pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Thy Word

Reading: 2nd Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

Verse 16: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”.

In 2nd Timothy we read, “All scripture is God-breathed”. The Protestant Bible is the compilation of 66 books that were penned by various individuals as God inspired them. The set of books that has been Canon for hundreds of years was set by men who prayed and discerned and sought Holy Spirit guidance to establish which books would make up the Bible. The books are written by many authors in many settings over the span of many hundreds of years. It is the story of God’s love for humanity and for the world. It is not one cohesive narrative written by one person.

Sometimes we are unsure or are confused by the different and seemingly contradictory passages that we find in the Bible. Sometimes we question its relevance. For example, there are many verses that speak to owning slaves and others that govern our conduct with our slaves. Yet 70+ years ago our nation abolished slavery, declaring it unjust. In the gospels, written over a much shorter time span, we also find differences. For example, the call of Jesus’ first disciples is very different in Matthew 4 and in Luke 5. Was Simon Peter there or was it just Andrew? Did Jesus perform a miracle to draw them in or did he simply say, “Come, follow me”?

If we get hung up on the details we can miss the bigger picture. The books were written in varied contexts and times, by authors with specific audiences and purposes. Taken together, all tell the evolving story of God’s love. We read the Bible informed by our time and place and previous understanding. At times, the Bible also reveals different things to us. For example, a passage I have read many times can tell me something new the next time I read it. The actual words have not changed. Yet the Holy Spirit alive in me and in the Bible both have an impact on my understanding.

Yes, the Bible is undoubtedly useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”. In and through the Bible we find the only way to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We understand and increase the value of the Bible only by reading it, by meditating upon it, by discussing it, and by seeking discernment from it. It is the story of how God seeks to make us more like God and like Jesus. Read it!

Prayer: Father of light, your word is a lamp into my feet and a light unto my path. Without its wisdom and guidance and direction I would be blind. May I feed upon your holy word day by day. Amen.

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Up from the Foundation

Reading: Psalm 137: 5-9

Verse 5: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”.

In the short-term of life it seems like things never change. The context of our Psalm today is the period of exile that followed the fall of Jerusalem. The people of Israel have been in Babylon for what feels like forever. It feels like their situation will never change. Deep within they long for their past. But at this moment they are stuck in Babylon.

In the long-term of life it often feels like things are always changing. Kings come and go, foreign powers rise and fall, there are times of freedom and times of captivity. Humans in general do not like change. The routines that we fall into in life feel like “forever” after a while. Our faith is one of these routines. In exile, the people of Israel cling to the songs and stories of faith. The telling and retelling of their oral traditions and the singing of their sacred songs connects them both to God and to the past that they long for. The deep desire to always remember is captured in verse five, where we read, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”. If one forgets the most important thing – God – then all else is lost.

Our faith exists and thrives in between the past and the future, between the constant and the change. The Bible and the practices and traditions that we derive from it keep us connected to God and to Jesus. They remind us of who we are as Christians and as communities of faith. Yet our faith also looks forward. One way we look forward is our trust in the future promises – to one day enter heaven and to one day see all things made new as Jesus Christ returns. The other way we look forward in our faith is the idea of journey. Our faith today is not what it was five years ago. We seek to journey forward, ever becoming more and more like Jesus.

The Bible, the traditions, the practices – these are the solid foundations of our faith. The desire to grow to be more like Jesus – this is the building up from that foundation. We are blessed by both. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for being who and what you are: unchanging love and mercy and grace. Thank you for showing us all these things lived out in your son, Jesus Christ. Keep me connected to both. Amen.


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Heaven Rejoices

Reading: Luke 15: 1-10

Verse 10: “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”.

The religious leaders are critical of Jesus for eating with sinners. His response is to tell two stories that let the religious leaders know that living out one’s faith is sometimes about living with the sinners. It is quite a contrast in their understandings of how faith works itself out. The Pharisees and other religious leaders think it is all about ministry to those already inside the four walls of the temple – to those just like them. Jesus was also about going outside the walls and ministering to the lost so that they could come inside the walls and could learn to be like him. These are radically different approaches.

Both stories that Jesus shares end in rejoicing. He illustrates the joy we experience when something that was lost is found. We have all experienced this in our lives. Whether it is car keys or that important letter or our purse or wallet or our phone… we all know that smile and good feeling that comes when we find that lost item. The shepherd feels it and the woman with the coin feels it. Heaven also feels it. In verse ten we read, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”. Verse seven is very similar: much rejoicing. How much more important to recover a lost soul than a set of car keys or whatever! Imagine for a moment what those celebrations in heaven look and feel like.

