pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Believers in Fellowship

Reading: Acts 2: 42-47

Verse 44: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”.

The book of Acts records the early history of the church. In our passage today Luke writes about what makes the church the church. It remains true today. The early Christians learned about Jesus and God. They spent time together in fellowship meals (that included what we call communion) and in times of prayer. The Holy Spirit was present, filling them with awe and empowering the apostles to offer signs and miracles. Generosity abounded. No one was in need as they cared for one another. They were a community. Verse 44 summarizes this: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”. Over all of this was their faith in Jesus Christ, revealed in their love for one another. Non-Christians, who were primarily Jews with a few Romans mixed in, noticed. In some cases, they were drawn to the love and became followers of Jesus Christ.

There are many times when the church today reminds us and the larger world of the picture painted by Luke today. That picture continues to attract people to the church. In times of trial, the body surrounds someone or a family or group of people. In times of need people step up both financially and physically. At gatherings there is joy and love present. This is the common “scene” in many churches. But the scene outside most all of our churches is much different than the scene outside the early church in Jerusalem.

Although “the Lord added daily to their number”, the city was not particularly welcoming or friendly to this new group. The church was a very small minority in a very Jewish and Roman world. Neither the Jews nor the Romans liked these Christians. At this stage they were sort of tolerated. As the church stuck and started to grow the persecution and worse would grow too. The reality of this fellowship of believers would change soon. Yet it would grow and grow and grow. God remained at work in and through the church. The same remains true today. Faith and love still guide the way. The Lord still draws us closer and closer while inviting others in. Praise God!

Prayer: Lord God, I am so thankful for the church. Although not a building, it is a “place” filled with loving and faithful people. I am blessed to be a part of your church. Continue to be present to us, to lead and guide us in fellowship with you, with one another, and with the world. Amen.


Leave a comment

Come and See

Reading: John 1: 29-42

Verse 32: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him”.

John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the “lamb of God” – interpreting this as the one who will take away the sins of the world. After recognizing Jesus’ eternal nature, he also identifies his own purpose in baptizing with water: that Jesus “might be revealed to Israel”. Through the baptism of repentance that John was offering, hearts were prepared to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Then John gives this testimony about when he baptized Jesus: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him”. John the Baptist had been told by God that this would be the sign that reveals the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He then plainly states, “This is the Son of God”.

The next day John again identifies Jesus as the lamb of God. This prompts two of John’s disciples to leave him to follow Jesus. After a quick exchange, Jesus invites them to “come and see”. One of the two gets his brother. Andrew is convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. He gets Simon Peter and he too starts to follow Jesus.

This point of entry into a relationship with Jesus is the same for all who follow. We hear of him, perhaps from a friend, perhaps from reading the Bible, maybe from church or Sunday school. We are drawn in to know him more and more, one day realizing that Jesus is the Savior – the lamb sent to take away not only the sins of the world but our sins too. Like those that came to see John the Baptist, we bow and humbly confess our sins and, repenting of them, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus becomes a living presence within us, becoming a part of our everyday life. From then on we strive to follow the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

We also become a bit like Andrew in the process, telling others that we have found the Messiah, inviting them to meet him as well. When we first do, Jesus begins to invite them to “come and see” – see what life in Jesus looks like. As we live out each day, may we continue to come and see Jesus, knowing him more and more, extending the invitation to others as we help to build the kingdom here on earth. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Father God, as I seek to come and see, reveal yourself to me in a new way. Open my eyes in a new way, drawing me ever deeper into your love. Amen.


1 Comment

Humility

Reading: Luke 2: 1-20

Verse Seven: “… because there was no room for them in the inn”.

The birth of Jesus is full of humility.  It began in the incarnation – Jesus taking on flesh, leaving behind whatever form He had in heaven to become human.  Humility continued in the choice for parents – not someone rich or powerful of famous, but a virgin mother and a carpenter father from a tiny little village.  The humility continued in the journey – forced to take a 3-day trek at nine months pregnant because a man far away wanted to know how many subject she had.  They arrive in Bethlehem and face another humility – no family with space to take them in, no rooms left at any of the inns, so they find shelter in a stable – surrounded by stinky and probably pretty curious animals.  Welcome to your birth, Son of God.

