pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faith Formation

Reading: 2nd Samuel 2: 18-20 & 26

Verse 26: “The boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

After being dedicated to God, young Samuel continued to grow both physically and spiritually. Hannah would make him new priestly garments every year and would bring them to him at the time of the yearly sacrifice in the temple. Our passage tells us that “the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

As I think about Samuel’s upbringing I think about how we raise our children – both in our nuclear families and in our church families. Just as Samuel was dedicated to God at birth, so too do people of faith dedicate their young children to God. In some faith traditions we baptize our infants, marking them as a member of the family of faith and pledging to raise them in the faith. In other faith traditions, infants are dedicated or consecrated with the same marking and pledge to raise them in the faith. In both cases the congregation has a role to play. The congregation pledges to do all they can to help raise the child in the faith.

As soon as they are able to we begin to bring our children to Sunday school or perhaps to a Wednesday night faith formation class. They learn the stories of the Bible and begin to apply its teachings to their lives and decisions. At some point we hope our children grow out of the faith of their parents and into a faith of their own. In some churches baptism marks this point and in others confirmation does.

As we look at Samuel’s life and at other examples we find in scripture, we see that the plan that God has for all children is to be raised in the faith. May we be attentive to all of our children, ever aware of our roles as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, mentors, teachers, pastors… to be a part of their faith formation, helping them to always “grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be faithful in leading and guiding my children and all of the children that come under my care, helping each to know you more and to draw closer to you. May I ever do these things with both my words and my actions. Amen.


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Grow

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”.

Our goal in life is to grow. As little children we dream about what we will be – a firefighter, a football player, and eventually a teacher then a pastor. Even once we settle into our “career” for life, the desire to grow remains in us. We do not just want to be a ___, but we want to be the best ___ that we can be. To do so we must continue to read and study and go to conferences…

These same ideas are true of our faith journey. And God has a plan for this! In verse 11 Paul tells us that God created some people to be apostles and some to be prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. At different times in our journey we need people to play these various roles so that we can continue to grow. For example, when we were young we relied on our teachers to plant the stories of faith in us. As we move into our adult years we continue to need teachers to grow in our faith but also find a need for pastors to shepherd and guide us. All of these roles are intended for the same purpose: “so that the body of Christ may be built up”.

Paul tells us why – so that we are no longer “infants”. When we are infants we are not sure of our faith so we are easily influenced and we are more susceptible to temptation and sin. This is a place we can choose to remain and some do. Paul wants more for us. We should each want more for ourselves too. To this, Paul writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”. Sometimes this truth is hard to hear. Accountability is a necessary part of the maturation process. We must be willing to accept “the truth in love” to move into spiritual maturity.

Our goal as faithful followers of Jesus Christ is to attain the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. Although we will never be perfect as Christ was perfect, the goal remains to grow more and more into Christ. As we each play the role that God has blessed us with, the body of Christ, the church, “grows and builds itself up in love”. The question for today is this: how will you help another to grow in faith?


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Word

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 18: “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”.

God speaks to us in a variety of ways. We can feel God’s presence in nature, in the actions of others, in prayer and worship. This is one way that God ‘speaks’ to us. We can open our Bibles or listen to a sermon and God speaks directly into our lives. God frequently speaks through the voice of the Holy Spirit as He leads, guides, reminds, redirects, … God is in no way silent or distant or hard to hear from, yet not all people are prophets of God.

Over time God has raised up many great prophets – Moses, Elijah, Samuel, Ezekiel, … This line that we can find in the Bible also includes Jesus. Jesus did not just bring the word of God, Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh. As we read and study Jesus in the New Testament, we come to know God more fully and to understand the depths of His love, care, compassion, mercy, and grace. It is through the life, words, and actions of Jesus that God speaks the loudest. In verse 18 today we read, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”. Jesus was the full revelation of this verse. It is by living out Jesus’ words that we grow and live out our faith. To a degree we can do this on our own, but at times we also need help and encouragement.

Just as God has done since the beginning of the faith, God continues to raise up voices to draw us to and deeper into our faith. Our pastors, priests, and teachers continue to bring God’s words and to share His voice. It is through our study and today’s prophets that we grow as individuals and as a community of faith. Today’s prophets are not perfect. Even the great Moses has his moments of anger and frustration. Yet the voice of God worked through Moses and continues to work through His prophets today. I am thankful that God continues to be present to us today, both in the Bible and in the words of men and women past and present who teach and encourage and rebuke and refine us. May the Lord ever speak in and through us.


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God Story

Reading: Psalm 116: 1-4 and 12-19

Verse 12: How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?

The psalmist begins by declaring his love for God because God heard his voice.  Because of God turning His ear to him, the psalmist commits to call on the Lord as long as he lives.  If only we were so steadfast in our relationship with God.  Sometimes we are more likely to coast in our relationship with God and then to ramp it up when trial or suffering set in on us.

