pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Be Moved

Reading: Luke 9: 37-43

Verse 43: “They were all amazed at the greatness of God”.

On the mountaintop we get a glimpse of heavenly presence. Maybe this is what it will look like in heaven – each aglow with God’s glory. At times God reveals a little bit of heaven to us. The expression “a little heaven on earth” comes at times when we feel like things just couldn’t be any better. I think that is an accurate thought about heaven. There things just can’t get better.

As Peter, James, and John come down the mountain with Jesus, they re-enter the world. We’ve felt this before too when we have come down off a mountaintop experience. We’ve felt what they feel walking back into the real world. They come down to a large crowd. The crowd has found the other nine and others who follow Jesus, but no Jesus. A man asks the nine to heal his son but they can’t. Maybe the nine are also waiting for Jesus. They feel inadequate without Him there. They want Him to lead. They have seen Jesus heal and they themselves have just returned from being sent out to heal and preach the gospel. It was a successful trip.

We find ourselves here. We have witnessed Jesus at work in our lives and we have had prayers answered. We have shared our faith with others and have made a difference in their lives. We know and believe in Jesus and we know the power and presence that the Holy Spirit has in our lives. We have a tangible connection to God. And yet at times we act like we do not. We suddenly doubt or question or feel like we cannot meet the call or task at hand. We sort of try to act or talk but do so thinking we are alone in our efforts. We mostly want Jesus to show up and do it. Instead of seeking and inviting Jesus into the situation, we wait. It is a step of faith to act in faith, believing that Jesus will be present and will come alongside. It is a step of faith that we are called to take.

The disciples waited for Jesus to come and act. His questions about ‘how long’ clearly indicate His displeasure that they did not act trusting in the power of His name. Because Jesus is love and compassion, He rebukes the evil spirit and heals the boy. It is one more glimpse into who Jesus is. “They were all amazed at the greatness of God”. Amazed is wonderful. Moved to action is better. May we be moved.

Prayer: Dear God, may I be one to step out in faith, trusting that as you have always been there, so will you be: present, with me, for me, by my side, guiding my words and actions. Amen.

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Yes, me. Yes, you

Reading: Luke 4: 14-21

Verse 16: “He went to Nazareth… and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom”.

After the testing in the wilderness, Jesus emerges and begins to preach in the synagogues in Galilee. Everyone who heard Him praised Him. In today’s passage, Jesus returns to His home town. We read, “He went to Nazareth… and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom”. The Sabbath is the day set aside for God. It is a day to read the scriptures, to spend more time in prayer, to grow closer to God. In order to help people grow in their faith, Jesus teaches on this day.

Not coincidentally the scroll of Isaiah is brought to Jesus. It is not by chance that He opens to verses 11 and 12. Jesus reads the passage that was written about the Messiah hundreds of years ago. As we read these words from Isaiah 61, they cry out “Jesus”! He came for these very things – to preach the good news to the poor in faith, to free prisoners from their sins, to bring sight to those walking in spiritual darkness, to release the oppressed from all that binds them down, and to proclaim God’s love for all people. Jesus then sits down and basically announces that He is there to fulfill this passage.

With our 20/20 hindsight we can see that this is exactly what Jesus would do in His ministry. Jesus healed people of their physical and spiritual infirmities. He shed light onto the darkness in people’s lives, revealing the way to walk in the truth. Jesus championed justice for all and welcomed all people into His presence. He fulfilled these words from Isaiah 61. Doing so, Jesus gives us a model or example of what God’s love looks like when fully lived out. It was not, however, just so we could see what it looked like. Jesus set the example so that we could follow it too.

Just as those folks from Nazareth were uncomfortable with what Jesus was saying, we too look at that list in Isaiah 61 and get a bit uncomfortable. Who me? Do all that? Yes, me. And, yes, you. With the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we too can bring healing, offer hope, work for justice, share the good news. We can be Jesus’ light and love to the world. May it be so for each of us today.

Prayer: Lord God, empower me with the Holy Spirit. Enable me to share your light, love, hope, peace. May all I do and say bring honor and glory to you. Amen.


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One Body

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 12-31a

Verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”.

