pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Walking Humbly

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 6: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Returning to Psalm 138 today we are reminded that our relationship with God is built primarily upon God’s love and faithfulness. The Psalm opens with praise to God and expresses joy because God hears and answers prayer. Both of these things have led to growth in the psalmist’s faith. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving are essential parts and building blocks of our faith as well.

Continuing today, we read these words in verse six: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”. The psalmist recognizes that God is divine, almighty, above humanity. There is a humility, a lowliness, necessary to truly praise, worship, and thank God for the many ways that he blesses and elevates our lives. To follow David’s pattern, to take time daily to thank God for the ways that he touches our lives daily, specifically and intentionally, keeps us grounded in the reality that without God this would be a very different existence. This practice keeps us humble; it prevents us from thinking more of ourselves and our abilities than we should.

The proud do only know God from afar. Their achievements, whether athletic, financial, social… are their own doing. Time or need for God seems unnecessary. They are their own ‘gods’. How different from David’s words in our Psalm, how different from the example set by Jesus!

The Psalm draws near to a close with a request for God to “fulfill his purpose for me”. This is a prayer that looks beyond self. It is another recognition that we are created to glorify God, not ourselves. The Psalm closes with another reminder of God’s enduring love and with a request to remain connected to God and his plan for our lives. May this be our prayer today as we seek to walk humbly and faithfully with the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord of all, yes you are on high but your Spirit walks daily with those who love you and look to you for meaning and purpose in this life. Please continue to guide and lead me each day, drawing me deeper and deeper into your love. Amen.


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Questionable

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”.

Photo credit: Taylor Smith

Paul is writing in today’s passage to a church that needs some words of wisdom concerning the idea of a crucified Messiah. These last two words just don’t make sense, they just do not fit together in many people’s minds. For Paul this is the overall message of the cross: Jesus died for you and for me. To those who believe that Jesus loved us enough to die for us, the cross offers the power of salvation and of eternal life. But if you cannot wrap your head around that gift and what it means and gives to the believer, then placing one’s trust and life in Jesus’ hands makes no sense.

In verse 23 Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”. The Jews, for the most part, saw Jesus as a good teacher, as one that inspired many people to a better life, as one who even did some amazing things (miracles). But Jesus was not the Messiah that they envisioned. A real Messiah would never allow himself to be crucified. A real king would not eat with sinners, heal on the Sabbath, regularly engage the outcasts and unclean… All of these things were stumbling blocks to most of the Jews. The Gentiles (read ‘Romans’ or ‘pagans’ here) worshiped many gods and saw the cross as the place of punishment for the worst criminals. To cast one’s life in with the lot of a mere human, one that died with such shame and so powerless – foolishness!

As Christians living in today’s world, sometimes we should be stumbling blocks to some, foolishness to others. For our Lenten series this year, we are calling this “living highly questionable lives”. Last week I read a story about a high school basketball player. During a game he noticed that a player on the other team was wearing shoes that were not suitable for basketball. After the game he took off his shoes and have them to this other player. To some this appeared as foolish. To others it may have been a stumbling block. But to those also touched by Jesus Christ that night, it was the love of God being lived out in a real way.

As we encounter those who see our faith as foolish or as a stumbling block to their preferred way of life, may the Spirit give us the words or actions that preaches the cross in a way that reveals the courage and strength of our faith in the Messiah.

Prayer: Loving God, use me today to reveal my faith in ways that draw others into conversation. Let me love so completely that the other is willing to look past what at first seems foolish or to step over what may initially feel like a stumbling block. May the power of the cross draw them in. May it be so. Amen.


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Impact

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 7-13

Verse 9: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”.

In the second half of our 1st Corinthians 8 passage, Paul reveals how our behavior can affect other believers. Some of the mature believers in the community of faith were comfortable eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. They may have been eating at an event in the temple or they may have purchased meat in the market that had been used in a temple sacrifice. To these mature believers, idols were meaningless so eating this meat was fine. But to the new believers, to those who were not far removed from worshipping these idols, this practice was a “stumbling block”. If a new believer ate of this meat, their conscience would get the best of them. They felt like they had defiled themselves. If they chose to abstain and felt guilt or weakness for needing to abstain when others in the church were partaking, this would weaken their faith. Paul says to the mature: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”. He is asking them to do this for the benefit of their new brothers and sisters in Christ.

