pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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More Like You

Reading: Acts 9: 16-20

Verse 17: “The Lord… has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”.

The Bible is full of people willing to suffer for their faith. A long line of prophets walk through the Old Testament and into the New to set the stage for Jesus. Like each prophet before Him that suffered for the word of God, Jesus preaches and heals and ends up being crucified. In the book of Acts, the early church also assumes the role of suffering for the good news of God. They are flogged and beaten and eventually stoned and crucified for sharing the name of Jesus.

In our passage today, Saul suffers a little reverse suffering. He is struck blind by Jesus. He spends three days fasting and praying. In verse 16 we learn that Jesus will reveal to Saul the extent that he will suffer for the name of Jesus. After the revelation and three days are over, Ananias arrives at the house and tells brother Saul, “The Lord… has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”. Before Saul ever speaks a word in Jesus’ name, he is identified as a brother in Christ. He has been claimed by God. Saul receives his sight and is then baptized. Through the waters of baptism the old Saul is washed away and the new Saul e emerges. We read that he spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. During this time he must have learned the truth about Jesus because he proceeds to begin to preach in Jesus’ name.

The waters of baptism begin Saul’s new life in Christ. The old is washed away and he emerges a new child of God. We too are made children of God through our baptisms. We are marked and welcomed into the family of God as we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For Saul, this is a jumping off point. Baptism is for us as well. It renews who we are at our core and begins our walk if faith. Baptism is just one of the ways that God renews us. For example, each time we confess our sins and receive grace we are made new again through the blood of Jesus.

The suffering endured by the believers is also a way to experience new life. For those who offer the ultimate gift, their lives, they experience new life in eternity. For those who suffer in this present age, we also experience new life. When we give sacrificially or when we suffer persecution or trial because of our faith, we are refined and made more into the image of Christ. Through suffering we become more like Him, bring made new, more in His image, over and over again. We too rejoice because we are growing in our faith and in our likeness to Christ. Each day may we become more like Jesus.

Prayer: God, you draw us closer in so many ways. Each day we are called to take up our cross and to follow Jesus. As I try to walk in His footsteps today, may I become more like Christ. Amen.

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Either Or

Reading: Psalm 1 and Luke 6: 22 and 26

Verses 1 and 2: “Blessed is the man… delight is in the law of the Lord… he meditates day and night”.

In both readings today there is a distinct “this or that” choice to make. There is no middle ground. According to the psalmist and according to Jesus in Luke’s gospel, you are blessed when your life is aligned with God. Conversely, you are not blessed when your life is not aligned with God. In both readings, the blessings are God’s blessings, not the world’s rewards.

The psalmist connects meditating on God’s word to being blessed. In the reading of scripture we come to know God and how God desires for us to live our lives. For the psalmist, the scriptures nourish the soul. The faithful follower is like a tree planted by the stream, growing and yielding fruit in season. Fruit is the work of God evident in one’s life. For the Jews, this would look like devout worship, giving to and caring for the needy, studying the law, teaching and modeling love for God to family and neighbor.

The inward change that comes with and through the daily study of scripture is then reflected in outward behavior. Inner change, drawing closer to God, causes us to change how we act. Loving God more necessarily leads to loving neighbor more. Luke picks up on this idea too. In our two verses from Luke, Jesus addressed that fact that these inner changes and outward manifestations do not always sit well with the world. In verse 22 we are reminded that at times our faith will draw persecution from the world. When we speak out against injustice and violence, when we speak up for equal treatment and just laws, then we can draw some negative attention. In verse 26 Jesus contrasts this with how the world treats us when we act like a false prophet – speaking the world instead of God. The world likes us then and speaks well of us. But inside we are far from the ways of God.

This faith thing is an either-or choice. We can strive to live for God or we can choose to live for self and the world. We might like to try, but we cannot walk the middle road. We cannot waver between discipleship and the ways of the world. We cannot love two masters – we will come to love one and hate the other (Matthew 6). This day and every day, may we choose to love God and to pursue God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord, give me a heart that loves you alone. Break me of my fleshy desires. Cast them out of me! Daily draw me more and more into your love. Amen.


