pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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First and Always

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 3: “Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test'”?

Moses is leading the people on a journey to the Promised Land. It will be a forty years journey. When I think of the length of the journey, it reminds me of the long drives to Montana. Sometimes before we even left South Dakota, the “Are we there yet?” refrains would begin. When that happened I knew it was going to feel like a long trip. Even though it was only an eleven hour drive, I think it felt a little bit like Moses was feeling in our passage today.

The Israelites have recently been rescued from slavery in Egypt. In this process, God brought plague upon plague, finally breaking Pharaoh’s spirit with the death of the firstborn. The Israelites were passed over by the angel of death. This miracle became an event they celebrate every year, to this day. The hand of God continued to be upon Moses as he parted the sea and saved the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptian army. God has just provided manna, quail, and water to all the people. As they set out once again the people find themselves at a place with no water. Instead of turning to God in prayer, thanking him for the many saving acts that they have just experienced and seeking one more, they choose to grumble at and quarrel with Moses. In response Moses asks, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test“? I imagine God was thinking the same thing, don’t you?

At times I’m sure I’ve made God think that. I know God loves and cares for me, provides for and protects me, leads me and guides me. Even so, trust in God is not always my default response when a need arises or when I find myself in a time of trial. Seeking God is usually my first response, but not always. And it should be always. Maybe you are like me and know your need to turn to God first and always. As we remember how dearly loved we are by God may we make intentional efforts this week to rely first on God in all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, I know no one loves me like you do. No one has good plans for me like you do. May the Spirit remind me of these things over and over as I seek to follow Jesus more closely. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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By Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise… but through the righteousness that comes by faith”.

As Paul and the rest of the earliest church were sorting out just how Jewish one must first be to become a follower of Jesus Christ, he penned these words that we read today. Before becoming an apostle, Paul was known as Saul. In that phase of his life he was a self-proclaimed Jew among Jews. He was a very devout Pharisee who knew and followed the letter of the law. As the early church grew and began to add Gentile believers, a huge debate arose over just how much of the Jewish faith must be followed to become a Christian.

In our reading for today Paul points to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Paul chooses him for two reasons. First, he is one of the pillars of Judaism. His faith is one of the models. God declares Abram righteous because of his faith. As we’ve been reading, God called and in obedient faith, Abram went where God led. He stepped out and followed God. Second, at the time there was no law. It had not been given yet. Paul is saying that one can be saved by faith apart from the law. Paul, known as the apostle to the Gentiles, is not in favor of applying Jewish laws to the Christian faith. Paul himself became a believer when he met the risen Lord and then entered into a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. For Paul it had nothing to do with the law. In the next chapters Paul will go on to argue this point further. Martin Luther will pick up these texts many hundreds of years later as he works out his “justification by faith alone” doctrine that will rock the church.

Even though the New Testament clearly spells out that one is saved by faith alone we can often feel like we must do good works or follow some set of prescribed steps to be saved. God does not have a giant balance scale that one day weighs out our good versus bad. We know from the scriptures that as soon as we confess and give our sins to God, they are wiped away – they are no more. Nothing is being stacked up on the “bad” side of some mythical scale. Yes, our faith will lead us to do good things. That is how we live out the love of God within us. It is the model Jesus set for us. As we follow Christ, living out our faith, may his ‘why’ become our ‘why’. Jesus loved others because the love of God within him overflowed into the lives of others. May we do the same. May the sharing of God’s love be our grateful response to our God who saves.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your unconditional love and grace. It is certainly not deserved but you pour it out upon me anyway. I definitely cannot earn yet it is still there in unending abundance. It is an amazing love, an amazing grace. Thank you. Amen.


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Core Truth

Reading: 1st Corinthians 2: 1-5

Verse 2: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.

Who is the most accomplished person you know? That answer can vary greatly depending on your field of expertise or area of interest. How would you introduce that person at a big event or gathering? Sometimes in this world an introduction can be longer than the actual content of the talk or speech. At other times an introduction can be very short but much more impactful. Sometimes less is more.

One could easily argue that Paul was the apostle with the longest list of credentials. Yet in our passage today, Paul instead chooses to rely on one thing. He chooses to let that one thing be the focus of his message. Paul speaks the one thing in a way that is clear and easy to understand. He does not use $20 words and he does not go on and on about ancillary ideas. No, he simply states, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”. Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ was his only thing when he began his letter to the Corinthian church. The central focus of that good news was Christ crucified. In this simple story we get how much Jesus loved us (willing to die for us) and we get the purposes of his death (to atone for our sins and to open the way to eternal life). It is a pretty simple message.

Paul began with the core truth. This good news is the framework for our faith. There is more, of course, to faith than just this core truth. But faith begins at and remains grounded upon the acceptance of the basic truth of Christ crucified. May we, like Paul, choose to claim this bedrock truth as our foundation. In all we do and say, may we center on Jesus Christ crucified. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the simplicity of this truth: Jesus died to save us. In this simple truth we find the greatest example of love and mercy and grace. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Fill me with these things as I seek to share my faith with others today. Amen.


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Rooted in Love

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 25: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”.

The Corinthian church is struggling to understand Jesus. The Jews in the church want Jesus to have power and might – think of the God of the Old Testament who parted seas and destroyed enemies. The Greek part of the church wants Jesus to have great wisdom – think of a group of philosophers sitting around arguing about which god is smarter. Paul and other apostles came and preached Christ crucified. Those of faith saw the power and wisdom of God in the cross. To them, on the cross Jesus chose humility and love. This was all foolishness to those looking for a God of power or intelligence. But to those who believed, the cross was the power to save.

