pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Forgiveness

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 23: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”.

Much of the resurrection focuses on forgiveness. The most obvious examples are Jesus forgiving those who placed him on the cross and the grace that he extended to the thief on the cross next to his. But there are other examples. The taking upon himself our sins began the process of confession and repentance that we must practice at least daily. The spirit of forgiveness, I would argue, began even earlier in the week. As Jesus washed Judas’ feet and shared the first communion with him, Jesus was modeling what forgiving our enemies looks like. Then, in the garden, as Jesus the man feared the brutality that lay ahead, he gave a human plea to be spared. To move past this point, to master his emotions, the divine Jesus bowed to his Father’s will. To do so he had to come to peace with his situation. To do that, in a way Jesus had to offer forgiveness for what he was about to endure.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, after offering his peace to them and showing them the scars, he shared his intent to send them out. He empowered them with these words: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”. The Holy Spirit would be the guide and the power to go in Jesus’ name. With this power the disciples would teach and heal – both physically and spiritually. We too receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, first at our baptism. Being anointed with water, the Holy Spirit becomes a part of our lives, leading and guiding us. Upon professing Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit blossoms into full life. As we mature in faith our ability to hear and feel the Spirit deepens and widens. This power that grows and blossoms in us is the same Holy Spirit that led the first disciples out to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to change the world forever. We too have the same power inside of us.

Part of Jesus’ plan was the forgiveness of sins. It is why he went to the cross. It is what he modeled over and over as he restored many to wholeness of life. It is what Jesus continues to do today as the Spirit works in our lives and through us in the world. The peace that Jesus brings is tied to this idea of forgiveness. If we are to have peace in our lives – true peace – we must be disciples that practice forgiveness. That means that we do not offer up the hollow “I forgive you” like we did when kids. That means not trying to offer forgiveness while still holding onto hurts and thoughts of revenge. That means truly forgiving our enemies and others that we suspect might hurt us again. This is the forgiveness offered at the cross. This is the forgiveness that Jesus lived out. This is the forgiveness that the resurrection calls us to live out. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God. Yes, loving God. You love me in spite of all my sins and failures. You do so because once I confess and repent, to you my sins are no more. Grant me that depth of love, O Lord. Grant it to me, please. Amen.


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Anointed

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 6-13

Verse 13: “Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him… from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon him”.

As we return to this passage from 1 Samuel 16 we focus in on Samuel anointing David. God who sees the heart identifies David and guides Samuel to consecrate him with oil. There are no words spoken concerning what David is being consecrated for. The two usual times when this act was practiced was to anoint a new king or a new high priest. As David’s family was not of the line of Levi, some there may have wondered about what was happening. Saul was clearly established as the king of Israel who God himself had chosen.

Although we do not all anoint with oil in this fashion, we all do practice a sacrament that accomplishes the same end result. In the sacrament of baptism we are each marked – not with oil but with the water. In most Christian traditions the time of baptism marks the child or person as a member of the family of God. The sacred part of baptism is the Holy Spirit becoming part of that person’s life, much as it did for David in today’s passage. We see the same coming of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ baptism. As we each profess faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we become children of God as we receive the Spirit.

Jesus was anointed to live as a humble and obedient servant of God. Doing so, he set us an example and then gave his all for you and me. David was anointed to one day be king of Israel. You and I have also been anointed. We will probably have a journey of faith that looks more like David’s – plenty of ups and downs as we begin. As God and the Holy Spirit works within us we will mature as David did, finding less “downs” along the way. As we continue our Lenten journey, may we each consider how we are uniquely called to humbly serve God and our fellow children of God. Being led by the Holy Spirit, may we each be the presence of Christ in our world.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, this day use me as you will. Guide me to love and serve those I can and to be faithful and obedient to the lead of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Deeper

Reading: 1st Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

In today’s passage, David is anointed to be the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul is the king. He is in good health and will remain the king for some time. David is going to learn and grow and mature before stepping into this role that God has selected him for. It is a process. The process will be guided by God. In verse thirteen we read, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David”. From God’s perspective this all made sense. After all, it is his plan.

