pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Journey

Reading: John 20: 25-31

Verse 29: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

Earlier this week we read about Jesus appearing to ten of the eleven disciples. Thomas was not there. As we begin today’s passage, the other disciples tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord”! Thomas questions this, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks…”. He wants tangible proof that it really was Jesus. Because of this passage, Thomas is sometimes referred to as “Doubting Thomas”.

The reality, though, is the faith involves doubt. On our journey of faith, we will have seasons when we doubt, when we wrestle for answers, when we question God, our faith, ourselves… These are the struggles that often produce growth. It is when we dive deep and wrestle with the things of God that we are refined and encouraged. During a very difficult time in ministry, for example, I questioned deeply and often at first. This led to doubt. Much time was spent in prayer and scripture study. The end result was a better grasp of God’s love and mercy as well as a more solid understanding of the depth and breadth of his love and grace.

Jesus returns to the disciples a week later. Thomas is there. After greeting them, Jesus turns to Thomas and invites him to see and touch the proof. As always, Jesus offers what is needed to draw another closer to God. Seeing the scars, Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God”! It is a heartfelt profession of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

Coming out of that difficult season of ministry, knowing that the living Christ had walked with me and has guided me through, I emerged with a stronger faith and with deeper convictions. God still has a way of meeting us where we are and offering us what we need to continue the journey of faith.

As you continue to seek God and to grow in your faith, may you who have not seen and yet believed be ever moving deeper in your relationship with Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, great is your faithfulness! How vast is your love! Thank you for walking through the hard times, ever reminding me of your presence and guidance. You are so good to me. Thank you. Amen.


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The Faithful Road

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verses 21 and 22: “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”.

In his closing Paul reminds the Thessalonians of some basics of the faith. In short order he gives them three: live with joy, pray always, and be thankful in all things. As we each consider this short list, we quickly recognize one or two, maybe three, as challenging. Living joyfully, for example, is pretty easy when things are good. But on a really bad day or during a season of loss, living with joy can be a real effort. Similarly, in difficult times it can be hard to give thanks. After we’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about someone or something, it can be trying to keep praying to a God who doesn’t seem to care enough to answer. Faith is not always easy. It was not meant to be easy. Jesus described the road as “narrow”. These are just some of the reasons we have company on the road.

In verse nineteen Paul warns us against putting out the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has always been represented as fire since that first Pentecost Sunday when “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came upon the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:3). The Holy Spirit is our main divine companion for our journey of faith. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ lives inside of us, leading and guiding, teaching and correcting. We also walk the road with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They help and encourage us, challenge and uplift us, teach and mentor us. And we do the same for others.

In verses 21 and 22 Paul tells us to “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”. We are to allow the Spirit to do its work, yes, but we too must be an active participant on our own journey of faith. We are called to test things and situations and people against the truths of God. When unsure on our own, we turn to prayer and to good Christian counsel. We must hold onto the good – keeping those things and practices and people that help us stay close to Jesus and on the path of following him, well, close to us. Paul also admonishes us to avoid evil – don’t go to those places, events, web sites… that cause temptation, don’t hang out with those folks who cause you to sin…

As he closes Paul prays that God would “sanctify” or make us holy and righteous, blameless on the day we stand before the risen Lord. It is the hope for us all. Our passage for today closes with these great words of encouragement: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”. God is faithful. He will sanctify the faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for these great reminders today. In the Spirit, walk with me day by day, being present until I meet you face to face. Amen.


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God’s Design

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:11

Verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

On our faith journeys, we can try and go it alone. We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our sins and failures. We go through the motions of faith and pretend we are doing okay when our faith feels dry or when a trial has beset us. We try and push through seasons of doubt because society tells us we just need to try harder. Our pride and ego refuses to ask for help. But God did not design faith to be this way. God designed faith to be a communal pursuit. Yet if we are to truly be a part of the community of faith, if we are going to have real and deep relationships, then we must be honest and transparent, authentic and vulnerable, committed and compassionate.

Our passage today is just one verse. Again, it reads: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. Because the world is challenging, because the dark and evil are ever present, Paul knows that the believers need to be surrounded by Christian community. Paul begins by telling us to encourage one another. To be able to encourage one another, we need to really know how we each are doing. This is where honesty… comes into play. We must be willing to share our burdens with one another. We must also be willing to carry another’s burdens at times. We must be willing to tell others when our faith feels thin, allowing them to pour into us and to fill us up. Similarly, we must be willing to give of ourselves, to pour into another as we are able. Paul also urges us to build one another up. We do this by sharing our faith. This can be actual teaching or it can be living the faith so others can see what it looks like. Pastors and teachers and small group leaders and mentors are all a part of this process. We also build one another up by being present. We celebrate successes and achievements, we rejoice when a baby is born, we bring food and love and presence in times of hardship and suffering and loss.

