pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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As One

Reading: John 17: 1-11

Verse 11: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”.

Sometimes people think a trial or time of hardship will draw a group closer together. Someone may cite a sacrifice made by someone to save a dear friend or fellow soldiers. Another may tell of how this church surrounded a family that experienced that traumatic event. While all of these things do occur, they are predicated on one fact: there was a bond or sense of team or family or community that had been built prior to the time of testing.

As Jesus prays for his disciples in today’s passage, he is asking God to watch over the bonds that he has built. Jesus knows that “the time has come” and that he will soon complete his work, bringing God the glory. He identifies what makes the disciples into a team or community: “they have obeyed your word” and they believe that Jesus and God are one. Faith in Jesus is what binds them together. Jesus closes the section of the prayer that we read today with these words: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”. Jesus knows that more trials are to come. He knows that the road ahead will be scattered with persecution and death, with rejection and alienation. So Jesus prays for his friends, for his followers. He prays for unity.

The unity Jesus asks God to give is twofold. First, he knows that they need to remain one with each other. If a group or team or community is not fully bonded to one another in love, then a trial can destroy the unity. Sometimes the group looks for a scapegoat or for someone to blame. Sometimes the group can take an “everyone for themselves” attitude. As this small group heads out to change the world, Jesus knows that they will need God’s protection to stay as one and to remain focused on the goal. The disciples must also remain one with Jesus. Jesus taught them often about the need to remain in him – the vine, the root, the cornerstone. This unity is paramount. In the trials that lay ahead, the disciples must remain one in Jesus Christ. He is their only hope. The same remains true for us. As followers of Jesus Christ we must do the same. May we seek to be one with each other as we are one in Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to yourself. You ever draw us in. We are not called alone though. Help us to see those around us who we can walk this journey with. May your love lead and guide us as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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To This We Are Called

Reading: 1 Peter 2: 19-25

Verses 20-21: “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it… to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you”.

Peter writes of suffering for the faith to a group of people who knew physical persecution and real oppression. They faced unjust suffering for their faith from both the Jews and the Romans. They also lived as subjects of the Roman overlords, which often brought oppression. Peter encourages them by reminding them that it is commendable to “bear up” for God and faith. As followers of Jesus Christ, the early Christians sought to live out their call to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. These acts of doing good would draw attention to themselves, making them easier targets for persecution and oppression. It would have been easier to lay low, to just gather privately for worship, to just help their fellow Christians, to quietly live their faith. But that was not Jesus’ example. Peter reminds them, “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it… to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you”. Again, it is a call to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

In our part of the world today we do not face the same level of physical persecution and oppression because of our faith. Relatively speaking, we live in a very safe time. Is it even possible to suffer for one’s faith? We can certainly be the hands and feet – feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked… But none of these are likely to draw negative attention. It is usually just the opposite. And, yes, we may suffer slightly, having less ourselves because we have given some away.

In general we tend to stay on the surface levels of poverty and incarceration and the other ills of society. We apply bandaids instead of addressing the deeper roots. Yet if we dig a little in the scriptures, we will find that this is where Jesus operated. He addressed the deeper roots – the Pharisees’ arrogance and pride, the woman’s adulterous lifestyle, the cultural biases against women and Samaritans and…, the spiritual blindness of both individuals and the religious system. To pay a bill so that a family can have heat in the cold is a good thing. To address the poor living conditions that require an extraordinary amount of energy to keep warm is better. To visit the imprisoned is good. To invest in a relationship and to teach them another way to live once they are released is better. When we step deep into the muck, we risk the suffering as we more closely follow Jesus. I believe, if we are truly making a difference, to this we are called.

Prayer: God, to do more than a hand out requires more of me. It calls me into relationship and into true commitment. Lead and guide me on this path, O Lord. Amen.


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Enduring Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”.

Patience, patience, patience. Patience is such a tough thing to practice, especially when the situation is difficult. The difficulty can come from a variety of angles. For the brothers and sisters in Christ that James is writing to, the difficulty comes from the persecution and suffering that they are enduring. When we have been experiencing times of stress or distress, we have known how hard it is to patiently endure. This is what James is addressing in our passage today.

James turns to a familiar test of patience. He encourages them to consider the farmer. The farmer sows the seeds and then he patiently waits. With the sun and the rain that will surely come, he waits, trusting that the land will “yield its valuable crop”. It can be hard to have patience when growing crops. I have had a home garden for many years now. As I reflect back on each season I can now remember a familiar scene playing out. We would plant carrots, lettuce, and so on. Then about a week later I would go out to the garden, sometimes multiple times each day, checking to see if those little green shoots had popped up yet. Soon it became a practice in patience. Early in my gardening career my mind would question or doubt if the shoots took a little too much time to come up.

