pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

The Love of Christ

Reading: 1st John 4: 7-15

Verse 12: “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As we begin with our 1st John 4 passage today, we quickly see that love is the focus. For John, love is God’s key attribute. God is the source of love – the highest level of connection and caring that we have with God and with one another. John defines love as the indication of knowing God: If you love others you know God; if you don’t, you don’t know God.

If love is the indicator of whether or not we know God, how do we define love? John defines it as God’s gift of his son as our atoning sacrifice. While that certainly does demonstrate God’s love for us, it is certainly not God’s literal expectation of us. That act of love has been done once, for all, by Jesus. So then, what does love look like?

For some love is time – time to do things with another, time to listen, time to invest in the relationship. For some love is sacrifice – extra hours to pay for that event, going without so that a child can have that special thing, giving up something one enjoys to be there. For some love is an act of kindness – flowers just because, a nice note, doing an unexpected chore or project.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we too practice these ways of love. But the love of Christ goes beyond these too. We give time to our church as we serve; we make sacrifices to support and equip our church for ministry; we do random acts of kindness for our church and in the name of Christ. And we are called to even more. We are called to love those others do not. With Jesus Christ we love the least and the lost, the marginalized and the oppressed… This differentiates Christian love from worldly love. The love of Christ is selfless, sacrificial, humble, complete. May this be the love of God that is in you and in me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love not just as the world loves, but to love as you love. May I see you in all I meet and love all as you love them. Amen.


Leave a comment

Drawn by Love

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 33: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”.

In yesterday’s Psalm we were reminded how “good and pleasant” it was and is when the faithful live in unity. In today’s passage from Acts 4, we see this ideal lived out. This passage focuses on the church in Jerusalem. In other passages we see similar circumstances as well as churches in one community supporting a church in another community. As Christians living our faith today, many of us support our local churches as well as organizations that serve others on a daily basis or in times of great need. The twin spirits of generosity and of caring for the other have been hallmarks of Christianity ever since Jesus set these examples.

Our passage today opens with “all the believers were one in heart and mind”. This manifest itself in three ways: they shared everything, no one was in need, and individuals sold land and homes to support one another. All three were great examples of love being lived out. All three witnessed to Jesus’ calls to love other more than self and to love as he first loved us. The world around the church noticed. The early church was living out its faith in real and practical ways. Love attracts, love draws others in. In verse 33 we read, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”. People were drawn towards Jesus by the love being lived out. The apostles’ words revealed Jesus resurrected, the source of this love and its power. May our actions and words do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, may all see and hear your love in me. Each day may I love others as Jesus would love them. And if any ask, may the Holy Spirit give me the words of life, bringing others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Body and Work

Reading: Romans 12: 3-8

Verses 4 and 5: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”.

In today’s reading Paul gives some guidance on how to be (and not to be) “living sacrifices”. He begins with a warning: “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”. He is warning against arrogance and pride. When talking about gifts or talents, we can tend towards comparison and competition. For each of the gifts that Paul lists in verses six through eight there are ways to wrongly use each gift. For example, if a leader refuses to listen to others, then his or her pride soon leads to them leading a group of one. Or if God has blessed someone financially or otherwise and their gift is generosity, then giving can become a public display or it can come with strings attached. Both of these examples are getting away from the example set by Jesus.

Before reminding us that we are each uniquely gifted, Paul reminds us that the church is like the human body. He writes these words in verses four and five: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”. Although unique, as the church we still form one body of believers. He continues in verse five to write, “and each member belongs to all the others”. Imagine if we truly lived this out in our churches and in our own personal faiths! Paul is implying, rightly so, that we are all of equal worth or rank or value – whatever word you prefer. That means the newly confirmed or newly converted member has the same place as the 40-year member, as the pastor, as the lead elder… If the church as a whole lives into this kind of unity within its diversity, God’s power is at work.

In these types of churches each member feels like they matter and that they have something to offer to the whole. If all are valued and seen as bearers of God’s gifts, then all members seek to help others find, develop, and use their gifts. Doing so, the work of kingdom building becomes the work of the whole church. May we all seek to be a part of both sides of this equation: first, offering our gifts and talents as a living sacrifice and, second, helping others to do the same through words of encouragement, support, and love.

Prayer: God, as I consider this new body of Christ to which I belong, help me to lead well and to get to know and understand the gifts and talents of each sheep. Guide me with Holy Spirit discernment to how to best build up the body for your glory. Amen.


Leave a comment

Seeds and Yeast

Reading: Matthew 13: 31-33

Verse 33: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast… worked all through the dough”.

As we consider these two teachings about what the kingdom of God is like we get the sense that it is growing and active and alive. These words should describe our journey of faith as well.

