilderness comes down to this bookend event. As their journey began, with Pharaoh’s army pressing down on them, in fear they fled on the path that God provided as they walked through the waters. This time, they are not the same people. They now step forward towards danger in trust and with faith in God. The walled city of Jericho stands just across the Jordan.

In the years since they left Egypt the Israelites have been shaped, formed, taught, and brought into community. In our passage today, God assures Joshua that he will go with him, promising to “exalt you in the eyes of all Israel”. God does this by giving Joshua the words to speak and the actions to take as he leads the crossing of the Jordan. Joshua does not lead alone. God has been preparing him and the nation of Israel for this time. The Israelites have a priestly order and they have the ark – the physical item that represents God’s presence with them. In verse eleven we read, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you”. With God leading, the priests carry the ark into the waters. One leader from each tribe steps forward with the ark. Symbolically this represents two important truths: God goes before the people and the people go forth together.

The Jordan River is at flood stage. There could not have been a worse time to attempt to cross the river. Yet the entire nation once again passes through the waters on dry ground. In faith and trust, the people follow Joshua’s lead and the example set by the priests and leaders of each tribe. The journey into the land that God has promised continues.

At times in our faith journeys we too will stand on the edge of moving forward to where God is calling us. There will be a Jericho right there on the other side. It may be a challenge, it may be something we fear, it may be the unknown that lies behind the wall. The call to step forward remains. As you prepare to step forward, answering God’s call or following his lead, who will you call upon to stand with you? And as you make your crossings, how will you become one who stands with others as they step forward in faith and trust?

Prayer: Leading God, sometimes the steps forward are clear – into a promised land where we can see the way. Sometimes it feels more like the unknown. The call forward is there, but the path or where it might lead is unclear. In both cases you still call me forward in trust and faith. May I always sense or hear your call and may I follow where you lead. Amen.


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Refined and Reshaped

Reading: Exodus 16: 2-8

Verse 3: “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”.

As the nation of Israel travels in the desert it is a time of testing and refining and reshaping. The journey began with a great freeing miracle in the Passover. The possibility of new life lay ahead as they exited Egypt. They were no longer slaves living in a foreign land. Shortly after leaving God again intervened on their behalf, providing a way through the sea. They were spared a return to slavery. But the experience of these powerful miracles soon gave way to the reality of their situation. The first grumbling for water was satisfied but it came with the first warning to “listen carefully to the voice of the Lord”.

About 45 days after leaving Egypt, the nation has now run low on food. Water and food are essential to life. The people begin to once again grumble against Moses and Aaron. Remembering the good old days – the days when they sat around pots of food as SLAVES – they say to them, “If only we had died at the hand of the Lord in Egypt”. Continuing on, the Israelites say, “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”. They are once again testing God. When they feared dying when trapped against the sea, they complained and God provided the way. When they complained about the bitter water, again God provided the way. God will respond. God’s intent was not to bring his nation out of slavery just to die in the desert. But there are provisions this time. It will be necessary to begin listening to that voice of the Lord. As Moses speaks God’s commands, they must begin to listen. God is beginning to refine and shape their obedience. They are being readied for what lies ahead.

Our journeys with God include similar elements. There are times in our lives when needs are not being met. After one too many nights of Ramen noodles, it can be easy to slip into grumbling or complaining or having a “woe is me” attitude. We also have experiences where God provides a way – literally sending food our way or opening a door at other times. Like the parting of the sea and like water from the rock, as God reigns down food from heaven, it will reassure the people, it will refine their faith, it will begin to shape them into obedient people. Even so, the Israelites will again doubt, will again turn to fear instead of trust. We too are a work in progress. Our faith journey has its share of times when we need refined and reshaped too. We all need reminded from time to time that God is faithful and that God loves us dearly. Each time we are drawn a little closer, we are more assured of his love, and we emerge walking a bit closer, more obediently. May our loving and faithful God continue the good work that he has begun in each of us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your continual work in my life. There was that time in the hospital when you were tangibly present. And there was that time when you opened a door when I couldn’t see a way. And, and, and… Through my doubt and worry, through my questioning and even anger, you provided the way. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Pause to Praise

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6

Verse 4: “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always”.

Today’s Psalm is a song of remembrance and celebration. As a whole the Psalm recounts God’s covenants with Israel and the period in Egypt. It is part of the story of God’s ongoing faithfulness to Israel. The song would be sung as a way to help remember God’s love for his people. Most often it would be a song of worship and praise, but sometimes it also served to lift up their faith and spirit in times of personal or communal trial or testing or suffering.

