pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Standing Firm

Reading: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13

Verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall”.

Paul begins today’s passage by reviewing the years after the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. The people were all “under the cloud” – the pillars that were God’s constant presence with the people. They all experienced the miracles of God – the manna and quail, the water from the rock. Even with God’s presence day and night and even with the miracles that all saw, they slipped into sin often. They fell to idol worship, sexual immorality, and they tested God over and over. Paul concludes verses 1 through 10 with the reminder that this history is an example and a warning to them.

As I think back over my years, I think Paul would easily find several examples of times when my story has been similar. There are plenty of times I have chased after the things of this world or have acted in ways much less than pleasing to God. There are ample choices for examples of grumbling at, complaining to, and testing God. In my life are also times when I have felt the tangible presence of God and scores of times when God has guided me or answered prayers or has provided for me or has guided me through a trial. In many ways I am much like the Israelites. If we are honest, these truths – these goods and bads – are a part of all of our journeys of faith.

Paul, in verse 12, gives us this warning: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall”. Satan is ever on the prowl, always looking for the next opportunity to try and lead us astray. If we are not aware of this fact, we are more likely to fall. Then, in verse 13, we find hope.

Paul first reminds us that being tempted is a common thing. We all face temptation. Some of what it is may vary from person to person, but we all face it. And then Paul offers this great line: “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear”. God protects us. Like with the Israelites in the desert, God watches out for us. We, through Jesus Christ, have what it takes to stand firm. Our passage concludes with the reassurance that God will always provide the way out of or the way past temptation. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, when the temptations come, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Remind me of your promises in the Word and of my experiences with you as my savior and rescuer. Help me to stand firm. Amen.

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Washed Clean

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13: 9-13

Verse 12: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”.

Today’s passage talks about our process and the end product. Paul begins by talking about when perfection comes. One day – maybe today, maybe in a few years, maybe in many generations – Jesus will return, making all things new and perfect. For some, perhaps many of us, we will be made new and perfect before that day. When we breathe our last and stand before Jesus we will be made new, holy and perfect in His eternal presence. Yet here, in this life, we also experience this in bursts. As we confess our sins and take communion this Sunday, we will be for a time holy and perfect in God’s sight as we are washed clean by the blood of Jesus.

Most of our lives, though, we are but a stained image of who and what we were and are created to be. Yes, we are made in the sacred image of God. But very soon in life, sin enters in and we are in a constant battle between faith and the world. We face temptation and we sin. We become stained, less than perfect. Yet our God never leaves us there. Just as the Holy Spirit brings conviction, so too does it lead us to confession and repentance. Grace and mercy wash over us, making us new again. And the process begins anew. It is different though. As we grow in our faith, our ability to detect and fight temptation grows as we learn to walk a more Christlike faith. We actually get a handle on a few sins and can leave them behind as we die to self. Yet sin is ever present. Like with Paul, there are some thorns in the flesh that remain. For example, I ever struggle with pride and ego and the need to be in control. Yes, the struggles are less, I see the sin more quickly, but they do persist. In this way we do begin to see that “poor reflection” more and more clearly as we grow to be more and more like Jesus.

Paul writes, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”. Today we know and love Jesus to a certain point. Tomorrow we hope to know Him a bit better. The same the next day as well. Then one day we will stand before Jesus and we will know Him fully. May we each journey well until that glorious day.

Prayer: Jesus, my hope and my salvation, keep me ever drawing closer to you. Work in me to reveal your love and glory to the world in need. May I reflect you to those I meet today. Amen.


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We Are Messengers

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 1: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me”.

Malachi closes out the Old Testament with a reminder and a warning and a call. These three are interconnected. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are reminded that Jesus will suddenly come; therefore, we must be ready to stand when He appears. We are warned – Jesus will refine and cleanse, purifying us. Will we make the grade? We also find a call. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to spread the good news to prepare all people for the coming of the Lord.

