pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Countercultural

Reading: Colossians 3: 12-14

Verses 12 and 14: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience… And over all these virtues put on love.”

In the first half of our passage from Colossians 3, Paul first reminds them that they are chosen, holy, and dearly loved by God. This too is who we are: chosen, holy, loved. Paul reminds them of these facts so that it influences how they treat one another and how they live in the world.

Paul encourages the believers to

“clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…” These virtues are the virtues that Jesus lived out. Each of these virtues are revealed over and over as one reads the gospels. Many were present in the same story. That’s what Paul means by “clothe yourselves” – don’t just practice a little compassion here and a little gentleness there, but exhibit all of these – or as many as you can – in each situation and encounter. When we do so it makes bearing with and forgiving one another more likely. Lastly, Paul says, “over all these virtues put on love.” Drape love over everything. Let love drive and undergird your compassion, kindness… because if God is nothing else, God is love.

Even though Jesus Christ embodied these virtues and always strived to live them out in all ways, it was not always easy. The political and religious leaders of his day sought to hold onto power and did what was necessary to do so. The economically priveleged followed suit – doing whatever was needed to accumulate more wealth and influence. Jesus went against the norms of these groups. He was about the exact opposite. Those who were fearful of Jesus’ countercultural example ended up putting him on a cross in order to preserve and protect what they had. Even then Jesus practiced compassion, kindness…

Our world is not much different. Power, influence, and wealth still dominate the institutions of our day. Following Jesus’ example, may we too be countercultural, ever practicing compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, covering all of these in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, your son’s example is not easy. Strengthen me each day to follow in his footsteps, loving and living as he did. Amen.


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Playing Our Part

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 5 and 6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”.

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Paul writes today about unity within the body of Christ – the church. Unity almost sounds like a foreign concept. Unity almost feels like an impossible dream. We seem to divide and separate over the smallest of things. Paul is seeing the churches he founded in and around Ephasus beginning to have fissures and cracks.

Inviting those in these churches to “live a life worthy of the calling”, Paul reminds them of some virtues to practice: humility, patience, gentleness, peace… To these he adds belief. In verses five and six he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Paul sees the church universal, not the church divided. Paul envisions the unity brought through Jesus Christ, not any divisions. I believe the same is still possible today. There are core beliefs that all churches have regardless of their denominational flavors: God, the creator of all things, sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to live out his love and to die to defeat the power of sin and death, paving the way for the salvation of our souls. You may word this or parts of it differently, but the ideas are the core of our faith.

The body of Christ can make the choice to live into unity instead of choosing division, to live into the core beliefs instead of accentuating differences and things that divide. Unity begins with each one of us – in our churches, then in our communities, then in our world. May we each commit to playing our part to bring unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the heart required to build unity. Lead me to elevate and value our core beliefs over our minor differences. May Jesus Christ become more of my focus. May our unity bring Christ the glory. Amen.


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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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God Still Speaks

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 6: “Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel'”!

We begin this week’s readings with the calling of Samuel. One night when Samuel lay down in the temple, as he had done for many years, God decided to speak to him. In some ways it must have been a shock but in other ways it was expected. To understand why, a little background from the previous chapter. Samuel was, after all, born to Hannah, the fruit of a desperate prayer to the Lord. This barren woman had taken her case to God and he responded. Eli was there that day in the temple as she poured our her heart and her pain. After understanding her prayer, Eli blessed her, saying, “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him”. When he is born, Hannah names him ‘Samuel’ “because I asked the Lord for him”. After Samuel is weaned he is brought to the temple so that “his whole life is given over to the Lord”. Samuel is raised in the temple by Eli, learning much about God. So, it is not a shock when God calls, “Samuel”!

Samuel’s story reminds me of my story and perhaps it also reminds you of your story. Long before I began to remember things for myself, my parents brought me before the Lord and baptized me, committing my life to a faithful walk with the Lord. My birth was an answer to prayer, some comfort to hurting hearts. Although I did not live at the church, worship and Sunday school were regular parts of my childhood. Youth group eventually replaced Sunday school. I was confirmed and became a member of the Congregational church. During my high school years I made the personal decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Perhaps your faith journey is similar to mine and, therefore, to Samuel’s. God has long been at work in our lives. God knows us well.

It took Samuel a while to realize that God was speaking to him and he needed Eli’s help to realize it. This too I recognize in my life. I do not always recognize that it is God “speaking” to me. At times I too need others to help me recognize the whispers, the nudged, the guidance. Sometimes three calls are just the beginning of the process for me.

Just as with Samuel, God has plans for our lives. God will call and call, full of patience and love. As we live out our faith each day, may we grow in our connection to the Lord so that we too are faithful in responding, “Speak, for your servant is listening”.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your faithful and persistent call upon my life. I am grateful for each person that has helped me to hear the call throughout my life. Open my eyes and heart to hear you better and better each time you call. Give me a willing spirit, ever ready to respond. Amen.


