pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Faithful God

Reading: Acts 16: 25-34

Verse 34: “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”.

Paul and Silas find themselves in prison. They were falsely accused, beaten, and thrown into prison. They could have been angry at the magistrates or the people who falsely accused them. They could have been mad at God. Either of these would have been our reactions. But instead we find them praying and singing hymns. We do not know if they were joyful in their spirits, having suffered for Jesus’ name. We do not know if they were fervrently praying for God to intervene in their bleak situation. We do not know if they were seeking the next opportunity to witness for Jesus Christ. We do know that in spite of their circumstances their faith was still very strong and was what they looked to first in this time of need.

We probably will not be falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned today. We might face hardship or a difficult situation though. Maybe there are big stressors at work. Maybe an illness or disease has beset us or a loved one. Maybe we are dealing with a loss or a major change in life. There are many things that can befall us. These trials and tribulations can easily lead us to be angry or upset or to blame God. We often teeter on that line when we face distress. We can also tend to try everything but prayer and faith, turning to these options only when all else has failed. Today in our passage it is what Paul and Silas turn to first.

Paul and Silas are faithful to God and the calling that God has placed upon their lives. They see faith as primary and mission as secondary. All else does not matter too much. Because they are faithful, so too is God. A violent earthquake opens cell doors and unlocks chains that bind. The jailer fears the worst but Paul seizes the opportunity and offers a better solution. The jailer seeks what Paul and Silas have to offer, asking, “What must I do to be saved”? They preached Jesus Christ to him and “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”. God worked in another unexpected way, bringing one and his whole family to faith in Jesus Christ.

Who will we encounter today that will recognize the faith we have? Will we be prepared to share the joy and hope we have in Jesus Christ, encouraging another to believe and to be saved?

Prayer: Lord of salvation, give me a faith that overflows into all that I do and say and think today. May I turn first and only to you in all things – good and bad. Let my faith in you open doors and break chains today. May it be so. Amen.


1 Comment

With a Joyful Heart

Reading: 2 Corinthians 8: 8-15

Verse Twelve: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has”.

Paul opens this section with a reminder about the ultimate giver: Jesus Christ. As a way to nudge the Corinthians, who are struggling to give as they committed to, Paul reviews the gift Jesus gave. Not only did Jesus leave heaven and become human, becoming poor, He also gave His life so that they could be rich in their eternal inheritance. Just as Jesus completed His work, Paul wants to see the Corinthians complete their work.

The Corinthians were eager to receive and accept the call to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul even reminds them of how well they did last year and encourages them now to “finish the work” with the same enthusiasm that they began it. We do not know exactly what has caused the stagnation, but the drive that was present at the beginning has certainly been lost. This scenario is one that we are all familiar with. That project that we began with such enthusiasm now sits on a shelf or in a closet gathering dust. Every time we see it we are reminded that it needs finished but we lack the motivation to get it back out.

Paul is not asking for the moon. In verse eleven, he acknowledges that they just need to give “according to your means”. He also emphasizes that the giving must come from the heart, saying, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has”. Giving should be joyful and willing. It should not be done grudgingly or if it causes undue hardship. The spirit of the gift can be like Cain’s offering in Genesis – the first fruits given as a thanks offering. It can also be like the widow’s gift in Mark 12. Yes, she only gave a mere two copper coins. It was small but it was also all she had. She, like Cain, gave trusting that God would continue to provide.

Whether an exercise in faith or as a joyful thanksgiving for the blessings that God has given us, may we too be willing to give. Our gift may show our commitment to support our brothers and sisters in Christ or it may simply show our thanks to God. May we give with a joyful heart – whether our time, our talents, or our resources – for the glory of God and for the building of His kingdom here on earth. Amen.


1 Comment

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.


1 Comment

Joy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-18 – “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.

The Christmas season is a time when joy and love seem to abound in extra measure.  At our churches, the Children’s Christmas Program brings smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts long after the program itself has ended.  The Christmas songs on the radio or our play stations and the specials on television also add to the joy of the season.  Extra time with family and friends is an added bonus that brings us even more joy.

On the past two Sundays in many churches we have lit the candles of hope and peace and have been reminded of how, in Christ, God brings these things to the world.  This Sunday we will light the candle of joy and will be reminded of how Christ also brings us joy during the Advent season.  Joy is an emotion that naturally surrounds a birth as well.  So it is fitting that we await the birth of Jesus with much joy.

Yet very quickly after December 25, for many the Christmas season will end.  We turn from time with family and celebrations with great food and merriment to times of being alone and figuring out how we can lose what we gained and pay for what we gave.  Christmas is too often moved on from and picked up long before the season is actually over.  And if we are not careful, the joy that filled us and lifted our spirits can also slip away.

