pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Evidence of the Power

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

In the first half of this week’s Epistle reading Paul both encourages the Corinthian church and he reminds them of the challenges they face. For example, in verse 18, he encourages them with the tangible power of the cross to save and he reminds them that much of the world still sees this as foolishness. To the worldly, the story of the cross was one of weakness and defeat.

Paul writes about Jews demanding “miraculous signs” and Greeks demanding “wisdom”. The Jews wanted the power of Christ demonstrated in amazing ways – a new version of the parting of the sea, if you will. The Greeks wanted to be argued into believing. Both groups were really saying, ‘Prove to me that Jesus is real, that he still has power.’ This remains the sticky point for many today. People still want proof. Today many think, ‘Yes, nice stories and some good examples to follow, but what will it do for my life today?’ So to many people today the cross remains a “stumbling block” and to others it appears as “foolishness.”

But, as Paul points out, the cross is also “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” To those who believe, the cross brings new life. In the cross we see God wisely recognizing what needed done for our transformation to be possible. In God’s wisdom it was identified and through God’s power the sacrifice was offered. It is because the price was paid that we can be made new again. Freed from the chains of this world we are able to live as new creations in Christ. Filled with joy and hope and peace and love and grace and mercy and forgiveness we live as examples of the power and wisdom of the cross. And this, my friends, is the proof that the world needs. Day by day, may the transformation wrought in us be the evidence that leads others to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, through your power I am made again and again, each time a little more into who you created me to be. May this power at work in me be the story that others see, drawing them towards the Savior. Amen.


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6:6-8

Verse 8: “God has shown you… what is good… what is required… To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Photo credit: Simon Berger

As we turn to the second half of this week’s Old Testament passage, Micah asks what he should bring before the Lord. He wonders if burnt offerings would be enough. Maybe so if it were “thousands of rams” followed by “ten thousand rivers of oil?” That sounds like a lot. Or maybe something closer to home? Perhaps sacrifice a child – “the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” That feels like a lot. It felt like a lot was needed. The sin of Israel was great. Yet for God, restoring a relationship wasn’t about volume or about a huge but isolated proof of faith. It was much simpler. It was about the heart. In Micah’s day the Israelites were going through the motions required by the sacrificial system. To go through them a thousand or ten thousand times mattered not. To offer your firstborn and then to return to sinful living? Worthless.

Instead of hands and feet going through meaningless motions, God desired the heart of the people. God wanted to see hearts committed to what really mattered to God. In verses 8 we read, “God has shown you… what is good… what is required… To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” God sought people with hearts focused on justice, mercy, and humility. This is what is good. This is what is required. This is what really matters to God. The challenge for us is this: in our modern world, how do we live this out?

We live in a time when people are selfish and focused on material goods and social status. From this place it is difficult to see injustice, oppression, and pride as bad things. They are the means to achieving success. Yet these practices leave a wake of poverty and division and need. It is to these things that the eyes and heart of God are drawn. What is our response, our good and required response? It is not to write a check for $1,000 or to donate 10,000 meals or to sell our house to give money to some great cause. While good and likely helpful to others, these motions do not align our eyes and heart with God’s eyes and heart. Our response is really much simpler than these things. Very hard in our culture, yes, but simpler. What is good, what God required? A daily walk that focuses on justice for all, mercy and kindness to all, and humility as we seek to walk hand in hand with our God. Walking this way, our eyes and hearts will be drawn to the places and people that draw God’s eyes and heart. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, it really is pretty basic, isn’t it? Step away from self and from all that the world says matters. Step into the circumstances and lives of people that matter to you – those needing to experience justice, those needing mercy, those requiring a humble servant’s presence. Use me in all of these ways, O God. Amen.


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Overjoyed

Reading: John 20:19-31

Verse 20: “He showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

In our gospel passage Jesus appears twice to the disciples – once without Thomas and once with him there. Both encounters have some of the same elements. In spite of locked doors, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.” It was both a greeting and an assurance. Then, both times, he offers witness to who he is by showing them his hands and his side. This visual proof brings great joy to the disciples. Thomas voices it out loud, saying, “My Lord and my God!” We can assume that similar responses came during the first visit amongst the disciples.