The world continues to look at the cross and at the one who died on it as foolishness. Just as it seemed so to the secular culture of Corinth, so it is today. The cross meant weakness and death and defeat and failure to the eyes of the world and to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. For the one who came to save the world, the Messiah, dying on a cross seemed like a foolish choice. How could you save anything or anyone if you were dead? To one looking at the whole thing without faith, it makes little sense. Success in the world means accumulating power and possessions and better and better titles. This is not the way of the cross.

Paul’s message does not end at the cross. The story did not start there either. For three years before the cross Jesus taught a message of love. Key to that message was the idea of loving God and others more than oneself. This agape love was revealed by being a humble servant to all. Jesus lived out his love and service on the cross. There, in love, he bore and defeated the power of the sins of the world, performing a final act of service for all of humanity. Then the crucified body was laid in the grave. The story appeared to be finished. But in three days, God revealed true power as Jesus emerged from the grave, defeating the power of death.

On and through the cross Jesus would defeat the two things that all the power and possessions and titles in the world cannot defeat – sin and death. This is foolishness to the world but is the power to save for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. For those who do believe, we know and live this truth: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you revealed yourself through Jesus in ways that many do not understand. Even for the faithful, at times your ways are still higher than our ways. I sometimes fail to understand. But the cross and what it is rooted in – love – is easy to understand. It’s not always easy to walk it out, but love is easy to understand. So I pray that I may too be love in the world, revealing Jesus to others, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to do the deep and real work. May it be so, O Lord. 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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Strength, Hope, Power

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2: 1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”.

Paul opens chapter two by addressing the return of Jesus. Some have claimed that Jesus has returned and the Thessalonians fear they missed out. Paul encourages them not to be deceived but to remember what they were taught. The basic plan has been laid out. The time has not yet come. At times we too can wonder if we are on the brink of the return. Natural disasters and plagues and wars and violence have led people to wonder if the end is near. After all, these are signs to look for. We must also balance this with what Jesus said – he will come again like a thief in the night. The accompanying advice was to always be prepared and ready. If we are stuck in worry and fear, we are not prepared and ready.

In Paul’s time and in our time many live with fear and anxiety and worry over happenings in our world and in their lives. To hear and understand the truths and promises is not the same thing as living into them. I can hear and understand Jesus’ words to be prepared and ready to meet him at any moment. But can I live my life always within that reality? Therein lies the struggle.

In today’s passage Paul reminds the Thessalonians that “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”. God has chosen each who believed on the gospel and in Jesus. Because of their good confession of Jesus as Lord, they are saved. Paul goes on to encourage them to “stand firm and to hold onto the teachings”. The promises and truths that Paul and others taught will help them to stand firm in the face of fear and anxiety and worry. Paul closes this chapter by praying to the Lord Jesus Christ for the Thessalonians. Paul seeks encouragement and hope and strength for them as they continue to live out their faith.

These words of Paul speak to us as well. When the clouds seem to be rising, may we too remember that we who have confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior are saved. Our salvation is secure. Nothing in this world can separate us from that. May we also remember that the Holy Spirit and Jesus himself, the mediator, continues to offer prayers and intercessions on our behalf, keeping us ever before the throne of God. Knowing all this to be true, may we lay our worries and burdens down before the Lord as we call upon his strength, hope, and power to live this day for the glory of the Lord God. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for all you have done and for all that you continue to do. Thank you too for the gift of your constant presence in my life. As the Holy Spirit lives and dwells in me I am reminded again and again of your love and truth. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Guard the Deposit

Reading: 2nd Timothy 1: 8-14

Verse 14: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in you”.

Paul opens our passage today by reminding Timothy that he should not be ashamed of the gospel. Paul even invites Timothy to suffer with him for the gospel. Because of their call by God, they are seeking to live out a holy life. To do so, he reminds Timothy to rely on the grace that is found in Jesus Christ. Paul then reminds Timothy that Jesus Christ also “destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to life through the gospel”.

In these few verses Paul has covered the essentials of the faith. He has also spoken of a reality: at times believers suffer for their faith. No one wants to suffer but at times we will because the world is sometimes opposed to the truth of the gospel and to the living out and sharing of our faith. Paul states in verse twelve that he is not ashamed because he knows “whom I have believed” and he also knows that Jesus is able to guard what Paul has entrusted to him. Paul has given his whole life – all that he is – to serve Jesus Christ. The gospel that Paul preaches has the power to save him. Of this Paul is convinced.

As the mentor, Paul encourages Timothy to “keep the pattern” that he demonstrated. He wants Timothy to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ with the faith and love of Jesus Christ himself. In the suffering and in the joy, Paul has trusted in Jesus Christ. To that end Paul says, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in you”. The good news of the gospel is the deposit. It is the rock solid truth upon which Timothy must stand. Timothy, like us, does not have to stand alone. The Holy Spirit helps the disciple to guard the deposit so that the world does not overcome. The voice of the Spirit guards against all other voices as it guides us to live out that holy life. May we ever seek the guidance and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Lord God, the pull of the world is constant. Make the voice of the Holy Spirit even more constant. Open my ears and heart to always seek you and your Spirit. Amen.