pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Open Wide

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 2: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

As our passage begins, Paul begs those in the church in Corinth not to receive God’s gift of grace in vain. To know what grace is or to understand what grace offers is very different from living into God’s grace. It is not some distant thing or something you pull out of the drawer when you really need it. As Paul explains, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. We are to receive and live in God’s grace 24/7. Now is the time. Today is the day.

Paul strove to model this for his fellow believers. He sought to glorify God as he shared the good news of Jesus Christ. As a humble servant of the Lord, Paul ever tried to “commend” himself and his fellow ministers in all they did. Paul and company exhibited endurance, hard work, purity, understanding, patience, kindness, sincere love, truthful speech, and righteousness. Along the way they experienced troubles, hardships, distress, beatings, riots, imprisonment, and hunger. What strengthened and enabled them to serve so faithfully in spite of all these challenges? Grace. The grace of God empowered them and kept them on track. The grace of God also carried them through when things went off the tracks.

Paul encourages the church in Corinth to claim this same grace, to live into it fully. In verse thirteen he urges them to “open wide your hearts also” – follow our example. An open heart is filled by God’s grace. Is your heart wide open?

Prayer: Lord God, use me today as a humble servant for Jesus Christ. If I must endure, strengthen me. If it requires much, fill me with your Spirit. If it is quiet and faithful humble service, guide and lead me well. Amen.


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What an Advocate!

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”.

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

In two days many churches will celebrate Pentecost. This day recalls the moment that God’s Spirit filled the first believers. In our passage today Paul unpacks some of what the Spirit does with and for those who believe.

Paul begins by describing our longing to be forever with God. He is speaking of that inherent longing in all of humanity. In the opening verse Paul describes this as all of creation groaning as we “wait eagerly for our adoption… for the redemption of our bodies”. For Paul, this is the ultimate hope we find in our faith – to one day be redeemed fully, to be transformed into our heavenly and forever form. Living in difficult times, often facing persecution and hardship, even death, Paul and his fellow Christians often had to hold onto this hope found in Jesus Christ. At times, in our deepest valleys, we too hold onto the hope of eternal life.

In verse 26 Paul writes, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In the same way that the Spirit raises up hope in our hearts, the Holy Spirit also strengthens and encourages us. Paul also describes how the Spirit goes a step further. When we are so weak (or ill or lonely or sorrowful or upset or…) that we cannot even put our prayer into words, then “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”. When we cannot even form the words, the Holy Spirit prays for us. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts takes over and takes our pleas to God on our behalf. In the moments when we are simply overwhelmed, the Spirit speaks to God for us. When we are as weak as weak can be, the Spirit “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. To me, it doesn’t get any better than that. The Spirit prays for you and me in alignment with God’s perfect plans for our lives. What an advocate we have! Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for loving me so much that you chose to send your Spirit to dwell in me. Thank you for being willing to know and abide in imperfect and sinful me. That is a deep, deep love. Thank you. Amen.


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In the World

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verses 16-17: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth”.

Our passage today is a prayer that Jesus prays over his disciples. As one reads the prayer, Jesus’ love for his disciples pours out of his words. There is also a clear sense of the connection to God and of a disconnect from the world. Jesus understands that the disciples are set apart from the world and that this status will cause hardship and persecution.

Jesus has taught the disciples the words that came to him from God and they have accepted these words. They believe Jesus is the Savior and have anchored their relationship in God’s love lived out. They have been transformed. They are now not of the world but are of God – “they are yours”. Jesus prays for this connection and the unity that it brings to continue. In verse eleven he prays, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”. The transformation from being “of God” instead of “of the world” is made clearer in verse fourteen: “They are not of the world any more than I am of the world”. The disciples citizenship is with God eternal.

Yet the disciples remain in the world. Jesus knows the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead so he prays for God to protect the disciples from the “evil one” – the prince of darkness, the ruler of the world’s passions and desires. Jesus asks God to “sanctify” the disciples – to make them holy, to fill them with his light and love. The darkness cannot overcome the light; hatred will never triumph over love. Standing on God’s truths and in his love, all the powers of evil will not prevail against the faithful. Jesus knows these truths, these promises. These remain today. As you and I are sent out into the world, this prayer and these truths cover us. Living in but not of the world, we too belong to God. May we step forth boldly in these promises today!

Prayer: Lord God, you hem me in, you go before me, you are my rear guard. Your abiding presence gives me peace and your unending love builds up my courage. Send me out, use me today. Amen.


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Focus

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

Verse 20b: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

In our passage for today, Paul implores us to be reconciled to God. To reconcile means to restore the relationship. Paul is writing to those in the church who have drifted from the faith, to those who have allowed other things to rise above their commitment to the Lord. Unless we are intentional and disciplined concerning our habits of faith, then this can happen to us too. A daily, focused walk with God supplemented by time with the community of faith have always been essential for solid Christian discipleship.

