pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Act in Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11: 1-3

Verse 1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.

Hebrews 11 is about hope and faith. These two are tightly intertwined. For the writer of Hebrews, faith is more of an action than a noun. Today we usually talk about faith as a noun, saying things like, “The Christian faith believes…”. We must shift this mindset if we are to really understand what is being taught in Hebrews 11.

The opening verse sets the stage for the rest of the chapter. In verse one we read, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. Acting in faith dies not first require proof or visible results. These will come. But in our relationship with God we first believe and hold to the promises: peace in the trial, strength for the day, guidance with the hard decision, joy in life, contentment with our station, salvation for our souls… Our faith first leads us to be sure and then we will experience these things. This becomes cyclical, one growing upon the other. Soon our faith then leads us to look forward with hope and expectation of what God will do next.

This looking forward leads us to step forward. The next dozen or so verses in Hebrews 11 is all about people who acted out their faith, stepping forward into God’s promises. We too step forward “certain of what we do not see”. We step forward knowing that the unseen hand of God is leading and guiding us. Author Larry Peacock puts it this way: “Faith is stepping out, leaning forward, and trusting that God goes before us”. I love the image of leaning into God. There is trust there.

When our faith becomes certain then we step out. Doing so we believe the work we do, the kindness we offer, the generosity we share, the support we bring… makes a difference in the world. As we again experience God at work in and through us, God builds our faith even more and also opens the eyes and hearts of the other to begin to see how faith could work in their lives. In and with God’s love and assurance, may we act out our faith this day, being living examples of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, I know that when you lead, you go before me. Too often I try and lead. Often I go alone. Help me to be a better follower, trusting your will and way for me. Help me to trust in you alone. Amen.

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Flourish

Reading: Psalm 52

Verse 8: “I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God”.

The first seven verses of the Psalm are like the tempest of life. For David, Saul is creating the storms that rage around him. Sometimes for us it can be a person or a single situation that is creating the swirl that feels very consuming. Sometimes it is a combination of factors. We can become overwhelmed, especially when we are running at or beyond capacity.

This week we have VBS at the church. It makes a full schedule a little fuller, adding about 5 hours to most days. I love cooking and I love hanging out with middle school youth, so I was looking forward to the week. And then a wicked head cold settled in on Saturday and was going strong until this morning. Just that one little thing was enough to make the first three days extra hard.

David’s struggle lasted a lot longer. He was pursued by Saul for days on end. The constant pressure of moving and hiding again to avoid confrontation was draining. It was very hard. This is revealed in verses 1-7. But then comes verse 8. David pauses, takes a breath, and writes, “I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God”. He stops and pauses and then reminds himself that above all else, above all that is happening with Saul, that God is his refuge and his shelter and his strength.

An olive tree sinks down deep roots. These roots can draw nourishment from the soil. Olive trees are tough looking and are gnarly – they stand strong. David’s faith parallels these trees. He is deeply rooted in God. The connections that he has to God nourish him and allow him to even flourish in the midst of this struggle.

At times we too must pause and stop all of the busyness. At times we too must take a breath, pause, and reconnect through the roots that we have deep down in our relationship with God. Maybe it’s just an extra 15 minutes of quiet time after lunch. Maybe it is sleeping in just a bit to refresh the body. Maybe it is pausing at your desk to offer up a little extra prayer and praise. When we are pressed may we too take a little time, pausing to remind ourselves of our connection to God. In those moments, soak up the nourishment for the soul that time with God provides. Then we too will flourish.

Prayer: Dear Father, when I try and become or do too much, when I just try to push through on my own, slow me down, draw me back in, fill me with your love. Thank you, Father God. Amen.


