pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Layers, Ripples, and Depth

Reading: Exodus 20: 12-17

Verses 12-17: “Honor your mother and father… you shall not… murder… commit adultery… steal… give false testimony… covet…”

Today we look at the last section of the Ten Commandments. These six deal with our relationship with each other. They are not written in isolation but within the context of all ten. The covenant relationship that God establishes with us in the first four commandments influence our relationships with each other. Just as the first four revolve with loving God fully, so too do the last six center on loving each other completely.

On the surface level the last six are pretty straight forward and easy to understand. Yet each also has layers to it. For example, the command to “honor your mother and father” is generally about our relationship with our parents and the lifelong benefits of doing so. But this commandment can also extend to all who help parent us – grandparents, teachers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and even some of our bosses.

The layers on some can come from the ripple affects they cause. For example, committing adultery is simply not an act that affects just the two people involved directly. It also impacts families and friends and self and maybe even employment or social standing. The same can be said of all of the other six. We never sin in isolation.

The depth or breadth of a couple are also amazing when we take time to really ponder them. The command to not give false testimony is about not lying. Simple enough, right? But is not telling the whole truth or not being fully honest the same sin? When we think of a few other ways that false testimony can play out we can see how deep and wide this sin can really be. Do we gossip? Do we slander? Do we compare others unfairly to elevate ourselves?

The last of the Ten Commandments fits all three of the above. When we covet it can begin as an attraction. But it can soon become an obsession. The layers or levels of covetousness can also create ripples. Who we use or what we are willing to do to get that “thing” can leave a wake of hurt and pain in our trail. The sin of coveting can also become widespread. While it certainly is in our society, it can also become contagious in our lives. Finding joy or pleasure in getting some “thing” can lead us to search for joy or pleasure in other things and in other ways.

But all is not lost! When we love others as God intended, all is good in our lives and in the world. May we love well today!

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Deep Personal Relationship

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-11

Verse One: “I am the Lord your God”.

The Ten Commandments are all about relationship. Initial glances may lead us to think they are about behavior. They are only to the degree that our behaviors influence our relationships. Today’s passage covers the first four commandments. These four deal with our relationship with God. They also reveal much about who God is and what God desires from us.

Our passage opens with a reminder: “I am the Lord your God”. This is a fact. It conveys authority. The first commandment flows out of this place: no other gods before God. God is to be the one thing we worship, the one we look to for all we need, the one who provides and guides. This exclusivity leads into the second commandment: no idols. Initially we think of little statues carved from wood or stone. But this commandment is so much bigger than that. In this way it ties back into the first. We can have many other gods in our lives. God knew this would be a struggle. Our biggest idol is often self. Most of our other idols in some way elevate our own wants and desires above God’s will for our life. In addition to self, our other gods can be power, possessions, control, pride, time, … and these can quickly become idols – things we worship or pursue or place ahead of our one true God.

The third commandment prohibits the misuse of God’s name. With this commandment we typically think of cursing. It is this but it is more. It can be using God’s name to try and help ourselves. It can be selfish prayers. Misuse can also be failure to use. Sometimes we fail to turn to God when we should. Sometimes we do not come to God in prayer, calling on His Almighty name. In this light, the third leads to the fourth.

The fourth commandment is to keep the Sabbath holy. God calls us to mirror what He did in creating the world. God knows our need for rest and to have a day set aside to worship God. All of this is good and well, but this commandment ultimately asks if we trust God. Can we stop the drive to succeed, the need to work, the want for “me time”, and such to simply rest and trust in God? Can we rest in Him, trusting that God has our back?

“I am the Lord your God”. He is indeed. He desires an exclusive, intimate relationship with each of us. May all we do and say and think this day reflect our deep personal relationship with God.


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The Law

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verse Eleven: “By them [the Law] is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”.

The Law that began simply with the Ten Commandments is the core of the Old Testament and Jewish religious practices. The Law is what defines the relationship between God and the chosen people. The Law also teaches how God expects His people to be in relationship with each other. Yes, over time the Law became a man-made beast with over six hundred rules or statutes. It was practically impossible to keep all of the Law. Yes, in the New Testament we see a shift away from the rigid Law with all of its punishments and consequences to a covenant relationship with Jesus based upon love and grace. Because of all this, the Law tends to have a bad reputation in Christian circles.