Moving into verses three through seven, Paul shares with the church how he and Timothy have lived out their faith. Note there is both good and bad, both joy and sorrow. Paul and Timothy have endured trials and hardships, persecution, abuse, and slander, as well as sleepless nights. In and through all of this, Paul and Timothy have practiced purity and patience and kindness. They have relied on the Holy Spirit and have sought to practice love above all else. They have always been truthful. Paul wants the church (including us) to know that a walk of faith is not always easy. He also wants to remind us that to walk or live out our faith we must rise above the norms of the world.

As we prepare to enter into Lent, a season of introspection and preparation, it is good to consider how we are walking out our faith. Have we allowed other priorities to rise above our faith commitment? During Lent some people give something up. What in your life could or should you give up to make room for a closer walk with God? Is there a habit or behavior that lessens your walk or your witness? Some people add a habit or practice during Lent. Some join a Lenten study, some read a book that enriches their faith. Some fast, finding new time to pray or to read their Bibles. And some do both – giving something up, adding something in. The point is to reflect on your current walk with Jesus and to find a way to deepen that walk with the Lord during this holy season.

In the last few verses of our passage Paul shares the beauty of a faithful walk. God has sustained he and Timothy in times of need, guiding them through the trials and hardships. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ in their daily lives they are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. Paul and Timothy have their eye on God’s goodness and on the salvation of their souls. As we prepare to enter this holy season of Lent may this be our focus as well.

Prayer: Lord God, prepare me to journey deeper with you during this season of Lent. Guide me to walk closer and more intimately. Show me the way. Reveal the path to walk. Amen.


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His Ways

Reading: Isaiah 64: 1-5a

Verse 5a: “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways”.

Our passage comes from the third section in the book of Isaiah. In the first section the people struggle to remain faithful even though God remains faithful. The prophet calls the people back to God over and over. In the second section the wandering grows, as do the consequences of their sins. The Babylonians defeat Israel and many are carried into exile. Here the prophet speaks of hope and of a return home. In the third section, the trip home begins. It is a slow trickle of people. They find new inhabitants in and around Jerusalem. These folks are not friendly to the return and rebuilding of Jerusalem. Today’s passage offers words of encouragement to those trying to rebuild amidst opposition and hardship. The words asking for God’s intervention are longings for God to make things right once again.

In the opening verse the prophet writes, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down”. The prophet looks to the days of old when God’s presence was visible in the pillars of cloud and fire and in the mighty acts of God. The powerful image of God protected the people and it reminded them (and their enemies) of God’s presence with Israel. Isaiah also recalls the “awesome things” that they did not expect – the parting of the sea, the food and water in the wilderness, the walls tumbling down, the defeat of the mighty Assyrians… Isaiah is recalling the God “who acted on behalf of those who waited for him”. This is the God they now await. This is the God they long for, hope for. These words are calling the people to remain faithful, to trust in God and his ways.

In our last verse for today, Isaiah speaks these words: “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways”. Isaiah knows that the relationship has two sides. The people must remain faithful. The Israelites must keep their eyes on God and their faith in God. In his steadfast love, God will come. God will act. Like us in this time of unease and difficulty, waiting can be hard. Yet, like Israel, we must remain faithful, trusting in the Lord our God. May we ever remember his ways as we seek to walk faithfully day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, just as the Israelites’ strength waned at times, so too is our strength being tested right now. In these difficult times, remind us of your steadfast love; help us to walk in your ways. Guide us, great Jehovah. Amen.


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Do Not Worry

Reading: Matthew 10: 1-23

Verses 19-20: “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it… it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit”.

Yesterday we read and heard about the harvest being plentiful but the workers being few. Today Jesus gathers the twelve disciples and sends them out to the towns and villages to minister to the Jews. Jesus empowers them to preach that the kingdom is near and to heal and to drive out demons. The disciples are to travel light and to rely on the hospitality of worthy persons. But Jesus also warns them of the hardships to come. Some will not accept the disciples’ teaching and they will be like sheep among wolves – not an imaginary scenario anyone would want to step into. As modern day disciples we can relate to what Jesus is talking about. We too can experience these hardships when we try and share our faith. The way of the Lord is often rejected and the messengers endure criticism and rejection and worse. We can feel like we too have been drug before the authorities.

Just as the twelve were probably about to start questioning their assignment, Jesus reassures them that they do not go alone. He says to them, “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it… it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit”. Jesus in Spirit will go with them. He will strengthen and encourage them. He will give them the words to speak and will show them how to best present the message. Jesus also reminds them that “he who stands firm to the end will be saved”. No matter what they face out there in the world, Jesus will be with them. Trust as you go today and Jesus will be with you as well!

Prayer: Leading God, as I seek to stand firm and to share the good news of Jesus Christ, strengthen and encourage me by the power of your Holy Spirit. May the words I speak be your words and may the actions I take reflect and shine the love of Christ into the world. 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.


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Come and Listen

Reading: Psalm 66: 8-20

Verse 16: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”.

