pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Ambassadors

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-21

Verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us”.

Today many will gather in churches and homes to worship. We will sing, pray, read scripture, hear a message,… An outside observer could probably identify us as Christians. Then we will leave our places of worship and enter the world. When observed there will we still easily be identified as Christians?

Paul encourages us to not see people as the world sees them. He reminds us that once we are “in Christ” we are a new creation. We no longer see as a person of the world but now see as Jesus Christ saw the world. As such, we are called to first reconcile ourselves and then the world to Christ. We confess and repent and seek to live like Jesus. In turn we are called to help others do the same. Paul writes, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us”. As ambassadors we should represent Christ well and should help others to know the One that we know.

In a general sense, folks should see Christ in us. This emerges in how we treat others, in the ways that we live with integrity and honesty and love and compassion and mercy… People should notice that we are different from the world. But being “in Christ” also calls us to go a step further. We should also see and act as Jesus did. That means noticing the one who feels unlovable and then loving them as Jesus does. It means noticing the one that feels trapped in their sin or the guilt and shame and then helping them to be freed. It means seeing the one in need and then meeting their needs as we are able. It means seeing oppression and injustice in our community and addressing it. In living out our faith in real and practical ways we serve as good ambassadors for Jesus Christ. In this process, we also become more and more “the righteousness of God”.

This day and every day, may we not only live as good examples of Christ, but may we also be Christ’s love.

Prayer: Lord, help me to not only see as you saw and to not only love you, but also to see and love my neighbors in both word and deed. Amen.


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Lost But Found

Reading: Luke 15: 1-3 and 11b-32

Verse 32: “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.

The bulk of our reading again today is the story of the prodigal son. It follows the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In these the shepherd and the woman do all they can to find what was lost. Like with the lost son, when what “was lost and is found”, they “had to celebrate and be glad”. These three stories of rejoicing in heaven and on earth are told in response to some muttering by some Pharisees and religious leaders. They had muttered about Jesus, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”.

For the self-righteous and judgmental religious folks sin was to be avoided at all costs. Sin is bad. Sin separates one from God. Sin makes one unclean and unable to participate fully in the temple. The Pharisees and religious leaders act as if sin is contagious. They are appalled when Jesus eats with sinners. They are also appalled when Jesus touches lepers or when He allows a prostitute to touch Him or when He calls a tax collector as a follower or when He calls one down from a tree to eat with him and his friends. At first I smirked at the idea of sin being contagious. Then I looked in the mirror and realized it sure can be! It often is. Gossip is a good example of this. The Pharisees and religious leaders feared sin so they walled up inside the four walls of the temple and they avoided contact – any contact – with those who were struggling with sin. Their message was: be right with God and then you can come to worship and hang out with us. This idea runs so counter to how Jesus did ministry. Yet today we continue to at least hint at the idea that you must look like, act like, live like, believe like we do to be a part of “us” in many societal groups and organizations and in many of our churches. So before we look down on the Pharisees and religious leaders too much, let us turn to the father.

The younger son realizes he has sinned. He humbles himself and decides to return to the father. He admits his sins and asks to be a hired hand, saying, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”. The father had every right to say, “Yes, go find the foreman and he’ll find you a bed in the bunkhouse and he’ll put you to work”. He had every right. But instead the father says, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”. There is then much rejoicing over the one that was lost but found. The older son has trouble with this idea. The Pharisees and religious leaders probably did too. And too many times we do too.

We are so grateful when the Father forgives our sins and welcomes us back into the family as a child of God. May we go forth and do the same for another who is lost.

Prayer: Jesus, my redeemer, may I love and welcome all as you loved and welcomed me, a sinner saved by grace. Amen.


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The Father’s Love

Reading: Luke 15: 1-3 and 11b-32

Verse 20: “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him”.

Today we turn to a familiar parable. It is the story of a father and two sons. It is the story of God and us.

One son sees his father as the means to really live life as he wants to live it. He is selfish and immature. He collects what his father owes him and heads off. This son reminds me of the times I have acted selfishly and the times I have prayed prayers that speak of my own will and desires. It may have been about a new car I did not really need or about a situation that I created and needed to take steps to remedy. These actions and prayers were selfish and immature. When this son “came to his senses”, he headed back towards the father. With humility and maturity he went to his father and “his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him”.

The other son did not leave the property. But at some point he left the father-son relationship too. He saw his father as the boss that he worked obediently for. In essence he also saw his father as the means to finally being able to live as he pleased. He was just biding his time in a way that appears more socially acceptable. This is reflected in the anger over the celebration for his brother. The hard heart is revealed as he says “this son of yours”. To him too the father goes. “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him”.