At least part of their great joy comes from knowing that Jesus suffered for them. Another source of joy is the tangible reminder that God came in the flesh to experience what we experience. Suffering is a part of all of our lives. To know that God incarnate willingly took on suffering for us – that reveals a great love for you and for me. With Thomas we too can joyfully exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

Speaking towards the many who will come to faith without the visual proof that the disciples received, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We, of course, have the written witness to Jesus contained in both the Old and New Testaments. And we have those experiences, those moments, when Jesus’ presence became real and tangible to us during our suffering. These are personal proofs that Jesus is alive and is present to us. May we too be overjoyed each time we see the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful, I am overjoyed as I recall the times when you were a tangible presence in my life. In each experience you were comfort, strength, assurance. Thank you for remaining a part of our world and my life. Amen.


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Trust in God Alone

Reading: 1st Corinthians 10:1-13

Verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.”

As Paul works with the Corinthian church, trying to compel them to a more faithful witness, he tells them of the struggles of the Israelites in the desert. Being former Gentiles, they wouldn’t be terribly familiar with the exodus stories. But as we all know too well, the sins of idolatry and sexual immortality and the sins of grumbling against and testing God remain present even to this day. Even though the Israelites were all alone in the desert, God’s people found ways to sin. Even if we went off and lived as a hermit, we’d find ways to sin. Temptation and sin are ever present dangers. Paul reminds the Corinthians of this often. It is only when we are aware of our natural tendency to be drawn towards self and the lures of the flesh that are all around us that we begin to be on guard against such sin.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of all that was in favor of the Israelites remaining faithful: together they passed through the sea and were led by the cloud and by Moses. Together they ate the manna and quail and drank from the rock. And yet they sinned. The church in Corinth was all baptized into the one Christ and they were all indwelled by the same Holy Spirit. Yet they too sinned. To trust in our past or to rely on being a ‘Christian’ is not proof or guarantee against that we will be free of temptation or sin. Paul warns, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.” Faith is not about the past or the future. It is about the present. Just as Jesus called on God the moment that temptation presented itself when he was in the wilderness, so too must we call on God in our present temptation. Right then.

Paul concludes by reminding us that “God is faithful.” When we too choose faith, God will “provide a way out so that you can stand.” In our moment of great need, may we trust in God alone. God is faithful. God is mighty to save.

Prayer: Lord God, turn me always to you and not to my own understanding or will power. Alone I will continue to fail. With you may I stand. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: John 20: 25-31

Verse 29: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

Earlier this week we read about Jesus appearing to ten of the eleven disciples. Thomas was not there. As we begin today’s passage, the other disciples tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord”! Thomas questions this, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks…”. He wants tangible proof that it really was Jesus. Because of this passage, Thomas is sometimes referred to as “Doubting Thomas”.

The reality, though, is the faith involves doubt. On our journey of faith, we will have seasons when we doubt, when we wrestle for answers, when we question God, our faith, ourselves… These are the struggles that often produce growth. It is when we dive deep and wrestle with the things of God that we are refined and encouraged. During a very difficult time in ministry, for example, I questioned deeply and often at first. This led to doubt. Much time was spent in prayer and scripture study. The end result was a better grasp of God’s love and mercy as well as a more solid understanding of the depth and breadth of his love and grace.

Jesus returns to the disciples a week later. Thomas is there. After greeting them, Jesus turns to Thomas and invites him to see and touch the proof. As always, Jesus offers what is needed to draw another closer to God. Seeing the scars, Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God”! It is a heartfelt profession of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

Coming out of that difficult season of ministry, knowing that the living Christ had walked with me and has guided me through, I emerged with a stronger faith and with deeper convictions. God still has a way of meeting us where we are and offering us what we need to continue the journey of faith.

As you continue to seek God and to grow in your faith, may you who have not seen and yet believed be ever moving deeper in your relationship with Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, great is your faithfulness! How vast is your love! Thank you for walking through the hard times, ever reminding me of your presence and guidance. You are so good to me. Thank you. Amen.


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Anyone Who Has Faith…

Reading: John 14: 5-14

Verse 12: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”.

