pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Power to Transform

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18

Verse 17: “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”

Yesterday we considered Paul’s call to unity in the church. We recognized the costs of bickering and infighting. These behaviors diminish the witness of the church and its members. Paul resisted the temptation to enter the fray, to claim his place. He certainly could have. He had that Damascus road encounter with the risen Christ. He had a deep knowledge of the Jewish faith – he was a Pharisee. Paul had built the church in Corinth from the ground up. His name was known and his letters were read throughout the Christian world. Paul could’ve claimed a place of power and authority for himself.

Many in Paul’s day and many in our day enjoy the limelight. In Paul’s day both rabbis and philosophers sought to gain large groups of followers. Today we ask one another how many friends we have on Facebook or how many followers we have on Twitter… In Paul’s day the powerful attached their names to building projects and social actions. Today we plaster names on everything from buildings to bowl games. These are but two examples of ways people seek recognition and to build popularity and status.

Stepping outside of the popularity contest, Paul states, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Yes, baptism was important. It was an outward sign of an inward change. But the inward change came through knowing the good news of Jesus Christ. It was Christ’s life and example, magnified on the cross, that has the power to change and transform lives. Paul knew this with all of his heart. He had experienced it himself and poured all of himself into helping others to experience the power of Jesus Christ. May we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, Christ, through the cross, changed everything. In one radical act of obedience Jesus reset the power imbalance. No longer would darkness reign. Light and love came into the world and gave all for our sake. Use me this day and every day to help people know the one who changed my life. Amen.


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Knowledge and Gifts

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:4-9

Verse 5: “In Christ you have been enriched in every way.”

Continuing in our Epistle reading for this week, Paul reminds those in the church in Corinth that they have been “enriched in every way.” In and through Christ, these Christians have been enriched in both speech and knowledge. Along these same lines, Paul tells them that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift. What a great place this church is in!

Before getting to the heart of the letter, Paul closes the opening section by encouraging them. He shares that Christ will keep them strong to the end. They will be blameless because God is faithful. Wow! What words of encouragement! It sounds almost too good to be true.

To have knowledge and gifts, it can be dangerous. To know one knows more than others, to see that one is more blessed than most folks – that can be disastrous. We’ve all seen examples of this in the sports world, in the entertainment industry, in the economic and political arenas. We’ve all been turned off by someone’s ego or arrogance or judgmental attitude. When one’s faith goes down this road, it is especially dangerous.

To be arrogant and prideful around one’s faith is an immense turn-off. It creates division when one person or group thinks they’re better than everyone. It is a more massive cause of division and hurt when Christians take this approach, looking smugly down upon those outside the community of faith. There is trouble brewing in the church in Corinth. It will be good reading. It is also good reading for us today. Stay tuned!

Prayer: Lord God, you do bless us in so many ways. You are the only way to life eternal and to true joy in this present life. But instead of holding these things over others, instead of allowing them to be used for division, let us use our blessings to bless others. Let us use our relationship with you to draw others into relationship. Guide us to gently and generously share all that you offer. May we live in love with the world, not with ourselves. Amen.


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Idle or Active?

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-13

Verse 11: “We hear that some of you are idle.”

In this week’s Epistle reading Paul advocates for an active and engaged faith. In the opening verse Paul directs the people in the church in Thessalonica to “keep away from every brother who is idle” and to steer clear of those who “do not live according to the teaching you received from us.” Paul reminds all of the example set by both he and his companions. When they were there they worked “day and night” so that they were not a “burden” to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Speaking to those who were being a burden Paul says, “We hear that some of you are idle.” He then commands them to “earn the bread they eat.” To these and to the rest of the church, Paul says, “Never tire of doing what is right.” Bread can be physical but it can also be spiritual. As Paul identifies the idle as “busybodies,” we can infer that they were neglecting their spiritual work too. This is where many of us today can struggle with idleness.

Many Christians are all in for going to church on Sunday – unless they were out late on Day or if the kids have an activity to go to. Many Christians are willing to support their church financially – let’s just wait and see what’s left over at the end of the month. Many Christians think that service and mission and witness are important – that’s why the church has a staff and a pastor, right?

Paul warns against having a idle or passive or complacent faith. He calls for a faith that is obedient, active, and engaged. How would you describe your faith? Does it match the first or the second sentence in this paragraph?

Prayer: Lord God, in this time when we like to hire someone to mow our lawn or to shop for our groceries, don’t let me be comfortable just farming out my faith. In this culture that says “just do it” and “have it your way,” guide me to live according to your will and your way. Amen.


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It Rests on Christ

Reading: 2nd Timothy 2:8-15

Verse 8: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.”

Turning to our Epistle reading for the week, Paul encourages young Timothy with some foundational truths and with some “trustworthy” sayings. Paul is writing from prison in Rome, “chained like a criminal.” Yet he is the one doing the teaching and encouraging. He has not forgotten the call that Jesus Christ has on his life. Serving his Lord and Savior, Paul seeks to pour into Timothy in order to strengthen his walk of faith.