The church in Thessalonica was living as a community. It was how God designed the church. As we ponder these thoughts today, may we each consider how we could encourage and build up the body of Christ this week.

Prayer: Living God, lead me by the power of the Holy Spirit to be an encourager and a builder. Help me to see the ways that I can help the community of faith to be like a family, like the heavenly fellowship that we all await. Bind us together in your love. Amen.


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Encourage One Another

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Verses 17 and 18: “We will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words”.

In yesterday’s reading of 1st Thessalonians we looked at the hope and promise that we find in Jesus Christ’s victory over death. Those who claim a saving faith in Jesus will one day receive the gift of eternity in his presence. We are also reminded that one day Christ will return, making all things new. The trials and sufferings, the wars and violence, the injustice and oppression, the barriers and obstacles… – they will be no more. It is a glorious and beautiful new world to ponder.

Paul reminds us that Jesus will return, coming down from heaven with angels and trumpet blasts. It will be an unmistakable event. All will know that Christ is returning. All will know what is happening. First, the “dead in Christ” will arise to join him. Then those that “are still alive” will be “caught up in the clouds” to join Christ. But this will not be all people. Some will know that this day signals the beginning of a horrible eternity. It will not be a joyous day for all of humanity. For those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, though, it will be as Paul writes: “We will be with the Lord forever”.

Paul also adds, “Therefore encourage each other with these words”. Encourage others to claim a saving faith through Jesus Christ. Encourage others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Make disciples of all peoples for the transformation of the world. The transformation is two-fold. The first transformation occurs here, in each of us, now. As followers of Jesus, we live differently. We live a Christlike life in the here and now, bringing healing and wholeness to this broken and hurting world. We do so to begin a transformation in others. The second transformation will come when Christ returns. All will be made new. As people of love and hope, we should want as many people as possible to rejoice at the second coming of the Lord. Therefore, may we encourage one another, drawing others into the saving light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, may your light and love within me speak to the world of the hope and promise that I have in you. May what I have be contagious and attractive to those without a saving relationship. Amen.


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Everyday Faith

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 9-13

Verse 9: “Surely you remember… our toil and hardship… we worked… not to be a burden… as we preached the gospel”.

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica to encourage them and to help guide them in their walk of faith. In the section that we read from today, Paul is reminding them of the example that he and his companions set when they were there. The reminder is a call to walk this way too. In verse nine we read, “Surely you remember… our toil and hardship… we worked… not to be a burden… as we preached the gospel”. Paul was what we call a bi-vocational minister. Preaching the good news of Jesus Christ was only part of his day. Paul also worked hard as a tent maker. This is the “toil and hardship” that he refers to. It was hard manual labor. Paul worked so that he was not a “burden”. This was absolutely necessary early on. There were no churches yet, there were no Christians living there, there was no support systems established in the towns that Paul first went to. He had to have a means of support for himself. Paul’s companions also modeled this form of ministry. More importantly, though, Paul wanted those in the church to understand that faith was a part of everyday life. Paul lived out his faith at work as a tent maker just as much as he did when preaching the gospel. This is what he is calling the Thessalonians to and it is what he is calling us to as well.

In verse ten Paul draws their attention to the “holy, righteous, blameless” example that he set when he was among them. He does this as a way to encourage them to live the same way. The Thessalonians heard the gospel and believed in Jesus. They saw the model Paul lived out. Now they were being called or even challenged to live the same way. We too are called and challenged to live “holy, righteous, blameless” lives. To do this, like Paul and like the church in Thessalonica, we must work at our faith. When we do so, we will find the encouragement and urgency to live a life worthy of God. For Paul, part of the work takes place within the community of faith. Worship is our primary means of connecting with God and with one another. Gatherings like small groups and service opportunities also connect us. It is from our time in community that we grow in love of God and in love of neighbor. In community we also find comfort and belonging and other things so needed in this pandemic season. Many are feeling helpless and hopeless right now. Being in Christian community reminds those hurting right now that God is their help and their hope. The other part of our work takes place in our personal relationship with God. Time in prayer, study, and meditation draws us deeper into our relationship with God. Like it was for Paul, faith should be practiced and witnessed to in all parts of our life. May it be so for each of us today.