Paul’s analogy of the church as a body is wonderful. If one thinks about our bodies, we are made of many different organs, tissues, bones, and lots of other parts. Yet the body itself all works together in amazing harmony. Our inner functions hum right along without thoughts directing them. We are fearfully and wonderfully and perfectly made. It is a beautiful image. Isn’t this the dream for our churches?

The body of Christ is brought together by the Holy Spirit. In verse 13 Paul writes, “we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body”. Our faith in Jesus Christ is what draws us together and unites us. Through the Holy Spirit we are each adopted into the body – into the family of God. We reflect this in our baptism liturgy. Also within that liturgy it is not only the parents that covenant to raise the child in the church, but it is also the whole congregation that promises to help do so as well. One body.

But being human, the church is not always perfect. Paul addresses this in verses 14-17 and again in verses 21-26. Sometimes a part of the body thinks it is more important than the rest of the body. One part thinks its way is the best or the only way. This is just one way of causing strife and division in the body. On occasion one part of the body thinks its role is superior to the other parts of the body and this can make other parts feel less needed or less valued. God designed the body of Christ to be better than all of this. Most often, fortunately, it is!

Towards the end of our passage Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”. To me this statement has an implied “so act like it” for us to hear as well. We are called to be a witness to the world. We do so by first and foremost genuinely loving and caring for one another within the body of Christ. It is my prayer that all we do and say as the body of Christ is guided by love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when I am feeling pride or judgment creeping in, quickly bring the conviction of the Holy Spirit to my heart. In those times of tension or unease, may I hear the voice of that same Holy Spirit leading and guiding me. Amen.


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Step Two

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”.

The early church fascinates me. All they knew was Jesus. They preached about salvation – the blessing that came with entering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They told others about how Jesus changed their lives and offered Him to them so that they too could be born anew. The early church lived out their faith boldly and as a witness to Jesus and His love. They lived out in and with the world, sharing the good news with any and all. In them we can see just how easy it is to share the good news – we just have to tell others what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives, opening their eyes to what Jesus can do in their lives.

The early church learns that some in Samaria have accepted the word of God and were baptized with water. The Spirit had not yet come. So Peter and John are sent to help these new believers through step two. There, in Samaria, “Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It was simply an invitation to go one step further, one step deeper – to not only be baptized into Jesus’ name, but to invite and accept into themselves Jesus’ living presence, the Holy Spirit. This second step brought the relationship with Jesus to fullness.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is still the second necessary step. One can come to understand that Jesus is the way, truth, and life. One can come to know that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. We can share Jesus and people can comprehend that Jesus is the Messiah. All of this is just head knowledge. Until they claim Jesus as their own and invite Him into their heart, to dwell in them, then Jesus is just head knowledge. This second step – inviting Jesus to be a daily presence – is essential. The invitation brings the daily guidance and presence of Jesus into a believer’s heart. Then Jesus becomes king not only of their mind but also if their heart. We can lead people to know who Jesus is and we can share the power He has to change lives, but only that person can invite Jesus into their heart.

Prayer: God, allow others to know Jesus through my life – my words, my actions, my teaching. Allow my witness to draw others closer to you so that they can invite indwelling presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, into their lives, making them fully yours. If I am but one step in their journey to you, thank you for allowing me to play that role too. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Clothe Yourselves

Reading: Colossians 3: 12-14

Verse 12: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”.

In these quiet and slow days between Christmas and New Years, we can either drift along or we can be anxious about the year to come. In both cases it can be a time when we lose sight of the birth of Jesus that we just celebrated. Today’s passage is a good connection back to the birth story.

Coming into the world as a helpless infant leaves one very vulnerable and dependent on others. When Jesus Christ entered the world, Mary took Him into her arms and wrapped Him securely in swaddling clothes. This replicates the feeling and safety of the womb, bringing comfort to the baby. Mary provided all the Jesus needed to survive and then to thrive. We find a parallel to this in today’s reading.

In Colossians, Paul encourages us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”. We are to wrap ourselves in these qualities so that we can best survive and thrive in the world. To help us understand what it looks like to live out these five qualities we need look no further than Jesus. Every day He modeled these qualities. It was how God designed us to live. When we follow Jesus and emulate the model He set, then we are living as God desires.

