pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 13-25

Verse 25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

What does God expect or require of you? What did Jesus expect of his disciples and of those that would follow him? If we were to make a list to answer these questions, would the list be a collection of things to do or would it detail how to live our lives? Paul is answering these questions for the church in Rome in today’s passage.

The church in Rome was falling into the trap that Paul has been caught in for most of his life. Faith was a form of legalism – of checking boxes and staying within the lines defined by the Law. Faith was not a way of life. To help them understand this Paul goes back to Abraham, the father of Israel, the patriarch of all patriarchs in the Jewish faith. In our passage today Paul points out that God credited Abraham as righteous because of his faith in God. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his trust and obedience to God’s direction. The Law was not even in existence yet. Entering into this right relationship with God through faith alone made Abraham and his descendants heirs of God’s promises. For Paul, all who believe in Jesus fall into that line of descendants. Belief is what gets one in that line, not following any set of rules or lists that we can make up.

Paul defines belief in Jesus as the only action necessary to be “credited” as righteous – being right with God. He wants to be clear that righteousness does not come from following the Law or any other set of rules, but from faith in Jesus Christ. In verse 25 Paul reminds those in the church in Rome and all who follow Jesus why belief in him is essential: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. In dying for our sins, Jesus removed the weight of the Law – that sacrifice for this sin, this sacrifice for that sin… – and he paid the price through his blood. A final sin sacrifice was offered by one for all. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are made righteous before God. In being raised from the dead, Jesus defeated death, opening the way for us to receive eternal life. Both are gifts, given to us without price, without any requirement except believing that Jesus did this for each of us. These is no law or rules that we can follow to receive or earn these gifts. They come through faith alone. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, I am so grateful for these gifts of love – born to the cross and into the grave for me. You stood in my place and took the punishment for me. And you did not stop there. You walked out of the grave, breaking those chains too. Thank you for the gifts of love that make it possible to experience joyful and abundant life now and to enter eternal life one day through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.


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Remember Your Baptism

Reading: 1st Peter 3: 18-22

Verse 21: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… the pledge of a good conscience toward God”.

Today’s reading connects Jesus’ saving act on the cross to our baptism and to Noah’s experience in the great flood. Peter begins by reminding us that Christ died for us all – “the righteous for the unrighteous” – so that we could be in right relationship with God. Peter reminds us that not only did Jesus pay the atonement or price for our sins, but through the resurrection Jesus also opened the way to eternal life for all who believe in him as Lord and Savior.

In the middle of our passage Peter speaks of Noah and family, those who were “saved through the water”. Baptism is often associated with the washing away of our sins. Jewish rituals of purification involved water in the cleansing process. In Noah’s experience, the water was also the saving agent. The sinful world perished in the flood but through the waters God saved Noah, his family, and all the living creatures. Peter reminds us that “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also”. Through baptism we are brought into the family of God, into the community of faith. We are marked or claimed by God. Baptism becomes or leads to “the pledge of a good conscience toward God” – whether made by parents and sponsors or by the person being baptized. The pledge is to live a life worthy of Christ, the one who died for us. This life is revealed through our participation in the community of faith and through the ways we share our faith with the world by our witness, our prayers, our worship, our actions, our service…

The “good conscience” that Peter speaks of is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This is a promised gift from Jesus that is connected to baptism. In the early church and in some denominations today, the believer’s baptism is the standard practice. The Holy Spirit comes into that person’s life after they confess Jesus as Lord and as they are baptized into the faith. For those traditions that practice infant baptism, the child is marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Usually during confirmation (or a similar process) the young adult professes their own faith in Jesus Christ. This confession marks the point of entry for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

On this first Friday of Lent may we each remember our baptism and may we rejoice in our place in the family of God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for claiming me as an infant and then waiting patiently for me to decide to follow Jesus. The gift of the Holy Spirit empowers and enables me to follow day by day. Thank you for this gift. Amen.


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The Faithful Road

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verses 21 and 22: “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”.

In his closing Paul reminds the Thessalonians of some basics of the faith. In short order he gives them three: live with joy, pray always, and be thankful in all things. As we each consider this short list, we quickly recognize one or two, maybe three, as challenging. Living joyfully, for example, is pretty easy when things are good. But on a really bad day or during a season of loss, living with joy can be a real effort. Similarly, in difficult times it can be hard to give thanks. After we’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about someone or something, it can be trying to keep praying to a God who doesn’t seem to care enough to answer. Faith is not always easy. It was not meant to be easy. Jesus described the road as “narrow”. These are just some of the reasons we have company on the road.

