pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Seeking

Reading: Acts 8: 32-40

Verse 35: “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

As we continue today in Acts 8 we see how the opportunity that God provided for Philip impacted the Ethiopian eunuch. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip was invited to sit with the eunuch in order to explain these verses from Isaiah 53. The prophet writes of a man who was killed – “led like a sheep to the slaughter”. The eunuch asks, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else”? There is a desire burning inside the eunuch to know more.

In verse 35 we read, “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”. Beginning with this messianic prophecy, Philip tells the good news of Jesus Christ to the eunuch. We do not know what all Philip taught the man. Did he include other Old Testament prophecies? Did he include the birth stories? Did Philip just begin at the point that he himself encountered Jesus? What story did he use to plant the seeds of a desire to be baptized? Whatever Philip taught the eunuch must have been filled with compassion and personal belief. Led still by the Holy Spirit, Philip connected the eunuch to Jesus Christ and the new life offered through a relationship with Jesus.

We too will encounter people that are seeking. Some will be like the eunuch, seeking Jesus. Seeds already planted will be ready to blossom into faith. Here we guide them in their final steps into a relationship with Jesus. Some will be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. With these we will need to model and eventually teach how and why Jesus is the only thing that fills that hole in their soul. Some seekers will be hurting or broken or lost, knowing that they have a need but are unable to identify or name it. They just know they want out of that valley. Working through the pain or grief will proceed any obvious steps of faith. Pouring God’s love and compassion and comfort into their lives will help bring healing and wholeness. These are but a few of the people we will encounter if we are listening to the Holy Spirit, if we are seeking to be used by God.

Like Philip did with the eunuch, may we meet the person right before us where they are, ministering to them as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Doing so, we too will share the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing others closer to our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart to see the ones you place before me today. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, guide my words and actions. Use me to build your kingdom today. Amen.


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Celebrate the Gift

Reading: John 1: 1-18

Verse 16: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another”.

At Christmas we Christians often want to focus on “the reason for the season” and we want folks to see Jesus as the best gift ever. So why do we celebrate the birth? Why do we equate Jesus to a gift?

More than the actual birth, we celebrate all that surrounds the birth. It is first the story of the creator entering his creation. Leaving the glory and perfection of heaven, the light and love of God entered the world more fully. It was in the flesh – where we could see and hear and feel it. Second, it is the story of prophecy fulfilment and of miraculous conception. Things written hundreds and hundreds of years before predicted the events of Jesus’ birth and life as if written in real time. And it is the first story of birth through the Holy Spirit. As followers we too experience this birth. We call it “being born again”. Third, it is the story of God acting in our world through a faithful teenage girl. Mary will always be the mother of Jesus. But she could have been Sue or Beth or Dawn or Erica. God’s penchant for using the ordinary and humble is exemplified here in this story. Fourth, and perhaps most, as John writes, “we have seen his glory”. The birth story reveals God’s glory – his control over all things, his omnipotence and omnipresence, his love for you and me and all the world. We celebrate the birth because it is holy and sacred and because it reveals God’s love and grace and truth.

As wonderful as the birth story is, though, it pales in comparison to the gift that Jesus is to the whole world. First, if one believes in Jesus, they are given the “right to become children of God” – to be born into a new creation, born again into a new relationship with the Lord. Becoming a child of God, we receive the light and love of Jesus into our hearts. This forever changes how we live in this world. We see the world, we see others, and we even see ourselves through this lens of love. Illuminated by his light, we love honestly, purely, unconditionally. Seeing with his eyes, loving with his heart, we live beyond the law of Moses and beyond the law of man. Beyond does not mean outside of these laws. It reflects Jesus’ emphasis that he was “the fulfillment of the law” (Matthew 5:17). For example, Jesus taught over and over that the command to love one another did not just include the Jews but it extended to sinners and to Gentiles and to the sick and the imprisoned and to Samaritans and to the possessed and… Jesus reveals what a life of love and grace and truth looks like when lived out in the world.

Living life as a Christ follower amplifies our hope, peace, joy, contentment; it betters our relationships with others and with the world; and, it deepens our faith and trust in God. We celebrate the birth because Jesus is truly the greatest gift ever. Life lived through and with Christ is simply better. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you are the giver of “one blessing after another”. As I reflect on the ways that the world and that life is better with you, it humbles me. Surrender to your will and way is the path to true life, to full life. Thank you for all of your blessings. Amen.


