pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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More in Love

Reading: Romans 12: 9-17

Verses 9 and 11: Love must be sincere…  Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

For Paul, faith was something that must be lived out in the world.  Faith cannot be just in one’s home or even just within the walls of the church.  Our passage’s key theme today is love and what that looks like in our relationship with God and within the context of community.  The love of Christ that Paul knew and was guided by is the same love that we know and are called to live by.

In today’s passage Paul weaves together the personal and the corporate aspects of Christian love and faith.  He begins with the foundational element: “Love must be sincere”.  Love cannot be faked nor can it be reigned in.  It must be like Jesus’ love: all out for all people.  Paul addresses what our corporate love should look like.  He advises us to be devoted to each other, to honor others above self, and to not be haughty but to associate with all.  Paul also instructs us to be there for one another – to celebrate the joys and to mourn in the sadnesses.  In other words, be a good friend.  For Paul that also includes sharing with all in need, practicing genuine hospitality.

Paul also speaks to our personal relationship with God.  He encourages us to “Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord”.  For Paul, his love of Christ did not waver – it was always full-on, never stop love.  There was always another lost soul to connect to Jesus Christ.  He challenges us to have the same love.  To this end he offers some practical tips: hate evil and cling to good, be joyful in hope, be patient in the trials, and pray faithfully.  These were the things Paul practiced.  He knew that these practices would keep us in love with God.  This relationship with God is like all of our other relationships: the more we put in, the more we get out.

To a small degree we have the choice to love as God loves.  We, at times, can make the choice to love or to hate, for example.  But in general we are of the flesh and cannot always make the good or loving choice.  God’s presence and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are the keys to a steady walk with God.  The more we choose to seek God’s presence, the less we rely on self.  The more we listen for and heed the voice of the Spirit, the louder that voice grows.  Day by day may we seek God’s presence and may we strive to hear the voice of the Spirit above the din of the world.  In doing so, we will walk more and more in God’s love and grace.  May it be so.

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Presence

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, & 45

Verse Four: Look to the Lord and His strength, seek His face always.

Our Psalm today opens as a song of praise, recalling the works and wonders that God has done for His people.  The psalmist encourages the people to remember in song and to retell of God’s activity among the people through music.  It is through music that we best rejoice and give glory to God.  In verse four we read these words: “Look to the Lord and His strength, seek His face always”.  In looking to God and in remembering God’s mighty acts in song, we are reminded over and over of God’s strength and we are drawn back again.

Giving thanks and singing praises to God is not limited to the times when life is good.  It is also not limited to singing about just the times of blessing either.  The entire Psalm recalls both times of abundance and power as well as times of want and oppression.  In fact, it is often in and through trying times that we see God’s hand at work.  When God enters into our pain or when He relieves our burdens are experiences where we feel especially close to God and His strength.  They are moments that really remind us to look to God and to seek His face always.

Just as in Israel’s past and at points in our lives when life was hard, in some communities and neighborhoods life is hard.  Poverty and lack of decent employment opportunities couples with violence and substance abuse to create difficult environments to live in.  Poor schools and inadequate housing add to the hardships that exist in many inner cities and on some reservations.  All of these factors lead to higher levels of crime and gang activity and to higher rates of incarceration.  These places can be difficult places to seek His face.  Yet there God is, working in and through people’s lives, being worshipped in vibrant faith communities that joyfully sing of God’s goodness and love.  God’s presence is there in full force, allowing faithful disciples to both trust in God in the midst of hardship and also to go forth to be used by God to bring healing and hope and love.  May we all be encouraged and uplifted by God’s presence so that we can share His love and hope and peace today.


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I Will Be with You

Reading: Exodus 3: 7-15

Verse 12: And God said, “I will be with you”.

Moses has been selected to go to God’s people to lead them to freedom.  God has heard their cry and has seen their suffering at the hands of their slave drivers.  The God of justice will use Moses to guide the people to a “land flowing with milk and honey”.  The plan all sounds great – except to Moses, who asks God,”Who am I…?”

