pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 13-25

Verse 25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

What does God expect or require of you? What did Jesus expect of his disciples and of those that would follow him? If we were to make a list to answer these questions, would the list be a collection of things to do or would it detail how to live our lives? Paul is answering these questions for the church in Rome in today’s passage.

The church in Rome was falling into the trap that Paul has been caught in for most of his life. Faith was a form of legalism – of checking boxes and staying within the lines defined by the Law. Faith was not a way of life. To help them understand this Paul goes back to Abraham, the father of Israel, the patriarch of all patriarchs in the Jewish faith. In our passage today Paul points out that God credited Abraham as righteous because of his faith in God. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his trust and obedience to God’s direction. The Law was not even in existence yet. Entering into this right relationship with God through faith alone made Abraham and his descendants heirs of God’s promises. For Paul, all who believe in Jesus fall into that line of descendants. Belief is what gets one in that line, not following any set of rules or lists that we can make up.

Paul defines belief in Jesus as the only action necessary to be “credited” as righteous – being right with God. He wants to be clear that righteousness does not come from following the Law or any other set of rules, but from faith in Jesus Christ. In verse 25 Paul reminds those in the church in Rome and all who follow Jesus why belief in him is essential: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. In dying for our sins, Jesus removed the weight of the Law – that sacrifice for this sin, this sacrifice for that sin… – and he paid the price through his blood. A final sin sacrifice was offered by one for all. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are made righteous before God. In being raised from the dead, Jesus defeated death, opening the way for us to receive eternal life. Both are gifts, given to us without price, without any requirement except believing that Jesus did this for each of us. These is no law or rules that we can follow to receive or earn these gifts. They come through faith alone. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, I am so grateful for these gifts of love – born to the cross and into the grave for me. You stood in my place and took the punishment for me. And you did not stop there. You walked out of the grave, breaking those chains too. Thank you for the gifts of love that make it possible to experience joyful and abundant life now and to enter eternal life one day through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.


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Fringes and Edges

Reading: Matthew 9: 9-13

Verse 11: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”?

Photo credit: Marten Newhall

Our passage today opens with Jesus calling another disciple as he walks along the road. The man he calls us named Matthew. He was sitting in his tax collector’s booth when Jesus said, “Follow me”. It’s hard to say what an equivalent calling would be today. Tax collectors were almost universally disliked and hated. They worked for the occupying force, the Romans, collecting taxes to pay for the enemy to stay in power. Most tax collectors gathered well above and beyond what the Romans required. Becoming rich was a side perk of this government job. Being wealthy was nice but the occupation limited one’s circle of friends. Matthew’s crowd would be limited to other tax collectors and others who took advantage of others. Money lenders, prostitutes, slave traders… would have been among the crowd at Matthew’s house as Jesus joined them for dinner.

Upon seeing the crowd that Jesus has chosen to become a part of, the Pharisees ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”? Why would Jesus call one of these to discipleship, to following him? Why would Jesus sit amongst this crowd of sinners? I suppose some people today think the same thing when they see their pastor emerging from the hymn sing at the local brewpub or when they see members of the outreach team exiting the local strip club. In response Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. Jesus did not come to just sit around the temple or local synagogues chatting with the faithful about the scriptures. Yes, Jesus did this and this habit continues to be a very important part of our faith journey. But Jesus also spent the majority of his time doing ministry out in the world – among the tax collectors and sinners, among the hurting and broken, among the Gentiles and others who were marginalized by the religious establishment. These are the ones in need of a “doctor”. These are the ones in need of healing, wholeness, love, a sense of community.

Who are the tax collectors of your neighborhood or community? Who are those on the fringes and edges? How can you minister to these that Jesus surely would have?

Prayer: Lord God, make my heart and will more like yours. Guide my feet to those in need of your love and care. Bring me past the barriers and fears in my mind, trusting more fully in your guidance and direction. Amen.


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Come and See

Reading: John 1: 43-51

Verse 46: “Come and see”.

Today’s passage opens with the call of Philip. Jesus “found” Philip and said to him, “Follow me”. The fact that Jesus found him implies that Jesus is looking for certain people. Just as God had Jesse’s older sons pass before Samuel until David – the one after God’s own heart – came and was anointed. Jesus must have seen a similar heart in Philip. Then, just as Andrew had done with Peter, Philip goes and finds Nathanael and says, “come and see” as he invites him to come meet Jesus. Philip too saw or felt something special in Jesus. All of these things that Philip experienced are a part of our call too. Jesus saw something special in our hearts, he knew we were ready at that moment. We saw something special in Jesus and he called, we followed.