Today, I invite you to consider the Law from the psalmist’s perspective. At its core, the Law is good and holy because it is from God. Even Jesus said He did not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law. The psalmist sees the Law as it was intended. Listen to the words he uses to describe the Law: perfect, trustworthy, giving joy to the heart and light to the eyes, more precious than gold. Instead of seeing the Law as something that limited and only dealt in consequences, the psalmist sees the Law as providing structure and guidance in his relationship with God. The Law is seen as the teacher. With the Law we learn of our shortcomings; this leads us to walk a more holy path and to recognize our need for God.

In these ways the Law is not much different than the ways of Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus was all about showing us how to live out God’s love in the world. Jesus was all about the relationships He had with God and with His fellow man. These things too are the essence of the Law. The psalmist wrote, “By them [the Law] is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”. The reward comes in knowing God better and in having a fuller understanding of our relationships with God and with each other. May we be open to the Law and all that it reveals about God, His love, His plan for creation, and His intent for humanity. Jesus is still our way, truth, and life. But there is also much to learn from the Law.


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Righteousness

Reading: Romans 4: 17-25

Verse Twenty: “He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God”.

Paul connects back to the Old Testament today and recounts the faith of Abraham. Paul refers to the story in Genesis 17 where God promises to make Abraham and Sarah into a great nation. Despite being ninety-nine and ninety years old, they “in hope believed” what God promised. Paul writes that Abraham “faced the fact that his body was good as dead” and chose the possibility of God. Yes, he did question and doubt a bit – the Genesis passage tells us they laughed at first – but in the end, “He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God”. Abraham chose to be “fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He promised”. We know from hindsight that Abraham does go on to be the father of many nations.

Within this story we too can have hope for our faith. We see that our God keeps His promise even if we question or doubt or laugh or take a little time to rachet up our faith. This is because the promise is based on God’s power and love, not on ours. Abraham shows faith in spite of the seemingly impossible of his context. Deep down, he knew that anything was possible with God. We also trust into this fact. Abraham chose to believe and chose to live into this promise from God. Even though we may wrestle and question and doubt now and then, we too are called to choose to believe. We are not perfect, God is. In the end, we must come to trust into our relationship with God and to believe that God can do anything in our lives as well.

For Paul, righteousness comes through Jesus Christ. Paul writes, “for all who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord”, God will credit us as righteous. Jesus not only died for our sins but was also “raised to life for our justification”. For us, this means that Jesus makes us right before God. He washes away our sin and makes us holy and pure before God. When we falter, when we stumble, Jesus is there to pick us up and to return us to a place of right standing before God.

In Deuteronomy God said, “I will never leave or forsake you”. This too is a promise. It is a no matter what promise. This promise is carried out today through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Through the Spirit, Jesus remains ever by our side. Like the Father, the Son keeps the promise for us. Thanks be to God for the power and presence of Jesus, our righteousness.


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Round and Round

Reading: Romans 4: 13-16

Verse Sixteen: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”.

In our culture we generally like to feel we are at least ‘even’ with each other. If someone brings us a plate of cookies, for example, we feel we need to return the favor by bringing them a cake or plate of cookies or treats. If we ask someone to help us move, then we feel obliged to show up when they are moving. If wr have someone over for dinner they drive home contemplating when they can have us over for dinner. We go round and round.

Sometimes I think we feel faith is like this too. We try to do good things to gain or earn God’s favor. We pile on more when we have sinned and feel the guilt or shame. We try and check off all the boxes to meet what we think God and others expect of us to be considered ‘good’ Christians. So we go to church and to that pot luck and to the small group and to the rescue mission to help serve the meal and… We go round and round.

Lent is a good example of this idea. The concept behind a season of preparation for Easter is to be ready spiritually to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. What do we do to get ready? We give something up for Lent, wr join another Bible study, we go to that special Lenten small group, we read an extra devotional, we… Sometimes it feels like we are going round and round instead of connecting more deeply to God. But we can’t quite avoid it either. If I were to just say “Stop!” all this and just get closer to God, I would feel inclined to follow it up with advice to just pray more or to just read your Bible more. And we go round and round.