Paul begins by exhorting Timothy to “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.” It was important for Paul’s faith to remember these two truths: Jesus resurrected and of the line of David. The first truth is certainly important to all believers. Because Jesus defeated the power of death, we too can attain eternal life. The second truth is also important to our faith. It connects the person of Jesus to the entire Bible. He is the fulfillment of dozens and dozens of prophesies found in the Old Testament. If you could, what other foundational truths would you add? If I could do so, I’d add that Jesus died for my sins and that he showed what God’s love looks like when lived out in real life. What would you include in your statement of the gospel or good news?

Paul also adds a few “if-then” type sayings. If we choose to die to self, then we will live with Jesus Christ in our hearts. If we endure hardship and trial faithfully, then we will triumph over the things of this world. If we deny Jesus or are faithless, then he will disown us, yes, but “he will remain faithful.” What does this twist at the end mean? It means that Jesus Christ will love us no matter what. It means that when we fail, Jesus does not falter in his love for us. When we declare him as Lord and Savior, we become a part of him and he becomes a part of us. Our inheritance in the family of God is secure because it rests not on our love or effort. It rests on Christ’s love and effort. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your sacrifice for us – from taking on flesh to living amongst us to dying and rising again to give us victory over sin and death. All was done in love. I am so grateful that your love remains – no matter what I do or do not do. It is an amazing love. Thank you for this love. Amen.


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Overflowing Joy

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verse 12: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.”

As Paul opens his first letter to Timothy, he shares his call story. In verse 12 he writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.” Paul overflows with joy that God called him into service to Jesus Christ. Paul’s past was one that opposed the way of Jesus. That’s what he’s referring to in the next few verses. Leaving behind that life, Paul gave up much to follow Jesus. In his ‘old life’ he was a Pharisee. His zealous faith led to him being esteemed by his fellow Pharisees. He was looked up to by society. The Jews held the religious leaders in the highest regard. His lifestyle would have been quite comfortable. And then at the call of Christ, Paul gave all this up to be an itinerant preacher of the gospel. He gave all of this up to endure ridicule, abuse, beatings, and imprisonment. And he overflows with joy that God called him to serve Jesus as Lord.

All who come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior hear his call. Responding to the call to ‘follow me,’ we dedicate our lives to serving God and others. Our calls will vary. Some are called to vocational ministry; some are called to minister through their vocations. We are also all given gifts or talents to use for the glory of God. The sweet spot where our call to minister aligns with our talents – that is where God fills us with joy. Yes, there may be, no, there will be challenges, hardships, and costs to following the way of Christ. More importantly, though, we will come to overflow with joy as we live God and neighbor more than self. This day and every day, may we know this overflowing joy.

Prayer: Lord God, it is such a blessing to serve you and others. You called me back to the path of faithful living and it changed my life forever. Use me each day as you will, however best builds the kingdom. Amen.


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Welcome Him, Welcome Me

Reading: Philemon 1-21

Verse 17: “Welcome him as you would welcome me.”

Photo credit: Markus Spiske

Philemon is a unique book in the Bible. This short letter is personal in nature but has wide application. It is written to one man, Philemon. The letter addresses a unique situation. Onesimus is a slave who stole from Philemon and has run away from him. Fleeing to Rome, probably hoping to blend into this big city far away, he encounters Paul and his life is forever changed. Onesimus comes to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He longs to return home, to go back to Philemon. Paul appeals to Philemon “on the basis of love.” Paul asks Philemon to “Welcome him as you would welcome me.” Onesimus is now “useful” and wants to live a different life, a good life.

We all know people who have been difficult or hard to be around. Maybe they’re unhappy with their situation, like Onesimus used to be. A change of scenery leads to a change of heart. They return a different person, eager to reconnect. Sometimes we, like Philemon, need a little encouragement, a little prompting to fully receive them back. Paul uses his influence and the basic tenets of reconciliation and forgiveness in his appeal to Philemon. These are things we too have in our life and faith that we can use to build connections.

In our current culture there are many opportunities to practice the love of Christ and the acts of forgiveness and reconciliation. Division and barriers are abundant. As a society we are polarized, often galvanized in our positions. Acting in Christian love, walking in humility, we can walk across those gaps, past those walls. Living and loving as Christ did, we can seek to build unity, to begin reconciliation, to offer forgiveness to those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we seek to welcome these as we would welcome Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to live all people because all people are our brothers and sisters, all are created by you. So fill me with your love, fill me to overflowing. Use that overflow to begin the healing and reconciliation needed in our world. In your healing, may we all become one in the Lord. Amen.


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The Growing Cycle

Reading: Colossians 1:9-14

Verse 10: “Live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way… bearing fruit in every good work… growing in the knowledge of God.”

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians continues in today’s passage. He begins by praying that they are filled with the knowledge of God’s will. This knowledge comes through spiritual wisdom and understanding. These are gained by living out the faith, by worshipping together, and by listening to the Holy Spirit. We can practice these things and we can add Bible study to our list.

