pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Priesthood

Reading: Hebrews 5: 1-4

Verse 2: “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness”.

Today’s passage speaks of the priest and the roles the priest played for the people. In Biblical times, the priest offered gifts and sacrifices for the people and he taught the people, often calling them back to a faithful walk with God. Verse two speaks of this. At times the priest, being human, would go astray as well. In these cases, the priest would do as he did for the people – offer a sacrifice for the sin.

At the time of our writing, all official priests would come from the Levites, the family line of Aaron. Aaron and his descendents were identified by God to be the priests for Israel. From within the clan or tribe of Levi, men would be called by God to serve as a priest. From within this group, one would be selected to serve as the high priest. This role brought special duties and was a great honor.

For clergy down through the ages and in our present time, the role has changed slightly. Men and women are still called by God to serve His people, but they can come from any family and from all walks of life. Clergy still perform religious duties such as leading worship, teaching on God’s Word, offering guidance and direction, and so on, but do not offer sacrifices on the altar for the sins of the people.

The expansion of the clergy to a much bigger pool has also led to an expansion of the roles played by the people in the pews. Many churches and denominations have something called the “priesthood of all believers”. This concept began with Jesus. He was the rabbi amongst His followers. Jesus sent out His followers to teach and to heal, including them in the role traditionally held only by the Levites. Today, in many churches, we also see our members in this way. Each Sunday all people are encouraged to go forth to be the light and love of Jesus Christ in the world – to minister to others on behalf of Jesus.

May we each follow the call by Jesus to make disciples of all peoples and nations.

Lord, you call each follower to plant seeds and to meet needs. This day, may all I do and say bring glory to your name, drawing others to you as I love my neighbors. Amen.

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Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-16

Verse 12: “The word of God is living and active… it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”.

Today’s passage is a great two-part message. First, we read that “the word of God is living and active”. Initially this speaks of the words we find in the Bible. The passage we read last year suddenly has new meaning and life as we read it anew this week. The passage that did not seem to have much relevance last week springs back into our mind today, offering application into a situation or decision we face. The living word of God remains ever alive, always able to speak into our lives.

The word is also the Word, Jesus Christ. By extension this is, for us, also the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ words and example and the Holy Spirit’s activity in our life bring not only guidance but also conviction: “it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”. Verses 13 and 14 conclude this section reminding us that God sees and knows all – we cannot hide our sins from God. All is “uncovered and laid bare” before the One who will judge us. Being sinful creatures by nature, to this point in our passage it would seem that we are in deep trouble. Not so.

The second half if our passage addresses the realities of the first half. Here we find our truth, our promise, our hope. First, we have a great high priest, Jesus Christ, who sympathizes with our weakness. When Jesus was in the flesh, He felt the temptations we feel. Jesus was without sin, but because of His experience on earth, He can intercede for us before the throne of God. Therefore, we are encouraged to “hold firmly to the faith we profess” because Jesus is on our side.

This second half concludes with our encouragement and our hope: “let us approach the throne of grace with confidence”. We approach the throne of grace, not the throne of judgment or condemnation. The price has been paid. Our great high priest’s work on the cross is finished. The power of sin and death have been defeated. Therefore we approach a throne where we receive “mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. When we are weak, He is strong. When we fail, He offers only mercy and grace, restoring us to righteousness. Thanks be to God for our great high priest, Jesus Christ.

O Lord, today I am reminded of your power and majesty. I am humbled by your love, poured out in mercy and grace. Thank you for the words if truth, for the active and living presence of the Holy Spirit, and for your Son, my great high priest. Strengthen me today for the battle. Walk with me step by step. Amen.


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Community

Reading: James 5: 13-20

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.