I began my working career as a teacher.  I soon added ‘coach’ to my titles.  Shortly thereafter I added middle school Sunday school teacher.  That was the beginning of a long transition in my life.  Eventually I taught high school Sunday school and that led to working with the youth program.  God continued to work on my heart.  Almost seven years ago I left coaching and went to work serving part time as the youth director at my church.  Almost five years ago I left teaching and became a pastor.  God blessed my path in life and opened many doors for me.  This is one story.  While it is all true, it is not the whole story.

Eleven years and nine years ago I applied for the youth director’s job.  Twice I was not selected as the church hired someone else.  Rejection is always hard.  But perseverance is part of who I am.  And God’s call helped me to continue to be a part of the youths’ lives, He kept me engaged.  Those four years were a part of shaping me, a part of preparing me to do the job when God decided I was ready.  God’s timing is excellent.  It is perfect.

The first part of my story tells how God was at work in my life, slowly drawing me in.  The second part involves some trial and a little suffering, but it too is an essential part of my story.  Like the psalmist, I too must ask, “How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me”?  The first response is to tell my story of what God has done in my life.  The second is to do what the psalmist did: praise the Lord!  What is your God story?  How can you tell it?  And what is your responsive praise to God?


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Witnesses and Teachers

Reading: Galatians 3: 23-29

Paul writes of the Law being put in charge to lead people to Christ.  For those living under the Law, the prophecies and teachings of the Old Testament certainly shaped Jesus, the disciples, and all the other followers of Christ who had Jewish roots.  The basic way of life of a practicing Jew as established by the Law and Old Testament is the life Jesus lived out.  After all, Jesus was God incarnate, in the flesh, so all that God is in the Old Testament is embodied by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

Many of the believers, however, were Gentiles.  They did not have the basic way of life down since birth.  It would be logical to assume that some of the basic customs such as offering hospitality to the stranger would have been practiced because they were cultural norms.  But concepts such as Sabbath, fasting, loving neighbor as self, loving your enemy, and serving only one God would have been new to many Gentile believers.  So it was necessary for the Law to be replaced by the teachings of Jesus shared by His followers.  As the church grew, people in their local communities came alongside Peter, Paul, Timothy and the other apostles to teach, mentor, correct, and witness to the people of God.

This process of learning, accepting, maturing, growing in, and defining our own faith has been continued by the generations right up to and through many of us.  Some are first generation Christians, but for each of us someone poured into us and helped us along as we grew in our faith.  For each believer we can name parents, pastors, friends, and others who guided us in the development of our faith.  In turn we have and will pass faith in Jesus Christ along to others.  Each and everyone who calls on the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior are witnesses to and teachers of the faith.  May all we do and say serve to draw all we encounter each day closer to the one true King, Jesus Christ.


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Along with Christ

It is a holy and sacred privilege when we are able to minister to someone.  This can occur in the pastor’s office or in the front pew of the church.  It can happen at the break table at work or on the bleachers at the soccer game.  While it is true that the pastor receives a call from God to minister to the people, all Christians are commissioned by Christ to share the good news found in faith in Jesus Christ.

On the cover of our bulletin it lists Greg and I as ‘pastors’ and lists the congregation as ‘ministers’.  In some cases the situation at hand calls for one specifically trained for just such a time.  Yet in some cases it is one’s life experiences that qualify one to offer ministry to another in their time of need.  The pastor can offer care and empathy to one who has lost a spouse, for example.  But a fellow Christian who has walked through that can offer this and more.

In those times we feel led to come alongside one another and to offer love, support, encouragement, … we must also remember that we do not walk alone.  Jesus is also with us.  The incarnate Christ walked this earth and experienced life.  In those sacred moments when we are called to minister to one another, Christ walks beside us too.  His love, care, presence, and power flow through us and into the life of the one in need.  In faith may we respond to His call, offering the love and light of Jesus to one in need.

Scripture reference: Hebrews 5: 1-10


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A Greater Fullness

What would the ideal church look like?  Paul gives us a glimpse in Ephesians 4.  He begins with a list of roles that are necessary in all churches.  The roles include apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher, and pastor.  In most of our churches we have the last two covered, but a mature church has all five.  Each performs a specific role that helps the church grow into a mature, Christian faith.

These five roles are gifts given by Christ to Christians.  They are given to be used for the building up of the body.  An apostle, for example, is one in your church who is ‘sent out’ to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost.  Others may be gifted as a pastor and they spend their time caring for or shepherding the flock.  All of these roles are important to have a church maturing within and also reaching out to bring new people to Christ.

A mature body is also a church who is sure in their faith.  They know their call in Christ and are not swayed by the culture or the ways of the world.  Each member is working together to help all grow in their faith.  In our churches we see this in education classes, in small groups, and from the pulpit.  All work together to help each other grow into the mature mind of Christ.

As a community of faith grows to be more and more like Christ, things like love, inclusiveness, and compassion begin to permeate.  Even hard things that need said are said in love.  As individuals within communities of faith, our question is this: what gift do we have to offer to help our communities to grow towards a greater fulness in Christ? Then, we must put it to use for the glory of God and for the building of His kingdom.

Scripture reference: Ephesians 4: 11-16