Paul then goes on to encourage us to “bear with one another” and to “forgive as the Lord forgave you”. These two practices acknowledge our imperfections and limitations. We are what we are – the imperfect striving after the perfect. So Paul encourages us to show one another grace and mercy. Our passage ends with Paul’s directive to “put on love” as the thing that covers all of these other qualities and in fact “binds them all together”. Like the swaddling clothes of baby Jesus, when we allow love to be our primary quality, when we allow love to cover all we say and do, then we find comfort, assurance, courage, and strength to live as His witness in the world.

As we go forth into the day ahead, may we be compassionate and kind, gentle and humble, patient and forgiving. And over and before all of these, may we love just as Jesus Christ first loved us. In doing so, we share Jesus with the world.

Prayer: God, in love may I be all these things to those I meet today, bearing witness to your Son, my hope and the hope of the world. Amen.


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Follow God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 10: “By that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.

God established many laws for sacrifices in the Old Testament. The purpose was to bring one closer to God. Too often though, it was just a wrote observance. Perhaps the way we rattle off the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday is a good parallel. Many of the Old Testament prophets called for more than ritual observance – they wanted people to live faithful lives 24-7. The prophets called for loving God and loving others to be the focus and these would lead to mercy and justice and such. In many ways, this continues to be the church’s struggle today. Worship on Sunday is great but how do we live that out the other 167 hours of our week?

In His ministry, this struggle was often a topic Jesus addressed. He frequently clashed with the religious leaders who were more about observing the law than about loving God and neighbor. The religious leaders knew these love commands were the central commands of the Jewish faith. They saw the Law as the means to achieving the love commands. Jesus saw it the other way around. These two love commands lead us to living a life that naturally follows God’s laws and ways. If our focus is on loving God and neighbor, then all the offerings we give and all the sacrifices we make come from a good and holy place in our heart.

The will of God is a hard thing to follow 24-7. Jesus came to give us an example of what this looks like. To follow Jesus and to live out God’s will for our lives pleases God more than any offering or sacrifice ever could. When we are faithful in following Jesus’ example, we are in alignment with God’s laws and will and ways. In living out God’s will all the way to the cross, through Jesus we receive the gift of sanctification. In verse ten we read, “By that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”. By being fully obedient to God’s will, Jesus Christ provides the way for us to be made holy. It is not a one time thing either. We can confess over and over and can be made new, holy and perfect in God’s sight, over and over because Christ died “once for all”. For all people, for all sins. As we seek to follow Jesus, we allow others to see Him at work in our lives and to feel the desire for Him to work in their lives too. May we each live as a witness to Jesus Christ’s saving power today.

Prayer: Lord, may I follow your will today – loving you fully and loving neighbor as Jesus first loved me. In doing so, may I bring others to know you more. Amen.


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Community

Reading: Philippians 1: 3-8

Verse 6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul begins by thanking God for the faith this church displays. Each time that he prays for them he rejoices in their “partnership in the gospel” with him. They must be living out their faith well. Paul also recognizes the end game as well. Their faithful living will lead to the redemption of their souls. In verse 6 he writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Paul is thankful for their place in the family of God both now and in eternity.

Do you have folks in your life that you can say this about? Can you survey those you know and offer up such a prayer of thanksgiving for them? We each have people “in my heart”, just as Paul did, that we too can be lifting prayers of thanksgiving for. There are many in my family and in my circles of church friends and colleagues who have great faith that I am thankful for. Their witness and example encourage and strengthen me on my journey of faith.

For Paul, whether in chains or out preaching the gospel, he appreciated the connection that he has with all Christians everywhere. Paul knows that the family of God extends across geographical spaces and through cultural and social differences. He writes, “all of you share in God’s grace with me”. If he were reading this line aloud, I think Paul would emphasize the word “all”. There is a unity amongst and a connection between all members of the body of Christ. For this too I rejoice. For Christians everywhere, no matter our denominational flavor, we all share the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are all living under the same covenant of grace. In the essentials, we enjoy unity and community. Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for all of those you have and continue to place in my life who live as witnesses to your will and way. They mean so much to me, to my faith. Bless them, O Lord. I also thank you for my fellow Christians, who also seek to bring you glory as together we build the kingdom. Thank you God for the larger community of faith. Amen.