Suffering, pain, illness, sin – all are a part of our world and our lives. To go through these things alone is a terrible tragedy. For James, and for us, being a part of a faith community and having a personal relationship with God offers the best methods of dealing with suffering…

James invites us to begin with prayer. It is through prayer that we bring our suffering to God and that we seek relief or repentance. In verse 16 James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. Prayer is very powerful. The power is amplified when we pray in community, when we pray as a gathered community. Each day we also lift one another up in prayer just as others do the same, praying together spiritually. Communicating our needs to God also serves to remind us of our absolute need for God’s presence and activity in our lives.

In a similar manner, James encourages us to gather around those in need of healing, to anoint them with oil, and to pray over them. As we encircle them, anointing and praying in the name of Jesus Christ, we are naming our need for God to come and be at work in our lives. James tells us, “The Lord will lift them up”. May we hold to this promise.

James closes our section today with a good accountability reminder. He gives us the example of Elijah’s prayer that brought repentance to a wayward people. Yes, it took three and a half years. Sometimes our sin is stubborn too. Are you prepared to pray three and a half years for a brother or sister and their struggle with sin? I hope so! When the people repented and humbled themselves, Elijah prayed for God’s mercy and blessing to rain down, and they did both spiritually and literally.

These practices done in community – prayer, anointing, accountability – are all more effective and powerful when done together. As the body of Jesus Christ, may we seek to live and be in community, building up one another and the body of Christ each day.

Lord God, help me to build a sense of community with my family, friends, small groups, and with the congregation. May I lead by example with honesty, transparency, and love. Amen.


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The Good…

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verse 20: “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”.

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is seen as the groom and the church is His bride. I encourage you to read again the passage from Proverbs 31 from this perspective. Re-read the passage and think of the church as the wife or bride of Christ.

A good church is worth far more than rubies – it has eternal worth as it helps people find salvation. A good church does bring glory and praise by honoring God in all it says and does. All of its efforts are aimed at building the kingdom here on earth.

A good church gets up while it is still dark and spends time in the Word, in meditation, and in prayer. A good church gives spiritual food to those who hunger and thirst. A good church does work hard – both for its members and for its community. It is strong for the task at hand, whatever that may be. Because of this, the lamp does not go out at night. The good church is ready to answer the call at 2 AM or whenever because God’s love is always at the ready.

A good church “opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”. A good church cares all members of society, regardless of race or religion, regardless of social class or standing. A good church offers food or clothing or a listening ear or whatever it can in a time of need.

A good church is clothed in strength and dignity. As it does the Lord’s work, it is assured of the path that it walks. A good church can even laugh at the days to come – it trusts and rests in the Lord. A good church receives faithful instruction, keeping it focused on a life of faith. It is to be praised because it fears the Lord. And the reward is found in leading others into a relationship with Jesus Christ. The good church is God’s body at work for Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for all the good churches out there.

Lord, may the church ever be Christ’s bride, bringing joy and hope and peace to a world in need. May it ever give to those in need, love all people, and draw all to Christ. Amen.


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Follow

Reading: Mark 8: 31-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

It must have been hard for Peter and the other disciples to hear what Jesus was saying. They have been following this man who is the Messiah. He has healed every disease and illness, He has taught with power and authority, He has established himself as God’s Son in their eyes. And now He is telling them that He will soon be killed. This leads Peter to challenge the plan that Jesus has just laid out. No, there must be another option Jesus.

It is hard for us to always hear what the Holy Spirit is saying. We are cruising through life and our faith seems just fine. We believe in Jesus, we read and study our Bible, we pray at least a couple times a day. Things are good. Then the Holy Spirit whispers to our heart, it tries to nudge our hands and feet into action. We recoil a bit at the thought of stepping out of our routine, out of our comfort zone. We think, no, Holy Spirit there must be another way, another person to meet this need.

Jesus called the disciples and the crowd to Himself. He calls us to hear these words too: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. If we are to follow Jesus, we must begin by denying self. That means that we subvert our pride and ego and selfishness and our wants and all else to Jesus. He must sit alone on the throne of our hearts. Then we must take up our own cross. This means that we put to death the desires of the flesh and that we are willing to pay the price for another. Just as Jesus did, we do not count the cost. When our souls are in this place, then we are ready to follow, to walk as Jesus walked, loving those who need loved. More than just reading or hearing these words, we need to live them out too.

