pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Worthy Conduct

Reading: Philippians 1: 27-30

Verse 27: Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

In today’s passage, Paul encourages the church in Philippi to talk the talk and to walk the walk that Paul himself has talked and walked.  This is, of course, to follow Jesus – the original model.  Paul’s opening line today is both challenging and inspiring: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.  What a charge Paul gives to the Philippians and to all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

Over the next few verses, Paul unpacks what it looks like to live this life worthy of Christ.  The first step is to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man”.  Paul wants them to be unified under Christ and to hold fast to Jesus’ teaching and example.  He knows they are stronger together than as individuals so Paul encourages unity.  Next Paul tells them not to be frightened by those who oppose them.  In this world trouble will come.  In fact, Paul is writing them from prison.  He is under arrest for spreading the gospel.  Just as Paul’s trusts in and rests in God, he is encouraging the Philippians to do the same.

Lastly Paul says that it has been “granted” to them not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer for the gospel.  He says they do so “on behalf of Christ”.  Any and all suffering done on behalf of Jesus is a glorious witness to their faith in Christ.  It reflects the promise that He and we will overcome the world.  Just as Jesus willingly suffered on the cross for us, Paul gladly suffers for the sake of the gospel.  He encourages the Philippians and us to do the same.

These few verses pack a lot.  They are a great reminder of what worthy conduct looks like as we respond to our call to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To summarize: stand firm, do not fear, be a suffering servant.  All were modeled by Jesus.  May we go and do likewise.

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Overflow

Reading: Philippians 1: 21-26

Verses 21 and 23: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain… I am torn between the two!

Paul writes today from a Roman prison cell.  Death looms in the air.  The executioners could come at any moment.  Yet even in this place Paul is full of hope.  He has come to a place in his life where his faith is absolutely secure.  He is assured that if this day were his last that he would depart and be with Jesus – “which is far better”.  This is what Paul means when he says, “to die is gain”.

But Paul also feels this pull to living.  He feels a pull to live so that he can continue in his ministry.  He knows that if he “stays in the body” that he will continue to have fruitful labor.  His work will continue to be about bringing people to Christ and about helping people to grow in their faith.  This is what he means by “to live is Christ”.  He also acknowledges another “better” – it is better for the church in Philippi if he continues to live so that he can continue on with them on their faith journey.

Although Paul is “torn between the two”, there are some lessons in his circumstance and attitude for us.  First, his focus is on others.  It would be far better to be with Jesus in heaven.  Many people today feel this way.  But like Paul they know God has more in store for them.  Paul loves Jesus and the church more than himself so he joyfully remains.  Second, he finds joy in the suffering.  Paul is living into the idea of being worthy to suffer for Christ.  He has stood firm in the faith and gladly faces the consequences for doing so.  And lastly, Paul is reflecting Christ.  His desire and will to serve others regardless of the cost to self models Christ’s example to others.  Just as Paul has chosen to closely follow Christ, his example here beckons us to do the same.  In all we do and say each day, may we strive to allow our “joy in Jesus Christ” to overflow into the lives of all we meet.  May it be so.


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I Will Be with You

Reading: Exodus 3: 7-15

Verse 12: And God said, “I will be with you”.

Moses has been selected to go to God’s people to lead them to freedom.  God has heard their cry and has seen their suffering at the hands of their slave drivers.  The God of justice will use Moses to guide the people to a “land flowing with milk and honey”.  The plan all sounds great – except to Moses, who asks God,”Who am I…?”

In each of our communities there is certainly suffering.  It may be caused by difficult financial situations or by things such as drugs or alcohol addiction.  It might be caused by mental illness or by the past experiences caused by generational abuse of one type or another.  It might be caused by prejudices and bigotry that keep a segment of the community on the outside looking in.  There are people suffering due to events of nature and others suffer because of the actions and poor choices of individuals.  There is no shortage of things that cause suffering.  To some of us, God calls.

Just as Moses was called and sent by God, over the centuries God has called both prophets and ordinary people to speak words of hope and love and healing and, at time, hard words of truth.  God has seen and will continue to see the suffering in our world and He has and will continue to send those who will lead the people away from sin or out of the oppression and suffering that they are enduring.  Often the person has looked at the task ahead and questioned God and uttered some form of Moses’ “Who, me?”

Yet God reassures the doubtful and fearful Moses; Moses will not go alone.  When we sense a call from God to lead someone to freedom or to offer relief from suffering, we do not go alone either.  Just as God went with Moses, God will go with us as well.  This is a promise we too can trust and lean into as we respond to the call that God has placed upon our hearts.  Like Moses, may we find reassurance in these words: “And God said, ‘I will be with you'”.


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Complete Relationship

Reading: Romans 8: 12-25

Verse 17: We are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.

Paul began life as Saul.  His faith was rooted in being one of the “chosen people” and there was a certain exclusiveness to this.  As he studied and came to know more he became a Pharisee.  He became part of a very exclusive group within an exclusive faith.  His view of faith was based on lineage and a long list of rules to keep to maintain good standing with God.  But then Saul met Jesus.

Jesus got ahold of him and, as Paul, he came to understand God and our relationship with God from a whole new perspective.  Instead of the God of the Old Testament, Paul came to know and preach the God embodied in Jesus.  He came to see Jesus as the fuller revelation of God’s presence and being.  Just as the Old Testament continued to develop the relationship between God and His people, so too does the New Testament – through the love and witness of Christ and then through the continued development of the church.

Paul came to understand that all people are God’s people.  He saw a universal love instead of a limited or select love.  Paul also came to understand that grace and love were universal and free to all.  To access this love and grace, to become part of this family of God, all one had to do was accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It was Paul’s route and he lived to help all he met to make the same decision.  He came to live out the indwelling Holy Spirit that led and guided him as he shared the good news of Jesus with all he met.