Philip describes Jesus as “the one Moses… and the one about whom the prophets wrote”. He sees Jesus as part of the big story of God. After meeting Jesus, Nathanael calls him the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel”. He recognizes both Jesus’ divinity and authority. Earlier in John 1, John the Baptist calls Jesus the “lamb of God” and Andrew calls him the “Messiah”. How was Jesus introduced to you? Was it one of these names or was it Savior or healer or redeemer or comforter? Was it something else?

For the first disciples, each would come to know the many names for Jesus. Just as I am son, pastor, husband, follower, father, musician, brother, and so on, Jesus is not any one thing. As they grew in their faith and belief, just as we do, who and what Jesus is to us grows. Along our journey of faith others have taught us another “part” of Jesus, just as we in turn have taught others. In doing so we become part of the long line of disciples following the Christ.

Today, may we pause to praise God for three things. First, thank and praise him for your place in this family. Second, thank God and pray blessings upon all who have helped you to know Jesus. And, third, ask for guidance and discernment about who to share your Jesus with today as your life and words say, “Come and see”.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for all Jesus is as the head of this happy family. Thank you God for each who has helped me to know you more. Bless each and every one of them, O God. And, Lord, lead me to the one or ones who need to see you in and through me. Amen.


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Patient

Reading: 2nd Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse 9: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

2nd Peter focuses on reminding the believers that the second coming of Jesus Christ is still coming. As time has passed, some of the followers have started to doubt, to question the promised return. Our passage today begins with this truth: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day”. God’s timing and sense of time are not our timing. Our 60, 80, or even 100 years is but a blip in God’s eternity. In our instant gratification, me-first culture we still identify with the struggle to wait with faith.

The reason we continue to wait for the second coming is identified in verse nine: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”. God is patient. Out of the depths of his love for humanity – the least and the lost just as much as the saved and redeemed – God waits because God does not want to see anyone die without the opportunity to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In this way, God has a “just one more” mentality: just let the good news of Jesus Christ get into one more heart, into one more home, into one more community, into one more nation… People cannot and will not repent of their sins until they have a chance to know the saving grace offered by the Lord.

God is patient, but it is not a passive patience. It is an active patience that we are called to live out. The great commission is the call to make disciples of all peoples. Patience must be a part of how we collectively and individually live out this call. Reflect inward for a moment. Are there sins that you continue to struggle with? Do you want God to be patient with you? When I consider these questions, I recognize my struggle with pride and wanting to be in control. Yes, God could get a bit frustrated with me. God could say, ‘Its been 2,379,647,704 times that your pride has caused you to sin, John. I’m not sure about forgiving #2,379,647,705’, but he doesn’t. Instead God reminds me that pride sin 2,379,647,703 was cast as far as the east is from the west. It was forgotten by God the moment I confessed… We are called to that same patience as we seek to share the good news with unbelievers. One more conversation about faith, one more gesture or act that shows God’s love, one more…

As we seek to bear witness to our faith today, as we seek to bring one more person to Christ today, may we be patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

Prayer: God of love and mercy, remind me again and again how patient you are with me. Turn that reminder into a drive to see all enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. As you love me, may I love others. Amen.


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Being Kingdom Builders

Reading: Matthew 21: 42-46

Verse 43: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce fruit”.

Our section for today opens with Jesus quoting from the Old Testament. This is one of many passages that point towards the Messiah. Jesus is the fulfillment of these passages. When he says “the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone (or cornerstone)” he is referring to himself. Jesus will be the stone that is the foundation, the stone that holds all things together. The religious leaders fail to see Jesus this way. For them, this is not “marvelous in our eyes”.

Jesus’ quotation from the scriptures leads into a declarative statement: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce fruit”. The key attribute is producing fruit. Today we mainly call this “making disciples” but it also includes growing deeper in our faith. The task of making disciples, of growing the early church, will fall mostly to fishermen and other ordinary people. It will also be carried out by healed lepers, recovering prostitutes, reformed tax collectors, and the like. They all lack formal training but have first-hand experience with the cornerstone. It is the story that they tell that continues to draw others in. Theirs are the stories of transformed lives and new hearts. They are stories of love and hope, of mercy and forgiveness, of acceptance and welcome. As these stories drew others in, the church grew. Fruit was being produced.

The chief priests and Pharisees know Jesus is referring to them. They are not at work building the kingdom of God. They are about maintaining the status quo and limiting access to only the holy and righteous – the religious elite. Jesus is differentiating himself from the religious elite. The truth he speaks stings and angers them – “they looked for a way to arrest him”.