From the human perspective, it was confusing at best. Once the hurdles were all crossed and Samuel is present with Jesse and most of his family, the parade of prospects begins. One by one Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, horn of oil at the ready. The oldest son is Eliab. Seeing him Samuel immediately thinks he is the one. Eliab must have been tall and handsome, muscular and refined. But God tells Samuel “no”. I imagine the horn of oil dropped a little bit just then, going further and further down as each son passes by, until at last it dangles by his side.

We too can fall into the trap that Samuel and Jesse and probably all the elders and sons fell into. We too judge by appearance. The appearance may be physical, it may be based on the college they attended, it may be by the car they drive or the home they occupy, it may be by the title that hangs outside their office door, it may be by the position they play on the team. These would be valid tools for judgment if all that mattered was their drive to get to the top. Sadly, though, when we judge by what we can first see, then we often fail to go any deeper. Too often that first judgment prevents us from going deeper and prevents us from seeing who and what someone really is. God had a word for us today when this is our first tendency: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

Tying this thought into the model set by the one we follow, we see what this good word from God looks like lived out in the world. Jesus never ever stopped at tax collector or Samaritan or woman or leper or prostitute or blind or possessed or… Jesus always pressed deeper, developing a relationship that went far beyond some surface-level label. Going deeper, the labels always fell away. May we too strive to go deeper, to go way past labels and first appearances. May we too strive to get to know the heart of each we meet, for there we begin to see as God sees. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, help me to practice you counter-cultural and counter-intuitive love today. Help me to see those needs that you place before me and to fill them with your love. Amen.


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Goodness and Love

Reading: Psalm 23: 5-6

Verse 6: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”.

Yesterday we looked at how our Shepherd provides and cares for us, the sheep of His fold. Today we look at the last third of Psalm 23. God prepares a table for us. In the eternal, this will be the banquet feast in heaven. In this life it is a place to gather, to relax, to share in a meal. Usually we gather at the table with family and friends. It is the place we laugh and enjoy community. It is where we share our day or week, our joys and concerns. The table can also function as the place we gather to learn and discuss our faith. Many groups gathers around many tables in many churches and homes to grow deeper in our faith.

Our psalmist includes someone that maybe we’d rather not have at the table – our enemies. At the table is the best place to become not enemies. To sit and talk with someone who has wronged you or that you have wronged often leads to healing and reconciliation. It also often leads to the common ground that allows a friendship to begin. Jesus was very clear that we are to love and pray for our enemies, to forgive them, to be reconciled to them. If we are truly loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then there is not room in our hearts for enemies. When we truly live with no enemies then our head is anointed with the oils of blessing and our cup overflows with love and mercy and goodness.

The psalmist names this blessing in verse 6, saying, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”. When we dwell in the house of the Lord, we are filled with His presence and love and peace and grace and strength… Yes, indeed our cup overflows. The more it overflows the less room we allow in our hearts for enemies and hate and prejudice and stereotypes… There is then more room for God. May we each actively seek to be reconcilers and people of grace and mercy and forgiveness this day and every day, all for the glory of God and the building of His kingdom.

Prayer: Lord, may I be filled with your love. Drive all hate and evil from my heart. Let “enemy” not be a term in my life. Grant me words of healing and mercy and life today. Amen.


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Unlikely

Reading: 1 Samuel 2: 9-10

Verse 10: “He will give strength to His king and exalt the horn of His anointed”.

Just as Hannah poured out her suffering to God, in her prayer today she pour out the joy of her heart as she expresses her thanks to God. Hannah also offers a prophetic word to the nation of Israel. Her son will follow in her footsteps as Samuel is used by God to change the course of Israel’s history as he anoints their first kings.

Hannah comes to this role from the margins. She has been outside looking in for a long time and now she is the voice of prophecy, speaking of God as their Rock and of His blessing those who are obedient and faithful. She speaks here from her own experiences with these things. Because God answered her prayers, she believes that God will also be with the people. She looked to God and He responded; if the nation does so too, then God will respond.

Samuel, her son, will be Israel’s last judge. Judges were people God raised up to lead the people. The line of those who guide the people with God will come to a close as Samuel anoints Saul as the first king. Now prophets will come along to guide the nation, but they will not rule. As Saul falters, Samuel will anoint David to be Israel’s next king. Hannah speaks of David’s rule when she says in verse 10, “He will give strength to His king and exalt the horn of His anointed”. David will be Israel’s greatest king and through his line, Jesus will be born.

