pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Preaching, Teaching, Healing

Reading: Matthew 9: 35-38

Verse 35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching… preaching… and healing”.

Today’s short passage sums up Jesus’ ministry quite well. In verse 35 we read about the things that occupied most of his time: teaching, preaching, and healing. I believe that these three practices remain the core practices of ministry today. These three practices often work together to shape and form who we are as people of faith.

Teaching can occur in many settings and can cover many topics. In ministry, we most often think of Bible studies and other topical small groups as the main ways that teaching occurs. This tends to be the focus of teaching in our churches. There are other ways to teach faith. In intentional conversations and in the things we regularly do and say we teach about faith. For example, as parents our everyday words and actions are the main methods of passing our faith along to our children. In this time of COVID there has been a great deal of teaching in our churches on how to safely minister while honoring the need to social distance and stay at home. We have begun to teach about safely gathering again. More recently there has been an increase in teaching on racism and prejudice in America. These teachings have centered on understanding racism and on recognizing how we are all implicit in and impacted by this evil. Social justice has always been a cornerstone of Christianity.

Preaching is something we think just happens on Sunday morning or maybe on a Wednesday or Saturday night. These are the primary delivery times but it also occurs at various times in a variety of settings. These can range from a one-on-one conversation to retreats and camps and even to impromptu gatherings in a bar or the local coffee shop. In almost all cases, preaching centers on sharing, understanding, and applying faith to our daily lives.

Healing was the third aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Today we do not see as many physical healings as we read about in the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit is very active, working in and through Christians all over the world. Healing included restoration to wholeness, redemption from sins and bondage, being drawn into a community of faith, and finding new life in Jesus Christ.

In our passage we read that Jesus preached, taught, and healed for one reason: compassion. He saw those who were in need – the “the harassed and helpless” – and he ministered to them. Our very understanding of who is harassed and helpless has certainly grown over these last few months. In verse 37 Jesus notes, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. May we all be workers for Jesus Christ today!

Prayer: Leading God, day by day help me to use all three of these practices to minister to my congregation and to my community. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring fullness and wholeness of life to those in need. Amen.


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Rock and Refuge

Reading: Psalm 31: 1-5 and 15-16

Verse 5: “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth”.

When David wrote today’s Psalm he must have been at a difficult point in his life. We do not know what was challenging him at this point, but we do get a sense of his trust in the Lord. For David, this trust has been built on many experiences where God has proven trustworthy. As David seeks refuge and lifts his voice to God, he is counting on God to once again be his rock and refuge.

In this life we all face challenges. Some are small and are mostly within our minds. Others are larger and on the life-altering scale. In each case, how we work our way through the challenge can happen many ways. We can put our head down and try to push through. We can pretend it is not happening. We can fiercely take it on and act brave and strong on the outside. We can allow fear or doubt or worry to freeze us up. We can turn to God like David does in today’s Psalm. Often, especially in our bigger challenges, we can try many of these before we surrender and turn to God. We might recall that David tried this method too. He did not jump straight to fully trusting in God either.

As David journeyed with God he had many opportunities to learn to trust God first, to trust in God alone, to seek refuge and shelter and redemption under God’s care. We too have or will have each of these experiences as we journey with the Lord. We too will develop trust… in God. To frame that idea, what experiences have you had that have led to a deepening in your trust in God? When has God been your rock and refuge? As we recall these moments and file them away as God moments, our faith is strengthened. They become a reserve, a place to draw from as our next challenge arises. We begin to live more often into these words from verse five: “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth”. As we draw to a close, take a minute or two for yourself and for your faith. Recall God’s trustworthiness and offer God some praise and thanksgiving today.

Prayer: Father God, ever be my refuge and shield. Ever be the one I turn to in both the good and the bad. Ever be the rock upon which I stand. I thank you for your ever-present hand and Spirit that guides, leads, directs, protects… You are an awesome God. Amen.


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Only in Surrender

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-31

Verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to address a division that has arisen. On one side of the divide are the Greeks. They love learning and discussing ideas. They look for and prize wisdom above all else. They want to know their way into believing in Jesus Christ. On the other side are the Jews. The Jews look for signs. This is how they had always recognized and identified the power of God at work. Way back the power of God was revealed in the manna and in the wall of Jericho falling down, just to name a couple of examples. More recently it shown as Jesus and the disciples healed and cast out demons. The Jews wanted to be awed into believing in Jesus.

