pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Standing Firm

Reading: Luke 21:12-19

Verse 12: “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.”

In the opening verses of this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus told the disciples of the false prophets and difficult events that will come. Shifting to a much more personal focus Jesus tells his followers, “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.” Those who follow Jesus will be imprisoned and will stand trial before earthly powers. The way of Jesus runs counter to the ways of the world. Instead of accumulating more and more for self, Jesus calls for generosity towards those without. Instead of using power to dominate relationships, Jesus calls for love to guide all we do and say. Instead of using others to further our own interests and desires, Jesus calls us to walk alongside and to lift others up.

In and of themselves, these things that Jesus calls us to are not likely to land us in hot water. But living this way shines a light on the darkness of the world. That creates tension with power. Standing for justice and equality and redemption are also all good things – until they challenge systems that work against these values of God. It is then that power rises against the followers of Christ.

Jesus offers the disciples and us today words of encouragement. First, these trials will be opportunities to witness to our faith. Second, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will “give you words and wisdom.” Opponents will not be able to speak or stand against us. And third, “by standing firm you will gain life.” This is a both/and promise. Because of the Holy Spirit power within, we will be freed from the cares and worries of this world. And because of that, we are able to live towards the eternal glory found in Christ.

Jesus warns us that it will not be an easy road. But he also promises us that the path of discipleship will transform our life and the world around us. May we ever be faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with Holy Spirit power each day. Give me a holy compassion for all who are held down, held back, held below. Through your power and presence, use me to lift others up and to free them from the darkness of this world. Amen.


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“Why do you…?”

Reading: Acts 9:1-9

Verse 4: “He fell to the ground and heard a voice say, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'”

Our passage today begins with Saul “breathing our murderous threats” against those who follow Jesus. Saul has a zeal for keeping the Jewish faith as he believes it should be. Born a Jew and educated to the level of Pharisee, he was fighting to keep the faith pure. Saul saw those who followed Jesus as detracting from or as lessening the Jewish faith. So he took to arresting and even killing the early Christians as a means to snuff out this upstart religion. Armed with letters from the high priest he set out for the synagogues in Damascus, eager to arrest more Christians.

Along the way a light from heaven knocks Saul to the ground and a voice asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” To Jesus, this is personal. The question is not about the church or those who follow Jesus. He asks Saul, “Why do YOU persecute ME?” This question aligns with who and what Jesus was and is throughout his ministry. This question to Saul reiterates what he taught in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25), in the teaching on the vine and the branches (John 15), and in the teaching about unity in the name of Christ (Mark 9). In short, we are one in Christ and one in each other. To do (or not to do) to one another is to do (or not do) for Christ himself. To persecute a believer is to persecute Christ himself. This, “Why do you persecute me” Saul?

Jesus also asks us this question or a form of it. When I do something that lessens the name of Christ, Jesus asks me why I persecute him. When I ignore a need before me, Jesus asks why I’m ignoring him. When I choose to overlook an injustice, Jesus asks why I’m being disobedient. When I choose to be selfish or petty or stingy, Jesus asks why am I denying him.

It is easy for us to condemn Saul as a Jesus hater. It is much harder to honestly look within to see how we too fail in our walk of faith. May we each look within today for that is where confession and repentance and new life begins for each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me to an honest look into my heart today. Reveal to me the ways that I am less than you call me to be. Give me the courage and Holy Spirit power to grow to be more like Christ. Amen.


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Pleasing Him

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 6-15

Verse 9: “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it”.

As we continue today in 2nd Corinthians today and tomorrow we see and feel Paul’s longing for heaven in tension with his call to faithfully minister where God has placed him. Over the course of the past few weeks we have read of the trials and sufferings of Paul and the early church – hard pressed, persecuted, struck down. One can understand why Paul longs to finish his race.

In verses six through ten Paul speaks of living by faith (and not by sight) and of pleasing God on our journey of faith. If Paul or we lived by sight, the trials, persecutions, and sufferings would have ended our journey with Christ long ago. If the hardships of life fueled our spiritual journey we would have run out of gas long ago, leaving faith by the roadside. Making the choice to live by faith allows us to see beyond the trials of this life and on into the hope that we find in Christ Jesus. As faith guides Paul and us to see beyond this life, we can live with confidence and assurance as we seek to please God by bringing him the glory in all we say and do.