In verse nineteen Paul warns us against putting out the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has always been represented as fire since that first Pentecost Sunday when “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came upon the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:3). The Holy Spirit is our main divine companion for our journey of faith. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ lives inside of us, leading and guiding, teaching and correcting. We also walk the road with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They help and encourage us, challenge and uplift us, teach and mentor us. And we do the same for others.

In verses 21 and 22 Paul tells us to “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”. We are to allow the Spirit to do its work, yes, but we too must be an active participant on our own journey of faith. We are called to test things and situations and people against the truths of God. When unsure on our own, we turn to prayer and to good Christian counsel. We must hold onto the good – keeping those things and practices and people that help us stay close to Jesus and on the path of following him, well, close to us. Paul also admonishes us to avoid evil – don’t go to those places, events, web sites… that cause temptation, don’t hang out with those folks who cause you to sin…

As he closes Paul prays that God would “sanctify” or make us holy and righteous, blameless on the day we stand before the risen Lord. It is the hope for us all. Our passage for today closes with these great words of encouragement: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”. God is faithful. He will sanctify the faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for these great reminders today. In the Spirit, walk with me day by day, being present until I meet you face to face. Amen.


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Everyday Faith

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 9-13

Verse 9: “Surely you remember… our toil and hardship… we worked… not to be a burden… as we preached the gospel”.

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica to encourage them and to help guide them in their walk of faith. In the section that we read from today, Paul is reminding them of the example that he and his companions set when they were there. The reminder is a call to walk this way too. In verse nine we read, “Surely you remember… our toil and hardship… we worked… not to be a burden… as we preached the gospel”. Paul was what we call a bi-vocational minister. Preaching the good news of Jesus Christ was only part of his day. Paul also worked hard as a tent maker. This is the “toil and hardship” that he refers to. It was hard manual labor. Paul worked so that he was not a “burden”. This was absolutely necessary early on. There were no churches yet, there were no Christians living there, there was no support systems established in the towns that Paul first went to. He had to have a means of support for himself. Paul’s companions also modeled this form of ministry. More importantly, though, Paul wanted those in the church to understand that faith was a part of everyday life. Paul lived out his faith at work as a tent maker just as much as he did when preaching the gospel. This is what he is calling the Thessalonians to and it is what he is calling us to as well.

In verse ten Paul draws their attention to the “holy, righteous, blameless” example that he set when he was among them. He does this as a way to encourage them to live the same way. The Thessalonians heard the gospel and believed in Jesus. They saw the model Paul lived out. Now they were being called or even challenged to live the same way. We too are called and challenged to live “holy, righteous, blameless” lives. To do this, like Paul and like the church in Thessalonica, we must work at our faith. When we do so, we will find the encouragement and urgency to live a life worthy of God. For Paul, part of the work takes place within the community of faith. Worship is our primary means of connecting with God and with one another. Gatherings like small groups and service opportunities also connect us. It is from our time in community that we grow in love of God and in love of neighbor. In community we also find comfort and belonging and other things so needed in this pandemic season. Many are feeling helpless and hopeless right now. Being in Christian community reminds those hurting right now that God is their help and their hope. The other part of our work takes place in our personal relationship with God. Time in prayer, study, and meditation draws us deeper into our relationship with God. Like it was for Paul, faith should be practiced and witnessed to in all parts of our life. May it be so for each of us today.

Prayer: Lord God, in the quiet and stillness of the early morning, I can connect to you. When I enter the world, the busyness of the day, it can be a struggle. Slow me down, attune me to those that I cross paths with, lead me to speak hope and peace, light and love. May it be so. Amen.


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Call on God

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7 and 15

Verse 6: “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer”.

Today’s Psalm is a prayer to God for help and protection. As I read David’s words, I know that I have prayer similar prayers at times. Just as it is from time to time with my prayers, in David’s prayer there are two angles. The first is mentioned above – a desire for help and protection. We all pray these prayers, usually daily at least. If these prayers are not for ourselves, we certainly raise them for family, friends, and others. These prayers can be sincere petitions for God’s touch or presence or they can be prayers of anguish and desperation.

As we read today’s Psalm, for me there is also a familiarity with the righteousness of David’s prayer. He is assured of his own righteousness and holy living. David claims to have “kept from the ways of the violent” and that his “feet have not slipped”. There is almost an air of ‘Look how good I am God. How can this be happening to me’? Again, I too have prayed this kind of prayer from this place in my heart. When we have been striving to live faithfully and something unjust or unethical happens to us, it is natural to question God as to why it is happening. Even though it may be our natural inclination, it is dangerous ground to try and leverage God or to expect better because of what we perceive as our own superior righteousness or goodness.