Paul also grew to understand that it was a complete relationship.  It was an all-in, all day, for better or worse type of a relationship.  In verse 17 Paul writes, “We are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory”.  Yes, once we join the family we are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ – heirs to salvation and eternity in a glorious heaven.  But Paul was writing to the church in Rome.  They were facing suffering and Paul wanted to encourage them in and through this as well.  The early followers of Jesus, especially the disciples and apostles, rejoiced when they suffered for Christ.  They felt like Jesus in His suffering.  They also knew that suffering would lead to a time in glory.  Like the groanings of birth, Paul knew that the trials and suffering would lead to new life.  It is a good reminder to us as well.  Like Paul, may we be encouraged and remain in God’s love, openly accepting the free gift of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and new life.  For this great love we join the saints in saying, thanks be to God!


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Hope and Compassion

Reading: Genesis 24: 58-67

Verse 67: So she became his wife and he loved her and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Abraham’s act of fatherly love culminates in a successful wedding.  He has managed to do what all good parents try to do – bring joy to their children in times of sadness.  Isaac is in mourning over the loss of his mother Sarah.  Their relationship was especially close and her passing has created a large void in his life.  Abraham was simply trying to remove this pain from Isaac’s life.

When we find ourselves in a time of suffering and sadness, we too want to be surrounded by those we love.  We find comfort and compassion and, through our loved ones, our sorrows are alleviated.  We seek out those who will love on us and turn our thoughts to brighter and happier things.  This is the role Abraham plays for Isaac.  The last line in today’s passage reads, “So she became his wife and he loved her and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death”.

As Rebekah responds to the call to go, her family sends her with a blessing.  These words – “may you increase to thousands and thousands” – remind us of God’s covenant with Abraham to have descendants as numerous as the sands on the seashore.  It is just one more showing of God’s hand orchestrating and blessing this whole situation.  It is evidence of God’s love for and concern for His people and their future.

God has the same love and concern for you and I and for our future.  Just as God compassionately cares for Abraham and Isaac and Rebekah, so too does He care for us.  All we need to do is enter into a relationship with God to know His love and care and compassion.  All we need to do to experience a future of promise is to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  God’s love and compassion work to draw us in.  They call out to us.  May we, like Rebekah, step into God’s love and live into the hope and promise that God offers to all who call on His name.


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Trust and Sing

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse One: How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?

Our Psalm of complaint opens with quite the line: “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever”?  It is a place we all have been at times in our lives.  In our minds we know that God is always present and that His love never fails, but in our hesrts sometimes we feel like God is absent.  We can relate, in our own monents of trial and/or suffering, to the psalmist’s feeling that God is hiding.  Of course, this is all our own creation.  The Psalm refers to wrestling in our thoughts and this is usually when we think God has been absent – when we were too busy to stop and go to God because we had to solve or fix the ‘problem’.  We are sometimes slow to “let go and let God”.

The psalmist pleads with God to “look on me and answer” as he seeks some resolution or end to his struggles.  It is a point we eventually get to as well.  We finally hit bottom or get to the point of not knowing what else to do and we then turn to God.  We admit that our “enemy” has overcome us and we cry out for God to help us.  At times, this can look like a ‘we is me’ pity party.  Sometimes though, we do try and seek God right away, but it feels as if God is distant.  Mother Teresa called the season in her life when she felt far from God even though she was seeking God the “dark night” of her soul.  It is a very hard place to be, but sometimes we find ourselves here too.

In the end, in the last two verses, the psalmist returns to the faith that has sustained him before.  He recalls trusting in God’s unfailing love and his heart rejoices at the thought of salvation.  Instead of complaint, the psalmist sings to the Lord – “for He has been good to me”.  These too are choices we can make.  May we ever trust in God’s unfailing love and sing our praises to God each dsy, ever remaining close to our God and King.


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Hope

Reading: Roman 5: 1-5

Verse Five: God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Chapter Five opens with Paul’s declaration that we can claim peace with God through Jesus Christ because we are made right through our faith.  It is a bold statement but one we live into every day as Christians.  Our faith in Jesus Christ brings us into God’s grace, the unmerited gift of forgiveness that washes away our sins so that we can stand before God holy and pure.  It is an amazing love that makes us righteous day after day after day, sin after sin after sin.  It is a love without limit.  It is indeed the hope of the glory of God which leads Paul to rejoice.  May we rejoice as well!

In verse three Paul shifts directions but not end results.  Not only do we enjoy a peace with God that leads us to rejoice, but Paul also encourages us to rejoice in our sufferings as well.  Being made right through God’s grace allows us to have hope in our future.  For Paul, he saw this same hope as the end result of our suffering.  For Paul, suffering was a necessary part of our Christian journey.  As Saul the Pharisee he certainly had inflicted much suffering on Christians and as Paul the Apostle he definitely endured his share of suffering and persecution.

For Paul, he rejoiced in the sufferings because he knew it would lead to a deepening of his faith.  Paul had learned that in suffering righteously one learns perseverance.  When we lean into God and endure with the power and hope that Jesus Christ offers, then through the power of the Holy Spirit we can persevere.  As we trust in God and live within His presence, that develops our Christian character.  Our hope in God’s glory grows as we experience the power and strength of God carrying us through our trials.  We begin to see these earthly troubles as bumps along the way to experiencing God’s eternal glory.  This in turns leads to an ever growing hope.  It is a hope that is everlasting.  It is the hope that will not disappoint or fade.  It is the hope that thieves cannot steal and moths cannot destroy.  It is the hope we come to know beyond the shadow of a doubt because we come to fully know that “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

As Christians we face each new day with God’s love deep in our hearts.  May we walk in faith and hope this day and every day, trusting in the God who loves us beyond all measure.