The father does not wait until his sons are perfect sons before he offers his love and compassion. The father does not require a fully repentant heart before he goes to his sons. The love of the father is unconditional and unlimited. It is a pure love. It is a love not based on efforts or merit or privilege. It is a love fully and freely given.

When we place ourselves in the story, we easily find our place. At times we are the son who is selfish and wants our way. At times we are the son who dutifully does what is expected, loathing it the whole time. God does not look at us as we are – sinful, unworthy, broken. God looks at us as the child of God that we are. God doesn’t wait for us. Like the father and his sons, God sees us and comes to us and is filled with love and compassion for us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for always loving me – always. I am far from perfect. I seldom come close to being all you created me to be. You love me anyway. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Be Reconciled

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-21

Verse 18: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the mission of reconciliation”.

The church in Corinth was very diverse. There were former Jews and Gentiles, there were slaves and slave-owners, rich and poor, young and old… This diverse group of people was trying to figure out how to live together. They are struggling to live in a community together. In a lot of ways, our churches are like this. Some of the labels do not apply anymore, but some do. There are also new ways to identify how we are different from one another. Our challenge, therefore, is the same: to figure out how to live in Christian community.

Paul’s solution for the church in Corinth applies to us today. In the opening verse Paul writes, “From now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view”. He is saying to forget all those labels that come from the secular culture. He is saying for the rich and the poor to just see a fellow Christian. He is saying for the slave and the slave-owner to just see a fellow Christian. Simply being a follower of Jesus Christ is the only thing Paul wants them to identify with. That is the bottom line, the thing that brings them all together as equals in the body of Christ. Paul writes, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the mission of reconciliation”. We have been brought back into relationship with God through Christ Jesus. God has reconciled us to Himself. Paul is pleading with the Corinthians to be reconciled to one another.

Churches today are still pretty diverse lots. Within the four walls of the church there are many individuals. The Bible, our instruction book, contains about 31,000 verses, give or take, depending on your preferred translation. When I read a passage now that I read a year ago, sometimes it says something new or different to me. Sometimes I discover something I missed the last time. This informs my faith. Now multiply that idea by the number of verses and the number of people in the church. Like the church in Corinth, we will read and understand some things differently. Some things Joe thinks you should do or follow, Suzie doesn’t see that way. Same thing for Anthony and Molly. Same thing for Zoe and Stephen.

To the church in Corinth and to the church today, Paul calls us to be reconciled to Christ. He calls us to Jesus. Jesus is our model of how to live out God’s love. Jesus is our example of what it looks like to love God and neighbor. Jesus is the redeemer from sin. Jesus is our path to eternal life. Jesus is our all in all. Through Christ we are one body, reconciled to God and to one another, on a common mission to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. May it be so.

Prayer: God, help us to see with your eyes – not as all exactly the same but loved exactly the same by you. Help us to look past the smaller things and to see the only thing that matters: Jesus and His love. May I see well today. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 32

Verse 1: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered”.

When we confess our sins to the Lord and seek to earnestly repent of them, we are washed clean, made new once again. This is what David is writing about in the opening verses of Psalm 32. In verse 1 he writes, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered”. When we walk honestly with the Lord we are blessed.

But we do not always walk honestly and righteously. Sometimes we sin. We are called to confess and repent whenever we feel the conviction of our sin. But we do not always do that. Sometimes we tell ourselves that God doesn’t really know. Sometimes we can try and justify our sins. David tries to hide from God. In verse 3 he writes, “when I kept silent… my bones wasted away”. He felt God’s “heavy hand” upon him and his strength was gone. We have all been there, drained by the efforts to keep up our charade. We know that we are sinning and we know that we need to confess and repent, but we just cannot quite get there. The power of sin is just a bit too much.

With renewed trust and confidence in God’s love, David pushes through. In verse 5 he writes, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you”. David confessed and knew God’s love and mercy: “you forgave the guilt of my sin”. He confessed and was made right with God. David encourages all to pray to God so that they can experience what he did: protection and presence. In verse 8 we read about this as God instructs and teaches, counsels and watches over. We will be surrounded by God’s love.

This Psalm is a great reminder to us. If we are struggling with a sin in our life, it reminds us that life is better when we are honest with God. When we confess and repent, the guilt and shame fall away and we are restored into God’s presence, protection, and peace. Living honestly, not having to hide, is liberating and joyful and leads us to be glad and to sing of God’s love. Psalm 32 is also a great passage to share with those we know who are stuck in their sin. If offers a view of the Lord’s “unfailing love” that we experience when we are made right with God and it offers a view of the life of joy and peace and security we find when we walk with the Lord. Thanks be to God for His unfailing love for all people!

