pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In Love

Reading: Ephesians 4: 15-16

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

Words are powerful. James compares our tongues to the rudder of a giant ship. This small piece of equipment can easily direct a huge ship. He also compares the tongue to a spark – with just a quick flash it can set a whole forest on fire. Perhaps like me you too have said a word or two in anger or in the heat of the moment and have just been engulfed in a firestorm. Words are powerful.

In today’s passage Paul advises us to “speak the truth in love”. There are two parts to this statement. The first is to speak the truth. We have all been in situations where this is hard. We will all encounter times and situations when truth needs to be spoken. Perhaps a child has gone a little astray or a brother or sister in Christ is struggling with some poor choices. They need us to be prophets, reminding them of God’s ways and to call them back to faithful living.

The second half of Paul’s advise is to speak the truth in love. Yes, at times it is harder to speak in love. Yes, at times it is downright challenging. Yet it is still what we are called to do. This may require taking a deep breath or even stepping away for a little while. It will definitely include swallowing our pride or our inclination to judge or condemn now and then. In spite of the difficulties, we can make the choice to speak truth in love. In the Gospels we have a wonderful example to follow: Jesus Christ. He is also the “why” behind speaking the truth in love.

The rest of verse 15 reads, “We will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”. When we practice Paul’s advise, we will grow in all things to be more and more like Jesus Christ. That is ever our goal on this journey of faith. Our short passage today concludes with this: “From Him the whole body grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work”. Each of us – each of us – doing our part, helps to build up the whole body. May we each be connected to Him, the head. May we each allow His Holy Spirit to lead and guide our words and actions today so that they will build up our family of faith. 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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Share and Connect

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 14: “King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known”.

Faith is all about our experiences and our connection to God, Jesus, and others. In today’s passage, the first part of the conversation connects Jesus to several other people or groups that were connected to God. In this way, we come to know more about Jesus.

First, Jesus is connected to John the Baptist. Herod and guests wonder if Jesus is John reborn because of the miracles that Jesus is performing. As we remember the stories of John’s and Jesus’ births, we recall that both were miraculous births. We also recall the angel’s visits and John’s recognition of Jesus while both were yet in the womb. In his ministry, John fearlessly spoke truth into people’s lives and called them to walk more holy lives. These things will become central to Jesus’ ministry as well.

Next, they wonder if Jesus is Elijah returned. Both men offer miracles as proof of connection to God and both men freely speak the word that God gives them to speak. Both men clash with those in power – calling them to be better followers of God and His ways. Elijah’s final moments on earth also foreshadow Jesus’ ascension into heaven as God lifts them up.

Lastly they compare Jesus to the “prophets of old”. The Old Testament prophets collectively connect well with Jesus. The prophets of old provided for the widow in need, withheld rain for a time, went up the mountain to speak to God, and called out those who worshiped idols and false gods. We see much of this in Jesus’ ministry. Care for the poor and the outcast were a high priority for Jesus. Calming the storm and walking on water demonstrated Jesus’ power over nature. His frequent trips up the mountain and to other isolated places to connect with God were important times of communication, renewal, and reassurance for Jesus. The conversations with religious leaders and everyday people were both opportunities to teach, to guide, and to correct – all to draw people closer to God. In many ways, Jesus connects to the prophets of old.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is the fuller revelation of God. It makes perfect sense that Jesus and His ministry would connect to others who served God and sought to build the kingdom here on earth. Our faith experiences also further the revelation of Jesus to the world. Through these connections and through our faith experiences we have much to share with others that can help them to connect with Jesus. May we be willing to share both who we know Jesus to be historically and personally, helping others to know Him as well. May it be so today. Amen and amen.


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Love at Work

Reading: Psalm 107: 17-22

Verses 19 and 20: “They cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth the word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave”.

The psalmist recognizes the foolish behavior of some and identifies the consequences that came with poor choices. During our lives we have seen many people make poor decisions and we ourselves have made our share as well. After suffering because of their or our iniquities, there comes a point of admitting the error of our ways and turning to God for help. Verse 19 reads, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble”. It is a cry filled with both pain and hope. Pain because of the regret of ending up in such a place. Hope because we know that God is faithful and true.

Verse 20 bears this out: “He sent forth the word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave”. God responds to the cry for help and restores those in need. For the psalmist, the ‘word’ could come through the Spirit or it could come through the voice of the prophet. For the Christian, the word could also come from the Holy Spirit or it could come from the ‘Word’ – Jesus himself. The net result is the same: God brings healing and rescued from the grave. This could literally be the grave or it could represent being saving from eternal damnation.

Sometimes we observe this cycle of sin, suffering, conviction, repentance, crying out, healing/rescue and sometimes we experience it ourselves. In both cases, we are privy to seeing God’s hand at work over and over. Because of this we come to know God as steadfast and faithful. We come to know God’s love and mercy as unending and as a blessing for all. And we come to the place where we know God will never let us go. From here we begin to understand the depth of God’s love. It is a beautiful and wonderful thing. It is a love that we are called to share with others. May it be so today.