In the mustard seed teaching Jesus compares our faith beginnings to a small seed being placed into the ground. The reality for most of us is that our faith is the result of many seeds being planted in us – some by parents and grandparents, some by Sunday teachers and pastors, some by friends… Once the seed of faith begins to grow in us Jesus begins to take root in our heart. As our faith grows and becomes active and alive, it branches out and provided places for others to come and find rest, sustenance, support…

In the second teaching, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast… worked all through the dough”. Like the slow and steady growth of the seed, the yeast works inside the dough in a similar manner. As the yeast begins to work it isn’t really noticable. This is like the initial stages of our faith too. God is at work in us in ways that are not noticable to the outside world and sometimes not even to us. Yet God is at work. Over time we can see the dough rise as the yeast works throughout the dough. Like most of our faith journeys the process is slow and steady. And like the yeast in the dough our faith is intended to affect all parts of our lives. As we mature and our faith spreads it should come to influence all areas of our lives – family, friends, work, social activities, personal disciplines… Just as the seed grows into a tree and as the yeast spreads throughout, may our faith continue to be alive and active, always growing, ever maturing. May each day bring us one step closer to the example of our faith, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, looking back I can see those seed planters. I am thankful for my parents, for those who taught and mentored me in youth group and on Sunday mornings, and for my many brothers and sisters in Christ who have journeyed with me. Thank you for the rich and powerful community of faith. Amen.


Leave a comment

More Than Conquerors

Reading: Romans 8: 28-39

Verse 37: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”.

In the second part of our Romans 8 reading Paul emphasizes our ongoing journey of faith. He begins by stating that God works all things for good concerning those who love God. For the believer, something hard like the loss of a loved one can have good come out of it. For example, as God walks through the loss with you, your faith grows. Or God can work in you to make you more empathetic and caring. This can lead to you helping another through a time of loss in their lives.

Both of the examples are part of our being “conformed to the likeness of his Son”. Almost all of our journey of faith is about the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. Prayer and worship and study and fasting and serving and giving work alongside our life experiences to draw us closer to the example set by Jesus. Ultimately our journey ends when we stand in the glory that Paul speaks of in verse 30. Along the journey God walks with us and “graciously gives us all things”. Though we may endure hardship or trial, because God is with us and because God loves us, God will provide the strength and the will, the fellowship and support – whatever we need. This is what Paul speaks of in the last five verses.

Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ”? In the rest of verse 35 and then in verses 38 and 39 Paul compiles a long list of who and what could possibly separate us. In the midst of this list Paul pauses to note, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”. Through and with Jesus we are not only conquerors of persecution, famine, death, powers… but we grow stronger in our faith as God in Jesus leads us through these things. This is at least part if what Paul meant about God working “for the good”. Thanks be to God that nothing can separate us from the love of God that we find in Jesus Christ. This day and every day may we be more than conquerors.

Prayer: God, thank you for a depth of love that never lets me go, that always works to make me more like Jesus. In the good and in the bad you always have a plan for my good. May I ever trust more and more in you. Amen.


Leave a comment

On the Fringes

Reading: John 4: 27-42

Verse 35: “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”.

When was the last time you met someone like the woman at the well? When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was not like you, who was outside of your normal circles of friends and acquaintances, who was not among the popular and accepted folks in the community? Every community has them. It may be only one or two who live outside the norms of society. It may be thousands who live on the fringes in your community.

In verses 5-26 of John 4, Jesus made the choice to engage one of these people. He stepped over many barriers to draw in this woman at the well, to help her find the living water that only he can give. The disciples return just as the conversation between Jesus and the woman ends. They have been in town getting food. In response to their offer of physical food, Jesus speaks instead of the spiritual food he has to offer.

Some of the people we might meet on the fringes are in need of physical food. Some on the fringes are in need of a place to belong, to feel loved. Some are in need of support and guidance and direction in life. Some on the fringes have other basic needs – heating fuel, gas to get to work, clothes for the kids. Before we can begin to have the spiritual conversations with someone on the fringes we must cross a barrier or three and we must help them cross barriers as well to find a place of trust and security and honesty. Jesus models this well in the story we read in John 4.

Jesus also acknowledges that we all play a role. In verse 37 he says, “One sows and another reaps”. We may be like Jesus was with the woman at the well – beginning the conversation and following it through to a profession of faith. But most of the time we are just one step in the process of someone becoming a follower of Jesus.

In our passage today, Jesus encourages the disciples and us to be a step in the process. In verse 35 Jesus tells us, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”. These words are just as true today as the day he spoke them. Some people are curious. Some are hurting. Some are angry. Some are alone. Some are grieving. Many are on the fringes and want to come into community. Open your eyes and look. The fields are ripe. Go forth to be the love of Jesus to one in need of connection.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see those in need. Help me to live well – to foster a deep love for the marginalized and others with needs. Open my eyes and my heart, O God. Amen.


1 Comment

A Bit More

Reading: Isaiah 9: 3-4

Verse 4a: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them”.