Prayer: Lord, when I find myself in sin and feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, help me to quickly confess, repent, and turn back to you. When I don’t quite see my sin as sin, reveal it to me by the same power of your Holy Spirit. Give me compassion and love and gentleness when I seek to help another to be freed from their sins. Let your unfailing love shine through. May all I do and say and think reveal your unfailing love to a world in need. Amen.


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Remember

Reading: Joshua 5: 9-12

Verse 10: “The Israelites celebrated the Passover”.

After crossing into the Promised Land, the Israelites set up camp. They have just witnessed another miracle. God led the people through once again. Although at “full flood stage”, the people walked across on dry ground. As soon as all had crossed over, the waters returned to flood stage. They built an altar from 12 stones from the river bed to remember this miracle. Then they set up camp and, “the Israelites celebrated the Passover”. This is another remembrance. The yearly festival is a celebration of how God freed them from captivity as slaves in Egypt and led them out of Egypt.

The Passover is a remembrance of all the details of the time when God acted on behalf of His people. This celebration reminds the people of both the power of God and of His love for them. As children of God we too celebrate and remember experiences and moments when God has acted on our behalf. We remember to remind ourselves of God’s love for us. This is why we celebrate Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost… These are powerful movements of God. These reveal God’s love for us. Like the Israelites and Passover, we celebrate these events each and every year. We also have movements of God that we celebrate more frequently. Churches regularly celebrate communion. All of these events that we celebrate remind us of God’s power and of His love for us.

As children of God, we all have personal experiences that also remind us of God’s love and power. Our God is a great God who acts in mighty ways. Some of the time, these are personal. God is involved in the details of our lives. We have moments and experiences when we encounter God in our lives. That night in the balcony at church, that afternoon in the emergency room, that morning atop the mountain, those days in worship. We can all remember times when our God came up close and became intimately personal. We store those away in our hearts and we remember them in our minds.

When were your moments? How has God been up close and personal with you? Take a moment or two to remember and give thanks to the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord, you have been present in many ways. I thank you that over and over, at just the right time, you have come to me in real and personal ways. Continue to do so over and over again. Ever be my God. Amen.


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Restored and Redeemed

Reading: Joshua 5: 9-12

Verse 9: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”.

In our passage today, the Israelites have just moved into the Promised Land. God parted the Jordan River and they crossed over on dry ground. It is purposefully reminiscent of their crossing of the sea during their exodus from Egypt 40 years ago. The trip from the Red Sea to the Jordan River is not a 40 year walk. We recall that the Israelites wrestled with sin and doubt over and over again, leading them to “take one more lap around the desert”, as my good friend Kent likes to say.

All the men of “military age” that left Egypt have died in the desert and the people enter into the land first promised to Abraham. As a sign of their covenant relationship, also established under Abraham, all the males are circumcised. This was a physical sign of belonging, much as baptism is a sacred and symbolic sign of our belonging to the family of God. Now we get to today’s passage. After the circumcisions are complete, God says to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”. In Egypt the people were slaves, they were heavily oppressed, and they experienced pain and suffering. In marking the Israelites as the chosen people once again, God is rolling away the time in Egypt and delivering them to a new land and back into relationship with Him. God is restoring and redeeming the people.

It was the people’s sin that made the journey last 40 years. If the Israelites were without sin, they could have walked straight from Egypt to the Promised Land in a matter of weeks. We too walk a similar path.

Our journey to become more and more like Jesus takes a lifetime. For those blessed with long life, it can take longer than 40 years. If we were without sin we would profess Jesus as Lord and Savior and go straight to heaven. But we are not without sin. Our faith journey, no matter how long or short, is just like the Israelites’ wander in the desert. We have times when we are very close to God in our walk of faith. We have our moments when God parts the sea and we walk right through it. But we also have times when we sin and live outside of a relationship with God. We have times when we worship idols and when we choose to separate ourselves from God. Just as God did not leave the Israelites to all die in the desert, God does not leave us lost in our sin. Why? Because God loves us. God reminds us over and over that we are all a beloved child of God and God goes to work over and over to restore and redeem us once again. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, at times I wander. We all do. When I do, call my name, bring me back to you. Restore and redeem me from my sins. But that is not all I am. At times, I walk closely with you, rejoicing in your love and presence. Help me to be there more often. Thank you Lord. Amen.