God knows. He knows. In verse sixteen we read,”Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”. We are saved by grace alone. No matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or don’t say, God’s grace is always sufficient. This removes our need to check boxes or to give up this or to add in that. This need is within us, in our minds, maybe even in our hearts. God says enough, my grace is enough. If abstaining from chocolate or whatever helps you feel closer to God, then do it. If reading an extra devotional or being in a small group helps you grow closer to God, then by all means enjoy your time. In the end, though, may we all rest upon the promise of salvation by faith alone. In this promise, grace is sufficient. It is all about God. This we know. May it be so.


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Narrow and Hard

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s passage is all about commitment, dedication, obedience, discipline, and, ultimately, transformation. This call to discipleship is hard. That is why Jesus said the way is narrow in Matthew 7. Faith is just like all other things of great value – it requires a great deal of effort to attain our goal.

Jesus begins today’s key verse with, “if anyone would come after me”. He is implying the first thing about faith is a choice. All people everywhere have a sense of God one way or another. Some sense a higher power, some sense God in the created world, some sense God in the “there must be more to life than this” feelings. Faith begins with the inner urge to live for and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Beginning a relationship is the first step.

Next Jesus turns to those big words I opened with, saying, “he must deny himself”. Denying self and our own wants and desires is the beginning of living out our faith. When asked, Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. When we truly do this, there is little room for self. In denying self, the transformation process also gets under way. The study and practice of our faith through prayer, worship, Bible study, … is what begins to transform our hearts and minds so that we begin to see and feel and think as Christ did.

Then Jesus turns to our calling. He next instructs us to “take up his cross”. As we are transformed more and more into His image, we come to discover that special blessing or talent or gift that God has given us to serve His will. Some teach, some preach, some feed, some clothe, some visit, some sing, some clean, some sew, some lead, some transport, some… The cross represents Jesus and our gift or talent is how we share Jesus with others. Our “cross” is what helps others to connect to Jesus.

Once we have been drawn into relationship, once we have been transformed to love God and others more than self, once we have found our niche in serving God, then and only then can we say we follow Jesus. May we all choose the hard and narrow way of Jesus today. It is through the Lord that we find the life truly worth living. Blessings on your journey.


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My Strength

Reading: Psalm 22

Verse Nineteen: “But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my strength, come quickly to help me”.

Today’s Psalm represents well our lives and our journey of faith. At times we feel like the opening words sum up our life: “my God, why have you forsaken me”? We feel an unbearable amount of pain or a burden we cannot bear and God seems very distant. Like the psalmist, we cry out, but hear only silence. But in the next verses we are reminded of God’s faithfulness as we too recall the previous generations praise of and trust in the Lord. We are reminded that they trusted and we’re never disappointed.

The psalmist continues to recount trials and sufferings that they went through and they intersperse these events with praise for the God who always comes through, is always really there. Most of the time we live out this kind of a faith. God brings us joy and peace and contentment and strength. Most of the time we feel God’s loving and caring presence all around us. Yet we too know that the natural cycles of life will bring pain, regret, disappointment, doubt, … All of us experience these times in life. Even the ‘greats’ of the faith do. Mother Teresa even experienced what she herself called he “dark nights of the soul”, times when the weight of the pain and suffering all around her left her feeling alone and without faith.

In our moments of hurt and doubt, we too cry out as did the psalmist: “But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my strength, come quickly to help me”. We call God in, we want to feel God’s closeness and presence. Through this Psalm we are reminded that through the ups and downs of life and our faith, that God remains ever present and that God is always sufficient. The psalmist expresses this confidence as he writes, “they who seek the Lord will praise Him”. This confidence comes from experience after experience. When we seek the Lord, we will find Him, and that will lead to praise. The psalmist concludes with these words: “They will proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn – for He has done it”. God has been, is, and always will be faithful and true. As people of faith may we continue to tell of God’s goodness and love, today and through the generations to come. May it be so. Amen.