pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Celebrate, Rejoice!

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 & 9-10

Verse 3: “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”.

The Jews are living as a foreign people, living in exile, scattered throughout the land. In the midst of the foreign culture all around them, they are trying to hold onto their faith, their beliefs, their traditions. Over the years, the Jews have become a part of the fabric of society. One happens to win what is in essence a beauty contest and becomes the queen. Her Jewish faith is strong, but it is practiced privately. A man, her uncle in fact, also has kept his faith in God as an essential part of his life. In doing so, he refused to bow down to a high court official. This slight enrages the man, Haman, and he gets the king to sign an edict to wipe out the Jews. It wasn’t enough to just get revenge on the man.

As the date for the Jews’ destruction nears, Mordecai, the man who refused to bow down, enlists his niece, Esther, to help stop this evil plan. Esther also happens to be the queen. After fasting and praying for three days, Esther approaches the king and sets up a fancy dinner that includes Haman. It is in this setting that the king asks Esther what her petition and request are. Esther answers, “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”. King Xerses is outraged that anyone would dare to do such a thing to Esther and her people. Haman suffers the consequence, being hung on the gallows that he had made especially for Mordecai.

This is a great story of faith in God and of God saving His people. The story is remembered in a yearly festival called Purim. Corporately we also have great stories of faith that we remember each year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost… We celebrate yearly to remember God’s love and care for us, His children. The story of Esther and many others in the Bible remind us of God’s presence and provision. This day may we rejoice in the stories of faith and in our own personal experiences of God’s hand at work in our lives. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for the reminders of your steadfast love in stories like Esther’s. Thank you for your hand at work in our lives as well. Thank you for being my God and our God. Amen.

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God’s Presence

Reading: James 2: 14-17

Verse 17: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”.

Our faith rests in our relationship with God. As our journey begins, we first sense God’s presence in the world and in those around us. Then we come to a point where we realize that we too can have a relationship with God. Our faith journey leads us to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as our hope, and as our salvation. We realize that grace is big enough for even our sins and we commit our lives to faith in Jesus’ saving power. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our heart and we live from then on with Jesus’ presence within us, leading and guiding our continuing journey. Others begin to sense God’s presence in us.

Each day we will encounter others who do not have faith. Like we once did, they too can sense God’s presence. And here is the crucial moment, the time that really matters, the litmus test of our faith. As we encounter the lost, do we just offer to pray for them and maybe give them a Bible, really keeping our faith to ourselves? Or do we allow the words to become actions, walking alongside them, guiding them through the next steps of faith? As we encounter the needy, do we do like the man in our passage, simply wishing them well? Or do we spend time with them, understanding their needs so that we can actually meet them as best as we can, taking advantage of the opportunities to share our faith as they arise? As we encounter the broken and hurting, do we only offer a few words of sympathy or give our condolences? Or do we make the time to be present to them in their grief or pain? Do we bring a needed meal or mow an overgrown lawn? Yes, we have many opportunities and many ways to be both God’s presence and Jesus’ hands and feet in the lives of others.

In our passage today, James asks, “What good is it?” if our faith does not lead to action. What good is it if our faith does not make a positive difference in the world? James plainly states, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. How true.

Lord God, move me past my comfortable, easy inner faith. Move me outside of my tidy, little, personal relationship with Jesus and out into the real world. Help me to live a real faith that is shared and given to others, leading them to know you and the gift of salvation. Use me today, O Lord. Amen.


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Saving Relationship

Reading: Psalm 20

Verses Six and Seven: “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed… we trust in the name of the Lord our God”.

Relationship is the key to our faith. In today’s Psalm, David speaks of the relationship we have with God. One of the keys to any good relationship is communication. David opens with one of our key communication tools: prayer. He asks God, “May the Lord answer you… protect you”. As the faithful we are to bring all things to God, trusting in God’s response. David then prays for blessings of help and support from God.