Today we must be aware of potentially questionable situations that may also make a new believer stumble. For example, we would not want to talk up or invite a newly recovered person to join us in our bar ministry. If we knew someone had just left behind a sex addiction, we might do harm if we invited them to help in our outreach to sex workers. If we were aware of these conflicts and we asked anyway, we would be doing what those eating food sacrificed to idols were doing. We must also be aware of how our personal decisions and behaviors might adversely affect other believers.

There is a second layer to today’s reading that we as Christians and we as churches must also pay attention to. The mature in Corinth were not demonstrating concern for others. They were meeting their needs, doing their thing without regard for others. Although not explicit in the text, there must have been some conversations or some signal of their felt superiority and inferiority surrounding the eating of this food. Today we use “encouragements” like “if you just had enough faith” or “just trust God” that are hurtful to those new to the faith or to those struggling with their faith. Here we are not building up in love. Love would call us to be present, to listen, to walk with that person, to offer empathy.

Whether by our words or by our example, may we be mindful of our impact on others. May all we do and say build others up in love, for the glory of God and for the building of the kingdom.

Prayer: Lord God, make me aware of my impact. Use me for good in the world. Pull me up short when my example or my words have negative impacts. Guide me to build your kingdom here. Amen.


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This Child

Reading: Luke 2: 22-36

Verse 34: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many… so the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed”.

The day after Mary and Joseph complete the purification ritual they bring Jesus to the temple to dedicate and redeem him. Mary and Joseph are devout people, following the law according to Moses. Each firstborn son is to be consecrated or given to God. The law also provided a way for a family to keep their son. A poor couple like Mary and Joseph would need Jesus to work in the small family business. They offered the normal gift – two birds – to redeem their son. Having completed the ritual, Mary and Joseph were ready to return to Nazareth. But something extraordinary happens first. Mary and Joseph meet Simeon and Anna, two people closely connected to God.

Simeon and Anna have been waiting to see the one who will bring salvation and redemption. God had revealed to Simeon that he would see “the Lord’s consolation” before he died. This day the Spirit leads Simeon to the temple and to Mary and Joseph. He proclaims, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many… so the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed”. Jesus will be both salvation and a stumbling block, connecting with some hearts, hardening others. Simeon also forewarns Mary of the “sword” that will one day “pierce her own soul too” as she stands at the foot of the cross. And then Anna, an old prophetess who spends all her time in the temple, thanks God for seeing Jesus and tells Mary and Joseph that their child will be the redemption of Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph take in God’s plans for their newborn son. Returning home, we read that Jesus grew up and was filled with wisdom and that God’s grace was upon him.

As we reflect on the one who came, comes, and will come to offer salvation and redemption to all things, where is it that we need to feel his loving touch and his healing mercies on this quiet day after the Christmas celebration? The light remains in the world and in our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gift of the one who saves and redeems. Help me to walk daily with Jesus, bringing light and love into the world. Amen.


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Preach

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.

Paul is writing of Jesus’ crucifixion. As Christians we see Jesus’ obedience and submission to the cross as the supreme sign of love. Jesus walked the path to the cross out of love for God and for us. He suffered and died so that we can experience the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. This is the lens through which Christians see the crucifixion.

The Jews and Gentiles of Jesus’ day, however, see the crucifixion much differently. The Romans used crucifixions as deterrents. The torture and pain and humiliation were intentional reminders that told all who witnessed a crucifixion that they did not want to do whatever that person did. The cross came to represent guilt, shame, weakness, and death. It is in this context that verse 23 makes perfect sense: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. Of course the idea of the Messiah going to the cross is a stumbling block and is foolishness.

Our sad reality is that it remains so for people today. Some think that there had to be another way – a better or more humane way to achieve the same end. Some stumble over how a loving father could allow their son to suffer this way. Some do not see or cannot take in the incomprehensible and awesome love that is revealed in this act. The depth of love is too much. For some, this is the stumbling block. Others get the love but wonder how they could ever be worthy of a relationship with a God who loves this much and is this good.

