pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Alive in Christ

Reading: Romans 6: 1b-11

Verse 6: “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that… we should no longer be slaves to sin”.

At the end of chapter five Paul writes about Adam’s sin bringing death to the world and Christ’s death bringing new life to humanity. Through Christ’s death, through his act of obedience, grace and righteousness now reign. The power of sin and death were defeated. Establishing these truths, Paul goes on to ask a question to begin chapter six. It is a bit of a sarcastic question aimed at bringing the early followers of Jesus back into following mode instead of remaining worldly and enjoying their secular lifestyles.

In verse one Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase”? This question reminds me of the era in many churches when almost all that was preached about was that God is love and that grace abounds. Faith was portrayed as all rosy and as easy. The hard work of humble service and repentant hearts was not often proclaimed. It was the beginning of a shift where faith became more about going to church and enjoying it rather than feeling challenged to go outside the walls to serve and minister in the world.

Paul wants to contrast what is beginning to settle in with what faith actually calls one to do. The idea that one could do whatever one wanted (i.e. – sin) because grace would just fix it all anyway was gaining traction. Paul, however, sees their baptism into Christ as life-changing not excuse-making. In verse six we read, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that… we should no longer be slaves to sin”. Paul is emphasizing the death of the old self, to the sinful Adam in all of us. Dying to self does not mean that we sin no more; it means that sin has no lasting hold on us. Through the redemption we find in Christ, we are forgiven and made right again with God. We can confess and repent and let go of the guilt and shame that can keep us trapped and separated from Jesus Christ. Being made new we are “alive to God in Jesus Christ”. That, my friends, leads to faithful living and humble service. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving and forgiving God, thank you for the gift of being made right with you through Jesus’ sacrifice. In an act of extreme love Jesus made a way for us to be in right relationship with you. On our own, this is impossible. So I thank you for this gift – the best gift ever in this life. 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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Hard Decisions, Challenging Steps

Reading: Psalm 79: 1-4

Verse 4: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors”.

The Babylonians invaded Israel and left a wake of death and destruction in their path. In Jerusalem, the city walls were destroyed and the temple was leveled. For the Babylonians this was just one more nation to conquer. But for the Israelites, the killing was the murder of God’s chosen people and the destruction of the temple was the defilement of God’s home. What is left is not a pretty sight. “They have poured out blood like water” paints a grim picture. To add insult to injury, “we are objects of reproach to our neighbors”. The tribes around them mock what is left of Israel.

As people of God living in an increasingly non-Christian world, we can have similar experiences and emotions. In parts of our world Christians face persecution and even death. In most of our lives, however, persecution does not rise nearly to that level. Yet being a Christian is not always easy in our modern, secular world. Many of the more recent cultural norms are decidedly anti-Christian. The rugged individualism of the past and the me-first attitude of today combine to make being a humble servant countercultural and difficult. To think less of yourself and more of others can lead to questioning and ridicule. To refuse to be immoral or unethical at work can cost one promotions and can draw the ire of those above you.

Satan works in these and in many other ways to draw us away from God and into the ways of the world. It can be hard to look at what your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are doing and to not want to go along. Inside we all have a strong desire to fit in, to belong, to be liked. At times our faith will deny us these things. Something else inside of us – the Holy Spirit – is also at work to lead and guide us to be faithful and true to the Lord our God. One day we too will be poured out and will breathe our last. But between now and then may we make the hard decisions and take the challenging steps to walk as a child of the light in a world of darkness. May we live a life worthy of the one who called us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Guiding God, sometimes it can be tempting to go along with the crowd or to say what pleases. Keep me ever focused on your will and your ways in my life. Hold my hand as I try to walk as a humble servant today. Amen.


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Stay Alert!

Reading: Mark 13: 32-37

Verse 33: “Be on guard!  Stay alert!”

Advent means “coming”.  As Christians, we celebrate the coming of Jesus during this season.  Advent invites us to slow down, to be present to God and to one another.  Advent calls us to lessen the pace of our lives and to prepare ourselves to welcome the baby Jesus into our hearts and into the world.  When we can do these things, our Advent season is calm, peaceful, and joyous.

But Advent is not without its distractions.  Culture seems to shift into a higher gear during this time of the year.  Our schedules get busier with programs at church and at school, with an office party or two, with trips to both sets of family, and, of course, with time to shop.  Our bank account seems to get stretched a bit thin with travel expenses and the need to get just the right gifts to please our family and friends.  On top of this our mind is filled with Christmas advertisements and jingles as our body is tempted to overindulge with holiday treats and more.  With all of this going on and engaging us, it is no wonder we can have difficulty focusing on the birth of Christ and what this means to our lives and to our world.

So when Jesus says, “Be on guard!  Stay alert!”, He is offering us good advice.  To not fall into the Christmas rush, we must remain on guard.  We must be aware of how the secular can draw us quickly away from the sacred.  We must stay alert to the movement and presence of God during this holy season.  In our passage, Jesus also tells the one at the door to keep watch.  We are the filter and the decision-maker for our hearts.  We choose what we allow in and what we allow to come out of our hearts.  May we open wide the door of our hearts for the presence of God to dwell in our hearts this Advent season while we share the love of Christ, allowing Him to burst forth from our hearts into all the world.  May it be so!


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Living Worthy, Speaking Truth

Reading: 2 Timothy 4: 16-18

On this day, many will gather for worship.  Some will be like the tax collector, coming humbly before God, knowing they too are a sinner, seeking God’s grace.  Others will come like it’s an obligation, thinking they are already ‘there’, no real need for God, full of judgment for the worship and those all around them.  Paul connects to both of these – once a Pharisee but now a sinner saved by God’s grace.

As Paul closes his second letter to Timothy, he is near the end of his journey.  He can look back over his ministry for Jesus and can see how the Lord has been by his side, giving him the strength and protection he needed.  Paul has always sought the next lost soul, always working to connect a fellow sinner to the only one who can save – Jesus Christ.  Along the way Paul has faced many mockers, doubters, judges, critics, skeptics, …  Paul has remained steadfast to his mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

We have much in common with Paul.  Each if us has had our share of sin in our life and we continue to wrestle with temptation and sin.  We too have experienced God’s redeeming grace over and over.  We too live in a secular society that often questions, derides, doubts, and challenges our faith.  Our loyalty to God and God’s Word will be put to the test.  And just as Paul experienced time and time again, God will stand beside us and God will give us all we need to remain steadfast.  God will protect us and guide us through the storms of life.  God is faithful and true.

Living a life worthy of our calling and speaking the truths of God is something we cannot do on our own.  But when we are steadfast and faithful, God will be present and will lead the way.  God will go before us each day, guiding us and filling us with just what we need.  Today, may we live as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, bringing all the glory and honor to the Lord our God.