In these five verses Paul also speaks much of being “in the body”. Paul is using this phrase in both a literal and figurative sense. In the literal sense Paul is speaking of being in our human bodies as opposed to being with Jesus in heaven. I believe that this second option would be Paul’s preference if it were solely up to him. The figurative body that Paul speaks of is the body of Christ – the church. For those in the Corinthian church and for many in the church today, it is easier, preferred, more comfortable to please God within the walls of the church. But when Paul writes, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it”, he is saying that we should live the same way in the world too. Our faith should not be limited to our church circles but should be evident in all areas of our life. When we stand before the “judgment seat” all of our life will be on display, not just the hour or two we spent at church most weeks. Therefore may we live all of our moments striving to bring God the glory, building up the kingdom of God in all places.

Prayer: Lord God, while I look forward to heaven, I do not long for it quite yet. I pray that you continue to use me as you will for many years. Day by day guide me to please you in all I do and say and think. Amen.


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Living Fully in Christ

Reading: Philippians 1: 21-30

Verse 27: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.

As our passage opens today, Paul writes of his inner struggle. He weighs going on to heaven against remaining on earth in service to the Lord. Paul opens with: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Living he continues to share the good news of Jesus Christ. But to die is “gain” – he longs to be in glory. At points in life, particularly later in life, we experience this pull. Paul knows that heaven will be “better by far”. Yet he knows that now, at least, “fruitful labor” lies ahead. God still has work for him to do. While some of us lose this perspective, it still remains true for all believers. God can always use us for his purposes and glory.

Paul does not know if he will see the people of the church in Philippi again. Life is tenuous for Paul. The Jews and, at times, the Romans persecute him. He knows that at any point he could die for his faith. The same is true for all followers of Jesus. This reality is what leads him to say, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” in verse 27. Paul knows that the life of a believer is not always easy. Not only is there persecution and suffering, but there are also the desires of the flesh and the lures of the world. Almost 2,000 years later we live within the same realities.

So what does Paul mean by “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”? Part of the gospel life is what Paul alludes to in the opening verses. Faith in Jesus Christ empowers us with the promise of salvation, of eternal life. It will be “better by far”, to again quote Paul. Like Paul, our current life is lived in the here and now. There are gospel implications for that as well. These are mainly to be like Jesus Christ in our daily living. Doing so, we are generous not only with our time and resources but with our love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, kindness, and compassion as well. It means grieving with the hurting and sorrowful and it means rejoicing with the blessed and cared for. It means welcoming the stranger and fellowshipping with the believers. It is a call to live fully in Christ, all the while knowing that to die is gain.

When we choose to live fully in Christ, we too will have “fruitful labor”. In doing so, others will come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. May we each live fully in Christ, bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Loving God, consume me. Consume me with your love. Consume me so that all I say and do and think reflects your love. Guide me moment by moment, step by step, to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


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Expressing Love

Reading: Romans 12: 9-21

Verse 17: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”.

In our passage today Paul is speaking of how to live as a Christian. He does not separate how to live within the faith community from how to live in the world. How we act and speak and do within our faith communities should be how we act and speak and do out in the world. In this letter, Paul is speaking to the church in Rome. They are a diverse church, just like many of our churches. Our bodies of Christ represent many ages, occupations, politics, and so forth. In an ideal world, our church would reflect or match our community and vice versa.

As he gets down to the actual practice of love, Paul encourages the church to share with those in need and to practice hospitality. He encourages them to walk through life together – weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who are rejoicing. Paul lifts up the goal of living in harmony with each other. He warns them not to be proud but to associate with everyone. These are all ways that we express or demonstrate the genuine and sincere love that he spoke of at the beginning of this section. While some of these can be challenging or can stretch us a bit, they are all things we can accomplish for our family and friends and fellow church members. But Paul is not concerned just with how we treat this group of people.

Sprinkled into today’s passage are also some exhortations that we might prefer to read past. Paul exhorts us to bless those who persecute us and warns us about our responses: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”. He also cautions us against seeking or taking revenge. Paul is directing us to love sincerely those who are not showing us love but disdain, dislike, and even hatred towards us. This can be quite the challenge. There is ample proof of this on many social media platforms. Instead of walking the road of evil, Paul encourages us to love and care for our enemies. Mirroring Jesus’ words concerning heaven-worthy behavior, Paul directs us to feed our enemies when they are hungry and to give them a drink when they are thirsty. The burning coals are the angst they will feel inside about giving poor treatment to the ones who show them love.