What is the proper response to all of this for a Christian? It is the same as it was for Paul: we preach Christ crucified. Through our witness and through how we live out God’s love, we preach the transformative and all-encompassing love of God in Jesus Christ. We preach that Christ died once for all and we are clear that all means all. We preach about how Jesus has and continues to transform us over and over. We preach about those mercies that come new every morning and about how they never stop coming because His love is never-ending too. As we preach the good news, we help others past their stumbling blocks and we dispell the foolishness so that they too can enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior. May it be so. Amen.


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Stumble Behaviors

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 1-13

Verse One: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”.

Paul is dealing with a controversy in the church in Corinth. Because of their life experiences, one group in the church feels that eating meat sacrificed to idols is sinful. To them it has been tainted, so it should not be eaten. But to others in the church, they do not think there are other gods than God himself. Therefore, they see meat sacrificed to gods that do not exist as being okay to eat. These two groups are at odds.

Paul opens our passage today with these words: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”. He is referring to those who know it is okay to eat the meat as being ‘puffed up’ or arrogant in their stance. Instead of looking down on those struggling with this issue, those Paul calls ‘weak’ or who are less mature believers, Paul encourages them to choose love instead. Paul goes on to acknowledge that idols are “nothing at all” yet reminds the puffed up believers that some are still so accustomed to idols that eating this meat defiles them. Paul then asks the mature believers to abstain from eating such meat because it has become a stumbling block to the less mature Christians. Paul even goes so far as to call it a sin when they intentionally do something that is not a sin if that causes another believer to stumble.

We do not eat food sacrificed to idols today, but we do practice behaviors that cause others to stumble. Imagine the impact on one considering a walk with Christ if they see you regularly joining the office gossip circle or if they hear you harshly judging a fellow worker. Imagine the effect of a Christian using unethical business practices or acting in immoral ways concerning their marriage. Imagine the consequences of making your children go to youth group or Sunday school when you use the same hour to grab a coffee or to do the grocery shopping. As the world witnesses the words and actions of Christians, they can draw others to Christ or they can lead them away from Christ. Through and through we must reflect the love of Jesus Christ first and foremost. We must be diligent in our walk with Jesus, guarding our words and our actions so that we always build one another up. May it be so today and every day.


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Child of God

Reading: Romans 12: 17b-21

Verse 17b: Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

In today’s passage Paul encourages us to live a holy life.  The model that he looked to was Jesus and that is the model we are called to emulate as well.  So let us remember how Jesus lived a holy life – He served all He could, He fed and healed and forgave whenever the opportunity arose, He had time for one and all, and love guided all of His words and actions.  This is our goal as Christians: to live Christ-like lives.

Paul begins today’s passage with these words: “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”.  To do right according to everybody means we strive to not offend or to be a stumbling block to anyone.  He goes on to encourage us to “live at peace with everyone”.  To do this means we avoid things that cause conflict.  That means we do not judge or condemn others, we do not gossip or slander others, we do not take advantage of others, we do not envy or covet…  Instead we are called to lead with love and grace and mercy.

Paul next addresses a natural tendency we have: do not take revenge.  He knows that at times we will be wronged or hurt or taken advantage of.  Paul says to let God deal with that.  “On the contrary” Paul says – feed your enemy if they are hungry and give them something to drink if they are thirsty.  We just need to keep pursuing holy lives.  In doing so we will “overcome evil with good”.

Paul’s invitation to holy living is not without its challenges.  It requires that we look past race, gender, economic status, sexuality, culture, religion, and any other thing that could be a barrier to loving the other.  To do so can be difficult.  So we must begin where Jesus began, seeing every person as they are: a dearly loved child of God made in the image of God.  When we first see God in others, then it is a natural next step to love and serve them as Jesus did.

All people are dearly loved children of God.  May we see each we meet this day as the loved child of God that they are.  And may we seek to love them with all we are.


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To Those Being Saved…

Reading: 1 Corinthians​ 1: 18-31

Verse 23: We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

Paul opens this section of 1 Corinthians with the reminder that it is the cross that has power.  It is through the power of what was done on the cross that Christians can claim victory over sin and death.  It was on and from the cross that Jesus took on our sin and overcame death and rose to eternal life.