Paul prays for this knowledge and wisdom and understanding so that the Colossians can “live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way… bearing fruit in every good work… growing in the knowledge of God.” Notice the connections between these actions and the cyclical effect of living this way. When we live a life worthy of the Lord we are walking closely in Jesus’ footsteps, following his example. This is pleasing to God. The more we live like Jesus, the more we please God. Our lives will, in turn, bear fruit as we live and love like Jesus lived and loved. Not only will we do good works that bring glory to God, we will also draw others towards following Jesus. Each of these actions help us to grow in our faith, growing in our knowledge of God. This growth deepens our walk, further leading us to live in a way that is worthy of Jesus’ example.

Paul finishes these thoughts by touching on some of the other outcomes – endurance and patience, joy, and sharing in the “kingdom of light.” This kingdom is something we both build here on earth and is what we await as we long for our final adoption into eternal glory. For the here and now and for the glory to come we say thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey so far! Growing closer and deeper has been such a joy. Continue to work in and through me, transforming me more and more into who and what you desire me to be. Amen.


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Open and Obedient

Reading: Acts 16:9-13

Verse 10: “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we continue in Acts this week we see that the church continues to grow. The early church leaders have just made a significant decision: Gentile converts do not have to follow all of the Jewish laws to be Christians. Yes, to think that they should sounds weird. They’re becoming Christians, not Jews! Yet this still happens in churches today. We think new folks need to conform to our way of doing and being if they are going to be a part of our community of faith.

With the hard decision made by the council, Paul and companions head back out, visiting churches to share this decision and to encourage the churches. Today and tomorrow’s passage begins in Troas. But they’re not there long. In a vision Paul sees a man and is asked, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” In verse 10 we hear the reaction to the vision: “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once.” They immediately got ready and went. Once they arrive in Philippi, they continue to be obedient to God’s guidance. On the Sabbath they go “where they expected to find a place of prayer.” Paul and his companions are obedient to the guidance God gives. Because they have open hearts and are obedient, God will use them in amazing ways.

The same is true for you and me. God is always speaking, nudging, leading us – or at least trying to. If you’re like me, you can ignore, avoid, put off the promptings at times. Yet we are called to have open hearts and obedient minds, allowing ourselves to be used by God is amazing ways. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, what might you have for me today? I ask that you would use me for the building of your kingdom. Help me first to be open and willing then guide me to hear and follow. Amen.


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Rooted in Love

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Verses 17-18: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love… grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”.

Photo credit: Emma Gossett

Chapter 3 of Ephesians opens with Paul declaring himself a “prisoner” of Jesus Christ for the sake of the Gentiles. Those he once saw as so far outside of God’s love have been brought near. Paul is now the primary missionary to the Gentiles. What an amazing turnaround! Our passage today is a prayer for the Ephesians. It begins with Paul on his knees.

Ephesus was a city much like the cities and towns that we live in. The culture of Paul’s day valued wealth and status and power. Life was centered around getting more and more. The world in which these early believers lived and the audience with whom they were sharing the good news was not much different from our own contexts. Paul first prays for the Holy Spirit’s power to fill them and to strengthen their inner being. Paul asks God to make them sure of who they are in Christ Jesus.

Paul then prays, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love… grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”. Perhaps thinking of the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8, Paul prays for deep roots of faith. When trouble or persecution or the cares of the world rise up, Paul prays that they will remain rooted in the love of Jesus Christ. He prays for them to understand the vastness and limitless nature of God’s love. Knowing this, they will be filled with the “measure of the all the fullness of God”. They will be filled with his love. Being filled, they will then overflow into the world. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of love, fill me, fill me, fill me. Pour out your love upon me. Fill me so full that your love washes away all that keeps me from being fully yours. Amen.


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Through the Cross

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 14: “For he himself is our peace, who has… destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”.

Photo credit: Nathan McDine

As we turn to Ephesians this week Paul takes on a huge issue: walls that divide. Instead of division he invites those in the churches in and around Ephasus to find peace in Jesus Christ. Through the peace of Christ, walls can come down. There are two walls being addressed in today’s scripture. One is obvious – the wall between Jew and Gentile.

As Paul states in verse two, circumcision was the physical sign that separated Jew from Gentile. The act of circumcision was begun in Moses’ time and gave a physical sign that one was a Jew. It was a barrier of belonging. Underpinning this act was the Law. The Jewish Christians still lived under and followed the Law. They wanted the Gentile Christians to do the same. In essence, they wanted the Gentiles to first become Jews and then to become Christians. Paul counters this, saying, “For he himself is our peace, who has… destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”. He goes on to remind the Jewish believers that Jesus “abolished in his flesh the law”. Through his death Jesus destroyed the commands and regulations, uniting both Jew and Gentile through the cross.

Today our walls might not be between Jew and Gentile, but we still have plenty of walls. Just a few are rich-poor, Black-white, Democrat-Republican, American-immigrant. The peace of Christ desires to destroy all of these barriers and the hostility behind them too. Through the cross, Jesus desires to bring all people to himself. Jesus would bring down the barriers. So should we.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, fill me with your passion to draw all people to you. Strengthen me to bring down walls that divide and separate. May I begin in my own heart. Amen.