pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love, Discern, Fruit

Reading: Philippians 1: 9-11

Verses 9-11: “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more… that you discern what is best… may you be filled with the fruit of righteousness”.

In our passage today, Paul offers a prayer for three things that are connected. One leads to another; one depends on the two proceeding it. These three play out in our lives of faith.

Paul begins by praying that the Philippians’ love “abound more and more”. This is the picture of love in our lives. The day we marry or have a child, we think we can’t possibly love our spouse or that child any more than we do that day. Yet we most certainly do. The same is true in our relationship with God. And the same is true of our love of the stranger. Christ’s love within us leads us to someone in need and as we share the same His love with them, our love of them begins to grow.

Love leads to discernment. When we know how our spouse or child or neighbor ticks, it is because our love for them has grown. It leads us into understanding them. Understanding them and our relationship with them is what allows us to look past faults, sins, and even wrongs against us. This discernment allows us to continue to love them and sometimes to love them even more. It is this knowledge built upon love that leads us to action – “to be filled with the fruit of righteousness”, to use Paul’s words.

When we come to love and know someone, we know their situation, their struggles… This allows us to become humble servants at times. This produces fruit – pure and blameless because it is not about us but is about doing the work of the Lord and bringing Him the glory. The more we love God, the more we know God, the more we are led to be His light and love in the world. It is a connection that we are blessed to be a part of and we are blessed when we are participating in it. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: God of love, help me to love you and all of your creatures more today than yesterday. May love lead to knowledge and knowledge to service, producing kingdom fruit. Amen.

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Offering

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”.

The book from the prophet Malachi closes the Old Testament. Like many other Old Testament prophets, Malachi’s words connect to Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Chapter 3 opens with God letting Malachi and all of Israel know that God will send “my messenger”. This messenger will “prepare the way before me”. Malachi is prophesying John the Baptist. As we work through the other readings this week, we will flesh out the story as we learn that John will indeed prepare the way for the coming of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Malachi goes on to write, “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come”. As John preaches repentance out in the wilderness, Jesus will come to be baptized. The Spirit of God will descend on Jesus, marking the beginning of His ministry. Jesus will be the “messenger of the covenant”. The new covenant will be written on the cross, where Jesus will die for our sins. This new covenant changes everything – both now and eternally. It frees us from the guilt and shame of our sins as the blood washes them away. It makes a way for us to be saved to eternal life as we are made new again. There is a lot in verse 1: repentance, forgiveness, salvation, life.

Then, in verse 2, there is a shift, a reality check. Malachi writes, “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”. No, Jesus is not all peace and love and flowers. One does not have to spend too much time in the Gospels to discover that there is a cost to discipleship and to find that the road is narrow. When Jesus tells us that we must die to self and take up our cross daily, we find a cost. When Jesus redefines our priorities by telling us that we must first love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and then we must next love our neighbors as Jesus first loved us, then we find the road is narrow and is hard to walk at times.

If we are really following Jesus, we find that the Refiner calls us to die to self over and over and over. Sin after sin falls away as Jesus refines us. Our life gradually becomes the “offering given in righteousness”. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: God, take me as I am today and refine me to be more like you. Strip my pride and selfishness and judging – all that leads me to think I am more, making you less. Reverse that O God – help me to die to self so that I may be less so that Jesus is more. Amen.


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Promises

Reading: Jeremiah 33: 14-16

Verse 15: “I will make a righteous branch sprout from David’s line, he will do what is just and right in the land”.

Chapter 33 begins with the promise to restore Israel. God promises to heal Israel and to bring them out of Babylonian captivity. They will return to their homeland and rebuild what was destroyed. God promises that the sounds of joy and laughter will return and the fortunes of the land will be restored. God will again bless them with flocks on the hills – all under God’s hand.

God speaks into their immediate situation to remind them of the promises that were given to their ancestors. The promises of healing and restoration, of forgiveness and love, are still there. God always keeps His promises. God’s side of the covenants to Abraham… are kept by God regardless of the failings and sins of His children.