Another way we communicate with God is through our acts of worship. Often this occurs on Sunday mornings as we gather for corporate worship. How we choose to live our day to day lives is also an act of worship if it brings glory to God. When we offer some of ourselves or some of our time, talents, and resources, it is an act of worship. When we give to God or to others because of the love of God overflowing from our hearts, it is worship. When we sacrifice self and place God and neighbor ahead of our own interests and desires, we are also modeling for others the witness given by Jesus Christ.

David goes on to ask that God may give us the desires of our heart and for our plans to succeed. He is petitioning God to grant us a good life. David is not hoping that the king or any of us are billionaires, but that we find contentment and that God provides for all our needs.

As he closes, David turns to the salvation we find through our relationship with God. In verse six he writes, “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed”. When we confess Jesus as Lord, we are saved. We are anointed with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, with the “saving power of God’s right hand”. David goes on to acknowledge that some people “trust in chariots and horses” – the things of man, the things of this world. “But…”, David writes. “But we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. David observed that those who trust in the things of this world are “brought to their knees”, but the faithful “rise up and stand firm”. We do so because we stand on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God for the great love that calls us into this saving relationship. Praise be to the Lord! Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13 to 5:1

Verse Fourteen: “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us”.

Our passage today begins with Paul quoting from Psalm 116 – a great Psalm that praises God’s presence with and care for us. This Psalm is just one of many, many examples of God’s faithfulness to humanity. It is with confidence that Paul writes, “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us”. We too trust and live into God’s presence in our lives and into the love and compassion that find witness to in the scriptures and that we experience with our own lives.

The promise of eternal life that we read of in verse seventeen is a wonderful promise. At times, it brings us comfort and strength. At times, this promise brings great hope. While all of this is true and the promise remains for a who have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, we live now in the present. Paul goes on to write of the grace that is causing joy to overflow. This is what we experience from the promise in our day to day lives. We receive strength in the trial, comfort in the pain, course for the journey, redemption after the stumbles, forgiveness to share with others. All of these and more are the ways we experience God’s living presence with us in the daily walk of life. Paul speaks of this, writing, “Therefore we do not lose heart”. God is always with us. We do not lose heart.

The last section in today’s passage does remind us of our mortality. Paul concedes that “outwardly we are wasting away” and we are. But we also know the second half of the sentence to be true: “yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”. Each and every day God is with us, renewing us. Therefore we fix our eyes on the unseen, on Jesus. He is the eternal. He is our hope. He is our salvation. His living Spirit is with us all the time. Jesus is our all in all. Thanks be to God for His love revealed to us in and through the life of Jesus, the model of faith that we follow. Each day may He renew our body, mind, and spirit so that we can faithfully walk in God’s abiding presence. Amen.


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Going Out

Reading: Acts 1: 1-11

Verse Eleven: “Why do you stand there, looking into the sky”?

The book of Acts opens with a brief recap of the forty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It reviews how Jesus offered “convincing proofs” that He was alive and it reiterates His promise to send the Holy Spirit. The disciples then ask when Jesus is returning to restore the kingdom of Israel. Yes, they are still thinking of earthly kingdoms instead of the heavenly kingdom. Again, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus is taken up into heaven and the disciples stand there staring up. Two angels appear and ask, “Why do you stand there, looking into the sky”?

The angels indicate that Jesus will come back. But the implication in the question is ‘stop staring, it is time to get to work’. There is much to be done, so let’s get busy. Much needs to be accomplished before Jesus returns, so let’s get to work. Quit standing around staring at the sky.

I wonder how often God thinks thoughts like these today. How much of our time is spent staring up at heaven instead of engaging the work that needs to be done down here? How much time do we spend each day in prayer and personal study and how little time do we devote each day to the acts of mercy that Jesus so often called His followers to?