Prayer: Lord God, in the quiet and stillness of the early morning, I can connect to you. When I enter the world, the busyness of the day, it can be a struggle. Slow me down, attune me to those that I cross paths with, lead me to speak hope and peace, light and love. May it be so. Amen.


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Stories

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4 & 12-16

Verse 4: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord”.

On those days or in those seasons in life when it is cloudy and gloomy and stormy we desperately need a ray of sunshine. In those times when we feel stuck or trapped in the dark, we need the door to be cracked open, for a sliver of light to slice into our darkness. At times in my life there has been a weight upon me or a darkness and gloom hanging over me. It feels oppressive and defeating. On my own I was unable to move past that place. Looking back, though, I can recall specific conversations, lovely notes or letters, small acts of love – all done by family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ – that lifted me up. Each person was living out the love of Jesus Christ, bringing light into my darkness.

Psalm 78, much like other similar Psalms, was a way for the people of Israel to tell one another and their children of times when God’s love lifted them up or was light in their darkness. Just as me recalling those times when God’s love rescued me, by singing or teaching the Psalm, the Israelites were reminded of God’s love for them. To be reminded, to remember that you are loved, is especially important in those times of trial and hardship. Instead of withdrawing and turning within, which is our natural tendency, by remembering we are turned outward and upward – to others and to the Lord. It is then that we become receptive to the love and hope offered by others and by God. Living in exile, Psalm 78 would be salve to their situation. The Israelites needed to remember that God loved them and to believe that God would provide a way through the darkness. By keeping that hope alive, the Israelites got to the day that allowed them to begin returning home.

My stories of when I was lifted up are like Psalm 78. I can recall them for myself and I can tell them to others walking in gloom and darkness. I can remind them of God’s love and care for them. Your stories work the same way. Who in your life needs a little encouragement or an act of kindness? They are all around us. May we be the love today.

Prayer: Most loving God, this day lead me to those who need to be reminded of your love. Bring to mind the story to tell or the Bible passage to share. Use me to open another’s eyes and hearts to your love. Amen.


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Be the Hands…

Reading: Psalm 95

Verse 2: “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song”.

As many arise today and ponder going to church, there is a new reality that one considers. A dangerous illness has spread across the world and it causes us to take pause before engaging in an event or gathering. Schools have shut down for at least a week; sporting and other large events have been postponed or cancelled. At least for this Sunday we will gather as a community of faith to worship. At least for today we will “come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song”. Several or many will gather with us virtually as they watch the live stream and sing, pray, and listen from home.

In this new era of social distancing the decision to stay home is a wise and prudent decision for many. Let us remember that within that group are some who are vulnerable at this time. In our church and in almost all churches, the elderly are a group that falls into this category. Like with other groups that are vulnerable at this time, as people of faith we must step up and engage in ways that are safe and loving. So make a phone call and check in on that elderly person or couple on your block. So drop off some groceries or take a meal to that family a couple houses away with children who are missing the food that they usually get at school. So write a note of encouragement to those you know who are on the front lines of this medical battle. And, of course, pray. Pray for the sick, pray for the lonely, pray for the poor… Pray, pray, pray.

The psalmist reminds us that God is the creator. God is the maker and we are the “people of his pasture”. May we hear his voice. May we fight the tendency to harden our hearts. Instead, may we trust in his power and might. In this time of crisis in our land and in our communities, be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus Christ. You are needed.

Prayer: Lord God, I pray for your healing touch to fall upon our world. With you, anything is possible. So I pray for healing. As I wait, guide me to be love in my community. Amen.


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Encouragement

Reading: 1st Corinthians 3: 1-9

Verse 9: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building”.

Today is Valentine’s day. The day is named after St. Valentine. I learned just today that he was famous for writing letters. Valentine wrote many letters of encouragement to be a positive light in other people’s lives. His letters came from the heart, from a place of love. The word “love” is found throughout the Bible. There are four Greek words all translated to “love” and each had its own original meaning. The version most often used in the Bible is “agape love”. Agape love is a pure, sacrificial love that places the other ahead of self.