For the Greeks and now the Romans of Paul’s day, these Gentiles saw the king or Caesar as a divine being that transcended life.  They were from the gods, ruled for a time, and returned to the gods.  Interaction was limited to their time on earth, then another would be sent to take their place.  Jesus did not fit this mold.  His ‘ruling’ wasn’t very godly and His talk of being eternal was just more foolishness.  For the Jews, oddly enough, they too were looking for a kingly king.  After many years of Roman oppression they were longing for a king like King David.  Their Messiah would be both a great religious leader and a mighty military commander.  Jesus was a great faith leader but not fully in line with the Jewish religion.  To the Jew this was a huge stumbling block that they could not get over or see past.

Today, Christ continues to be foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others.  In our society, the leading call us to climb the ladder of success, doing what you need to do to rise up.  Society says to have fun and enjoy oneself on the way – it is the ‘just do it’ mentality.  Our society tells us to accumulate, to buy bigger and newer, to get ahead, to save lots for a rainy day.  Christ says success is not measured in what you have but in who you are.  The cross says success is laying oneself down for others.  Christ says true life is not found in earthly pursuits but in following Him, doing the will of God.  Christ says to lay down our burdens and to trust in Him.  Allowing Jesus to steer our ship and to set our course is foolishness to the world.  To place others and their needs ahead of our own is a stumbling block to many.

But to those who are being saved, Christ Jesus is “our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption”.  Thanks be to God.


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God’s Ways

Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

God’s ways and the world’s ways are often at odds.  In our daily lives we are constantly pulled in both directions.  God calls us to be loving and kind while the world fills our screens and airwaves with shows and songs that show selfishness and having fun at the expense of others.  God calls us to be generous and giving while the world touts the latest gadget, the newest car, the next best thing.  God calls us to live as servants to others while the world says do what it takes to get to the top.  These are but a few of the many ways that God’s ways and the world’s ways are at odds.

When Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing”, we have many examples.  When we take the message of the cross out into the world, when we love and serve people radically, as Jesus did, people often do not understand.  They wonder, ‘Why would you do this for me’?  ‘Why would you come here and bring food, water, blankets’?  ‘Why would you…’?  When we respond with “Because God loves you”, it sounds like foolishness to those who are perishing.

Paul also writes of how when we “preach Christ crucified”, it is a stumbling block, it seems foolish.  In our culture, it is a stumbling block to ask someone to love God more than they love themselves.  It is a stumbling block to ask someone to genuinely love all of their neighbors.  It becomes foolishness when we explain what it really means to love others as Jesus first loved us.  Why would Jesus do that?  And then there is the ‘cost’ of following Jesus that is a big stumbling block to many.  Sacrifice seems foolish.  Until they themselves have felt God’s radical love, it does seem a foolish step for a non-believer to take.

For those who believe and call on Jesus Christ as Lord, Christ is the power and the wisdom of God.  In Christ our weakness is great strength, our foolishness is much wisdom.  “Christ Jesus… our righteousness, holiness and redemption”.  Christ alone can save.  He is no stumbling block but is the rock upon which we stand.  Christ Jesus is the only way, the only truth, the only life worth living.  May the Lord our God bless our living in His ways this day, always sharing the way to life eternal with a world that is perishing.


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Fact or Opinion?

In today’s reading Paul is writing to a church that is in conflict.  The issue is to eat or not eat food sacrificed to idols.  Today we do not have this particular issue in our churches, but we have others.  Paul’s advice to the Corinthians still applies to our churches today, many years later.

In our churches we all have facts and opinions.  Facts are the basic tenets of our faith – one God, Jesus resurrected, forgiveness of sins, love one another – and rules or laws that govern our church or denomination.  The tenets of our faith are unchangeable, universally true throughout time.  The second set can be changed through whatever process the church has in place.  Some of the laws and rules of a church tend to change over time, to better reflect the society and times in which the church exists.

And there are opinions – those things not explicitly explained in the Bible (like how to perform baptism) or are not in the Bible at all (like when to hold worship).  In these things we find all sorts of ways to find differences.  But arguing amongst ourselves or causing another to sin because of our actions is not living as a Christian.

Paul reminds us to let love be our guide and to be open to others.  He reminds us to always be building relationships.  He reminds us to find unity in our common ground.  Paul also reminds us to be aware of how our behavior influences others so that we are not a stumbling block.  Paul was wise.

Scripture reference: 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13