pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Even in This

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 10-20

Verse 18: “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

After God acquiesces to the people’s request for a king, God gives some words of warning to the people. Yes, a king can bring stability and leadership and authority to the nation. Yes, a king can negotiate with other kings and can lead the troops out into battle when needed. A king can fight for the people! But a king can also demand or, at times, take when the demands are not met. A king can call for military service and can seize land, crops, livestock, and servants. A king can tax the people to support his reign. A judge or prophet would never do any of these things. The leader that the people reject, God, would never do any of these things. Yet the people want a king.

All of this, both the good and the bad, comes true as king after king leads Israel. Reading through 1st and 2nd Kings, we see that God is right. There are more bad kings than good kings. The fate and the lives of the people rise or fall under the leadership of each king. Yet even though the people reject God in favor of a king, God remains engaged. Even though God grants them this autonomy, God does not abandon his children. God continues to send prophets to guide and redirect and shepherd these kings. God even chooses the first few kings.

God leads you and me in the same way. God does not force us to love and obey him or to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. God engages us, the Spirit leads and guides us. But we are free to choose our own kings, our own gods. God allows us free will, just as he did with the Israelites. God warned them, saying, “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”. When leadership is oppressive, selfish, authoritarian… God will allow them to learn their lesson. In time God will respond to their cries. We too experience this process. We have to endure a consequence for our poor choices. God will always forgive us when we’re repentant. But our poor choices and bad behaviors often impact others, creating ramifications. We too must go through a refining and learning process. Even in this, God is at work. Thanks be to God for loving us enough to always be there on the other side.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love always leads and informs. Your love is greater than our limitations and failures. We are ever a work in progress. You are so patient, so faithful, ever true. What a wonderful God you are! 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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Do I Reflect Christ?

Reading: Romans 13: 11-14

Verse 12: “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”.

Paul’s overarching theme in Romans 13 is loving our neighbors. In today’s verses he focused on how our behaviors and choices impact our ability to love others. Paul begins by encouraging us to love others “understanding the present time”. He goes on to explain that Jesus’ return is closer today than it ever was. This remains true for us too. But there is also another angle to understanding the present times. We live in a much different world than Paul lived in. For example, words we leak out on Facebook or Twitter or Tik Tok or… can fly around the globe in seconds. Our words or video might not go viral, but they do color how everyone who knows us sees us from then on. If we do not understand that every one of us can influence others – for good and for bad – then we do not understand the present time.

In verse twelve we read, “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”. There are two parts to this admonition, both equally important to our ability to love others. The first part is to put aside evil thoughts and deeds. Paul lists sexual immorality and drunkenness right along with quarreling and jealousy. If we are promiscuous or abuse drugs or alcohol, if we are always disagreeable and argumentative, if we are always longing for what others have or just for more and more, then we have diminished our ability to even be able to love others. When we practice such evil deeds and selfish behaviors, others do not see us as people who are able to truly love. They see us as people working angles, as people only doing good for some selfish purpose. That is if they are even willing to be around us. Being a hypocrite – doing this thing and then trying to say another thing – is a relationship killer. The ability to love always begins with a relationship.

Instead of this, the second part of verse twelve calls us to “put on the armor of light”, which is Jesus Christ. The desires of the flesh have a strong pull. Jesus is stronger. By putting on Christ, by filling ourselves daily with his love, we are better able to be his love in the world. We are what we allow into our hearts. By filling ourselves with Christ instead of worldly thoughts and desires, Christ is what we reflect out into the world. If this is all people see in our words and actions, then we begin to have the opportunity to be love in the world. So, today, let us consider how we live. May we focus in on this simple question: Do I reflect Jesus Christ in all I say and do or do others see less in me?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to live more fully as your witness in the world. When evil thoughts rise up, shove them aside with a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit. When I am tempted by the things of this world, blow out the flames of desire with the quiet whisper of the Holy Spirit. Empower me today to be light and love in the world. Amen.


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Preaching, Teaching, Healing

Reading: Matthew 9: 35-38

Verse 35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching… preaching… and healing”.

Today’s short passage sums up Jesus’ ministry quite well. In verse 35 we read about the things that occupied most of his time: teaching, preaching, and healing. I believe that these three practices remain the core practices of ministry today. These three practices often work together to shape and form who we are as people of faith.

Teaching can occur in many settings and can cover many topics. In ministry, we most often think of Bible studies and other topical small groups as the main ways that teaching occurs. This tends to be the focus of teaching in our churches. There are other ways to teach faith. In intentional conversations and in the things we regularly do and say we teach about faith. For example, as parents our everyday words and actions are the main methods of passing our faith along to our children. In this time of COVID there has been a great deal of teaching in our churches on how to safely minister while honoring the need to social distance and stay at home. We have begun to teach about safely gathering again. More recently there has been an increase in teaching on racism and prejudice in America. These teachings have centered on understanding racism and on recognizing how we are all implicit in and impacted by this evil. Social justice has always been a cornerstone of Christianity.