In our passage today, God speaks of a ruler or king who will come, saying, “I will make a righteous branch sprout from David’s line, he will do what is just and right in the land”. As Christians, we read these words and think, “Jesus”! However, the people who received these words from the prophet Jeremiah probably did not think “Messiah”. They would simply think of a king like the great King David – one who was strong and powerful, one who brought peace and justice to the land. The idea of a good king ruling over a restored and free people back in the Promised Land would have been how Jeremiah’s audience would hear this promise from God.

Chapter 33 goes on to reiterate the promises of God to establish an heir of David on the throne and of the covenants that will continue like the day and night, each going on at their appointed times. Many, many years later and scores and scores of kings later, there is a true King on the throne of God’s people. The family looks a bit different. But the reality is that Jesus is Lord over God’s people. The Righteous One came from David’s line, just as we can read these into today’s passage. With Jesus came not only healing and restoration, forgiveness and love, but salvation as well. Thank you Jesus! Thank you God for the gift of your Son, Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, we still cling to your promises. Use me to bring the hope and light and love of the good news and its saving power to all I meet today who are lost or hurting or broken. For my King, I say thank you too! Amen.


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Covenant Promise

Reading: 2nd Samuel 23: 1-5

Verse 5: “Has He not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part”?

In this remembering of David’s last words, the writer of 2nd Samuel begins by recalling who David was in God’s eyes: exalted by God and anointed by God. David had a special relationship with God. He was not without faults or seasons of sin in his life, but overall David was “a man after God’s own heart”. We, like David, are not perfect. Yet when our time comes, do we not wish to be known as a man or woman who loved all our lives as one “after God’s own heart”?

God was an integral part of David’s life. The importance of his relationship is evident at many points in David’s life. For example, in slaying Goliath, David fully trusted in God in spite if the apparent odds stacked against him. But I do believe that the greatest example comes in the aftermath of the Bathsheba incident. The depth of emotion David feels and expresses when he realizes what he has done reveals how much he truly loved God.

David has learned the value of being a king that follows God’s ways. He has learned the value of ruling with righteousness. He clings to the covenant promise, hoping his sons… will do the same. As David nears his end, he rhetorically asks, “Is my house not right with God”? It is more of a sure confession than a question. David is confident in his relationship with God. He goes on to ask, “Has He not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part”? Again, this is more of a statement than a question. Yes, the Lord his God has made the covenant and He will uphold it. David’s life is secure.

Fast forward to our lives. We too live under the covenant. God has promised to be our God, to love us as His children. David’s heir, Jesus Christ, also established a covenant with us, His brothers and sisters. Through His blood the covenant of grace releases us from the power of sin and death. When we confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior, our future is arranged and secured. Through our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, this covenant assures us of eternal life. We too live under a covenant promise. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for the faithful witness of David. But even more so, thank you for the promise of life with you, both now and forevermore. Amen.


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Deliverer and Redeemer

Reading: Psalm 34: 1-8 & 19-22

Verse 19: “A righteous man may have troubles, but the Lord delivers him from all of them”.

Today’s Psalm ties in well with the readings from Job that came to us the last two days. Verse one today’s begins with, “I will extol the Lord at all times”. The psalmist wants to continually praise the Lord and goes on to invite the afflicted to join him in this pursuit. Even on our bad days, the psalmist invites us to praise God.

Verse 4 continues with the ‘why’ we are to ever praise God: “I sought the Lord and He answered me”. God answers the faithful. Initially, we may not be aware of the answer, but we are always answered with God’s presence. This was the story with Job. Through both the psalmist’s testimony and through Job’s experience, we can trust that God will be with us too. Yes, trouble will find us at times, but we are encouraged to continue to praise the Lord.