Verse one begins with giving thanks to God for all that he has done. The charge is to make this “known among the nations”. The next two verses are about singing praises and bringing glory to God. Again, the context is to “tell of all his wonderful acts”. These ideas of making God known among all the nations and of sharing what God has done for us continues to be our charge as we seek to fulfill Jesus’ commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

As we turn to verse four we are reminded that our faith is not just rooted in the past. The past is our foundation and the future is our hope, but we live in the present. In verse four we read, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always”. We remember God’s mighty acts from both the word of God and from our own faith journeys to build upon our foundation of faith. This base allows us to live day by day, looking to the Lord for strength and seeking his presence with an assurance that God will be there for us. We come to learn that the Lord was, is, and always will be present to and for us. Remembering and praising God for our experience with this truth builds up our faith.

As the psalmist reminds us to “remember the wonders… the miracles” that God has done, may we pause to praise God today for the ways he has touched our lives. In our own way may we each rejoice in God’s love today.

Prayer: Loving and merciful God, in the word I find the unfolding story of your love for us. Thank you for the stories and teachings that encourage me, that lift me, that grow my faith. On my journey you have been a constant presence. Yet some points stand out – in a church balcony, in an ER room, in a prayer space. They are easy to identify – milestones. But even in the day to day your love and mercy remember me. They touch my life each day. In the small and mundane, even there I find you. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Step by Step

Reading: Matthew 16: 17-20

Verse 20: “Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ”.

In response to the question that we were pondering yesterday Peter had declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. As we continue today in Matthew 16, Jesus praises both God and Peter for this revelation. Jesus is elated that God has blessed Peter with this understanding. Jesus tells Peter that he will be the foundation of the church. Jesus will use Peter to lead the church as the Holy Spirit moves out in mission. Peter and the disciples will be given the “keys” – the wisdom, courage, faith, trust, words, actions… to loose Christianity upon the world, binding hearts to God. It is quite the statement that Jesus makes. It is one of the most effusive and encouraging statements from Jesus that we find in the Gospels.

And then Jesus warns the disciples “not to tell anyone that he was the Christ”. What?! Wait a minute. Hold on! Without digging a little deeper, this warning seems out of place. Just as Jesus’ words to Peter are a future thing, so too is sharing that he is the Messiah. To go out and to start proclaiming this would be like reading the last few pages of the book first. It would alter how you read the story. It would be like us sharing “Jesus’ blood will wash away your sins” as our opening line to a non-believer. In their minds they would think, “Blood? Sins?” and our conversation would be over. Yes, we might keep talking.

While the statement is true, it is not a good starting point for sharing our faith with a non-believer. We can get there, but first we must share how Jesus makes a difference in our lives. We can get to salvation and atonement and justification… but we must start with how Jesus changed our life. Our relatively simple but deeply personal faith stories have the power to change lives.

Through Jesus’ life and teachings and through the disciples and apostles, people came to know Jesus as the Messiah, as the Lord of their lives. It is a journey, not a destination. Faith grows one step at a time. Today may we help another move one step closer to Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to say, the level at which to share, in each encounter today. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to help draw others closer to you. Amen.


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Share the Story

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-5

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord… make known among the nations what he has done”.

Just as today’s Psalm is a method to remember all that God has done for Israel, we too should often recall what the Lord has done for us. The Israelites recounted the stories of God’s love and action and they told them over and over. Each generation and people coming into the faith would know the story of God and faith. In telling the stories they built up one another’s faith and found a deeper connection to God in their own trials and struggles. Our personal experiences of God’s love and action are also important moments in our faith journeys. Such experiences are scattered throughout our lives.

There was the time in my junior year of high school, when we were praying for a friend involved in a horrific car accident, when I felt God’s presence in the church balcony. There was the time about six years ago, when present in the hospital room when a man passed, when I saw a group of lights hovering over us in the corner of the room before his soul flew away. There are other smaller but no less significant moments when God was fully and tangibly present in times of worship, in moments on mission trips, in a prayer room at a Promise Keepers event. Each of these connection points with God built my faith. But they are not just for me. As I recall them and write or talk about them, I am doing what the psalmist is doing. When you remember your God moments and share them with others, you too are building up your faith and the faith of others. We are living into the psalmist’s words: “Give thanks to the Lord… make known among the nations what he has done”.

Many years later Jesus used similar words to give the great commission. Our call, no, our task as followers of Jesus Christ is to share the story. We are commanded to tell the good news of what Jesus Christ has done – both during his ministry and in all the years since – even those that include our lives. As we each consider the wonderful things that God has done, may we each be moved to share our stories of faith. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the moments when faith has been so personal, when you have drawn so close to me that I could feel you. Give me words to share these experiences with others, helping them to become aware of your presence in their lives. Amen.