Jesus will continue to demonstrate humility.  He will be baptized by a human man because that is how is is supposed to happen.  He will wash the disciples’ feet to show that the greatest must be willing to serve too.  Jesus’ ultimate humility comes in the trial, the beating, and the scorn of the  cross.  But this was also just another great act of love – just one more example of how to empty self in order to be able to give to others.  It is what Jesus was all about – showing others how much God loved them through how much He loves them.  There was no sin too great, no leper too unclean.  There was no soul too lost, no heart too hard that Jesus could not love and save.  In His heart, there was always room.  Yes, Jesus was born into humility, not “… because there was no room for them in the inn” but because this is what His whole life and witness was all about – being a humble servant.

This day, of all days, may we go and do likewise – showing all we meet the type of Savior we love.


1 Comment

For Others

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse Three: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty… oil of gladness… a garment of praise…”

The opening lines to Isaiah 61 are a clear call to love all of our neighbors.  These are the words that Jesus read after He came out of the time of testing in the wilderness.  As He stood in the temple, these words from Isaiah 61:1-2 were used as the announcement for what He had come to do.  As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, it becomes clear that these things are what His disciples and all who will follow Him are called to do as well.  There is much joy in proclaiming these words as Jesus did and claiming our role to follow in His footsteps.

During this Christmas season, the children have risen to a new level of awareness in my heart.  Perhaps it is because these are the ones who often have the least and who are most vulnerable.  Whether it is buying gifts for an “Angel Tree” child or assembling a “Christmas ShoeBox” for one in need, it makes a difference.  Whether it is ringing the Salvation Army bell for an hour or two or helping to assemble a holiday food basket for a needy child’s family, it makes a difference.These are but a few of the ways that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, can help a child or their family to feel loved this holiday season.  In doing so, we will “bestow on them a crown of beauty… oil of gladness… a garment of praise…”

May we each find ways to do for others this Christmas season.  Whether big or small, it all makes a positive difference.  May we bless the children with God’s love this Christmas season!


1 Comment

Kingdom Fruit

Reading: Matthew 21: 42-46

Verse 42: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Jesus transitions quickly from the parable of the tenants to today’s passage.  We recall that in this parable Jesus revealed that God is true owner of all and we are simply tenants.  In today’s passage, Jesus opens with a quote from Psalm 118. But before the quote, Jesus says to the chief priests and Pharisees, “Have you never read in the scriptures…”?  He transitions from God and the kingdom to claiming His own place in it.  He is proclaiming this role as He quotes from Psalm 118, saying, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.  Jesus’ implication is that the chief priests and Pharisees are rejecting Him but that He will still become the cornerstone of the church.

Yes, Jesus is giving it to the chief priests and Pharisees and many of us relish these scenes.  But, we must also evaluate our own faith and see where we place Jesus in our lives.  Is Jesus the cornerstone – that upon which all else stands?  Or is He in a room that we go to just in our times of need or want?  Is He the first and last consideration in all the decisions we make, in all of our words and actions?  Jesus wants to be our cornerstone.  Is that where He is in our lives?  If so, we will see kingdom fruit producing a deeper faith within us as well as the fruit that comes from sharing the good news with others.

The chief priests and Pharisees are not producing fruit.  More than anything, Jesus sees them and all of their man-made rules as barriers to people connecting with God.  He blatantly tells them, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce fruit”.  Ouch.

Are we people who are producing fruit?  To produce fruit, our words and actions must always draw people to Christ.  To produce fruit, we must be humble servants, allowing others to see the example set by Jesus as the way of life that we are all called to follow.  To produce fruit, our love must be Jesus’ love – a live for one and all that places self last.  In all we think and do and say, may we love God first and neighbor second.  Then we will produce much kingdom fruit.


Leave a comment

At Work

Reading: Genesis 37: 12-28

Verses 23 and 24: They stripped him of his robe… they threw him into the cistern.