Holy Spirit, blow into my heart today. Shoo out all of my selfish desires and ways. Rid me of all that prevents me from dying to self. Help me to pick up my cross and to hold it tightly as I seek to love and live like Jesus did. May I follow my Lord and Savior closely today. Amen.


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God’s Presence

Reading: James 2: 14-17

Verse 17: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”.

Our faith rests in our relationship with God. As our journey begins, we first sense God’s presence in the world and in those around us. Then we come to a point where we realize that we too can have a relationship with God. Our faith journey leads us to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as our hope, and as our salvation. We realize that grace is big enough for even our sins and we commit our lives to faith in Jesus’ saving power. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our heart and we live from then on with Jesus’ presence within us, leading and guiding our continuing journey. Others begin to sense God’s presence in us.

Each day we will encounter others who do not have faith. Like we once did, they too can sense God’s presence. And here is the crucial moment, the time that really matters, the litmus test of our faith. As we encounter the lost, do we just offer to pray for them and maybe give them a Bible, really keeping our faith to ourselves? Or do we allow the words to become actions, walking alongside them, guiding them through the next steps of faith? As we encounter the needy, do we do like the man in our passage, simply wishing them well? Or do we spend time with them, understanding their needs so that we can actually meet them as best as we can, taking advantage of the opportunities to share our faith as they arise? As we encounter the broken and hurting, do we only offer a few words of sympathy or give our condolences? Or do we make the time to be present to them in their grief or pain? Do we bring a needed meal or mow an overgrown lawn? Yes, we have many opportunities and many ways to be both God’s presence and Jesus’ hands and feet in the lives of others.

In our passage today, James asks, “What good is it?” if our faith does not lead to action. What good is it if our faith does not make a positive difference in the world? James plainly states, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. How true.

Lord God, move me past my comfortable, easy inner faith. Move me outside of my tidy, little, personal relationship with Jesus and out into the real world. Help me to live a real faith that is shared and given to others, leading them to know you and the gift of salvation. Use me today, O Lord. Amen.


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Understand, Apply, Live

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 27: “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”.

In James 1, verses 17 to 21, we are reminded that all good things come from God, that we should listen way more than we speak, and that we should humbly accept the Word planted in us. All of this leads up to the main purpose of our passage today: to do the things that God says to do. Today, James focuses on a few things to do.

In addressing his contemporaries, James is speaking to a problem that he must have witnessed. Jesus also addressed this problem often when dealing with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. These folks knew all of the letters of the Law inside out and could go on and on about it – they just struggled to live it out. Our words from James begin with this same issue too: “do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”. An example today would be the person who leaves church to go to the bar. The person proceeds to get drunk and to curse at their team on TV. The next morning they scoff at the homeless beggar as they drive to work scheming how to dishonestly earn a few extra bucks. And, yes, they are listening to the Christian radio station as they drive. Instead, James suggests to look intently into the Word of God – to study it and to understand it so that we can live it. In doing so we discover a freedom as we live God’s ways instead of the ways of the world.

In the closing verses today, James gets to the heart of living out our faith. He returns again to the idea in verses 19 and 20, reminding us to keep a “tight rein” on our tongues. Then James gives us two more action points. In verse 27 James writes, “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. First, look after those in need. Orphans and widows would have been shorthand for all in need. Not coincidentally, we see this concept as a major emphasis in Jesus’ life and ministry. Second, live in the world but do not be of the world. Be the example of God’s love amidst the pain and brokenness. Be the light that shines hope into the darkness. Be the hand that offers a hand up and not just a hand out. Have an active and engaging faith. Don’t just read the Word, but understand it, apply it to your life, and live it out. May it be so.