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Holy and Blameless

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 13: “May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be holy and blameless… when our Lord Jesus comes”.

In our passage today, Paul is writing to a persecuted church. The Christians suffered for their belief in Jesus Christ. Paul is writing to encourage them to keep the faith. In a world that is often attacking their faith, it must have been hard to always be light and love to the world.

In our country, persecution is not widespread. I do not fear going to church tomorrow nor do I try and keep my identity as a pastor secret. Even so, even in America, at times Christians do face forms of persecution and do suffer for their faith. This is part of the times in which we live. We are now living in between the fall of man and the restoration of all things when Jesus returns in final victory. As followers of Jesus we do have the model that Jesus himself lived out. He gave us the example of how to live a life obedient to God regardless of the cost.

The Christians that Paul was writing to also relied on the witness and teaching of Jesus. They also turned to the Word as well. The Thessalonicans kept the faith because they knew the promises and trusted them. Through faith they lived with God’s love, grace, mercy, and hope. Through faith they were blessed with God’s presence, strength, comfort, and assurances. They daily lived out verse 13: “May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be holy and blameless… when our Lord Jesus comes”.

When our lives become stressed and the voices of discord and unrest and questioning and even persecution arise, may we too remember and cling to the promises. When suffering comes our way because of our faith, may we rejoice as we welcome God’s communion with us, walking by our side. In the persecution and suffering, in the trial, may we fully rely on God, walking holy and blameless in His sight – not on our own but fully in God’s power and might.

Prayer: Lord – thank you for your abiding presence in the good and in the bad. You are always near. Thank you Lord. Thank you. Amen.


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Prayer for Disciples

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verse Eleven: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – so that they may be one as we are one”.

In the moments before going to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before being arrested, Jesus offers this prayer for the disciples. He knows what lies ahead for Himself and the impact His death and resurrection will have on His followers, so He prays for them.

This prayer begins with thanks for the relationships that He has developed with these disciples. Jesus is thankful for the opportunity to pour into them and to help them know that He was sent by God. Through these three years together, the disciples have witnessed Jesus living amongst and loving fully all kinds of people.

In the first half of verse eleven Jesus acknowledges that it is time for Him to leave the world. The disciples will remain in the world and will be charged with continuing the building of the church. In the second half of verse eleven He prays, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – so that they may be one as we are one”. He is praying for these disciples who are no longer of the world to be protected by God. He is also praying for unity. Jesus knows the trials and persecution they will face. Unity with God and with Jesus and with each other will carry them through all the world can throw at them. They will each remain protected and in unity up to the time of their death.

In the bigger sense, Jesus is also praying this prayer for all of the believers who come after the disciples. He is praying it for you and for me. Once we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are not of this world any longer. Our home is in heaven. Our lives here are but a mist compared to eternity with Jesus. But in the meantime, we do have a role to play. Jesus sent the disciples and He also sends us into the world. In unity with God and Jesus and each other, may we too faithfully go out into the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ. The world needs to hear this message of hope and love. May we share it well.


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Evidence

Reading: Ephesians 3: 1-12

Verse Seven: “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power”.

Paul writes to us from a prison cell.  He has been arrested and sent off to Rome to stand trial for proclaiming the gospel.  There is plenty of evidence to convict him.  If Christianity was suddenly made illegal, would there have been enough evidence in your life this past week for you to be arrested?

Paul is writing during a time of persecution – not only for himself but for the church in general.  The Romans and the Jews are both hostile to the church, yet it continues to grow.  The same is true today on both levels.  In general, society is hostile towards the church.  In some places the hostility is negative opinions and maybe some relatively light consequences of standing for your faith.  In other places the hostility includes violence and hatred and even death.  Yet, even in these places where being a Christian can mean death, the church grows.  Why?