Paul tells both sides that they are wrong. Both the Greeks and the Jews are looking in the wrong place if they want to find the power of Jesus Christ. In our opening verse Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. To the world the cross represents weakness and shame and wrong doing. To the world it was foolishness for Jesus to die on a cross like a common criminal. But the world is perishing. Paul instead reminds the Jews and Greeks that true power is found in the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus demonstrated servanthood and obedience. It was there that he became humble to death as he died to save us all. In his death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and paved the way for us all to experience “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Just as Jesus was humble, we too must be humble as we approach faith. We cannot think our way into believing. Nor can we argue another into faith. We cannot “genie” our way to believing either. We cannot try and force God to prove he is real. We find faith when we come to the point of kneeling before Jesus, aware of our sin and our need for his grace, humbly asking him to be the Lord of our life. Only when we surrender do we find victory in Christ. It is more of that upside-down kingdom. When we are weak, he is strong. May we walk in surrender to our Lord and Savior today.

Prayer: Loving Father, you took me as I was, broken and filled with so many sins and weaknesses. Just like a potter, you went to work reforming and reshaping me, guiding me to your purposes. I am far from perfect. I beg you to continue to be at work in me. I surrender all to you for your glory. Amen.


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The Beautiful Cycle

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 7: “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”.

In verses five and six the psalmist practices something that can be difficult for many of us in the modern world: he waits. The psalmist waits, his soul waits. And he waits with hope! He trusts in God’s word and that brings him hope. It can be harder to wait for the Lord’s word or voice during a time of darkness or grief or suffering. This is what the psalmist might be referring to in verse six, where the watchmen wait for the morning. Envision it: after a long night on watch they long for the first rays to peak up over the horizon, bringing light to the long darkness. Is that not what it feels like during those times when we have been stuck in the valley and we long to see and feel light and love again?

Turning to verse seven we find much encouragement. It reads, “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”. We too can choose to hope in God because the two gifts mentioned by the psalmist are fully ours as well: unfailing love and full redemption. In fact, the two are very much connected. God’s love for you and me leads to the gift of redemption. In love God forgives all that we confess and repent of, welcoming us back into that unfailing love. It is a beautiful cycle to be caught up in. For this, today we shout: thanks be to God!

Prayer: God, your perfection is so much greater than my failures and my imperfection. Yet your love bridges the gap and then draws me back across the bridge, back into your love. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 26-31

Verse 30: “Christ Jesus… our righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Paul opens the passage today with a great challenge: “think of what you were when you were called”. Ponder that for a minute. Think back to who you were and what your life was like before you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior… While the “then” to “now” transformation is probably significant, the great truth of our journey is that the change continues. On our journey of faith we are never “there” so God is always at work, seeking to make us more and more like Jesus Christ.

Paul sees the church in Corinth just like most of us see our churches. Yes, we might have a few movers and shakers, but overall not many are wise, not many are influential, not many are of noble birth. Most of us are just regular people. All of us are just trying to be faithful and obedient in our daily walk. Paul speaks of God choosing the foolish and weak things – things we don’t usually like to associate too much with. Wise, influential, noble, foolish, weak – he is speaking in terms the world uses. Weakness, for example, is shunned in the world but in faith recognizing our weakness leads us to trust God more than in ourselves. If we are foolish in terms of our faith, we see that we cannot figure it all out on our own. Instead we turn to God for guidance and direction. When we know we need God, we do not boast in our own talents and abilities. Leaning into another for help and strength is not what people of the world do. That’s why the cross is foolishness to do many people living in the world.

As we continue our journeys of faith, as we walk more and more in faith, we live into verse 30 more and more. Verse 30 reminds us that Jesus Christ is our “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”. As we follow longer and closer, we live lives that are increasingly righteous and holy. We are not faultless, we still stumble from time to time. But we do walk better the longer and deeper we pursue Jesus Christ. And Jesus ever redeems us. In the day to day, he redeems us when we fail and when we stumble. Working ever towards perfection, we await the day of our final redemption – the day we stand in Jesus’ presence in glory. That’ll be the day! Until then may we walk out our faith day by day, bringing Jesus Christ and his love to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the long walk. Looking back at where the journey began, I can see the change you wrought in me. But it was not an A to B journey. There are moments day by day and in even smaller intervals – moments when I had to choose you over self and other interests. Even when I was selfish and disobedient, you have remained faithful. Thank you, God. Please continue to have me as one of your own. Lead and guide me always and forever. Thank you for being my all in all. Amen.