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Patient Trust

Reading: Matthew 13: 24-30

Verse 29: “…while you are pulling the weeds you may root up the wheat with them”.

I tend to be a fixer. When problems or issues arise I want to fix them. In general, most of us get uncomfortable when things are not right. In those cases our leaning is to make things right then and there. Many of us are like the servants in today’s parable.

The parable begins with the planting of wheat in the field. During the night an enemy sows weeds in the same field. Over time both seeds sprout and begin to grow. The landowner’s servants see both wheat and weeds in the field and ask the landowner what happened. They ask him, “Didn’t you sow good seeds?” This too is one of my tendencies. When things go poorly or not well I too tend to question, to doubt, to blame. But the owner replies, “An enemy did this”. It was something out of his control. He recognizes that at times people and other forces outside of our control will affect and effect us. Other people can also make bad decisions, nature strikes, some people are greedy and immoral.

Like the servants, our first reaction is usually to do react, to do something. But the owner practices patience. He tells the servants “no”. He wants them to wait because “…while you are pulling the weeds you may root up the wheat with them”. He correctly understands that both root systems might be damaged by pulling the weeds now. Instead he instructs them to wait for the harvest. This advice is good for us as well. When we practice patience and trust God to work things out in his time, things usually work out. In faith may we take our prayers to the Lord, trusting in and waiting on his answer.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to jump in and solve or fix, may your Holy Spirit remind me to breathe, to be patient, to turn first to you for discernment and guidance. In trust may I relinquish all worry and fear and doubt and angst. Help me to trust in you alone. Amen.


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God of Patience

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21

Verse 10: “She said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son'”.

Several years after Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands, preempting God’s plan, God fulfills his promise to them. Ishmael had been born several years ago and he is now a young boy at the time that Isaac is born. In the story that we read today and tomorrow, there are a lot of emotions flying around. As we have observed over the last few months, this isn’t always the best thing. Emotions can be such a two-edged sword. If allowed to guide the way 100%, it can spell disaster. But emotions are also great fuel to drive action and change in a positive direction.

As our story opens today, Sarah realizes that she has created a bad situation. Part of her had to realize that she found herself where she did because she chose to manipulate the situation instead of allowing God to be in control. This is certainly a familiar scenario for many of us. It is for me. We decide God is taking too long and we decide to take charge and we plunge forward, thinking we can fix or remedy or correct a situation. Often we end up where Sarah does – in a far worse position. To make matters worse, instead of turning to God this time, she again plunges ahead, telling Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son”. But oh how God is patient. Ishmael’s father, Abraham, is greatly distressed by this directive. He has grown to love Ishmael over these years. He has been and still is his son.

Perhaps you too have done what Sarah does. Realizing that you have gone far astray of God’s plan, instead of now turning to God, you try to re-correct what you failed at in attempt #1. God remains patient with Sarah just as he does with us. God continues to work with the situation, telling Abraham that all will be just fine with Ishmael. Content in God’s words, Abraham does send Hagar and Ishmael away.

The big picture is that God will watch over us as well. God will work in and through our messes and God will be with us when we have to step out into the wilderness. It is all part of our story as well. More on that tomorrow!

Prayer: God of patience, I marvel at how you work good out of situation after situation. I so often wander off on my own but you always work me back around to your will and your ways. Thank you for your faithfulness. Amen.


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Enduring Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”.

Patience, patience, patience. Patience is such a tough thing to practice, especially when the situation is difficult. The difficulty can come from a variety of angles. For the brothers and sisters in Christ that James is writing to, the difficulty comes from the persecution and suffering that they are enduring. When we have been experiencing times of stress or distress, we have known how hard it is to patiently endure. This is what James is addressing in our passage today.

James turns to a familiar test of patience. He encourages them to consider the farmer. The farmer sows the seeds and then he patiently waits. With the sun and the rain that will surely come, he waits, trusting that the land will “yield its valuable crop”. It can be hard to have patience when growing crops. I have had a home garden for many years now. As I reflect back on each season I can now remember a familiar scene playing out. We would plant carrots, lettuce, and so on. Then about a week later I would go out to the garden, sometimes multiple times each day, checking to see if those little green shoots had popped up yet. Soon it became a practice in patience. Early in my gardening career my mind would question or doubt if the shoots took a little too much time to come up.

Our faith is a lot like that too. When the first trials or seasons of suffering come along, we do not have much patience. We quickly cry out, “How long, O God”? But as we spend a few more seasons in the valleys, experiencing God’s presence and strength and guidance… over and over again, we begin to build trust in God. Our doubts and questions and fears ebb away. We soon see these seasons as times of growth and maturing.