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Love Like Jesus

Reading: Luke 10: 25-28

Verse 25: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

An expert in the law comes to test Jesus and to justify himself. The lawyer wants to be right and to make Jesus look wrong. The man’s question is focused on something almost all people wrestle with: eternal life. In verse 25 he asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. Instead of giving an answer, Jesus draws the lawyer deeper into the heart of the issue. Jesus doesn’t want to just give an answer, he wants to be able to unpack the answer as well. Jesus asks the man what he thinks. The self-righteous, arrogant lawyer takes the bait and he has the right answer. In the culture of the day, a young Jewish child could easily come up with this answer.

The man’s answer is our answer as well. The first step towards inheriting eternal life is to love God completely. One must love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. Once filled with the love of God, one is led to step two. One is naturally led to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus would go on to amend this too. In John 13:34 we are directed to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Jesus’ standard for love is one that is complete and unconditional. When one invests time studying Jesus in the Gospels, one finds the example of selfless and sacrificial love. Jesus loved and ministered to every single person who came to him, from the lawyer in today’s passage to the prostitute to the widow to the tax collector to the hungry crowd to the lame, deaf, mute, leper… Not once did Jesus place his wants or needs ahead of another’s needs.

The lawyer’s question is personal and selfish: what must I do? He knows the two commands but is focused on self. The two commands do not involve the word “I”. Neither did Jesus’ understanding of loving God and loving neighbor. At times I can find myself asking the same selfish question as the lawyer. In those moments my concern for the other is minimal at best. My culture and my nature tends towards the selfish. The call, though, is to love God and to love neighbor. Daily the self must die so that I can love God and others unconditionally. As Jesus said, “Do this and you will live”. May it be so.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, your model of love is the one I strive for. Help me, through the power of your Holy Spirit, to love God and to love neighbor fully and without hesitation. Kill the fleshy man within me. Build up my love for God and for others. Amen.


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Discipleship Cost

Reading: Luke 8: 51-62

Verse 57: “A man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go'”.

As Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem he knows all about the cost of discipleship. In the first half of the passage, he meets some folks who aren’t quite ready for discipleship. They reject him – won’t even welcome him into their midst. Jesus rebukes James and John’s desire to punish them severely for not welcoming Jesus. They just are not ready yet. Jesus suggests they simply move on to the next place – perhaps some there will be more receptive.

Along the way they encounter three who sense a call to maybe follow Jesus. The common cultural commitment to follow a rabbi was a major 24/7 commitment. But most rabbis weren’t like Jesus and following them was different. To the first, the one who says “I will follow you wherever you go”, Jesus says following him won’t be comfortable. Jesus does not have a home base. He relies on those he meets along the way. Sometimes you just have to keep on going, hoping the next place is more welcoming. This isn’t what the man had in mind and he passes on following this rabbi.

Jesus next meets two more with some interest in following. Yet both have obstacles to following. Both have something else more important to do. Jesus’ basic response to both is the same. If you want to follow, 24/7 devotion is the expectation. One must be willing to prioritize Jesus above family and everything else if one is to truly follow. For these and for many, the cost is too high.

We began today with a story about some folks not even being willing to welcome Jesus and we follow up with three examples of not being able to follow once a desire to do so is felt. There is a high cost to choosing to say yes to the Lord and Savior of the world. May we each choose to count the cost and to make the costly choice of discipleship this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord, it is a hard and narrow road. The cost is sometimes physical, sometimes emotional, sometimes financial, sometimes social, and sometimes all of these. Grant me the strength and the will to choose to follow you only all of my days. Amen.


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In Our Focus

Reading: Psalm 16: 8-11

Verses 8 & 11: “I have set the Lord always before me… You have made known to me the paths of life”.

Not too long after beginning to really follow Jesus, one learns that life is better with Christ. No, one’s troubles do not just go away but the presence of the Lord makes the journey better. Our faith brings us hope, comfort, strength, peace… Through these experiences we come to know one of the truths that David states: “You have made known to me the paths of life”. Through our own experiences we too come to believe that Jesus is the only way to live and to eternal life.