When we act like these religious leaders – being judgemental, accepting only those like us, keeping our faith to ourselves – then we are standing at odds with Jesus Christ. When we do not love the marginalized and the broken, the hurting and the lost, then we are not practicing the faith that Jesus modeled. To such as these belong the kingdom of God. Therefore, as disciples of Jesus Christ, may we cast open wide the gates and may we help all to enter into God’s love.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to build the kingdom today. Lead me to tear down walls that separate and limit access. Lead me to open doors that feel closed and to shine light onto the path to your love and grace. Enable me to be love lived out in the world, so that in me others see Jesus. Amen.


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Take Courage!

Reading: Matthew 14: 22-27

Verse 22: “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead of him”.

Jesus’ actions in today’s passage have an immediate teaching moment for the disciples as well as application for all who follow as disciples. Jesus sends the disciples on ahead of him so that he can pray in solitude. They head out into the waters and a storm arises. As the night progresses, the disciples are increasingly battered and afraid. Into their fear and tiredness, Jesus walks across the water. He comes through the storm to be with them, to calm their fears, to reassure them. As he nears, Jesus echoes the words that God spoke to Moses during a storm in his leadership, saying, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”. The winds and waves calm as Jesus enters the boat, validating who he is: the Son of God.

In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first disciples and the early church would read this passage and see themselves as the ones in the boat. Jesus commissioned all disciples to go into the world to share the good news. For the early church the storm was the Jews and Romans. Today, for us, it is secular culture that defines the post-Christian world that we live in. For the early followers, the harassment and ridicule were the early wind and waves. As the storm increased they endured persecution and prison and even death. It felt like a storm raging against their boat. The same God who came to Moses, the same Jesus who came to the disciples in the storm – the same Holy Spirit continued to be with the early disciples and continues to come to you and me when the storms of life rise up.

Jesus continues to call us out into the world. In response, as followers we seek to live out the gospel, to share our faith when opportunities arise, and to be examples of the humble servant whenever we can. At times we too will find ourselves in the storm, battered and afraid. But we will not be left alone. Jesus continues to come to us, to walk right through the storms, to bring us peace and strength and assurance. Through the whisper of the Holy Spirit, Jesus repeats over and over, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”. May we ever remember, Jesus is with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, your abiding presence is always with me. Ever guide me, ever walk with me. Help me to remember, especially in the storms, that I am never really alone. No matter how bad the storm, Jesus is by my side. Help me to cling to his power and strength. Amen.


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Losing One’s Life

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verses 38-39: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”.

Jesus’ words today are really about the cost of discipleship. Over the years, the cost has been varying degrees of suffering and sacrifice, depending on the era and location. In Jesus’ day, he and his disciples were oppressed by both the Jews and the Romans. Both saw Jesus and his small group of followers as a potential threat and as a people who were not worshiping the “correct” way. Beatings and imprisonment and death would become the norms for some time. Similar costs exist in places around the world today. But here in our nation and in most of the western world the cost of following Jesus is maybe a little rejection and perhaps some scorn or ridicule. At times our faith may cost us a job or some friends.

After explaining the costs to his disciples and followers, Jesus closes with these words: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. The cross is standing out from the world and giving instead of taking. It is to live in the world as Jesus lived in the world, offering all of himself before considering what he could get out of another. It was standing up for the ones without voice or power. This is the idea of dying to self, of losing one’s life for Christ’s sake. It is placing self after faith and family and others. It is being selfless.

In our modern culture, this is not an easy place to be. We are told that the way is narrow that leads to life abundant and eternal. The losing of self leads to community and connection, to deeper relationships with God and with one another. It is living for the building of the kingdom of God here and now. It is love itself lived out in all we do and say and think. May this be the sacrifice we each make day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, the opportunities are there. If I will but get outside of my comfort zone, outside of my walls. It is engaged with the world, giving freely of self, that life is really blessed and full of joy. May I humbly serve you this day. Amen.


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To All the World

Reading: Luke 24: 44-53

Verse 48: “You are witnesses of these things”.

Today is Ascension day. We are forty days after Easter and Jesus is returning to the Father. Just as his own earthly ministry began with forty days of preparation and testing in the wilderness, so too does he prepare his own with forty days of teaching and challenge. In today’s passage Jesus begins by reminding the disciples of his eternity. One can trace the fingerprints of Jesus from Malachi right back to Genesis 1. The Old Testament is filled with words about Jesus and all of it has now been fulfilled. It is now time for Jesus to return to heaven, to once again be “home”.

Jesus is ever the teacher. In verses 46 and 47 he reminds the disciples of their last days with him. He reminds them of their new assignment: “preach in his name to all nations”. This remains the assignment. Sometimes it feels daunting just in our neighborhoods and communities, nevermind “to all nations”. For taking on this collective task there are two important facts that Jesus uses to encourage them. First, “you are witnesses of these things”. The disciples have seen and heard all that Jesus has done and taught. We too become witnesses through our journey of faith. We do this in worship, in study, in prayer, and through our own personal experiences with the risen Christ.