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Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse 12: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”.

Paul is writing today about the balance of unity and diversity. Whether in church or politics, whether on a team or in a family, this balance is essential if that organization or group is going to be its best. An organization or group can function in total unity but it is less than it would be with some diversity. Yet if one swings to the other extreme and only diversity is honored, it can challenge the functioning of the organization or group. When an organization or group is sure of those essential beliefs or elements that bring unity, there is often space created for diversity.

We have all been in an organization or group where everyone was or wanted to be the same or equal. On Pentecost all the believers were given the same gift – to speak in different languages. Imagine, though, how incomplete the church would be if that was the only gift of the Spirit. Imagine if the Spirit did not give wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and prophesying too. If everyone in the church was exactly the same, how hard it would be to learn and grow in the faith. So instead the Spirit “gives them to each one, just as he determines”. Our diversity of gifts allows the church to accomplish far more for the kingdom of God.

In verses twelve and thirteen Paul speaks to the idea of unity and diversity existing in balance. Here he writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”. Think about what you would be without a heart or without a spine or without a foot or without ears. You would definitely be less – if you were anything at all. The church is the same. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit each and every one of us has something to offer that makes the whole better. Yes, when people withhold or do not use the gifts that they have been given, the church is less.

Paul reminds us that we were all baptized into one body by the one Spirit. May that be evident in our words, thoughts, and actions each day.

Prayer: God of all, help me to cherish diversity amidst our unity. Guide me to value each person for the gift that they are and for the gifts that they bring. Lead me to help folks see and develop and use their gifts for the better building of your kingdom. Amen.


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Listen and Obey

Reading: Matthew 1: 18-25

Verse 20: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”.

In Joseph’s day the Holy Spirit was not quite as prevalent as it is today. The gift of the Holy Spirit had not yet been given to all believers and faith for the average Jew was connected to the temple. Angels were the primary heavenly bearers of God’s voice. It was an angel that visited Zechariah and then Mary. It is an angel that comes to Joseph in his dream.

Joseph must have loved Mary deeply. Going to bed this night he has received news that he cannot quite live with. The woman he loves, the woman he is engaged to marry, is with child and he is sure that he did not have anything to do with the pregnancy. He decides to end the engagement quietly, keeping Mary from any public disgrace and from the many ramifications that would come with an unwed birth. In doing so, he risks exposing himself. It is a risk he is willing to take for Mary, his beloved.

In the angelic dream Joseph learns that Mary is bearing a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that went out over the waters at the creation of the world has formed the child in Mary’s womb. He also learns that the child will be the Savior, fulfilling the ancient prophecy from Isaiah 7. Knowing all this, Joseph awakes with a resolve to be a part of God’s plan.

What strikes me is how “matter of fact” Joseph is – no doubt, no questioning, no hesitancy. He steps into God’s plan most effortlessly. What would our lives look like if we stepped into the guidance of the Holy Spirit so effortlessly, without any hesitation…? What would our world look like?

God spoke to Joseph, he listened and obeyed. God speaks to us all the time too. May we listen and obey.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, how often you speak to me through your word, through the Holy Spirit, through fellow believers. I hear you often. This day and every day, make me more and more like Joseph, listening and obeying. May it be so. Amen.


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Personal Encounter

Reading: 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20

Verse 17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin”.

As it was in Jesus’ day and in the days of the early church, so it is today: many people think that Jesus was just a good moral teacher. In the church in Corinth some were questioning the whole gospel that was first preached to them and that led many of them to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul wonders how some that first believed can question resurrection – this part of what they first believed.

In verse 17 Paul focuses in on the consequences of questioning this fact that has been witnessed to by so many people, writing, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin”. Belief in the resurrection is an essential component of our faith. If we do not believe that Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave, we do not believe that we can also be raised to life eternal. If we do not believe that the cross was the place that Jesus took upon Himself the sins if the world and there defeated the power of sin, then we are ever living in our sins.