The first two are inward. When Jesus comes “like a thief in the night”, will we be ready or will our faith be asleep? Jesus calls for us to be ready. He expects to find it well with our souls. If so, we will survive the refining process. It will only purify us. It will not destroy us. It will be the final cleansing before we enter eternity. If, day by day, we seek to be in a right relationship with Jesus, repenting as need be, then we have no worries.

The last message we hear in our passage is outward. We cannot practice the first two just to live in our own ivory tower, in “holy solitary” as John Wesley put it. That is not God’s purpose for us. Verse 1 again reminds us: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me”. In Malachi we can read this as John the Baptist. Yes, it does speak of John. But it also speaks of you and me. We too are messengers of the good news. We are phase 2, so to speak. We await the return of Christ. As we wait, we use our voice to prepare the way for the Lord bless in the lives of those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This should lead us to the question: who are they?

In verse 5, Malachi identifies a few and Jesus certainly does as well throughout His ministry. We are called to the widows and the fatherless, to the aliens, to the lost, to the broken, to the poor. If we just look around a bit, we will find them. They are in all communities and in most neighborhoods. We will not likely find them in our ivory towers or at our Sunday morning country clubs. They are across the street or alley; they are on the other side of town.

Messengers are sent to proclaim the news. You and I, we are sent to those who do not know the good news of Jesus Christ. May we engage those who do not know Jesus. May we be the gospel and may we share the gospel with those on the margins, with those on the fringes. In doing so, we prepare the way before Jesus, so that He may enter in.

Prayer: Lord, make me a messenger, as hands and feet of Christ, as well as love lived out loud, drawing all to the Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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On Our Side

Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Verses 24 and 25: “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”.

In the Jewish tradition and in some denominations today, the priest intercedes on behalf of the sinner. In the Jewish tradition, the priest would offer a sacrifice for the sin, bringing forgiveness and restoration to that person. Today, some denominations require confession of the sin to a priest who intercedes along with the prayers of repentance offered by the sinner. Together, these lead to a heart that is made right once again with God. All Christian denominations, each in their own way, understands that a “price” must be paid for forgiveness. Repentance and the ensuing forgiveness requires that we sacrifice or set aside something inside of ourselves. We must sacrifice part of our human nature to make more room for the divine nature to dwell in us.

In our passage today, we are reminded of how Jesus Christ was and is a sacrifice. In the opening verses we read, “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”. Ever since the day He died, Jesus has been our great high priest, constantly interceding or praying for us. Jesus is on our side, offering mercy and grace for our human condition. Jesus daily reminds God that He was and is the sacrifice for our sin. “He sacrificed once for all when He offered himself”.

Whether our faith leads us to believe that we need a human intermediary or if we believe that we can go straight to the divine source ourselves, the bottom line is the same. Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins and ever stands between God and us, acting as our great high priest. His Spirit leads us to repentance and He washes us clean of our sins. He who has been made “perfect forever” is on our side. Just as He is exalted above, may we exalt Him here on earth.

Thank you so much Jesus, for paying my price, for offering yourself for my sins. If I was the only sinner, you still would have given yourself. But I am not the only one. So I join the many today as I offer myself and my life to your service. All praise to the One most high! Amen.


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God at Work

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “Mordecai wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food”.

Our passage today begins with Mordecai recording the recent events and sending this out in a letter to “all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerses, near and far”. Mordecai is writing to all the Jews for two purposes. In Esther 3 an edict had been sent out to all the provinces that on the 13th day of the month of Adar, all the Jews were to be killed. Imagine the horror and fear that must have swept through the Jewish communities spread “near and far”. The date would have felt like a ticking bomb. So the first purpose of Mordecai’s letter was to let the Jews know that they had been spared.

As important as this information was, the bigger purpose of the letter was to tell the story of how God had acted to save His people. Yes, being spared is super important, but the “how” is much more important. The letter must have detailed Mordecai’s faith and trust in God to act. It must have spoken of Esther’s course and trust in God. In both cases, it speaks of people willing to step up and stand up for God and for their faith. Thus, it encourages to do the same should necessity or opportunity arise. The letter also tells, more importantly, of how God was faithful too – guiding and orchestrating the events to rescue His chosen people from sure death. The letter ultimately reminds the Jews of God’s love and care.