Hannah was an unlikely mother. Yet she gave birth to one of the great prophets. Hannah was an unlikely choice to be the voice of God for her people. Yet as she poured out her thanks to God, the Spirit spoke through her to bring vision and hope to Israel. Are we too unlikely to be used by God? If we are faithful and obedient, God can and will use each of us too. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, Hannah was faithful and true. She held firm to you, her God. May my faith and my walk be as true. Use me in your kingdom, O God. Amen.


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Community

Reading: James 5: 13-20

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.

Suffering, pain, illness, sin – all are a part of our world and our lives. To go through these things alone is a terrible tragedy. For James, and for us, being a part of a faith community and having a personal relationship with God offers the best methods of dealing with suffering…

James invites us to begin with prayer. It is through prayer that we bring our suffering to God and that we seek relief or repentance. In verse 16 James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. Prayer is very powerful. The power is amplified when we pray in community, when we pray as a gathered community. Each day we also lift one another up in prayer just as others do the same, praying together spiritually. Communicating our needs to God also serves to remind us of our absolute need for God’s presence and activity in our lives.

In a similar manner, James encourages us to gather around those in need of healing, to anoint them with oil, and to pray over them. As we encircle them, anointing and praying in the name of Jesus Christ, we are naming our need for God to come and be at work in our lives. James tells us, “The Lord will lift them up”. May we hold to this promise.

James closes our section today with a good accountability reminder. He gives us the example of Elijah’s prayer that brought repentance to a wayward people. Yes, it took three and a half years. Sometimes our sin is stubborn too. Are you prepared to pray three and a half years for a brother or sister and their struggle with sin? I hope so! When the people repented and humbled themselves, Elijah prayed for God’s mercy and blessing to rain down, and they did both spiritually and literally.

These practices done in community – prayer, anointing, accountability – are all more effective and powerful when done together. As the body of Jesus Christ, may we seek to live and be in community, building up one another and the body of Christ each day.

Lord God, help me to build a sense of community with my family, friends, small groups, and with the congregation. May I lead by example with honesty, transparency, and love. Amen.


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Holy Marriage

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 & 6-9

Verse 7: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness, therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy”.

Wedding, baptism, or funeral? Based on the conversations that I have had with fellow clergy, a wedding would be their last choice. A baptism could involve a crying, unhappy baby when those waters run down their faces. A funeral could have some tension if the families do not get along, but that usually does not spill over into the celebration of life service itself. But a wedding… Oh the wedding horror stories. You have perhaps heard some. Maybe you’ve been a part of one yourself.

Myself, I like officiating weddings. Perhaps that will change. I’ve been blessed by all of the weddings that I have done. Meetings with the couples have been both fun and fruitful. There has not been a crazy mother of the bride or groom. No bride-zillas. The worst thing that has happened at a wedding was the three-year-old ring bearer who refused to walk down the aisle. (He did not have the rings though). Perhaps I am due for a doozy.

In today’s Psalm, a wedding is the focus. It sounds like a wonderful wedding – almost ideal. In this wedding, God is present and central to the event. The wedding covenant that Christians hold to understands that God is part of the covenant being made. The essence of a Christian marriage is captured well in verse 7: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness, therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy”. The couple promises to love no matter what, practicing righteous love in their marriage. The vow is one if exclusivity – setting aside all other companions, the spouse becomes the center of the others love and care. God anoints the new union with the oil of joy. What joy is experienced in the love consummated in Christian marriage!

Father God, today is a day when many will celebrate a wedding. God, please pour out your anointing oil of joy on all who join in holy marriage today. Bless them this day and forever more. Amen.


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This Anointed King

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 and 6-9

Verse 2: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever”.

Today’s Psalm has the description “a wedding song” in the heading. It is a celebration of a royal wedding. Although we only read a handful of the verses that comprise this Psalm, we do get the flavor of the occasion. There is a king and his royal bride, a palace, an anointing, music, and the guest list includes daughters of kings. The clothes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia and are woven with gold. We get quite a picture of what the events looks and feels like.

Depending on who and when this Psalm was read or recited, one might have envisioned David’s royal wedding or perhaps Solomon’s or some other king of Israel. Maybe one’s mind even slips to a more recent royal wedding with all of its pomp and circumstance.