All of this, if course, can also be traced back to the words of the prophets in the Old Testament. From His virgin birth to His ministry beginnings to the message He proclaimed to His death and resurrection – all of Jesus’ life – is laid out in prophecy as well. Yet for Paul what really sealed his belief in Jesus as Messiah was his own personal encounter with Jesus Christ. He himself was changed from Saul the chief persecutor of the church to Paul the lead apostle of the church. His personal encounter shifted Paul onto a totally new path. Paul was born again and went out to share the good news of the living Christ with all he met, everywhere he went.

We too can read the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament writings as well. We too can see the connections between prophecy and what came to be. But our faith became “real” for us the same way it did for Paul – when we had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. People can read all the books in the world about Christianity – including the Bible – and still only have head knowledge. Jesus becomes real when we know Him in our heart.

On this Sabbath day, may we take some time and consider our own story of faith. May we think on how we can fashion that into a story that we can share with others. In doing so, we will be able to share the story of what Jesus has done in our lives so that others can see examples of what He can do in their lives. In doing so, we invite others to have a personal encounter with our resurrected and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this day may I again consider anew my personal encounter with you. Help me to articulate it to others this week. Amen.


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Gifts

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 1-11

Verse 7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”.

Our youth group decided to have a pot luck dinner before we met. Everyone was to bring their favorite dish. The kids were excited and talked about what they were going to bring. I got busy that day at church so I grabbed a bag of chips. All kids like chips, right? Stacy, our adult volunteer, had to visit a sick friend that afternoon, so she just stopped on the way to church and grabbed a bag of chips. One youth was in wrestling, a few were in basketball, a couple were in the play, some had a lit of homework to do – and they all brought chips. Would you like to come to our pot luck?

I make a really good scalloped potatoes and ham. Stacy, she makes the best chocolate cake ever. Tom works part-time at the Greek restaurant and make a great antipasto salad. The twins, Ann and Stan, are competitive and have each developed their own unique but awesome spins on carrot dishes. Been loves to bake with his mom and makes these buttery and flaky croissants that melt in your mouth. In fact, all of our youth have dishes that they can each make that are pretty outstanding. Would you rather come to this pot luck? I would!

We can play this scenario out in our churches. We can say we are too busy to offer our gifts to God. We can even deny having a gift. Paul writes about gifts or manifestations in our passage today. Paul begins by reminding us that although we are each different in our gifts, service, and works, we all belong to the same God, Lord, and Spirit. Our common faith is what connects us together. In verse 7 Paul writes, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”. We all have gifts that have been given to us. These gifts – wisdom, knowledge, healing, prophecy, … – are given for a purpose. We are each gifted for the common good. Our churches are better pot lucks when we each bring and use our gift that the Spirit has given us. What is your gift? How are you using your gift to make your church and world a better place?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gifts your Spirit had given me. May I be faithful in using them to bless my church and those I meet out in the world. Amen.


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Magi Faith

Reading: Matthew 2: 9-12

The Magi and the religious leaders in Luke 2 are an interesting contrast.  The religious leaders are steeped in the stories of the prophets, in their own long history with God, and in the prophecies of the much-awaited Messiah.  The Jewish people told their stories over and over again so that all knew the faith.  The Magi notice a new star and somehow connect it to a story they heard long ago.  God helps them begin to connect the dots and they head off on a two year journey to find the answer.

The Magi’s and religious leaders’ paths cross.  Herod brings them together in a meeting that could have been most fatal to his reign.  The Magi provide a thread of a prophecy they heard long ago and the religious leaders quickly rattle off the connecting prophecy from Micah.  The leaders knew the stories well.  It amazes me that the appearance of the Magi did not set off bells and whistles for the religious leaders.  It astounds me that the story of the Magi following a star for two years to this time and place did not draw their attention.  The religious leaders rattle off the prophecy and quickly head back to whatever they were doing.

It amazes and astounds me until I realize how much we today are like this story.  In the Bible, we too have the stories that we read and tell over and over.  In the Word, we clearly understand the call of Jesus upon our lives and how He calls us to live out our faith in the world.  We know the stories well.  But too often we rattle off phrased like “love your neighbor” then walk away from the one in need so that we can get back to what we were doing.  Too often we miss what God has placed before us.  Oh that we were more like the Magi – attuned to the holy mystery, pursuing that which God has placed before us, being faithful to the end of the journey.  May this be the faith we both profess and practice.