In verse six David shows his trust in God. Here we read, “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer”. David is sure that God will hear and answer. The Psalm also closes with David trusting in God. He believes that in the morning, when all of this has passed, that he will see God’s face. The trust that God will see him through is a trust that we too should model. As we ourselves bring our prayers and petitions to God, may we humbly exhibit the same deep trust in God’s presence and care and love for us. Day by day may we too see God’s face.

Prayer: Lord God, remind me daily of your love and care. In ways small and large grant that I may see your hand at work in my life and in the church. May I ever trust in you alone. Amen.


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Obedient

Reading: Romans 6: 12-23

Verse 22: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life”.

Paul calls on the Romans and on us to walk the path that leads to life. This path begins with offering our very life to God in witness and in service. In doing so we become the “instruments of righteousness” that Paul refers to in verse thirteen. In offering ourselves to God we are becoming obedient to God and to his will. Paul uses the term “slave” – indicating that all of our life is obedient to God. It is a total and full commitment, not just a few hours here and there.

The path of life is the opposite of the path of sin and death. Obedience to God and to the way of Jesus Christ leads not to death but to grace and hope and love. In verse 22 Paul writes, “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life”. Becoming slaves to God, using Paul’s terminology, frees us from sin and its trappings. Becoming obedient to God makes us more and more holy. In Wesleyan terminology, this is “moving on towards perfection”. In everyday terms, it is becoming more and more like Jesus Christ every day. The end game, the result for us, is not just the grace and hope and love and peace… that we experience in this life – all true – but is life eternal.

As we turn from self today, the part of us that leads to sin and away from God, may we be filled more and more with his light and love. In being so filled, may we bring his light and love out into the world. May it be so!

Prayer: Eternal God, today may I choose the path of light and love. Guide me to seek to love you and others far more than self. Lead and guide me to bear witness to your will and your way today. Amen.


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Alive in Christ

Reading: Romans 6: 1b-11

Verse 6: “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that… we should no longer be slaves to sin”.

At the end of chapter five Paul writes about Adam’s sin bringing death to the world and Christ’s death bringing new life to humanity. Through Christ’s death, through his act of obedience, grace and righteousness now reign. The power of sin and death were defeated. Establishing these truths, Paul goes on to ask a question to begin chapter six. It is a bit of a sarcastic question aimed at bringing the early followers of Jesus back into following mode instead of remaining worldly and enjoying their secular lifestyles.

In verse one Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase”? This question reminds me of the era in many churches when almost all that was preached about was that God is love and that grace abounds. Faith was portrayed as all rosy and as easy. The hard work of humble service and repentant hearts was not often proclaimed. It was the beginning of a shift where faith became more about going to church and enjoying it rather than feeling challenged to go outside the walls to serve and minister in the world.

Paul wants to contrast what is beginning to settle in with what faith actually calls one to do. The idea that one could do whatever one wanted (i.e. – sin) because grace would just fix it all anyway was gaining traction. Paul, however, sees their baptism into Christ as life-changing not excuse-making. In verse six we read, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that… we should no longer be slaves to sin”. Paul is emphasizing the death of the old self, to the sinful Adam in all of us. Dying to self does not mean that we sin no more; it means that sin has no lasting hold on us. Through the redemption we find in Christ, we are forgiven and made right again with God. We can confess and repent and let go of the guilt and shame that can keep us trapped and separated from Jesus Christ. Being made new we are “alive to God in Jesus Christ”. That, my friends, leads to faithful living and humble service. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving and forgiving God, thank you for the gift of being made right with you through Jesus’ sacrifice. In an act of extreme love Jesus made a way for us to be in right relationship with you. On our own, this is impossible. So I thank you for this gift – the best gift ever in this life. Amen.


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Only in Surrender

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-31

Verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to address a division that has arisen. On one side of the divide are the Greeks. They love learning and discussing ideas. They look for and prize wisdom above all else. They want to know their way into believing in Jesus Christ. On the other side are the Jews. The Jews look for signs. This is how they had always recognized and identified the power of God at work. Way back the power of God was revealed in the manna and in the wall of Jericho falling down, just to name a couple of examples. More recently it shown as Jesus and the disciples healed and cast out demons. The Jews wanted to be awed into believing in Jesus.