“As far as it depends on you”, may we heed Paul’s words, seeking today and every day to “live at peace with everyone”. As far as it depends on you… In our own little worlds, it all depends on us. May we each be the light and love, the hands and feet, the eyes and hearts of Christ each day.

Prayer: Loving God, guide me to be obedient to you in all ways and at all times. May who I am at home and at church and at the ballgame… be the same. May I be your love lived out in all ways, in all places, and for all people. Help me to treat one and all with your same love and compassion. Amen.


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Love and Grace

Reading: Philippians 3: 1-12

Verse 8: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”.

The title for today’s passage in my Bible is “No Confidence in the Flesh”. It is a good reminder. In verses four through six Paul reminds us of how we can trust in the old and in the things of this world. We may not connect circumcision or our tribe or our nation as sources of confidence. But we can count our position or title or status as things we place our confidence in. We may claim the tag “Christian” instead of Pharisee and we may go about persecuting all who don’t see or interpret things just as we do. Some even see their confidence in the two areas as just cause for their legalistic righteousness that is far from the love and grace that Jesus exemplifies. Paul sees this in his former life as Saul.

In verse seven there is a shift. All of this earthly confidence Paul now considers a loss for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ. He goes on to explain in the next verse, saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”. Paul willingly laid aside the titles… in exchange for coming to know the Savior. He calls all that earthly stuff “rubbish” as is willing to throw all that away so that he may “gain Christ”. It amazes me what a little encounter with Jesus did for and to Paul’s life. All that he had grown up knowing and believing and living – holding this above all else – was rubbish once he knew the love and grace of Christ. Today some continue to live out the law without knowing Christ. Some even live with the Christian tag and live a life that does not bear witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Instead of an earthly, human righteousness based upon the law and strict adherence to the rituals and practices, Paul has found a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus. It is not the high and mighty righteousness negatively associated with the super religious. It is a righteousness based partly on the resurrection of Jesus. It is also based on the love and grace that comes by “sharing in his sufferings”. In losing all the earthly trappings, through the grace he himself experienced in Christ, Paul was left with a love for Jesus and for all who did not know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We too can know this love and grace. Like Paul, may we know Christ crucified and risen. And may we share Christ with all we meet, seeking to work out our mandate to make disciples of all nations and peoples. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, at times I can be a bit like Saul – feeling good about my titles or position or religion. When I do, bring me face to face with the sufferings of Jesus, made real in the realities of a hurting and broken world. There, fill me with only grace and love, that I may represent you well in the world. Amen.


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Us?

Reading: Acts 7: 55-60

Verse 58: …and the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Oddly enough, in the middle of our passage today, the author mentions that Saul is there.  That people laid their clothes at his feet would indicate that maybe Saul is “in charge” of the stoning of Stephen.  He may not cast a stone, but he is there to make sure the job is done right.  Saul is becoming the leading figure in the efforts to persecute and eliminate this fledgling church.  In Stephen we find one absolutely willing to die for his faith.  Saul is just as passionate and dedicated to upholding Mosaic Law as he and many others interpret it.  Just as much as Stephen loves Jesus, Saul hates Him.  It is quite a contrast, but it is a contrast we can relate to.  While we may never “hate” Jesus, at times our lives may look like we certainly don’t love Him.

As Saul’s story unfolds, his reputation for attacking the church and all followers of the Way grows to the point that the mere mention of his name brings shudders to all believers.  It is quite the shock to the young church when Saul suddenly becomes Paul just a couple of chapters later in Acts 9.  Many asked the question people may ask if us: him?  How could this man who killed and arrested so many Christians become one of Jesus’ greatest apostles and champions?  How could this man so filled with hate become so filled with love?  Jesus.

Once Jesus got ahold of Saul and changed him into Paul, he was fully dedicated to the good news.  This leads us to ask, what about me? Maybe we do not need the 180° change that Saul needed, maybe we do.  But let us ask, what about me?  What would Jesus like to change in me?  If Jesus could change Saul into such a way, imagine what He could do with us.  May it be so.