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A Simple Thanks

Reading: 2nd Kings 2: 8-12

Verse Eleven: “As they were walking along and talking together…”

In one devotional I read today, it referred to the term “outlier”. Immediately my mind went back to many years teaching 7th grade math. We identified outliers when we were studying mean, median, and mode. An outlier in math is a piece of data that stands out from the other data. Outliers can really impact the mean, or the average. In its original content in the book my devotional referenced, an outlier was a regular person who practiced a skill or talent or job thousands and thousands of times. The result was extraordinary skill or proficiency at their chosen pursuit.

Using both of these understandings of outlier, the term pertains much to our faith. In today’s passage, Elijah is an outlier. He was a prophet who stood far outside the norm. At times, he was practically the last one standing for God. He spoke the truth no matter the risk, always being obedient to God. Accordingly, Elijah is widely accepted as the greatest Old Testament prophet. In our passage, Elisha shows the dogged persistence required to become an outlier. He has personally witnessed Elijah’s absolute faith in God and his total trust to go where God sent and to say what God said to say. It is something he wants for himself, so he follows closely as Elijah’s end draws near. Elisha’s persistence pays off as he sees Elijah taken, thus receiving the reward: a double portion of his spirit.

It is interesting to me that Elijah is taken not in some suspenseful moment but simply as they are “walking along and talking together…”. Elijah had just nonchalantly yet miraculously parted the Jordan so they could cross, allowing them to continue to simply walk and talk. These ideas remind me of our faith journey. We too walk and talk through life alongside God. Much of the time life is routine or normal. Yet by walking close and talking consistently, we grow deep in our relationship with God. And we do have moments, times God parts the waters, allowing us to safely pass through. Some of the time we do not even know God has intervened. Other times, it is right there for us to see. At times God gives us these moments that awe and uplift us. These too build our relationship.

As I ponder my daily walk with God, blessed here and there with those “God moments”, I am humbled and awed. I simply say: thank you God!


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Faithful

Reading: 2nd Kings 2: 1-7

Verse Four: “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho”… “I will not leave you”.

Elijah is known as the greatest Old Testament prophet according to most Biblical scholars. His tenure as prophet is full of great stories that demonstrate his obedience and faithfulness to God. Elisha is his prophet-in-training. Elisha will succeed Elijah as the next “prophet of God” in Israel. As we begin 2nd Kings 2, we hear that the time is now: “when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven…”. Elijah will not die a normal death. Instead he will be taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire. For his part, Elisha has been a few servant to Elijah and loves him dearly. He wants to be with him right to the end.

What unfolds over the course of our passage is sort of like a game of cat and mouse. Elijah says, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho”. Over and over Elisha’s response is, “I will not leave you”. Elijah wants to leave Elisha behind, maybe to spare him actually seeing Elijah go. Elisha keeps repeating his line, showing the deep dedication he has to Elijah. “Just one more moment..” is what Elisha is saying. At each juncture the prophets of that place remind Elisha that God is going to take Elijah today. And each time his response is the same: “Yes, I know. But do not speak of it”. Elisha is saying, I know already! You don’t need to remind me of it!

Elisha is as dedicated and faithful as Elijah. He will not leave the one he loves and serves. We have to admire Elisha’s level of commitment. It is one we would do well to emulate. As we reflect on this today, we first must ask ourselves: how could my life better reflect my love and dedication and commitment to Jesus? Secondly, we must ask: how could I be as faithful and dedicated to Jesus?


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Present and in Control

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-31

Verse 26: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these?”

The prophet Isaiah writes and speaks to a people who are living in exile. When the people were disobedient to God the Babylonians conquered them. The Israelites were then taken off into captivity. They understood the consequences of their disobedience to be the exile. But as time wears on and exile continues, they begin to feel as if punishment has turned to abandonment. Through Isaiah, God wants to remind the people that He is still present and is still in control.

In verse 26 Isaiah tells the people, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these”? He is saying to not remain downcast but to look up to God instead. Focus not on these feelings of abandonment but look up and marvel at the power and might of God revealed in the heavens. Remember that God is the creator and sustainer and that God is fully in control. At times we too can get bogged down or run over by life. Every now and then we too need to take a moment to recognize and connect to the God of all creation.

Isaiah then draws the people back to the essentials of their faith as he asks them, “Do you not know? Have you not heard”? Isaiah asks them to remember how God has always been their God both personally and corporately. He is saying, ‘don’t you remember?’ all the ways we have known and experienced God throughout our history. Isaiah then reminds the people that “the Lord is the everlasting God”. God has been, is, and always will be. As a word of encouragement, Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak”. The people long in exile feel weary and weak. Yes, they need strength and power from God.

Isaiah will go on to inform the people that because God is in control, that the exile is almost over. Although they cannot see the end, Isaiah tells them that the ends nears. As they wait, Isaiah reminds them to keep their hope and trust rooted in God. This promise of God’s faithfulness remains true for us as well. In those times or seasons that feel a bit like exile, we too must hold firmly to our faith, knowing that God was, is, and always will be present and in control. He holds us in His hands.