The second fact is the giving of the power to accomplish the task. Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to send the Holy Spirit. This will fill them with Jesus – in a way they’ve never felt or experienced. Just as he did during his earthly ministry, the Spirit will lead and guide, teach and remind, unpack and apply the scriptures, convict and lead to repentance, heal and comfort, build up and restore. The Spirit will do what Jesus has done for three years. This same Holy Spirit remains the gift of Christ to all who believe. As followers of Jesus Christ, there is not some checklist of obligations or a long list of rules to adhere to. It is simply about following the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit, Christ within us. It is through the Holy Spirit that we are made one with Jesus Christ. In that unity may we go forth into all the world, preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: God of all grace, today we rejoice in the heavenly reunion. We rejoice also in the gifts Jesus left: his witness of humble servant obedience and his Spirit to continue to dwell in our lives. In the time as one of us Jesus fully revealed your love. May I do so today as well. Amen.


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Suffering with Jesus

Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

Verse 10: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”.

Peter is writing to encourage the followers of Jesus Christ who are in trials and sufferings. As foreign as this sounds to us, suffering for their faith was a regular event. For much of the first 300 years of the church, it was dangerous to be a Christian. The Jews and the Romans were both openly hostile towards Jesus’ disciples and followers. Yet the church thrived and grew. Today we see this same thing happening in places where there is a potential cost to following Jesus. The willingness to risk and to pay the cost refines and bolsters the faith.

Peter encourages the early church to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ”. The disciples in the early church were grateful to suffer for Christ because they understood that they were suffering with Christ. They were literally doing what Jesus did. I once read or heard a quote that roughly said: “If you are not suffering a little for your faith perhaps your faith is too little”. In essence the author was getting at the idea that if no one notices you are a Christian, are you really a Christian? There is a lot of truth to that. Too often we like to fly our faith below the radar.

Peter identifies and warns his disciples about the cause of their suffering. We fly low for the same reason. In verse eight he reminds them that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. Imagine the power of that verse as the Roman practice of throwing Christians to the lions ramped up. The devil continues to prowl today. His favorite weapons are still fear, doubt, anxiety, worry… Peter encourages the early church and us today to “resist him, standing firm in the faith”. Trust that God is really in control. Remain in Jesus Christ just as he seeks to remain in you.

Peter closes with this promise: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”. Yes, we will suffer at times if we are really living out the gospel faith that Jesus modeled. Yes, we will. God is not only with us in the sufferings, but he will always bring us through stronger and with a deeper faith. May we trust in our Lord and Savior, stepping where he leads us today.

Prayer: Lord God, no one likes to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. Yet at times you call me to do just that. I can rejoice and even thank you for my times of suffering. They have been fruitful and have led to growth in me and in my faith. May your Holy Spirit help me to be willing to do whatever you call me to today. Amen.


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As One

Reading: John 17: 1-11

Verse 11: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”.

Sometimes people think a trial or time of hardship will draw a group closer together. Someone may cite a sacrifice made by someone to save a dear friend or fellow soldiers. Another may tell of how this church surrounded a family that experienced that traumatic event. While all of these things do occur, they are predicated on one fact: there was a bond or sense of team or family or community that had been built prior to the time of testing.

As Jesus prays for his disciples in today’s passage, he is asking God to watch over the bonds that he has built. Jesus knows that “the time has come” and that he will soon complete his work, bringing God the glory. He identifies what makes the disciples into a team or community: “they have obeyed your word” and they believe that Jesus and God are one. Faith in Jesus is what binds them together. Jesus closes the section of the prayer that we read today with these words: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”. Jesus knows that more trials are to come. He knows that the road ahead will be scattered with persecution and death, with rejection and alienation. So Jesus prays for his friends, for his followers. He prays for unity.

The unity Jesus asks God to give is twofold. First, he knows that they need to remain one with each other. If a group or team or community is not fully bonded to one another in love, then a trial can destroy the unity. Sometimes the group looks for a scapegoat or for someone to blame. Sometimes the group can take an “everyone for themselves” attitude. As this small group heads out to change the world, Jesus knows that they will need God’s protection to stay as one and to remain focused on the goal. The disciples must also remain one with Jesus. Jesus taught them often about the need to remain in him – the vine, the root, the cornerstone. This unity is paramount. In the trials that lay ahead, the disciples must remain one in Jesus Christ. He is their only hope. The same remains true for us. As followers of Jesus Christ we must do the same. May we seek to be one with each other as we are one in Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to yourself. You ever draw us in. We are not called alone though. Help us to see those around us who we can walk this journey with. May your love lead and guide us as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.