The opening section of Isaiah 9 is titled “Into Us a Child Is Born” and it references the birth of the “wonderful counselor… the prince of peace”. Isaiah begins earlier in the chapter stating “a light has dawned” as he explains how the people walking in darkness see the light. In his time, Isaiah is writing to a people living in exile. The coming of the light will occur in about 700 years and the exile will last about 200 years – until at last the people return to the promised land. Isaiah calls the people to look forward to the time when God will restore them. In doing so, Isaiah casts a vision of hope.

In our time, when we see people struggling, some living in darkness, we can also help bring light, casting a vision for hope. Maybe all we can do is provide for a basic need like fuel for the heater or food for the stomach. Maybe all we can do is to contribute to the offering for toiletries for the elderly or to donate to the coat drive at school. Maybe all we can do is to walk alongside a friend as they seek to walk the steps of a recovery program. Maybe all we can do is to be present and to sit with someone in the pain of grief and loss.

In our passage today, in verse four, Isaiah writes about how God “shattered the yoke that burdens them”. This will happen for Isaiah’s audience as God leads the people out from under the oppression of exile and back into the land that God intended them to live in. This act brought freedom to the Israelites. Many years later, Jesus modeled how to bring freedom to broken and hurting souls. Some if it did begin by meeting basic needs – like when he fed the large crowds. Some if it began by hearing their brokenness and then doing something about it, helping them find hope – like with the woman caught in adultery. In love, Jesus brought light to many people’s darkness.

When we offer assistance, when we help out, when we encourage and support, when we walk with another, when we bring comfort, we too are bringing light into darkness, we too are removing the yoke that burdens. It may only be temporary in many cases. Perhaps tomorrow or yet another day we can lift it a bit more and then a bit more, opening the door one day for Jesus to come into their hearts. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Father God, even in our small community there is much need. There are many who feel a yoke across their backs. Guide me today to help lift those burdens where I can. Give me eyes to see and hands to act and words to bring light and hope. Thank you, God. Amen.


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

Community

Reading: Philippians 1: 3-8

Verse 6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul begins by thanking God for the faith this church displays. Each time that he prays for them he rejoices in their “partnership in the gospel” with him. They must be living out their faith well. Paul also recognizes the end game as well. Their faithful living will lead to the redemption of their souls. In verse 6 he writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Paul is thankful for their place in the family of God both now and in eternity.

Do you have folks in your life that you can say this about? Can you survey those you know and offer up such a prayer of thanksgiving for them? We each have people “in my heart”, just as Paul did, that we too can be lifting prayers of thanksgiving for. There are many in my family and in my circles of church friends and colleagues who have great faith that I am thankful for. Their witness and example encourage and strengthen me on my journey of faith.

For Paul, whether in chains or out preaching the gospel, he appreciated the connection that he has with all Christians everywhere. Paul knows that the family of God extends across geographical spaces and through cultural and social differences. He writes, “all of you share in God’s grace with me”. If he were reading this line aloud, I think Paul would emphasize the word “all”. There is a unity amongst and a connection between all members of the body of Christ. For this too I rejoice. For Christians everywhere, no matter our denominational flavor, we all share the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are all living under the same covenant of grace. In the essentials, we enjoy unity and community. Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for all of those you have and continue to place in my life who live as witnesses to your will and way. They mean so much to me, to my faith. Bless them, O Lord. I also thank you for my fellow Christians, who also seek to bring you glory as together we build the kingdom. Thank you God for the larger community of faith. Amen.


1 Comment

Be Filled!

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verses 18 and 19: “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”.

“Be filled with the Spirit”! What a positive thought. In all we do and say and think, allow the Spirit to not only lead and guide, but to overflow into other people’s lives as well. Be so filled that the Spirit is always flowing out into other people’s needs, situations, and circumstances. Be so filled that others experience God and His love just by being around you. What a way to live out and share our faith!

Let us consider what would be required of us to live such a life. The basic question to consider is this: how are we filled with the Holy Spirit? The start of the answer comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Once we declare and profess that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, then the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in our hearts. The rest of the answer to our basic question comes from what we do with the relationship once it is established. Do we do things that intensify the relationship and help it to grow both wider and deeper? Or do we allow it to just remain at the acquaintance stage?

To really know the Spirit we must know the source. To get to know Jesus, we must invest times and energy to know Jesus better and better by reading and studying and meditating upon the Word. The Bible reveals Jesus to us and strengthens our relationship with Him. To really know Jesus we must also know God. We too come to know God through the Word. We can also develop this relationship by communicating with God. We do this through prayer. Open and honest conversation with God will deepen and widen our relationship with God. It will grow it.

The last part to our answer to this basic question comes in today’s key verse: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. This is worship; this is small groups; this is doing service projects together; this is sharing a meal together. There are many ways that we can be in Christian fellowship with one another. All bind us closer to one another, growing closer as the family of God as we encourage, support, love, teach, and even hold one another accountable. All, in turn, build our relationships with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

If we practice these disciplines and habits each day, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit. As such, we will bless others as our faith overflows into their lives. Be filled with the Spirit! May it be so.