In each of our communities there is certainly suffering.  It may be caused by difficult financial situations or by things such as drugs or alcohol addiction.  It might be caused by mental illness or by the past experiences caused by generational abuse of one type or another.  It might be caused by prejudices and bigotry that keep a segment of the community on the outside looking in.  There are people suffering due to events of nature and others suffer because of the actions and poor choices of individuals.  There is no shortage of things that cause suffering.  To some of us, God calls.

Just as Moses was called and sent by God, over the centuries God has called both prophets and ordinary people to speak words of hope and love and healing and, at time, hard words of truth.  God has seen and will continue to see the suffering in our world and He has and will continue to send those who will lead the people away from sin or out of the oppression and suffering that they are enduring.  Often the person has looked at the task ahead and questioned God and uttered some form of Moses’ “Who, me?”

Yet God reassures the doubtful and fearful Moses; Moses will not go alone.  When we sense a call from God to lead someone to freedom or to offer relief from suffering, we do not go alone either.  Just as God went with Moses, God will go with us as well.  This is a promise we too can trust and lean into as we respond to the call that God has placed upon our hearts.  Like Moses, may we find reassurance in these words: “And God said, ‘I will be with you'”.


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Here I Am

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verse Five: Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

Moses’ life has settled into a simple daily rhythm.  Life consists of eat, sleep, and take care of the sheep.  For Moses, the wilderness is a welcome refuge.  He grew up safe and protected and in need of nothing as the son of the daughter of Pharaoh.  Then he found out about his heritage, defended a fellow Israelite, and ended up fleeing Egypt in fear for his life.  Jethro had taken him in and life was slow and quiet and peaceful, just as Moses wanted it.

Moses is not alone in his preference for the simpler, more relaxed lifestyle.  Many people choose to do not something because it is just easier.  There is more ease and less commitment to sit on the couch after supper instead of going for the walk.  It is easier to sleep in and watch cartoons than it is to get the kids up and ready for church.  It is easier to ignore the problem when a child has stolen something than it is to knock on the door and engage your neighbor in the difficult conversation.  It is easier to change the channel than it is to watch the news footage and to feel the urge to send some money.  This list can go on and on, can’t it?

Moses encounters the God that he has largely been absent from in the burning bush.  Moses is drawn to this strange site.  Once there at the bush, God has his attention and He calls Moses’ name.  Moses senses who he hears and responds, “Here I am”.  He accepts God’s call to engage again.  God goes on to instruct Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”.  It is a gentle reminder that to be in the presence of God is to be in a holy place.  When Moses realizes just where he is at and just who he is with, fear overtakes him and he hides his face.

At times we too can wander into the presence of God.  Life is just rolling along as we tend our sheep (or sit on the couch or snooze or turn away…) and suddenly God intercedes in our lives.  An injustice or a tragedy or something else triggers compassion or righteous anger or empathy and we are called by God to engage, to get involved, to make a difference.  The unjust or unfair situation is our ‘burning bush’.  Then we too must decide.  As God calls “John” or “Susan” or “Henry” or “Jen” or …, do we too say, “Here I am”?  May it be so.


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Out of Love

Reading: Matthew 16: 16-20

Verse 16: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

As we continue along on our faith journey, we come to know Jesus Christ more and more as our faith develops and matures.  We come to know Jesus in various dimensions: friend, shepherd, redeemer, healer, restorer, protector, and so on.  He comes to be all things to each believer.  The longer we walk with Jesus, the longer our list becomes.  If we were asked the question “Who do you say I am?” today and then again in a month, our answer might be different.  Yet no matter our need or where we are at in life, ultimately our answers all tie back to Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.