The church grows and always will grow for one simple reason: Jesus has the power to change lives.  This is the undeniable fact of faith.  This is one of the “unsearchable riches” that Paul writes of.  It is that ‘thing’ that a faithful follower has that causes someone to say, ‘I want some of that’.

In verse six Paul writes of our inclusion into the family of God.  This includes all people of all nations and opens us all up to the promises found in Christ.  Paul then goes on to write, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power”.  This is true of all believers.  God’s grace is a gift, freely given to all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It is the power of God through the Holy Spirit that works in us to justify and sanctify us.  In this process of being made right with God and of becoming more and more like Jesus that we find ourselves as Paul did, servants to the gospel.  It is by humbly serving God with our time, prayers, presence, gifts, and witness that we accumulate evidence of our faith.  In that sense, may we be as guilty as possible!


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Evidence

Reading: Ephesians 3: 1-12

Verse Seven: “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power”.

Paul writes to us from a prison cell.  He has been arrested and sent off to Rome to stand trial for proclaiming the gospel.  There is plenty of evidence to convict him.  If Christianity was suddenly made illegal, would there have been enough evidence in your life this past week for you to be arrested?

Paul is writing during a time of persecution – not only for himself but for the church in general.  The Romans and the Jews are both hostile to the church, yet it continues to grow.  The same is true today on both levels.  In general, society is hostile towards the church.  In some places the hostility is negative opinions and maybe some relatively light consequences of standing for your faith.  In other places the hostility includes violence and hatred and even death.  Yet, even in these places where being a Christian can mean death, the church grows.  Why?

The church grows and always will grow for one simple reason: Jesus has the power to change lives.  This is the undeniable fact of faith.  This is one of the “unsearchable riches” that Paul writes of.  It is that ‘thing’ that a faithful follower has that causes someone to say, ‘I want some of that’.

In verse six Paul writes of our inclusion into the family of God.  This includes all people of all nations and opens us all up to the promises found in Christ.  Paul then goes on to write, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power”.  This is true of all believers.  God’s grace is a gift, freely given to all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It is the power of God through the Holy Spirit that works in us to justify and sanctify us.  In this process of being made right with God and of becoming more and more like Jesus that we find ourselves as Paul did, servants to the gospel.  It is by humbly serving God with our time, prayers, presence, gifts, and witness that we accumulate evidence of our faith.  In that sense, may we be as guilty as possible!


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I Am Sending You

Reading: Matthew 10: 1-23

Verse 16: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.

Jesus is sending out the twelve to “drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease”.  In this passage today, they are being sent to fellow Jews.  Jesus calls these the “lost sheep” – tying back to why He had compassion on the crowds in Matthew 9:36.  The twelve are first to preach that “the kingdom of heaven is near” and then to heal diseases, raise the dead, and drive out demons.  The authority Jesus gives them to perform miracles will lend credence to the message they bring.

As we go out into the world, we go for the same reasons.  We go to share the good news of Jesus Christ as we work to heal a broken world.  Each of us who knows Jesus as Lord and Savior has a story to tell that will be good news for others.  Each of us can love and serve others too.  We may not be able to work miracles, but by caring for basic needs and by giving of our time and talents we do bring healing.  It is through our loving acts of service that we too gain footing to share Jesus with the lost.

Jesus warned the disciples: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”.  There is a defenselessness that comes to mind with this statement.  It requires trust in the Shepherd.  He goes on to advise them to be on guard against men.  Jesus warns them that persecution is going to be a part of the journey.  He also tells them that the Spirit will be with them.  The Holy Spirit will give them the words to say.  And then Jesus encourages them, stating that “he who stands firm to the end will be saved”.  Keep the faith, I am with you.

We too are sometimes sent to people or places that make us feel like sheep among wolves.  We too must trust into the lead, guidance, and protection of the Holy Spirit.  In those uncomfortable or outside our comfort zone times, if we keep the faith the Spirit will give us just the right words to say as well.  May we be like the twelve, trusting He who sends, going forth to share the good news and to bring healing to our broken world.  May our light draw others in to Jesus Christ – the One who saves.