Joseph does not have the best of days.  He heads out to check on his brothers and the flocks and ends up being sold into slavery.  His brothers’ hatred of him most directly leads to this event.  But the hatred did not begin today.  It is something that has been building.  The favored son comes alone, wearing that coat that Dad gave him, and evil thoughts are at hand.  Our text reads, “They stripped him of his robe… they threw him into the cistern”.

We have a tendency to want to blame someone when bad things happen to us.  Sometimes we identity a person or group of people and we cast blame on them.  Sometimes it is an occurrence of nature that causes our hardship.  Sometimes when all else fails, we blame God.  Seldom do we look inward right away to find the source of our troubles or hardship.  Joseph probably first blamed his brothers and then maybe Israel for sending him out alone.  At some points He probably questioned or blamed God.  From what we know of Joseph, it is unlikely that he became introspective.

In reality, many had a hand in what happens to Joseph in our passage today.  Israel has favored and spoiled Joseph.  This day he sends him off alone to a group of brothers who are jealous and dislike Joseph.  Joseph himself has helped build the animosity by sharing his dreams and by tattling on his brothers.  Satan has also been at work, fanning the flames of anger and planting thoughts of murder.

Although God is not mentioned in the text for today, God is also surely at work.  He softens Reuben’s heart and then Judah’s.  The caravan doesn’t just happen to come along.  Yes, in our lives nature, the bad decisions of others, and our own poor choices can cause us hardship and trial.  But in it all, God is still present.  God still has the bigger picture in sight.  His plans for us are ultimately for good and to prosper us.  As Joseph’s story unfolds, trials continue to come yet God remains at work always.  The same is true for us.  As the story of our lives unfold, may we trust into the God who loves us and seeks good for us.


Leave a comment

Work

Reading: John 17: 1-5

Verse Four: I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You have Me to do.

It was quite a night for Jesus and His disciples.  They gathered together one last time.  It has been a full night: the Passover meal with the institution of communion added in; the washing of the disciples’ feet; the predictions of denial and betrayal; and, the promise of the Holy Spirit.  Three chapters in John are dedicated to Jesus’ farewell discourse.  And then Jesus prays.  These are His last words in John before He is arrested in the garden.  This prayer us our reading today.

In verse four, Jesus says, “I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You have Me to do”.  He has completed the work God gave Him to do.  The work encompasses teaching us what to do as disciples of Jesus Christ.  As a good teacher, Jesus taught by example.  His work included teaching how to live as a child of God in a fallen world.  This certainly helps us see the world and those in it as God sees them, not as the world sees them.  Jesus’ task also included showing us how to be at work in the world.  This meant feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the orphans and widows, caring for the sick, welcoming the stranger and the outcast.  It is being the very hands and feet of Jesus in our world.  The work also included healing.  This too is part of our work.  We pray for other’s physical healing.  We offer words of comfort and encouragement and lift up prayers for emotional and spiritual healing.  We also work to bring healing and restoration by fighting to end injustice and oppression and prejudice when and where we can.  All of this is the work Jesus completed when here on earth.  It is the work He commands us to continue.

Verse three reads, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent”.  Eternal life comes only through knowing God and Jesus Christ.  We come to know Him n the Word.  We come to know Him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We also come to know Him through those we encounter in the world as we work as His hands and feet.  May we know Him well today in our study, in our prayer time, in our encounters with the Spirit, and in those we meet.


Leave a comment

To Those Being Saved…

Reading: 1 Corinthians​ 1: 18-31

Verse 23: We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

Paul opens this section of 1 Corinthians with the reminder that it is the cross that has power.  It is through the power of what was done on the cross that Christians can claim victory over sin and death.  It was on and from the cross that Jesus took on our sin and overcame death and rose to eternal life.

For the Greeks and now the Romans of Paul’s day, these Gentiles saw the king or Caesar as a divine being that transcended life.  They were from the gods, ruled for a time, and returned to the gods.  Interaction was limited to their time on earth, then another would be sent to take their place.  Jesus did not fit this mold.  His ‘ruling’ wasn’t very godly and His talk of being eternal was just more foolishness.  For the Jews, oddly enough, they too were looking for a kingly king.  After many years of Roman oppression they were longing for a king like King David.  Their Messiah would be both a great religious leader and a mighty military commander.  Jesus was a great faith leader but not fully in line with the Jewish religion.  To the Jew this was a huge stumbling block that they could not get over or see past.