When we continually praise the Lord we are ever reminded of God’s presence in our lives – in both the times of joy and in the times of sorrow. Both the good and the bad shape who we are, but the difficult times also remind us of our need for and dependence on God, helping us to be humble and to be aware of our own weakness. Our praise can be both for God’s power and might and also for the strength that He brings us in our weakness.

Verse 19 reminds us, “A righteous man may have troubles, but the Lord delivers him from all of them”. How true it is that we will all have our share of trials in this life! But even truer is God’s promise of presence and deliverance. The Psalm concludes with one more assurance: “The Lord redeems His servants”. Praise be to the Lord our God, our deliverer and our redeemer!

Lord of all time and place, thank you for being with me all the time, no matter my circumstances. You are with me in the good, in the bad, and everywhere in between. May I ever sing your praises with my words, my actions, and my thoughts, always bringing you the glory. Amen.


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Present

Reading: Job 2:1-10

Verse 10: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble”?

Job was put forth by God as a man of deep faith, a man who was blameless and upright. Prior to the current trial, Job has had a wonderful life. Job was blessed – a wife, ten children, many servants, large flocks and herds. Then one day Satan is allowed to test that faith. Job loses all but his wife in one fell day. Even after this massive loss, Job remains faithful to God. Basically he says to his wife, ‘God gives, God takes – may the name of the Lord be praised’.

In our passage today, Satan requests and is granted one more degree of trial. Satan afflicts Job with painful sores from head to toe. As Job is sitting in ashes scraping his sores, his wife says, “Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die”! Not exactly supportive, but very realistic in terms of how people thought then and of how many think today. There is an imagined connection between sin and suffering and between blessings and righteousness. When something bad happens to a good person we wonder, ‘Why them’? When something good happens to a bad person we also wonder, ‘Why them’?

Not Job. Job remains steadfast. Job knows that God is always present. His trust and faith in God are not dependent upon his situation in life. In response, Job asks his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble”? When good or blessings come in our life, we don’t refuse it. How can we accept only the good? For Job, we cannot. To go through so much and to remain do true to his faith is a great witness to us. As life brings its ups and downs may we remember the servant Job and his faith that remained strong. God is present in it all. May our faith cling to this truth.

Lord God, in the trial and in the joy, may I praise your name. In the mundane and in the exciting, may I praise your name. In all things, may I praise your holy name. Amen.


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Community

Reading: James 5: 13-20

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.

Suffering, pain, illness, sin – all are a part of our world and our lives. To go through these things alone is a terrible tragedy. For James, and for us, being a part of a faith community and having a personal relationship with God offers the best methods of dealing with suffering…

James invites us to begin with prayer. It is through prayer that we bring our suffering to God and that we seek relief or repentance. In verse 16 James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. Prayer is very powerful. The power is amplified when we pray in community, when we pray as a gathered community. Each day we also lift one another up in prayer just as others do the same, praying together spiritually. Communicating our needs to God also serves to remind us of our absolute need for God’s presence and activity in our lives.

In a similar manner, James encourages us to gather around those in need of healing, to anoint them with oil, and to pray over them. As we encircle them, anointing and praying in the name of Jesus Christ, we are naming our need for God to come and be at work in our lives. James tells us, “The Lord will lift them up”. May we hold to this promise.

James closes our section today with a good accountability reminder. He gives us the example of Elijah’s prayer that brought repentance to a wayward people. Yes, it took three and a half years. Sometimes our sin is stubborn too. Are you prepared to pray three and a half years for a brother or sister and their struggle with sin? I hope so! When the people repented and humbled themselves, Elijah prayed for God’s mercy and blessing to rain down, and they did both spiritually and literally.

These practices done in community – prayer, anointing, accountability – are all more effective and powerful when done together. As the body of Jesus Christ, may we seek to live and be in community, building up one another and the body of Christ each day.

Lord God, help me to build a sense of community with my family, friends, small groups, and with the congregation. May I lead by example with honesty, transparency, and love. Amen.