The Psalm can also be read another way. Like the author of Hebrews, we can read this Psalm and envision Jesus as the king. In Hebrews 1, this Psalm is used to point to Jesus. It is one of about 8 Old Testament passages that the author uses to connect the words that “God spoke to our forefathers” to the “words spoken to us by His Son” in the last days. This connection plays well with our modern understandings of the New Testament being the fuller revelation of the Old Testament and of Jesus as the fuller revelation of God.

When read from the perspective of Christ as the King, verse 2 has a whole new meaning. Hear Christ in this verse: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever”. Yes, Jesus is the most excellent example – He who was without sin. And, oh how Jesus’ lips were anointed will grace. The words of healing and forgiveness that Jesus spoke and continues to speak to us today flow with grace. And, yes, Jesus is the one blessed forever. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus is forever King.

Lord God, may this anointed King, this King with grace anointed on His lips, may King Jesus reign in our hearts each and every day. Amen.


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Missionaries

Reading: Mark 6: 6b-13

Verses Twelve and Thirteen: “They went out and preached that people should repent… They drove out demons… anointed… and healed”.

After a period of watching Jesus in ministry, the disciples are empowered by Jesus and are sent out two by two. Jesus is beginning to train them to be His replacement. Full of faith in Jesus, “they went out and preached that people should repent… They drove out demons… anointed… and healed”. The disciples are able to model the ministry of Jesus. They preach the gospel news of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. They encounter the demon-possessed and they drive out the demons. They anoint people and heal them of their illnesses and diseases. In all these actions, the disciples are restoring people to wholeness and into faith in Jesus Christ.

Each of these actions drew people to Jesus, depending on their need. These three things continue to be at the core of the ministry of the church. The sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ is still the central activity of the church and of all followers of Christ. This is usually the first step. Belief often leads then to restoration of the person – body, mind, and soul. It is through faith in Jesus that we all find healing.

The sending of the twelve (and later the sending of the 72) establishes the idea that all believers are sent out into the world to be Jesus to the lost, the lonely, and the hurting. Some are sent someplace on the other side of the world and some are sent right next door. All of us are sent. This passage also contains a reality. Although all believers are sent, not all non-believers are ready to receive. Some will not welcome us as we come in the name of Jesus. We offer Jesus as best we can and then we move on. Remembering that we once were lost too, we trust that other believers will follow as God continues to work at saving the whole world.

We go forth today, into our day and into our world, willing missionaries sent with the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. May we ever be faithful missionaries of the gospel. May our words and actions bring healing and wholeness, leading others to Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Heart for God

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse Seven: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

Today’s passage is a good reminder of how different we are from God. When hiring for a new opening, we consider different things than God does, depending on the position. If we are looking for a new nuclear engineer there are certain educational qualifications needed. If we are looking for a new starting point guard, there are certain physical attributes we may look for. If we are hiring a new youth director, there are specific tangibles we would have on that list. For each job, there are specific and unique criteria that must be met.

In our passage today, Samuel goes into the interview process to find a new king with certain thoughts in mind. His ideal king would be tall and strong, great in battle, brave and courageous. He would have good leadership skills. As the oldest son, Eliab, passes before him, Samuel thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord”. Not this big, strong man. One by one they pass by and God rejects all seven. Very soon into the process, Samuel gets this reminder from God: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. God is saying we must look deeper than the surface. It is the condition of the heart that matters foremost to God.

When we are hiring for our companies (or for our churches), we do try and look beyond the degrees or the work experience of the individual. We also want to know about their work ethic, if they are honest and reliable, and so on. We too dig a little deeper when something important is on the line. After all, we do not want to hire just any engineer or any point guard or any youth director – we want to hire the best one we can.

When hiring for the next king, God began His search deep within the candidates – looking first at the condition of their heart. That was the top of the list. It is usually a bit farther down our hiring lists. But this makes me wonder – if God were hiring a new leader today and He looked at the condition of my heart, would I be hired or would I be passed by? Am I a follower of Jesus whose whole heart is God’s alone? This is what God really desires of us – a heart that belongs to God. May our walk today be faithful to God, loving God with all that we are. May it be so day by day. Amen.