Today, Christ continues to be foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others.  In our society, the leading call us to climb the ladder of success, doing what you need to do to rise up.  Society says to have fun and enjoy oneself on the way – it is the ‘just do it’ mentality.  Our society tells us to accumulate, to buy bigger and newer, to get ahead, to save lots for a rainy day.  Christ says success is not measured in what you have but in who you are.  The cross says success is laying oneself down for others.  Christ says true life is not found in earthly pursuits but in following Him, doing the will of God.  Christ says to lay down our burdens and to trust in Him.  Allowing Jesus to steer our ship and to set our course is foolishness to the world.  To place others and their needs ahead of our own is a stumbling block to many.

But to those who are being saved, Christ Jesus is “our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption”.  Thanks be to God.


Leave a comment

Blessings

Reading: Leviticus 19: 9-18

Today’s passage falls under the heading, “Various Laws”, in my Bible.  It is part of a longer list of “Do not…” laws that appear to jump from one subject to another, as the subtitle maybe suggests.  Sprinkled throughout this chapter is the phrase, “I am the Lord”.  It occurs five times in the ten verses we read today, 19 times in the chapter.  In the repetition of this phrase we are reminded of who God is – the creator and giver of all things – and of our role within God’s kingdom.  Our role should be one of gratitude for all that God has blessed us with.  Out of this gratitude should flow a love for all of humanity.

This role is represented well in verse nine.  God instructs, “Do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather gleanings from your field”.  God repeats this same idea in the next line concerning the grape harvest.  Yes, God wants to bless us with the bounty of a good harvest, but we are not to work and work and work for every last seed of grain or the very last grape.  This simple idea has several applications.  First, we are not to be greedy.  We are to be satisfied with what God provides.  Second, we are to share God’s blessings with those in need.  Third, keep the proper perspective – God created for all of humanity, not just for us.  In following these lessons, we maintain our connection to God and to one another.  In these lessons, we remain in our proper role with respect to honoring God and loving our neighbor.

Verse nine applies to the harvest – it was very relevant in the agrarian society of early Israel.  It translates well today as well.  It applies to our time, our talents, our money, our love, our possessions – to all that God has blessed us with so richly.  True, God calls us to work.  But not to the edge, to the point where work is our sole focus and the consumer of all we are.  Yes, God gives us each talents and gifts that bring blessings to our lives.  But He gives these so that we can bless others as well.  What gift of God do you guard to closely?  How can you loosen your grip so others may share in the blessing?


1 Comment

Pray for All

Reading: 1 Timothy 2: 1-7

Paul opens this section with a universal appeal for us to pray for everyone.  Paul even says to pray for the King and all in authority.  Today he would tell us to pray for the President and all elected officials.  For some this may be a challenge.  Some dislike the King.  But as a Christian, we cannot argue with Paul’s logic: God wants all people to be saved and to come to know the truth found in Jesus.  So Paul calls us to pray for all people.

There are always reasons or obstacles that can make praying for all people difficult.  First of all is our own self-interest.  We want to know what’s in it for us.  It can also be hard to pray for someone who seems to have little connection to our life.  Second, we do not like all people.  It can be very hard to pray for someone we dislike or disagree with.  Yet we are called to pray for all people.  So that they can be saved.

In addition to bringing others before God, praying for all benefits us as well.  We are being obedient to God’s word and this shows respect and love to God.  Praying for all is what Christ did and still does, so doing this brings us nearer to Christ.  Praying for all opens our eyes and hearts to others.  It makes us more loving and empathetic.  It places neighbor ahead of self.  Praying for all replaced judgment with empathy and love.  It helps us to see all as children of God in need of salvation.  Praying for all also leads us to offer healing and hope to a world so in need.  It changes how we speak to and treat others.

Pray for all.  Not only does it bring them before God, it also changes our attitude, our heart, and our outlook.  Prayer draws us into being more Christ-like.  May we pray often.  May we pray for all.  May our prayers draw us ever closer to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.