The first half of our Psalm text dealt with the times when hardship or trial came and with how God was with the people of Israel. Each of these times of suffering or refining are part of the story of God’s people, just as are the stories of how God acted on our behalf. Each of our churches and each of us as followers of Jesus have these same experiences. When was a time that God acted on behalf of your church, reminding the congregation of his faithfulness and love? When were some times when God has done this for you personally?

In verse sixteen the psalmist gives an invitation: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”. He is inviting the family of God to gather around, to hear his stories of God’s goodness. Most often when we think of sharing our faith story it is with someone who is lost, broken, or unsaved. Yes, this is part of our call as disciples. Yet at times it is also important to tell our stories of faith to one another. The communal sharing of stories builds up the bonds of community. It reminds us of our common journey. Speaking our faith stories builds up our own faith as it strengthens the faith of our brothers and sisters. When we tell of what God has done it opens eyes and hearts to the possibility of what God can and will do in their lives or churches. Times of sharing with fellow believers also builds up our ability to share the stories with people outside our churches. It is practice, so to speak. All of this is wonderful. But there is also one other way that God’s Holy Spirit becomes active in times of sharing.

Often our struggle or time of testing or refining is one that a brother or sister is just entering or is in the midst of. In a general sense, all sin in common to mankind. It is hard to admit that we struggle as Christians, and it is especially true when newer to the faith. By naming where we have needed God’s help it opens a way for others to name their struggles and trials. It opens the way for us to walk with one another.

There are many reasons to “come and listen”. May we be storytellers, seeking and taking each opportunity that God provides to share our stories of faith with others.

Prayer: Father God, there have been many times when another’s story of faith has encouraged or empowered me. There are times when it has led me to admit my struggles and to find one who will walk with me. You have always been faithful. Always. Lead me to share my stories with others. May my stories be of encouragement and may others find hope in them. Amen.


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The Day of Salvation

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Verse 20: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

Our passage today opens with Paul’s appeal for us to be reconciled to God. He explains how Jesus took on our sin so that we might become the “righteousness of God”. As he continues into chapter six Paul proclaims, “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. We continue to live in the time of God’s favor and Jesus Christ’s salvation is both in the here and now as well as eternity.

The second half of today’s reading is entitled “Paul’s Hardships” in the Bible I keep on my desk at home. He begins by sharing how as “servants of God” they worked to commend themselves to the world. Through the troubles and the beatings thru showed great endurance. Paul and his companions worked hard, even when hungry and sleepless. In all times they strove to remain pure, patient, kind, honest, and loving. They saw themselves with heavenly eyes while the world just saw them from an earthly point of view. Paul and friends lived as beloved children of God, reconciled to him. They saw the world through God’s eyes, not the other way around.

We too strive to live lives that are reconciled to God. In the times we struggle to do so it is because we’ve begun to see with worldly eyes. Our challenge as Christians living in the world is to stay oriented towards Jesus Christ. Satan is regularly on the move, always seeking to get us off track. So we must be diligent and focused too.

We must be attentive to both the Holy Spirit and to our own spiritual disciplines. These two things work hand in hand to fend off the enemy. As Satan is constant, so too must we be constant. This season of the Christian year focuses us in on the habits of discernment and introspection, of confession and repentance. May we make the intentional choice to live in God’s favor and to proclaim with our lives that the day of salvation is at hand.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for your willingness to reconcile with me over and over. Strengthen me each day, both as I look within and as I live out my faith. Build me up and pour me out; help me to be more like your son today. Amen.


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In the Midst

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Verse 1: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”.

The overall theme of our passage from Jeremiah 23 is that one day the Lord will reign. In essence, we know the end of the story. Even though we know this, sometimes we endure hardship and suffering during the story. Jeremiah begins our passage by addressing the bad shepherds who are negatively affecting the flock of Israel. To these the Lord declares, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”. This word of warning comes with some explanation.

God is speaking to those who are leading Israel. The kings and priests are the primary leaders. These leaders have scattered parts of the flock. By not caring for and watching out for the most vulnerable of the sheep, they have driven them away. These have sought care and protection elsewhere. Unfortunately, they often find greater danger outside the flock. The hardening of hearts within the flock has led to destruction. Love and care and empathy for one another is a memory. When the leaders become inwardly focused, soon the people do too. God promises to bring evil on these bad shepherds.

This word from Jeremiah remains relevant today. On many days it seems that our leaders are more concerned with fighting each other than they are with leading and caring for the people. The cost of this is great. The more they fight, the more the sheep scatter and wander into isolated camps. The hurling of bombs from afar leaves no space in the middle. The two polarized ends see anyone not in their camp as the opposition. The arts of dialogue and compromise and win-win seem to be lost. But we must remember we are just in the midst of the story. Jeremiah also reminds us, “the days are coming”. Christ will reign. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, help us to see more than just ourselves, more than our own little camp. Open our hearts to the other, to sitting at the table even with those that we are not totally aligned with. Remind us over and over that there is but one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit. Thank you, God. Amen.