In our passage today Paul calls the Corinthian church to this kind of love. They are quarreling over a secondary issue and this has led to division. He correctly identifies both himself and Apollos as “only servants” and points the people toward the only one that can make faith grow: God. Only God can make the seed that Paul planted and that Apollos watered have life and grow to become faith. In verse nine Paul writes, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building”. The church is the field or the building of God. Only by turning to God will the church grow.

We too are each God’s workers. We too have a role to play in one another’s faith. Today it would be fitting to encourage one another as we practice agape love. With a note, a phone call, a text, a personal post, take a moment to practice God’s agape love, encouraging another today.

Prayer: Holy God, thank you for the privilege of being a co-worker. Keep me looking to you as the only source of power. Give me words today to encourage others to follow you. Amen.


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Big Questions, Individual Answers

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 1-9

Verse 9: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”.

On Paul’s second missionary he went to Corinth and helped establish a church there. As was typical, he would begin by preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. When there was a small group who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Paul would help them to become a faith community. Then he moved on to another place, starting the process over. On this journey, Ephesus would be his next stop. Other apostles and disciples were out and about preaching and encouraging as well. As they would pass through Corinth…, they would bring news to Paul as they crossed paths.

The news that was shared would sometimes prompt Paul to write a letter, to go visit again, or both. This would be what happens with the church in Corinth. The body of Paul’s letters usually offered teaching, correction, and encouragement. Almost all of Paul’s letters begin with a greeting, which was and remains the custom. In our letter today Paul continues from there with a few words of thanksgiving. He thanks God that they know Jesus Christ and that Christ has been enriching them in every way. Paul is thankful for their spiritual gifts. He encourages them to wait patiently for the Lord’s return, reminding them that God will strengthen them. Paul then closes the opening with this eternal truth: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”. In short: God is faithful.

These words from Paul make me wonder what would be said about our churches. Would an observer note that the members are being enriched by Jesus Christ, empowered and using the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed on each one? Or does the 90/10 rule apply at your church too? Would the observer find folks eagerly awaiting an encounter with the risen Lord? Or would he or she find pew-sitters waiting to be entertained? Stepping outside the Sunday morning hour, would the observer see disciples living out their faith as they trust all things to a faithful God? Or would they be hard to even identify out there in the world?

These are hard questions that are generally corporate questions. But each one’s answer lies with the individual. God is faithful. Would the same be said of you?

Prayer: Dear God, trusting fully is not always easy for me when life feels a little unsure. Giving fully of my gifts is a little harder as circumstances are unknown. Yet I know that you are in control. You are the only one in control. Draw me into this truth. Help me to be faithful – I know you are. Teach, correct, and encourage me as needed, O Lord my God. Amen.


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Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming near”.

James is encouraging the early Christians to be patient in their suffering. Having patience can be hard, especially during trying times. The early Christians faced persecution and oppression. On occasion they faced turmoil within. James begins in our passage today by encouraging them to be patient until Jesus’ return. The early church thought Jesus’ return would be very soon. 2,000 years later this encouragement takes on a different feeling and meaning.

James chooses the analogy of the farmer and the seed as a model for patience. The seed is placed in the ground and then the farmer waits. The sun rises and falls, rises and falls, and the farmer waits. The rains will come. But not today either. So the farmer waits. How does the farmer wait patiently? Year after year the process has been the same. Year after year new life has poked up from the ground. Year after year the rains come and nourish the plants. Year after year the harvest comes. The farmer trusts in what has always been. God has been and always will be. James writes, “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming near”. Be patient. Like the farmer, trust that God’s reign will come.

The Lord comes near to us in the form of the Holy Spirit. The constant presence of Jesus Christ living in us will speak words of peace into our troubled hearts. The Holy Spirit will bring strength when we feel hard pressed. The living presence will fill us with love instead of anger, with empathy instead of judging. This and more if we are but patient, quieting the voices of the world and of Satan, leaning in and listening for that still small voice.

Our short passage closes with a reminder to consider the prophets of old. When we waver we are tempted to give in to our emotions. When we question if we can go on, James says to think of Moses or Ezekiel or Micah or any of the other Old Testament prophets. Whether it was with a grumbling people wandering the desert for forty years or if it was battling king after king that led the people astray, each prophet drew near to God and found peace and strength and voice. May we too draw near to the Lord, finding there the ability to patiently stand firm.

Prayer: God of all time, just as you always have been, continue to remain present this day. Give me ears to hear and eyes to see the way to walk and to lead. Fill me with your holy wisdom and mighty strength to lead well. With you, may I stand firm. Amen.