Paul tells both sides that they are wrong. Both the Greeks and the Jews are looking in the wrong place if they want to find the power of Jesus Christ. In our opening verse Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. To the world the cross represents weakness and shame and wrong doing. To the world it was foolishness for Jesus to die on a cross like a common criminal. But the world is perishing. Paul instead reminds the Jews and Greeks that true power is found in the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus demonstrated servanthood and obedience. It was there that he became humble to death as he died to save us all. In his death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and paved the way for us all to experience “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Just as Jesus was humble, we too must be humble as we approach faith. We cannot think our way into believing. Nor can we argue another into faith. We cannot “genie” our way to believing either. We cannot try and force God to prove he is real. We find faith when we come to the point of kneeling before Jesus, aware of our sin and our need for his grace, humbly asking him to be the Lord of our life. Only when we surrender do we find victory in Christ. It is more of that upside-down kingdom. When we are weak, he is strong. May we walk in surrender to our Lord and Savior today.

Prayer: Loving Father, you took me as I was, broken and filled with so many sins and weaknesses. Just like a potter, you went to work reforming and reshaping me, guiding me to your purposes. I am far from perfect. I beg you to continue to be at work in me. I surrender all to you for your glory. Amen.


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The Sure Foundation

Reading: Psalm 118: 19-29

Verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

The psalmist is going up to the house of the Lord to worship. In our opening verse today he asks for the gates to be opened so that the righteous can enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is what we do each Sunday morning – maybe in a virtual sense at this time – as we “gather” for worship. We praise and worship the Lord because we too can say, “You have become my salvation”.

Verse 22 is a common verse to our ears. Jesus himself quoted and claimed this verse, declaring himself the cornerstone (or capstone in some translations). In the Psalm we read, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. As the sure foundation of our faith, Jesus is surely “the way, the truth, and the life”. Jesus is the only rock upon which we can build our faith. With the psalmist may we too rejoice and be glad in the good news of Jesus Christ.

Turning to verses 26-27 we hear Palm Sunday calling. In verse 26 we read words found in the gospels as Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. Moving on, we recognize Jesus as the light that has shown upon the world and upon us. This Sunday is typically one with joyous festal processions in our churches, waving palms as we celebrate and yet look toward the beginning of Holy Week. At our church we are doing a car parade as we will drive though town waving our palms, celebrating the coming of the Lord.

This Sunday, each in our own way, may we join the psalmist in declaring, “You are my God, and I will exalt you”!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I rejoice in the rock, the cornerstone of my faith. Thank you for the gift of Jesus, the example and perfector of obedient and humble service. Draw me to his light, help me to walk his path. You are so good. Your love endures forever. You alone do I worship. You alone will I praise. Amen.


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By Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise… but through the righteousness that comes by faith”.

As Paul and the rest of the earliest church were sorting out just how Jewish one must first be to become a follower of Jesus Christ, he penned these words that we read today. Before becoming an apostle, Paul was known as Saul. In that phase of his life he was a self-proclaimed Jew among Jews. He was a very devout Pharisee who knew and followed the letter of the law. As the early church grew and began to add Gentile believers, a huge debate arose over just how much of the Jewish faith must be followed to become a Christian.

In our reading for today Paul points to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Paul chooses him for two reasons. First, he is one of the pillars of Judaism. His faith is one of the models. God declares Abram righteous because of his faith. As we’ve been reading, God called and in obedient faith, Abram went where God led. He stepped out and followed God. Second, at the time there was no law. It had not been given yet. Paul is saying that one can be saved by faith apart from the law. Paul, known as the apostle to the Gentiles, is not in favor of applying Jewish laws to the Christian faith. Paul himself became a believer when he met the risen Lord and then entered into a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. For Paul it had nothing to do with the law. In the next chapters Paul will go on to argue this point further. Martin Luther will pick up these texts many hundreds of years later as he works out his “justification by faith alone” doctrine that will rock the church.

Even though the New Testament clearly spells out that one is saved by faith alone we can often feel like we must do good works or follow some set of prescribed steps to be saved. God does not have a giant balance scale that one day weighs out our good versus bad. We know from the scriptures that as soon as we confess and give our sins to God, they are wiped away – they are no more. Nothing is being stacked up on the “bad” side of some mythical scale. Yes, our faith will lead us to do good things. That is how we live out the love of God within us. It is the model Jesus set for us. As we follow Christ, living out our faith, may his ‘why’ become our ‘why’. Jesus loved others because the love of God within him overflowed into the lives of others. May we do the same. May the sharing of God’s love be our grateful response to our God who saves.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your unconditional love and grace. It is certainly not deserved but you pour it out upon me anyway. I definitely cannot earn yet it is still there in unending abundance. It is an amazing love, an amazing grace. Thank you. Amen.