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Seeds and Yeast

Reading: Matthew 13: 31-33

Verse 33: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast… worked all through the dough”.

As we consider these two teachings about what the kingdom of God is like we get the sense that it is growing and active and alive. These words should describe our journey of faith as well.

In the mustard seed teaching Jesus compares our faith beginnings to a small seed being placed into the ground. The reality for most of us is that our faith is the result of many seeds being planted in us – some by parents and grandparents, some by Sunday teachers and pastors, some by friends… Once the seed of faith begins to grow in us Jesus begins to take root in our heart. As our faith grows and becomes active and alive, it branches out and provided places for others to come and find rest, sustenance, support…

In the second teaching, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast… worked all through the dough”. Like the slow and steady growth of the seed, the yeast works inside the dough in a similar manner. As the yeast begins to work it isn’t really noticable. This is like the initial stages of our faith too. God is at work in us in ways that are not noticable to the outside world and sometimes not even to us. Yet God is at work. Over time we can see the dough rise as the yeast works throughout the dough. Like most of our faith journeys the process is slow and steady. And like the yeast in the dough our faith is intended to affect all parts of our lives. As we mature and our faith spreads it should come to influence all areas of our lives – family, friends, work, social activities, personal disciplines… Just as the seed grows into a tree and as the yeast spreads throughout, may our faith continue to be alive and active, always growing, ever maturing. May each day bring us one step closer to the example of our faith, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, looking back I can see those seed planters. I am thankful for my parents, for those who taught and mentored me in youth group and on Sunday mornings, and for my many brothers and sisters in Christ who have journeyed with me. Thank you for the rich and powerful community of faith. Amen.


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More Than Conquerors

Reading: Romans 8: 28-39

Verse 37: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”.

In the second part of our Romans 8 reading Paul emphasizes our ongoing journey of faith. He begins by stating that God works all things for good concerning those who love God. For the believer, something hard like the loss of a loved one can have good come out of it. For example, as God walks through the loss with you, your faith grows. Or God can work in you to make you more empathetic and caring. This can lead to you helping another through a time of loss in their lives.

Both of the examples are part of our being “conformed to the likeness of his Son”. Almost all of our journey of faith is about the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. Prayer and worship and study and fasting and serving and giving work alongside our life experiences to draw us closer to the example set by Jesus. Ultimately our journey ends when we stand in the glory that Paul speaks of in verse 30. Along the journey God walks with us and “graciously gives us all things”. Though we may endure hardship or trial, because God is with us and because God loves us, God will provide the strength and the will, the fellowship and support – whatever we need. This is what Paul speaks of in the last five verses.

Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ”? In the rest of verse 35 and then in verses 38 and 39 Paul compiles a long list of who and what could possibly separate us. In the midst of this list Paul pauses to note, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”. Through and with Jesus we are not only conquerors of persecution, famine, death, powers… but we grow stronger in our faith as God in Jesus leads us through these things. This is at least part if what Paul meant about God working “for the good”. Thanks be to God that nothing can separate us from the love of God that we find in Jesus Christ. This day and every day may we be more than conquerors.

Prayer: God, thank you for a depth of love that never lets me go, that always works to make me more like Jesus. In the good and in the bad you always have a plan for my good. May I ever trust more and more in you. Amen.


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Remember and Celebrate

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-11 and 45b

Verse 4: “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always”.

The psalmist celebrates God’s presence among his people. God entered into covenant relationship with Israel early in the stages of humanity and has kept the covenant with Israel through a succession of leaders. Abraham and Jacob are mentioned in today’s Psalm. The psalmist encourages us to celebrate through song all the “wonders he has done”. To remember and celebrate God’s loving actions strengthens the faith. Remembering God’s covenant love and how that has been worked out over the many generations brings joy to the heart and soul. The psalmist makes the connection between remembering and moving forward in verse four. Here he writes, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always”.

Through the love and wonders of Christ we have been included in the family of God. Through the new covenant, through the giving of his life for our sake, we have been added to the family. We too have the same call then to give thanks, to praise God and Jesus for the things they have done, and to celebrate our place in the covenant family. Let us do so today. As you ponder your faith journey and the journey of your community of faith, what are you thankful for? Which acts of God or Jesus bring you joy and encouragement? How will you celebrate these and your place in the family of God today? As we take time to remember and celebrate, may we too praise the Lord!

Prayer: Loving, kind, compassionate God, thank you for drawing me into the family long ago and for walking with me all these years. Patient, merciful, and forgiving God, thank you for the hand up, the dusting off, the washing clean each and every time I’ve stumbled. Generous, faithful, everlasting God, thank you for your enduring love – both for me and for all generations. I praise your holy name today! Amen.