As the Son of the living God, Jesus embodies God’s character.  Central to that character is love.  Above all else, love arches over everything.  It is God’s unending love for you and me that first drew us into relationship with Him.  It is through this love that we experience grace.  Grace is God’s undeserved, unmerited free gift of forgiveness.  Because grace is built upon God’s love it is also unending.  Love is at the core of all Jesus is for us.  He guides us out of love.  He redeems us out of love.  He heals us out of love.  He ___ out of love…

Once we begin to understand the depth of Jesus’ love for us, we begin to sense the call to share this gift with others.  As we go forth and share this love, it grows in us.  So this day, whether in word or action or deed, may each of our lives join Peter in declaring Jesus Christ the Son of the living God.


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Who?  Who?  Who?

Reading: Matthew 16: 13-16

Verse 15: “But what about you?”, He asked.  “Who do you say I am?”

Jesus asks a question that was probably garnering its fair share of conversations.  The topic may not have been all over Facebook or Twitter or talk radio or the tabloid news, but the question was certainly out there.  In the inner rooms of the Pharisees and other religious leaders they were most certainly discussing who Jesus was.  We can tell from the crowds that came and were often there waiting that the conversation was happening.  Wherever He taught and healed the news proceeded Jesus and talk lingered after He went on to the next town or village.

To the disciples, Jesus asks who people say He is.  They have heard the gossip and the whispers as they have traveled.  Some of the responses are probably a bit out there and others are grounded in their faith story as some name famous prophets.  Maybe the conversation had the tone of one of those videos where a crew hits the street with a microphone and video camera and asks the same Jesus question.  But then it turns serious as Jesus asks, “But what about you?”, He asked.  “Who do you say I am?”.  I imagine the word ‘you’ carried the emphasis as Jesus spoke.

Peter gives the answer.  Perhaps there were a few disciples staring at the ground as they mulled over the question, hoping Jesus did not call on them.  It is a hard question yet a very easy question too.  Peter responds quickly, saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.  Bingo.  There were probably a few disciples happy in that moment for Peter’s tendency to act or speak before thinking.  But he was spot on.

Jesus’ question is one we need to have a ready answer to as well.  And this is where the question can be hard.  For some it will begin with, “Well…. umm…”. But it cannot stay there.  All believers need to be just as ready as Peter was.  We all need to be prepared to share just who Jesus is for us.  If not, we simply appear to know about Jesus instead of really knowing Jesus.  So, who do YOU say Jesus is?  May we each ponder over the question and prepare our own personal response.  May we be prepared to proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ to a world with ears that need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.


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Holy and Pleasing

Reading: Romans 12: 1-8

Verse One: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.

Paul opens today’s passage by urging the Christians in Rome (and us) to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”.  When we offer of ourselves – our time, our gifts, our resources, our talents – and give them to God and for God’s glory, it pleases God.  Just as with any relationship, when we take time for the other, when we consider the needs of the other, when we give of ourselves, it builds the relationship up.

John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer echoes this idea.  It begins with these words: “I am no longer my own but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with who thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering”.  It is a prayer that says no matter what, no matter when, no matter how, use me God.  It is a prayer that cedes all personal rights and gives self fully to God.  It embodies what it means to be a living sacrifice to God.

In verse two, Paul goes on to address what it is that allows a Christian to live this way.  He first says not to be conformed to this world.  This world is temporary, it is of the flesh.  Paul then goes on to encourage us instead to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind” as we grow in our relationship with God.  When we seek to transform our mind into God’s mind, we enter the next step in our relationship.  We transform our mind by studying the Word, by spending time in prayer and fasting, by worshipping and fellowshipping with fellow believers.  The more time we spend with God, the more we are transformed.  The end result is that we come to know and live into God’s “good, pleasing, and perfect will”.

For Paul, the transformation and renewing of our minds brings our thinking into alignment with God’s thinking.  Paul believed that behavior would follow thinking.  As we become more aligned with God, our behaviors become things like serving obediently, living humbly, and giving generously.  We begin to live as Jesus lived – taking time for the other, meeting the needs of the other, giving of self, loving all.  This day, may we reflect Jesus to all we meet, offering ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.