Yet even though we come to know this as we mature in our faith, the reality is that we must make an effort to keep our faith in focus. In verse 8 we read, “I have set the Lord always before me”. I think the key word here is “always”. That means 24/7. To keep God ever before us – 24/7 – takes a lot of effort and a lot of discipline.

The effort is shown in how we connect with God. In our prayer life it must be more than a quick ‘thank you God’ here and a table grace there. Daily prayer must be intentional and should include praise, thanksgiving, confession, and petition (asking). Our study of the Word must also be more than superficial. For example, when we read the Upper Room or some other devotional, do we read the passage or just the key verse listed at the top? Reading the passage will add depth to our understanding. We must turn to the Bible for guidance and for direction as well. Another practice that helps keep our faith in our focus is fellowship with other believers. That is certainly public worship but it is also in small group or Sunday school settings. Talking about our faith and learning together are great ways to expand our perspective and to deepen our understanding of God’s word.

And then there is discipline. The daily and intentional attention to the means of grace requires discipline. Discipline is essential to the life of a follower of Jesus. It is too easy to put off the prayer time or Bible study or small group. It is an easy excuse to say I’ll do it later or I’ll catch up tomorrow or I’ll start going again next week. How would we feel if we lifted up an earnest prayer and God responded with “I’ll try and get to that next week”? May we strive to keep the Lord ever before us and in our focus. May it be so.

Prayer: Thank you God for my routine. There is no better way to start my day! Thank you for the regular opportunities to engage with you and with other believers. Blessings upon blessings! Amen.


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Poured Into Us

Reading: Romans 5: 3-5

Verse 5: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul begins our passage today by stating that we rejoice in our suffering. Taken by itself many would question this statement. For those outside the faith it sounds a bit crazy. Why would anyone rejoice in suffering? After the fact one can often look back on an experience and see that they did grow or did learn something. Even so, most folks would rather learn or grow in a way that did not involve suffering.

Paul bases his statement on a believer’s hope and faith. When a believer knows God’s presence in the midst of suffering, there is a strength that one finds. When a believer holds onto hope because of a trust in God’s plan, then there is a power that is present. Here Paul is connecting back to verses 1 and 2. God’s strength and power in us is what leads to perseverance. When God has been present in our suffering, we trust that God will be there again and again, building our ability to persevere. This, in turn, builds our character – we gain confidence in God and in God’s plans. We can trust God through the suffering.

Running in and through this all is one common thread: God’s love. It is a love that wants to be there, to be present, to carry us at times. In verse 5 Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. Because we have God’s presence in us through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a faith and hope that is rooted deeply in us, that is always there to draw upon. God’s love is a part of us. For this, we rejoice and praise the Lord our God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your constant and abiding presence in my life. Continue to lead and guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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The Holy Spirit

Reading: John 14: 25-29

Verse 26: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you”.

As Jesus is preparing His disciples for His departure, He speaks these words to them: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you”. He will not leave them alone or as orphans. In chapter 16 of John, Jesus will go on to tell them that it is good that He is going away – only then will the Holy Spirit come to each of them. This constant indwelling presence of the Spirit will be like Jesus Himself living in each of them. It will teach and remind them. It will bring them peace. Our passage concludes with Jesus telling them that He shares this now so that when it happens they will believe. He is predicting the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of His followers.

There are many names for the Holy Spirit. The original in Greek was “paraclete”. This word translates to “one who comes alongside”. This translation reminds one of a best friend who is always there for you. Other names include Counselor, Advocate, Guide, and Holy Ghost. The Spirit is the personal, intimate, continual presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts and minds. The Spirit works within us to draw us closer to God, to teach us the ways of God, to keep us on the right path, to remind us of how to follow Jesus. It also helps us to feel God’s peace, comfort, love, strength, grace, mercy, forgiveness… The Holy Spirit is a wonderful gift that comes when we confess Jesus as Lord. Thanks be to God for the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Giver of all good things, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit in my life. Thank you for how it encourages, strengthens, empowers, and leads me. Thank you for this wonderful gift in my life. Amen.