Our faith is a lot like that too. When the first trials or seasons of suffering come along, we do not have much patience. We quickly cry out, “How long, O God”? But as we spend a few more seasons in the valleys, experiencing God’s presence and strength and guidance… over and over again, we begin to build trust in God. Our doubts and questions and fears ebb away. We soon see these seasons as times of growth and maturing.

In verse eight James writes, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”. Be like the farmer, trust in God. For all who are struggling in the trial right now, cling to these words of hope and promise. To do so yields an unshakable belief that becomes your rock. As the faithful Christian endures the storms with patience and faith, we do come to know the truth of Jesus coming near. He never leaves us or forsakes us, especially in the trials. Be near to us, Lord Jesus, this we pray.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my anchor in every stormy gale. In the lows and in the highs and everywhere in between, your Holy Spirit is ever present. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming near”.

James is encouraging the early Christians to be patient in their suffering. Having patience can be hard, especially during trying times. The early Christians faced persecution and oppression. On occasion they faced turmoil within. James begins in our passage today by encouraging them to be patient until Jesus’ return. The early church thought Jesus’ return would be very soon. 2,000 years later this encouragement takes on a different feeling and meaning.

James chooses the analogy of the farmer and the seed as a model for patience. The seed is placed in the ground and then the farmer waits. The sun rises and falls, rises and falls, and the farmer waits. The rains will come. But not today either. So the farmer waits. How does the farmer wait patiently? Year after year the process has been the same. Year after year new life has poked up from the ground. Year after year the rains come and nourish the plants. Year after year the harvest comes. The farmer trusts in what has always been. God has been and always will be. James writes, “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming near”. Be patient. Like the farmer, trust that God’s reign will come.

The Lord comes near to us in the form of the Holy Spirit. The constant presence of Jesus Christ living in us will speak words of peace into our troubled hearts. The Holy Spirit will bring strength when we feel hard pressed. The living presence will fill us with love instead of anger, with empathy instead of judging. This and more if we are but patient, quieting the voices of the world and of Satan, leaning in and listening for that still small voice.

Our short passage closes with a reminder to consider the prophets of old. When we waver we are tempted to give in to our emotions. When we question if we can go on, James says to think of Moses or Ezekiel or Micah or any of the other Old Testament prophets. Whether it was with a grumbling people wandering the desert for forty years or if it was battling king after king that led the people astray, each prophet drew near to God and found peace and strength and voice. May we too draw near to the Lord, finding there the ability to patiently stand firm.

Prayer: God of all time, just as you always have been, continue to remain present this day. Give me ears to hear and eyes to see the way to walk and to lead. Fill me with your holy wisdom and mighty strength to lead well. With you, may I stand firm. Amen.


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Bear Witness

Reading: Luke 21: 9-19

Verse 12: “They will lay hands on you and persecute you… all on account of my name”.

Our passage today continues from where we left off yesterday. Jesus goes from the broad back to the personal. The world will experience wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, and other “fearful events”. These will be signs to the earthly world that the end is drawing near. But these things are not imminent for the disciples. Jesus says, in verse twelve, “but before all this they will lay hands on you and persecute you… all on account of my name”. For the original disciples, a time of trial and suffering will come first.

The disciples will be arrested and persecuted. They will be brought before kings and governors. They will be asked about this Jesus they proclaim. The result: the disciples will witness to their persecutors. In the face of trial and suffering, the disciples will continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus encourages them not to worry about how to defend themselves. He promises, “I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict”. Jesus will give them all they need in their times of trial. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we too can claim this promise and can trust that Jesus Christ will be present to us in our trials and sufferings.

While almost none of us will face what those first disciples faced, we will have moments when we do need words from Jesus. Whether in a conflict or in a hospital room, whether in a theological argument or in a home that just experienced loss, we will call upon Jesus and the Holy Spirit will give us the words of healing and hope, of light and life. When we turn to Jesus and call upon his power, we too will bear witness to our faith and to our Lord and Savior.