Nothing builds itself. While it is wonderful that we Christians spend our “alone time” with God each day, we must spend at least that much time spending “face time” with the lost, least, and broken of this world. No one will come to faith and experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promises without someone first introducing that person to Jesus Christ. It is essential to go outside of our churches to find those who need a saving relationship with Jesus. They are not coming to us. We must go to them.

Each and every day may we look down and around us, seeking to be kingdom builders, going out into the world to share the light and love and hope if Jesus Christ with a world in need. Amen.


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Barriers and Boundaries

Reading: Acts 8: 26-40

Verse 27: “He met an Ethiopian eunuch… this man had gone to Jerusalem to worship”.

I would love to know the faith back story of the eunuch. He lives in a place far from Jerusalem yet worships God. I would love to know how this man came to know and worship God. Did he learn of God from a Jewish person living in Ethiopia? Did he hear of God from a merchant or businessman passing through the court of the queen?

Whatever the case, his faith in God leads him to come to Jerusalem, the home of God, to worship. But he clearly did not know all the ins and outs of the Jewish faith as he left Ethiopia. He now understands a bit more. The eunuch traveled all that way only to discover that he was not welcome at the temple. He did not meet their requirements. Many others did not either.

Exclusion remains an issue today. Even in the modern world some institutions and places and groups of people exclude others based on color of skin, gender or sexual preference, language, social class, educational level… We can also exclude because “that’s not how we do it here” types of traditions and practices. There are many other ways that we can create barriers and draw boundaries.

Amazingly, the eunuch’s faith is stronger than the rejection he felt at the temple. He is found reading from Isaiah 53. Led by the Spirit, Philip engages the man and answers his question. Philip explains that the passage is speaking of Jesus and then he goes on to share the good news that a relationship with Jesus Christ offers. As they near some water, the eunuch asks to be baptized. Philip baptizes the eunuch. This foreigner, this eunuch, this rejected man is fully accepted by God. In this passage we see that God does not draw barriers or boundaries. All are His beloved and all are welcome to a saving relationship with His Son, Jesus.

The story ends with Philip being taken away to evangelize elsewhere and the eunuch continues his journey, rejoicing in his newfound faith in Jesus Christ. It is a good ending, but we cannot stop here. We must take time to look within and ponder how our churches exclude others. When I look at my church, I see that it does not match the diverse demographics of the community. Does your church match your community’s diversity? If not, you have the same question as I do: why?


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Come Quickly

Reading: Psalm 70

Verse One: “Hasten, O Lord, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me”.

Today’s Psalm is like a little of other Psalms in their intent. This Psalm is one of many that cry out to God for help and protection and deliverance. Many of these Psalms speak of the trial and suffering that is leading the psalmist to open with these words: “Hasten, O Lord, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me”. The psalmist is in need of God’s presence and help. This prayer of David is beneficial to us for several reasons.

One reason is to remind us that all people everywhere have hardships in their lives from time to time, us included. It is simply part of life. In reading how a king so great as David could have troubles just like ours troubles somehow lessens ours or at least makes us feel not so alone the n our struggle.

A second reason is to give us a pattern of prayer that we can use ourselves. This prayer of David can become our prayer for God’s presence and help. In those moments when we feel like others are against us and we need God’s intervention and saving and deliverance, we can pray Psalm 70.

A third and perhaps most important reason is to remind us that it is not only okay to ask for help but that God desires it. When we turn to God for help, we are acknowledging our need for God. In doing so, we build up our relationship because we are being honest and vulnerable. At times we can have difficulty asking for help. It feels weak and runs counter to our rugged individualism mentality that is fueled by pride and ego. Yet if the great King David needed to ask for help, surely so can we. In doing so, we are also practicing humility.

Sometimes we can even ask for help from one another in a time of need. In this we are admitting our imperfections and our inability to do it on our own. This act of humility feels risky. But it admits our need for one another as well. It admits our need for community and friendship and belonging. There we also find great love and support.

When life rains on us, may we ever turn to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In our weakness, they give strength. May we come quickly to those around us. May we ever have the courage to trust in God and in one another.