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Fellowship with Christ

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 1-9

Verse 5: “In him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge”.

Paul begins his letter to the church in Corinth with some positives. He thanks God for the grace given them in Jesus Christ. He reminds them that they have been blessed with many spiritual gifts. He reminds them that they will be strengthened by God as they eagerly await Christ’s return. He reminds them that God is faithful. Paul reminds them that in Christ they have been “enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge”. All of this is true – or can be – in the church in Corinth and in every church. As the letter to the Corinthian church unfolds Paul addresses their failures to live into these positives and the consequential division that has occurred in the church.

When a church loses focus on the main thing, division is inevitable. If following Jesus becomes secondary, then division is sure to occur. When Jesus is secondary, self has become first. The core of the gospel is that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected to save us and to heal a broken world. He lived so that we can know what God’s love looks like lived out upon this earth. Jesus died to defeat the power of sin – taking upon himself all the sin of the world, dying as the perfect atoning sacrifice – once for all. In the resurrection Jesus defeats death, showing us the way we too can live eternally with God in heaven. If Jesus is primary, a church will live and love as Jesus did, hoping and trusting in Christ alone for their example, salvation, and redemption, as they seek to draw others into a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

When a Christian or a church loses this focus, individual voices begin to speak and to elevate other “knowledge” to primacy. This can happen in many ways. If one cannot honestly say that the agenda they are driving glorifies God and elevates Jesus, then a reordering of focus is necessary. There are a host of secondary focuses that can lead to disunity and division. When we allow ourselves to get there, we are weakening the power to save.

Paul closes the section for today by reminding the church that God has called them and us into fellowship with Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Sandwiched around this idea is the truth and promise: “God is faithful”. May we trust this truth, walking together in fellowship with Christ and with one another, glorifying and praising Jesus Christ in all our words and actions.

Prayer: Lord God, bring healing to your church and to your world. Where there is division, lead us to see how secondary it is compared to walking faithfully in Jesus Christ. Focus us in on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The gospel is the power to save. May I stand on this alone. Amen.


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One More Link

Reading: Psalm 145: 1-5

Verse 3: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom”.

Psalm 145 is about praising God. This is something we can do in many ways. The psalmist begins with worship, with exalting God. Perhaps this happens on Sunday morning, but it can also happen in other ways. It can occur in quiet moments of prayer. It can be singing praise in the car or in the shower. Praise can happen as one walks or runs and recognizes God in the beauty of the stars or forest groves. Worship can happen as we read our Bibles and meditate on God’s work in the world and in our lives.

The praise section transitions with these words: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom”. These words draw to mind why we praise God. While the greatness of God might be hard to fathom, it is certainly recognizable and it draws us to praise the creator. We can see God in the magnificence of creation itself, in the faces of one another, in the healing miraculous touch that occurs in our Bible, in our world, and maybe even in our lives. These and many more bring us to an awareness of how worthy God is of our praise.

In verse four the psalmist shifts to evangelism. This too is a form of praise. He writes, “One generation will commend your works to another”. Part of our connection to God and to one another comes in our common story. The arc of the Bible connects people of faith through stories that span thousands of years. Beginning in Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21 we hear the story of God’s love and redemption. Each story builds the case for God’s love for his children and for all of creation. The stories of God’s mighty acts and wonderful works reveal both God’s glory and the ways in which God has, can, and will work in the world and in the lives of the faithful. We are a part of telling the stories too. We are each one more link in the great story of faith and we are each a storyteller too.

Whether by word, action, or deed, may we praise God and may we tell the story of our faith, planting seeds and encouraging our fellow disciples along the way.

Prayer: Magnificent creator, the work of your hands is amazing! The intricacies of our world shout your greatness. Yet I know you and you know me. This mystery too reveals your greatness. It humbles me. May my life be poured out as thanks to you, my God and King. Amen.


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Remaining Faithful and Diligent

Reading: Luke 18: 1-8

Verse 8: “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly”.

Our God is full of love and mercy and compassion. Our God is righteous and holy and good. Our God stands for justice and equality and truth. Our God works for restoration and reconciliation and redemption. As we continue to work out our faith journeys, we should seek to grow in all of these things, becoming more and more like our Lord.