In verse eight James writes, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”. Be like the farmer, trust in God. For all who are struggling in the trial right now, cling to these words of hope and promise. To do so yields an unshakable belief that becomes your rock. As the faithful Christian endures the storms with patience and faith, we do come to know the truth of Jesus coming near. He never leaves us or forsakes us, especially in the trials. Be near to us, Lord Jesus, this we pray.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my anchor in every stormy gale. In the lows and in the highs and everywhere in between, your Holy Spirit is ever present. Thanks be to 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.


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Prepare… Patience

Reading: Matthew 24:42 – “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day our Lord will come”.

Precision, order, attention to details. These things we like. When the pizza or package with that special item does not arrive when we thought it would… You know that feeling. We all know that feeling. We know absolutely nothing about the delay but we do manage to feel personally injured by it. Or so we think.

Then my mind goes to God in this verse. Precision, order, attention to details. Fits God to a tee. Knowing this about God I can’t imagine what my life and decisions have caused God to feel. I wonder if God is frustrated that I did not quite read that situation correctly and missed a great growth opportunity. Did all those times I went this way when God’s perfect plan had me going that way test God? I realize how limited I am and how often I make poor choices. Yet God still loves me and still remains very much present and at work in my life. This makes me think of God’s patience.

Today’s verse reads “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day our Lord will come”. This verse is directed at us. Jesus wants us to be a faithful follower 24/7/365, not just an hour or two here and there. Jesus wants us to ever be prepared to meet him face to face. He may come in final glory or he may come to call us home. In either case, the call remains the same: be prepared. Keep faithful. Seek those growth opportunities. Discern God’s will and strive to walk that path, not our own. Be a follower, not a fan. Be an altogether Christian, not an almost Christian. Be all in, not lukewarm. Make Jesus #1 in your life, not a distant third or fourth. Keep watch, be prepared, walk the walk of faith every second of every hour of every day of…

The verse for today again draws me back to God’s patience. God could have been done with me, with all of f us, with all of this world long ago. Jesus could have returned hundreds of years ago. God is patient. Yes, God wants us to be prepared, but there are many who have not heard the gospel. There are many more who can come into a saving relationship. We still have much work to do. Thank you, God, for your patience.

Prayer: Lord God, this day, may I be one who helps others to know you. Maybe it will be to know you more. Maybe it will be an introduction. In all I do, say, and think, may Jesus shine through. Amen.


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Offer Joy and Thanksgiving

Reading: Colossians 1: 10-20

Verse 10: “Live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way”.

Today and tomorrow we will look at this passage from Colossians. Today we spend time with the first five verses and then tomorrow we turn to the last six verses. Paul is writing to the Colossians to first encourage them. Paul acknowledges in verse six that the gospel is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it is in the Colossian church. Paul has been praying for the church too. He prays that God will fill them with the knowledge of God’s will. Paul prays this for a purpose: so that they may “live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way”. This is a great prayer for us to pray for the church universal, for our own churches, and for ourselves.

Paul goes on to unpack what this worthy and pleasing life entails. The first mark is “bearing fruit in every good work”. Fruit is both growth in personal faith AND making new disciples. How are you and your church each doing in these two areas? This first mark ties into the second. The second is being strengthened (or maturing) in the faith so that we have “great endurance and patience”. We must exercise to grow stronger. We exercise our faith by practicing it. As a simple example, did you read Colossians 1:10-20 or did you just read the verse listed at the beginning of this devotional? In a bigger sense, will you worship God with all that you are tonight or tomorrow or will you just show up? We get out what we put in. A good effort with the means of grace (prayer, study, meditation, fasting, worship) will produce much fruit in our lives and for the kingdom of God.

The third mark is to “joyfully” give thanks to God. This also is tied to the first two marks. We are blessed in so many ways. Whether the blessing is family or health or financially or occupationally or all of these, joyfully thanking God should be our response. Paul also points to another blessing: our inheritance in the kingdom of light. Paul is not speaking of heaven here. Yes, that too is an inheritance. Today he speaks of the privilege of walking in the light in this life. This has two parts. First, Jesus rescues us from the darkness of this world. In the light we have hope, joy, peace, love, contentment, and so much more. Second, Jesus redeems us from our sins, bringing salvation to our souls. Wiping away our sins, Jesus removes the guilt, shame, regret… freeing us to walk as children of the light. This allows us to grow in our faith, to bear fruit for the kingdom, and to joyfully thank God for our place in his kingdom of light. Let us offer our joy and thanksgiving to the Lord!

Prayer: Living God, you are so, so good to me. Your grace draws me in, deeper and deeper. Your Spirit strengthens and encourages me for the day to day journey and for the long journey through life. Your mercy makes me new every morning. All praise to you, O God! Amen.