To be joyful in Christ is a trait that Christians should have all year round.  Christ does not go away with the trees and bows and songs.  But our heightened sense of joy can go.  To keep our sense of joy requires some intentional effort on our part.  We must choose to cultivate a sense of joy in our hearts all year long.  Whether we make it a portion of our daily prayer time or whether we keep a little “thank” journal that we write in each day or whether we post a few things that we are thankful for each day on social media, we must thank God each day for His presence, love, and activity in our lives.  As we practice being joyful, we will find that joy becomes a natural part of our daily lives.  It is then that we begin to live into these words:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.  May it be so.  Amen.


1 Comment

Presence

Reading: Psalm 107: 43

Today’s verse is a great reminder to do something we seldom do enough of: consider the great love of the Lord.  In the busyness of our lives we rarely slow down enough to pause and recognize God’s role and presence in our lives.  Thus we rarely slow down enough to offer our praise and thanksgiving for God’s activity and presence in our lives.  The less we do this, the less we seem to be thankful to have God in our lives.

When we are in touch with God’s activity in our lives, we are grateful for the many ways we experience that love and presence.  We are also more aware of the ways we can use God’s love to engage others through the use of the gifts and talents that God has uniquely blessed us each with.  This is our grateful response.  This engagement also keeps us focused on God and our faith.  The more we recognize and offer our thanks for God in our life, the more we become aware of it.  It is a good cycle.

As a church, we too can become so focused on what we are doing to involve new people or whatever we think God is calling us to that we forget God is involved as well.  As the body becomes more and more us-centered we slowly but gradually lose the sense of God leading and guiding the church.  On the other hand, there are churches who seek God’s presence, direction, will… almost constantly.  These churches very much have God at the center of all they do.  Looking in from the outside one can see how alive the Spirit of God is in that place and in those people.  It is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

As children of God, we too must seek God’s presence and be aware of God’s handprints in our lives.  Our grateful response is to offer God our thanksgiving and praise.  In doing so we too will exude the light and love of God and Christ in us.  We will be a living example of Christ to all we encounter.  May our joyful, Christ-centered lives witness to our faith and the hope we have in Him this day.


Leave a comment

Mary Said “Yes”

Mary’s joy overflows and bursts out through this passage.  Right up front she states that her soul glorifies God and that her spirit rejoices.  Mary is filled with joy over being the one chosen by God to bear His Son because she is of a humble Spirit. She realizes that she is just a humble servant chosen by God to carry out this special role.  Her words that all generations will call her blessed because of what God has done reflect her humble heart.  Mary is well aware that it is God’s hand at work here.

In her words Mary also acknowledges that she is just one of many unexpected ones that God has called.  From early on with Abraham and Rahab on through David and now her, God has chosen the humble to play a role.  This pattern continued with the calling of the disciples and it continues with you and me – often unwilling but chosen nonetheless.

Mary’s song also spells out what we are chosen for.  Like all who have come before, we are called to lead people to God.  We can do no more than to fill our humble role and to trust God with the transformative work that will change people’s lives.  Through our words, actions, and deeds we bring God into the world around us and work to build His kingdom here on the earth.

Mary’s song also reminds us of what this role can include.  It includes condemning and working to fix the inequalities and injustices we see in society.  It includes caring for the poor and the outcast.  It also includes sharing the hope and love we find in Jesus.  Mary Said ‘yes’ to God’s call.  May we as well.

Scripture reference: Luke 1: 46-55


Leave a comment

Work for God

Do you work for God or for yourself?  In the reading of this psalm, if you work for yourself, you are working in vain.  Since the beginning of humanity, it has been God’s intent for us to work.  Right away He set Adam to work caring for the garden.  As ones created in the image of God, we are made as creators and laborers.  Our work is for a purpose and that purpose is greater than ourselves.

When we do our work apart from or without God, it is in vain.  When our work becomes addictive or compulsive or all-consuming, it is far from God.  On the other extreme, when our work is lazy or shoddy or resentful, this too is far from God.  When our labor is all about us and cares nothing for God or those around us, then it is easy for it to become these bad things.

Instead our work must be done for God.  The purpose of our labor needs to be aligned with God.  On a basic level our work must provide for ourselves and for our loved ones.  But it must also bless those around us.  Part of this idea again goes back to how we work.  When we are joyful, hard-working, honest, encouraging, supportive, and so on, we bless those we work with.  The other part is that the fruits of our work become the tangible ways in which we bless those in need.

For some, our ‘work’ is school or what one does in retirement.  The goal is still the same: to honor and bring glory to God through how we ‘work’.  Each day may God and His purposes be the focus of our labor.  Each day may we bless others through our labor and the fruit of our hands.

Scripture reference: Psalm 127