Today Jesus focuses on being persistent in our prayers as we seek justice. Justice, like all of the other qualities or characteristics listed above, are intertwined and interconnected with the others. For example, love, mercy, and compassion lead us to seek a justice that applies universally to all people. These qualities lead us to stand up and even to sacrifice so that the oppressed and marginalized experience the same justice as we and others experience. As we do this, we are a bit like John the Baptist, seeking to become less so that Jesus becomes more.

In our parable today Jesus acknowledges that there is some injustice in the world. This is not pleasing to God. It should not sit well with us either. In verse eight we read, “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly”. God will see that justice prevails – at some point. A good example of this is found in the story of Lazarus that comes in Luke 16. Lazarus had a very hard life but receives his comfort in heaven. God’s timing is a mystery to us. This leads us back to the other focus of the parable: be persistent in prayer. We do not fully understand all the ways of God. But we are called to place our trust and hope in God alone.

As we come to God in prayer, may we remain faithful and diligent, assured that God will hear and bring justice… at just the right time – at God’s time.

Prayer: Lord, listen to your children crying. Lord, hear the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized. Raise up the cries to the ears of your people. Lead us to be your heart and voice, to be your hands and feet, O God. Amen.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 19-20

Verse 19: “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered”.

The book of Zephaniah is a prophetic book that deals largely with the people’s sin and the consequences thereof. In the last dozen verses or so the prophet begins to paint the picture of restoration. In the final two verses, our passage for today, Zephaniah closes his book with words of hope and promise. Just as God never leaves us dead in our sin, so too will He redeem Israel.

In verse 19 Zephaniah writes, “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered”. God will one day gather all His people. He will rescue the lame and all others who are suffering. God will give them praise and honor. To those who are faithful, God says, “I will bring you home”. Home is where God is. Home is eventually in heaven. God will bring restoration. Wholeness. Relief from all that ails and entangles. Restoration.

These words that God spoke to the people of Zephaniah’s time echo down through the ages. They fall upon our ears today. These words of hope and promise apply in so many situations. These words are realized when one first claims Jesus Christ as Lord. They are realized each time one turns to Jesus Christ as Savior, each time we confess and experience redemption. These words can be claimed each time God rescues us from a difficult trial. They can be claimed when we lay a faithful follower to rest and they have been completely restored by the Lord.

Our God is a God of hope and promise, of redemption and restoration. Claim the message of Zephaniah 3:19-20 today. Declare it to yourself and proclaim it to the world. In doing so, you will be blessed as you bless others with the message of hope and promise.

Prayer: Lord, I rejoice in knowing you. It brings contentment and peace in my daily life and it brings hope and assurance for my future. In the trial, I know you will rescue me, bringing redemption and restoration. Gather me each day into your abiding presence so that I may be your witness all of my days. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Community

Reading: Philippians 1: 3-8

Verse 6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul begins by thanking God for the faith this church displays. Each time that he prays for them he rejoices in their “partnership in the gospel” with him. They must be living out their faith well. Paul also recognizes the end game as well. Their faithful living will lead to the redemption of their souls. In verse 6 he writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Paul is thankful for their place in the family of God both now and in eternity.

Do you have folks in your life that you can say this about? Can you survey those you know and offer up such a prayer of thanksgiving for them? We each have people “in my heart”, just as Paul did, that we too can be lifting prayers of thanksgiving for. There are many in my family and in my circles of church friends and colleagues who have great faith that I am thankful for. Their witness and example encourage and strengthen me on my journey of faith.

For Paul, whether in chains or out preaching the gospel, he appreciated the connection that he has with all Christians everywhere. Paul knows that the family of God extends across geographical spaces and through cultural and social differences. He writes, “all of you share in God’s grace with me”. If he were reading this line aloud, I think Paul would emphasize the word “all”. There is a unity amongst and a connection between all members of the body of Christ. For this too I rejoice. For Christians everywhere, no matter our denominational flavor, we all share the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are all living under the same covenant of grace. In the essentials, we enjoy unity and community. Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for all of those you have and continue to place in my life who live as witnesses to your will and way. They mean so much to me, to my faith. Bless them, O Lord. I also thank you for my fellow Christians, who also seek to bring you glory as together we build the kingdom. Thank you God for the larger community of faith. Amen.