The opening verses of our passage center around the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus’ statement that “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” is very clear to us but is outside the understanding of the disciples at this point. From our vantage point, we do not get how the disciples don’t get it. Jesus explains how the amazing words that he speaks are from God living inside if him and he reminds them that the “evidence of the miracles” offers proof of the divine within Jesus. By way of the Bible we too are privy to the words and works of Jesus.

In this moment in time, Jesus wants the disciples to understand that he is God. This is essential because part of Jesus’ mission was to better reveal the heart of God to humanity. For three years, the disciples see what that looks like. It involves healing brokenness and bringing restoration. It involves including the outcasts and the sinners. It includes being a humble servant and a compassionate listener. It entails putting God’s and others’ needs ahead of your own. It encompasses the offer of love and forgiveness without conditions or limitations. We do know that the disciples finally do get all this. We know this because they become the church as they practice being the heart of God as they follow Jesus.

In verse twelve, this is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”. If you’re really a follower, a real disciple, Jesus says we will do what he did as he revealed the heart of God. Take a second and look back over that very limited list in the last paragraph – the one that lists a few ways how Jesus revealed the heart of God. How are you and your church doing with the “will do what I have been doing”?

We scratch our heads and maybe even snicker at how the disciples did not “get it” in our passage. Added to the words and works of Jesus that we find in the Bible, we have almost 2,000 years worth of faithful witnesses that have done what Jesus did – life after life that models the heart of God. What is one practical thing that you can do today to better do what Jesus did? May we all find at least one way to be like the real Jesus today.

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, which can I do today? How will you use me today to reveal your heart to another? Surprise me today, Lord. Place me where you will, use me as you will. Amen.


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A Resurrection Faith

Reading: John 20: 24-31

Verse 29: “Because you have seen me, you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

Thomas’ doubt stands out to us in today’s reading. It almost makes us forget that all eleven were hiding behind locked doors. Thomas wanted what the ten had seen just the week before: to see the risen Christ. Not only that, but he thought he needed to touch Jesus too to really solidify his belief. It turns out that just seeing and hearing Jesus is enough for Thomas to believe. I can relate to Thomas. There have been times when I needed or longed for a tangible sign of God’s presence and love.

As Christians we have just been a part of remembering and celebrating the resurrection for the 1,987th time. For me it is about the 50th that I have concrete memories of. We understand well what the resurrection is all about and what it means to our faith and to our lives. Yet, do we live it out? Are acts of mercy and forgiveness regular parts of our daily living? Does our day to day witness involve the bringing and sharing of new life and hope in Jesus name? Do we even live it ourselves? Do we follow in the footsteps of the one we worshipped just yesterday?

We connect into the second half of verse 29. Jesus is speaking to Thomas as the verse begins. We like to see ourselves in the second half of the verse – not so much in the first half. Verse 29 reads: “Because you have seen me, you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. I can too easily feel pride when I hear these words. I can too simply downgrade Thomas while elevating self. And I can flip that verse pretty quickly, claiming a religious high ground as I look down at peers and other contemporaries who demand proof of Jesus.

Skipping to the end of our passage we read, “that by believing you may have life in his name”. That is the blessing that Jesus speaks of when talking to Thomas. That is the living out of the resurrection. When we are quick to offer forgiveness instead of hanging onto anger, when we are eager to offer self and our possessions instead of clinging to them, when we are swift to open the door to the other instead of walling ourselves up – then we are practicing a resurrection faith. May that be my path today. May it be yours as well.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you modeled faith so well when you ministered to the world. Love and grace and mercy and welcome flowed through you. You touched lives and brought hope and light and faith. May you use me as a conduit of these things. Amen.


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Decision Points

Reading: Genesis 12: 1-4a

Verse 1: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”.

As human history begins and the world gets started, the general direction is downhill. It began in a beautiful way in the garden but soon sin corrupted even that place. The flood was only a temporary reset. Sin and evil began to flourish almost as soon as Noah and family exited the ark. Today we turn to Abram. He was chosen by God to be another starting point.

God identifies Abram and one day says to him: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”. Imagine how hard that might be to do – especially when the destination is unknown. Pack up everything and I’ll let you know which way to go. Talk about taking a step of faith. God chose the right guy. Abram is just one of many who obediently step out in faith.