Our passage ends with one more word of hope – eternal hope. Jesus tells the disciples plainly, “They will put some of you to death”. He goes on to tell them that “not a hair… will perish”. The disciples will need to stand firm. By doing so they will gain life. Hardship and trial are difficult to endure in this life. But this life is not the end. Remain faithful, Jesus says, and the disciple will gain true life. One day they will walk with Jesus in eternity. May this be true for us as well. Each day may we bear witness to Jesus Christ, in the good and in the bad, so that we too may one day gain true life.

Prayer: Lord, whether in the good or in the bad, may all I do and say and think bear witness to you, my Savior. In me may others see you. Fill me with the words that bring hope and healing, light and love. Fill me with what you want others to hear and know this day and every day. Amen.


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Know Jesus Well

Reading: Luke 21: 5-8

Verse 8: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”.

Jesus knows that the end of his time on earth is drawing near. A large part of his ministry has been preparing the disciples to be ready and to be able to carry on the work. Jesus knows that the road will not always be easy. Yes, there will be times when God and the Spirit will do amazing things and the disciples will be filled with awe and wonder. But there will also be persecution and trial and even death. These will be some of the things that will test their faith.

The passage today opens with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple. Some there that day will surely witness this and will recall Jesus’ words. According to Jewish understanding, God resides in the temple. The disciples equate the destruction of the temple to the end of the world as they know it. But it will not be so. Because he knows this, Jesus goes on to give them a warning.

In verse eight he says, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”. Jesus knows that much will unfold before the new heaven and earth are established. In the interim Jesus also knows that the deceivers pose one of the greatest threats to the disciples and to the early church. The gospel itself is a pretty simple message. The call to follow Jesus is fairly easy to understand. But because we live in a world with many other philosophies and religions and in a world where Satan is at work, being a disciple is challenging. Those that Jesus is speaking to face these same challenges. Jesus tells them, “Do not follow them”. The disciples know Jesus well. If they remain connected to Jesus and to his teachings and example, then they will easily see the deceptions. The same is true for us.

If we will invest in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ, we will know him well. If we are committed to knowing and living out our calling, we will be strong in the faith. Then we too will discern false teaching and will reject the false prophets and the deceivers. May we ever cling to Jesus, the good news, and the example that he lived out for us to follow.

Prayer: Father God, draw me in more and more. Deepen my connection to you. Amidst the storms and trials, may I turn to you alone. Amen.


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Glorify Jesus

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-4 and 11-12

Verse 11: “We pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours”.

The opening chapter of 2nd Thessalonians is a prayer for the church founded there. The prayer first thanks God for their faith that is growing and for their love that is increasing. This wonderful work of God is something that Paul, Silas, and Timothy share with other churches in the region. In the midst of the trials and persecutions it is amazing that the Thessalonians’ faith and love continue to grow. This would be encouraging for all of the other churches facing the same issues and challenges. It is also a good reminder for many of our churches today. To be reminded that the church can and should flourish amidst the trials and sufferings is timely indeed.

We pick up the prayer again in verse eleven. Here we read, “We pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours”. First, they are reminded that they must be worthy of the calling they heard in Christ Jesus. For them, it meant standing strong and being steadfast in their faith no matter what came at them. This remains true for all churches and for all Christians today. If we waffle or if we are a Christian in one situation but not in another, it weakens our witness to Jesus.

Second, Paul and company pray that God would work in and through the church. They call upon God’s power to fulfill the purposes of the church. Those purposes would be to love God with all that they are and to love people as Christ first loved them. It is a big love that Christians are called to. It is faith that leads that love into words and action. When faith leads, we tend to be in alignment with God’s will and way rather than with our own will and desires. For God’s power to be at work, the focus must be on God’s will and way.

The prayer concludes with why the church is to seek to fulfill God’s purposes. “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified”. There is no other name to be glorified. May we, like these early disciples, lift the name of Jesus higher and higher, glorifying him in all that we do and say. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Lord of light and life, may you be glorified. Be glorified first in my heart and mind. Then may the words of my mouth and the actions of my hands all bring you glory so that your name is known by more and more who are broken and lost. To God be the glory! Amen.


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Hard Decisions, Challenging Steps

Reading: Psalm 79: 1-4

Verse 4: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors”.

The Babylonians invaded Israel and left a wake of death and destruction in their path. In Jerusalem, the city walls were destroyed and the temple was leveled. For the Babylonians this was just one more nation to conquer. But for the Israelites, the killing was the murder of God’s chosen people and the destruction of the temple was the defilement of God’s home. What is left is not a pretty sight. “They have poured out blood like water” paints a grim picture. To add insult to injury, “we are objects of reproach to our neighbors”. The tribes around them mock what is left of Israel.