Preaching is something we think just happens on Sunday morning or maybe on a Wednesday or Saturday night. These are the primary delivery times but it also occurs at various times in a variety of settings. These can range from a one-on-one conversation to retreats and camps and even to impromptu gatherings in a bar or the local coffee shop. In almost all cases, preaching centers on sharing, understanding, and applying faith to our daily lives.

Healing was the third aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Today we do not see as many physical healings as we read about in the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit is very active, working in and through Christians all over the world. Healing included restoration to wholeness, redemption from sins and bondage, being drawn into a community of faith, and finding new life in Jesus Christ.

In our passage we read that Jesus preached, taught, and healed for one reason: compassion. He saw those who were in need – the “the harassed and helpless” – and he ministered to them. Our very understanding of who is harassed and helpless has certainly grown over these last few months. In verse 37 Jesus notes, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. May we all be workers for Jesus Christ today!

Prayer: Leading God, day by day help me to use all three of these practices to minister to my congregation and to my community. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring fullness and wholeness of life to those in need. Amen.


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We Wait

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7 and 17-19

Verse 3: “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

The psalmist is crying out to God. He is pleading for an end to their suffering. You can feel the emotion in the psalmist’s words in verse two: “Awaken your might; come and save us”. The psalmist knows that God can come and relieve their suffering. He also knows that God has not come yet. Advent is very much the season of the now and not yet. This Psalm has that same quality to it as well. This comes across in verse four.

“How long?” is a familiar question when one is in the midst of a time of suffering. The psalmist wants to know how long God’s anger will smolder. There is a recognition of the people’s sin and that it connects to their present circumstances. Yet even then we come to the point of asking, “How long”? It is a question we too ask when living out the consequences of our sin. We can be forgiven by God and even by those we hurt, but sometimes there is an earthly consequence or impact of our sin. Often we want that to end sooner than it does. Even though we too may cry out to God, we recognize why we are where we are.

In just over a week we will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The light is coming into the world. This too is the now and not yet. We long, but we wait. May we join the psalmist as we wait, crying out to God, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

Prayer: Lord, I wait. I know the light and love is already here. Yet I wait. Join me in the waiting as we walk towards the night that we celebrate the birth. Be with me, O God. This I pray. Amen.


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Joy and Peace

Reading: Romans 5: 1-2

Verse 2b: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”.

In the first part of Romans 5, Paul writes about the peace and joy we find through faith in Jesus Christ. The peace we feel comes because we have been “justified by faith”. To be justified means to be made right with God. This is an ongoing process, one that happens over and over. Paul goes on to explain that it is through Jesus that we find access to the grace necessary in the justification process. It is Jesus’ grace that says his love is greater than our sins.

Because we experience grace, we are forgiven people. Because we are forgiven, we experience a peace that the world does not know. People living outside of a relationship with Jesus struggle with feeling peace in their lives because they do not know grace. The lack of a vertical relationship with God impacts their horizontal relationships with their families, friends, co-workers… The inability to receive and extend grace and mercy and forgiveness limits and hampers their relationships. Peace with others and with self becomes an elusive target. Soon joy is harder to find as well.

As people of faith, we know both joy and peace through our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is something that should be and usually is evident in our lives. The peace that passes understanding and the joy in the midst of difficult or challenging situations is something the children of the world notice. When asked what makes us different, when asked have joy or peace in those unlikely times, we must be ready to share our story of faith. It is through our story that we invite others to know Jesus, the source of our joy and peace.

Verse 2 concludes with these words: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”. We have hope in Jesus Christ, the glory of God. We rejoice because we know the end of the story. Whether we are thinking of the end of our own story or of the end of humanity’s story, we know that eternal life awaits all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We rejoice in this truth. Jesus brings us joy and peace in this life and in the life to come. Today may our joy and peace help another to know our truth.

Prayer: Jesus, my savior and my hope, thank you for the joy and peace that comes through knowing you. May these blessings flow out of my life and into the lives of those who need to know your joy and peace. Amen.


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Do It Quickly

Reading: John 13: 21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”.

At the start of John 13, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet. He has “set you an example” and encouraged them to do as He has done. Next Jesus goes on to predict that one of His own disciples will betray Him. In verse 21 we read, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”. The disciples react as we all would in Jesus’ presence – at a loss. They each think in their own hearts – surely not I! They are all curious and Peter prompts John to ask. By sharing the bread with him, Jesus reveals it is Judas Iscariot. Jesus directs Judas to “do quickly” what he will do. At this, Judas slips off into the night.

Reading the story, we think poorly of Judas. Yes, it had to be done to fulfill the scriptures. But we still dislike him because he betrayed Jesus, the one whom he had spent the last three years with. It feels like a worse betrayal than if it had been one of the Pharisees or a stranger. It could have been Matthew or John or James or Bartholomew or Thaddeus or even Peter, the one who most seemed like a leader. In the next section, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. It could have been any of the twelve.