In his letter, Mordecai declares the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be “days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food” as the people celebrate God at work. These are the days immediately after the former date of their destruction. Mordecai directs the people to give gifts of food not only to each other but also to the poor. Just as God had cared for His people in a time of need, so too will they care for those in need among them. This act is also one more way to tell the story of God’s saving hand.

This story reminds us of times when God has been at work in our lives. These times are part of our story of faith. Like Mordecai, may we also share the story.

Lord, I recognize and give thanks for the many times that you have guided and cared for and even rescued me. May I use each opportunity today to tell the story of your love and care and faithfulness. Amen.


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Evildoers and the Poor

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 6: “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”.

The second half of Psalm 14 speaks of evildoers. These are the folks who will do anything to become more powerful or wealthier. In order for anyone to gain more power or wealth, someone has to have less. What was true in David’s time remains true today.

Verse four speaks of evildoers as people who “devour” God’s people as “men eat bread”. In this verb there is an implication of greed and gluttony. It brings to mind the memory of placing a pizza before a group of teenagers who had been eating backpacking food for a week. The pizza was gone in the blink of an eye and I could see the look of “more?” in their eyes. But the evildoers that David writes of are not seeing “real food” for the first time in a week. They are folks who will eat and eat and eat – not because they are hungry but because they can. The lust for power and money is never satisfied. Getting some just wets the appetite for getting more.

Verse six reads, “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”. For those living in poverty, it is an enending battle to simply stay afloat, nevermind getting ahead. Decisions like buying gas to get to work or buying food for the kids competes with decisions to buy your medication or to pay the electric bill. It is a world of decisions foreign to most of us. These thoughts draw me back to a prayer walk we were on during a mission trip to Racine. A large pile of belongings was soaking up a heavy rain on the curbside. The pastor explained that someone else had been evicted. Among the belongings was a mattress – no box spring or rails or frame. The mattress was all this person could scrape and save for thus far. It was now ruined because they chose another necessity over rent. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to evict someone and, yes, poor decisions could have led to the eviction. The deeper issues that need to be addressed are why the person cannot earn a living wage or find affordable housing.

Where do we fit into this world of evildoers? As Christians, we are called to stand with and for the poor and marginalized. We are called to speak out against low wages and other practices that intentionally and unintentionally keep the poor poor. We are also called to help alleviate suffering wherever we find it by feeding, clothing, visiting, teaching, training… May we each discern both the changes that need to happen and the differences we can each make in our neighborhoods and communities today. May it be so. Amen.


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Bearing Fruit

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse Eight: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”.

As the branches connected to the vine, we have a relationship with Jesus. This relationship is like most of our other relationships – it has an ebb and flow to it. There are moments when the connection feels rock solid and moments when it feels very distant. Most of the time the relationship is spent somewhere between these two extremes. Verse five reminds us of an important truth: “apart from Me you can do nothing”. Now, Jesus is talking about spiritual things here, the things that really matter in life.

The core of being connected to and in relationship with Jesus is bearing fruit. The acts of sharing His love and serving others are lost when we allow the relationship to become disconnected. When we allow this to happen then we are not making an impact for the kingdom and we are not bringing glory to God. Therefore, we need to make every effort to remain connected to Jesus.

Our society is now an instant gratification culture that tends to focus inward and on our own pleasure. Fortunately, the act of bearing fruit often runs against these two norms. Our faith and the practice thereof make us stand out from the secular culture and draw attention to God. When we are doing the work of sharing our faith and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, we are aiming to bear fruit.

More often than not, the seeds we plant will not bear fruit for a while. Every once in a while we might be blessed to be the one when another finally decides to confess faith in Jesus. More often than not we are just the twentieth or the sixty-third or the seventy-fourth person to plant a small seed of faith in someone’s life. We are most often just one more step towards someone entering a saving relationship with Jesus. Nonetheless, we are a part of another’s faith journey and are therefore part of bringing glory to God.

Our passage today closes with this verse: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”. Today, may we show ourselves to be His disciples, bearing much fruit. May it be so today. Amen!