We too come to decision points in our lives. What college or major? Is he/she the one for me? Do we accept this job and move to ___? Am I being called to change careers? The answers to these questions (and more like them) do much to shape and form who we become. While this is true, I believe the line goes something like this: “The proof is in the details”. The decisions and choices that we make each and every day are what really reveal who and whose we are. The ways we love God and love others, the faith and trust that guides our lives, the compassion and grace that steers our relationships, the humble servsnt’s heart – these are the qualities that lead us to our career, to our spouse…

calls out to us each day as the Holy Spirit leads, guides, convicts, corrects, nudges, whispers. At each big decision point and at every small decision point, may our faith be our guide. If put to it like Abram was, may we too step out in faith, trusting fully in God.

Prayer: Lord God, the decisions I make today – the thoughts, the words, the actions – all shape and form me. They lead to who I will be tomorrow. Shape and form me more into your image. Amen.


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Act in Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11: 1-3

Verse 1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.

Hebrews 11 is about hope and faith. These two are tightly intertwined. For the writer of Hebrews, faith is more of an action than a noun. Today we usually talk about faith as a noun, saying things like, “The Christian faith believes…”. We must shift this mindset if we are to really understand what is being taught in Hebrews 11.

The opening verse sets the stage for the rest of the chapter. In verse one we read, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. Acting in faith dies not first require proof or visible results. These will come. But in our relationship with God we first believe and hold to the promises: peace in the trial, strength for the day, guidance with the hard decision, joy in life, contentment with our station, salvation for our souls… Our faith first leads us to be sure and then we will experience these things. This becomes cyclical, one growing upon the other. Soon our faith then leads us to look forward with hope and expectation of what God will do next.

This looking forward leads us to step forward. The next dozen or so verses in Hebrews 11 is all about people who acted out their faith, stepping forward into God’s promises. We too step forward “certain of what we do not see”. We step forward knowing that the unseen hand of God is leading and guiding us. Author Larry Peacock puts it this way: “Faith is stepping out, leaning forward, and trusting that God goes before us”. I love the image of leaning into God. There is trust there.

When our faith becomes certain then we step out. Doing so we believe the work we do, the kindness we offer, the generosity we share, the support we bring… makes a difference in the world. As we again experience God at work in and through us, God builds our faith even more and also opens the eyes and hearts of the other to begin to see how faith could work in their lives. In and with God’s love and assurance, may we act out our faith this day, being living examples of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, I know that when you lead, you go before me. Too often I try and lead. Often I go alone. Help me to be a better follower, trusting your will and way for me. Help me to trust in you alone. Amen.


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Life

Reading: John 20: 24-31

Verse 31: “Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name”.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, Thomas was not there. He rejoins the group and they tell him that they have “seen the Lord”! It was on the evening of the first day of that week. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus early that morning and He appears to them that evening. We recall that even though the disciples heard Mary’s account and Peter and John witnessed the empty tomb, the disciples are not yet at the point of belief. During this first visit Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit and tells them that He is sending them into the world. A lot more goes on here than a quick visit.

Thomas wants proof that it was really Jesus who had been there that evening. He wants physical proof – to see and touch to know that it is Jesus. We have all had or been a part of those “you gotta see this” moments. What is happening or has occurred sounds so outlandish or unbelievable that visual proof is required. When we do see the proof, we scratch our heads, but cannot argue or deny it because we saw it with our own eyes. I think this is where Thomas is. Sounds great, but I need to see to believe. After a week passes, Jesus appears again and offers the scars to Thomas’ touch. Jesus goes on to encourage him, saying, “Stop doubting and believe”. Thomas’ response? “My Lord and my God”!

Jesus uses this as a teaching moment. He acknowledges that because Thomas saw, he was able to believe. Jesus then adds, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. This statement encompasses almost all who come and all who will come to believe in and follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Through the testimony of the Bible and through our own personal encounters with God we have come to believe in Jesus. We are the blessed.

This is the conclusion of this section and of the chapter: “Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name”. By faith we believe. Through belief we find life – life both now and in the time to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, thank you for your Word – the Word that lived among us some 2,000 years ago and your Word that continues to live in the pages of the Bible. It is life and life to the full. Thank you, God. Amen.