It is Judas Iscariot that slips off into the night to betray Jesus. John tells us “it is night”. Night and darkness symbolize evil and Satan. By contrast, day and light represent God, Jesus… Because Judas does not question or linger, but acts, we can infer that he has been wrestling with this. He has been brought to the decision point this night: light or dark? Good or evil? When he takes the bread, we read “Satan entered into him”. On this night, the darkness won. The scale tipped in favor of evil.

We are all in this place often. The Spirit works to keep us walking in the light and the evil one tempts us to step off the narrow road and off into the darkness. The temptation may be to gossip or to tell a little white lie. It may be to steal that set of headphones that is just lying there or to cheat on that big test. Maybe it is to turn in a false tax report or to click that pop-up that is so enticing. Perhaps it is to falsely accuse another to paint a better picture of ourselves or it is finally consummating that affair. The degree of sin matters not to God. Yes, the human or earthly impacts and affects will be greater for one scenario versus another. But to God, all temptation that leads to sin is the same. We are choosing dark over light, evil over good, Satan over God. Each week, each day, each hour, we face temptation. May we each turn to God and may we do it quickly. May we allow the light to chase away the darkness. May we strive to walk in the light.

Prayer: Lord, the battle is hard. Satan is ever at work. So I pray that the voice of the Holy Spirit is loud and strong in me today. Quiet the call of the earthly and fleshy desires within me. When they rise up, remind me quickly of your will and your way and your word. Strengthen me, O God. Amen.


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Uriah’s Path

Reading: 2 Samuel 11: 6-15

Verse 11: “As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing”!

In today’s passage there is quite a contrast in characters. David chose to stay home from war, to sleep with another man’s wife, to get her pregnant, and to try and cover it all up. Uriah has dutifully gone off to war, chooses not to lie with his wife, and honors the men out in battle. He walks a different path. What a contrast to David’s path.

David knows Uriah. He is one of David’s thirty mighty men – elite warriors who have spent much time with David. David sleeps with his friend’s wife. News of Bathsheba’s pregnancy hatches a new plan. Bring Uriah home under the guise of getting a report about the war and then send him home for the night. Surely he will lie with Bathsheba and all will think he’s the father. But Uriah sleeps outside the entrance to the palace. David asks why he didn’t go home. Hear the integrity in Uriah’s response: “As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing”! How could I? This response must have stung David a bit. No worries – plan B. That night David gets Uriah drunk and tries to send him home again. Again Uriah sleeps outside the palace. He does the right thing again. Plan C begins to unfold. It works as Uriah is killed in battle. After mourning, Bathsheba will become a wife to David and the child seems legitimate.

David implicated and affected many people in his sin. Some were impacted in small ways, but impacted nonetheless. Others were obviously affected more – Uriah, Bathsheba, Joab. When we sin, we too affect others. In our minds we also try to rationalize it or to minimize the ways it affects others. But sin never affects only us. At the very minimum it impacts us and our relationship with God. Indirectly there is always a list of others negatively affected. And then there are those we hurt directly.

Just as sin has ripple effects, so too does doing good. Let us not lose sight of Uriah. In our passage today, we can also learn from Uriah. Doing the right thing is always an option. When presented with the choice today, may we choose Uriah’s path – the path of righteousness. May it be so today.


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Wait Patiently

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 25: “If we hope for that we do not yet know, we wait for it patiently”.

Paul writes in today’s passage of the anticipation of things to come. He writes of creation itself “groaning in the pains of childbirth”. Paul is not writing of the physical pain that comes with childbirth but of groaning in anticipation of the new life that is to be born. Creation will one day be restored too.

Paul goes on to write of our “groaning inwardly”. We too wait eagerly for our time of “adoption as sons” when we will experience the “redemption of our bodies”. Whether we meet Jesus in heaven or when He returns, it will be a glorious meeting. While no one wants to die today, there is an eagerness and a longing for being with Jesus in paradise.

In the meantime we live as His children here on this earth. In our day to day lives we seek to love as Jesus loved and to help others know a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. We want others to know the hope we have. It is a hope not yet realized, for we are still in these earthly bodies, yet it is a hope we eagerly await. Paul writes, “If we hope for that we do not yet know, we wait for it patiently”. We wait patiently because we trust in God’s plans for us and for the world and because we have souls to help save in the here and now.

As we wait patiently for our gathering together with Jesus we faithfully live lives that actively lead others to Jesus, the hope of the world. We try and plant seeds of faith in others by doing the things Jesus did – helping those in need, touching the untouchable, welcoming the outcast, living the least. In and through all of this is the power of the Holy Spirit at work. Paul reminds us that we have the “first fruits of the Spirit”. These allow and help us to impact others for Christ. The Spirit leads and guides and informs us as we seek to build the kingdom here on earth. As we wait patiently with hope, may our words and our lives help others to do so as well.


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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.