As people of God living in an increasingly non-Christian world, we can have similar experiences and emotions. In parts of our world Christians face persecution and even death. In most of our lives, however, persecution does not rise nearly to that level. Yet being a Christian is not always easy in our modern, secular world. Many of the more recent cultural norms are decidedly anti-Christian. The rugged individualism of the past and the me-first attitude of today combine to make being a humble servant countercultural and difficult. To think less of yourself and more of others can lead to questioning and ridicule. To refuse to be immoral or unethical at work can cost one promotions and can draw the ire of those above you.

Satan works in these and in many other ways to draw us away from God and into the ways of the world. It can be hard to look at what your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are doing and to not want to go along. Inside we all have a strong desire to fit in, to belong, to be liked. At times our faith will deny us these things. Something else inside of us – the Holy Spirit – is also at work to lead and guide us to be faithful and true to the Lord our God. One day we too will be poured out and will breathe our last. But between now and then may we make the hard decisions and take the challenging steps to walk as a child of the light in a world of darkness. May we live a life worthy of the one who called us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Guiding God, sometimes it can be tempting to go along with the crowd or to say what pleases. Keep me ever focused on your will and your ways in my life. Hold my hand as I try to walk as a humble servant today. Amen.


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Rock of Refuge

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-3

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”.

The opening three verses of Psalm 71 exude trust in God. The psalmist first turns to God as refuge. A refuge is a safe place that we can go to. It is a place where we can rest and recover a bit. It is a place set apart from the storms of life. God can be our refuge.

We all feel the need for refuge now and then. Life may have brought unexpected change and we need a moment to catch our breath and to figure out our new path forward. Our faith or our beliefs may cause us to feel some persecution and after a good bit of this we need to find refuge to regain strength and maybe focus. There are many other reasons we can seek refuge in God.

Because God is righteous, the psalmist asks God to rescue and deliver him. He begs God to hear his pleas. In the storms of life we can feel under assault. We can feel the need to be rescued. Sometimes we bring the storm upon ourselves. When we allow sin to gain a foothold, we invite the storm. When conviction sets in and leads to repentance, we hope to be delivered by God.

In the last verse for today the psalmist calls out to God, saying, “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”. In those moments or days or seasons when life is really swirling around us, we need a firm foundation. We need God to be our rock. Because life keeps happening, we will turn to God over and over to be our rock. We join the psalmist in seeking a steadfast God to whom we can always go.

As our section for today closes there is an admission that we too must make. The psalmist knows that God alone can save him. There is a dependence upon God that comes through faith. May we too know this need for God.

Prayer: Lord God, in the trials and sufferings of this life, you are my only hope. Be with me day by day and hour by hour, my rock and my refuge. Amen.


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Faith in Christ

Reading: Luke 12: 49-53

Verse 51: “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other”.

In about 30 AD, when Jesus was speaking these words, Israel was a very unique nation. They were a monotheistic people surrounded by and ruled over by polytheistic peoples. They were under the control of the world power, the Romans. The nation was relatively small and had little freedom. Their religion was all that was holding them together. Many of their laws were intended to keep the Jews their own people. Intermarriage with outsiders was frowned upon, they did not evangelize. Their circle was very small.

Jesus ministered in this setting. He caused a disturbance when he are with sinners and outsiders. He told stories that included and sometimes elevated the Samaritans. As Jesus taught and did miracles, he drew followers. His claim to be the Messiah was not accepted by most Jews. He fell outside of their small circle.

One or two in a given family might choose to follow Jesus and become a part of what would become known as Christianity. They would then live what Jesus is talking about today: “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other”. It was a very hard decision to make. It usually meant now living outside of one’s biological family. It was a very weighty decision to make. It was risky and there was a cost for stepping outside the circle.

In many parts of the world, this is still true. To follow Jesus brings division in families, or worse. We too often forget that Jesus did not come just for America or just for the western world or just for our segment of the world. Recently, even in the US, we have felt the fire that Jesus brings. Persecution and trial and suffering are more frequent events as people of faith stand up for what they believe. In some cases, there is division and fire, lines are drawn.

Whether within our families or churches or society, when fire and division come, may we always choose faith in Jesus Christ. Through prayer and study may we stand for Christ. Above all, may love lead the way.

Prayer: Lord, persecution and division seem to be more and more of a reality. Keep me focused on the task at hand: helping one more person to know you. And then, connect me to the next one… Amen.