Yes, heaven is joyful when the church gathers for worship. Yes, there are probably knowing smiles, nods, high fives… when we kneel to pray or when we crack open our Bibles. I am sure that our practices of the faith are pleasing in God’s sight. But the living out of our faith cannot just be within the walls of our churches or just within our hearts. We must also practice what Jesus teaches in these two stories. Like him, we too need to seek the lost, to talk with them, to eat with them, to walk with them. We need to help them find a connection to the Good Shepherd. We are called to GO and to make disciples. Can we also make heaven rejoice today over one sinner who repents and turns to God?

Prayer: Lord, we are told that the harvest is ready, that the fields are ripe. Many people today are lost and are seeking that which is missing in their lives. Others are struggling with sin. Help me to reach out today to the lost and the broken. Amen.


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In Those Shoes

Reading: Jeremiah 4: 11-12 and 22-28

Verse 22: “My people are fools, they do not know me… They are skilled at doing evil”.

In the opening two verses we can hear God’s frustration with the people and that the judgments are coming. We too experience this same process. In Jeremiah’s time, God sought to work through the prophets to bring the people back into right relationship with God. Today God seeks to work through the Holy Spirit to bring conviction that leads to repentance and back into holy living. There are times when I am sure that I frustrate and maybe even anger God.

In verse 22 God gives the evidence, saying, “My people are fools, they do not know me… They are skilled at doing evil”. To know God and to know the law, the stories, the scriptures… and to not choose to walk with God is foolishness indeed. Yet we too walk in these shoes. We know God, the Bible, Jesus, and the peace, joy, contentment… of walking the narrow road of faith. Yet we too fall into temptation and into sin at times. We too can act as fools even though we profess faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

As we read Jeremiah 4 it paints a bleak picture for Israel. God has decided upon a judgment. In verse 27 we read, “the whole land will be destroyed”. Yet it is not total destruction. The verse continues: “though I will not destroy it completely”. God holds onto hope. A remnant will remain. Yes, the earth will mourn and the heavens will grow dark, but a remnant will remain. Here we see God’s compassion and mercy. Because of a great compassion, God is patient. Like a loving parent, God will wait for the lost children to return home. God is also a God of limitless mercy. Over and over again God pardons and forgives. God longs for the people to give up their foolish ways and to return to their loving father. God also knows the end game. All of creation will one day experience restoration and redemption. These small cycles of sin play out within God’s bigger picture.

We too walk in these shoes. We stumble and fall. We experience God’s compassion and mercy. We have been redeemed and restored back into right relationship over and over. If you are outside of that love right now, know God loves you. Confess your sin, repent, and return to God. Our God is always waiting and ready for us to respond to God’s great love.

Prayer: Creating and redeeming God, thank you so much for your unending compassion and mercy and love. No matter how foolish I become, no matter how many times I stumble and fall, your love draws me back. Thank you so much, O God! Amen.


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Living Out Faith?

Reading: Luke 12: 49-56

Verse 56: “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time”?

Sometimes when I read the Bible I forget that the people are living long ago. Sometimes I imagine Jesus talking to me instead of to a crowd of first century Jews. When Jesus says things like “I have a baptism to undergo”, I think of something much different than his audience would have thought. For those new to Jesus maybe they’d have thought it a bit late to be baptized. For those following Jesus they’d have remembered John baptizing Jesus in the wilderness and they would be confused. But when we read the words many years later we connect them to Jesus’ crucifixion. At the time, only Jesus would have this thought.

After acknowledging the crowd’s ability to predict the weather based on the signs they see in the sky, Jesus admonishes them for not being able to see who he is. He asks them, “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time”? We can look back, again, knowing how the story ends and we can think the same question as Jesus asks. But hold that thought for a second.

Jesus’ audience is steeped in the Old Testament. They have read and read the Messianic prophecies and other writings scattered throughout the scriptures. These are signs predicting the coming Messiah. As his birth, life, and ministry have unfolded, many have been fulfilled. These are the signs that Jesus implores them to read, see, and interpret. But many in the crowd are not really looking. Most Jews want a Messiah that is another David, a triumphant leader who defeats the Romans. Others there are curious – they hope see or perhaps receive a miracle. They want a peek at this Jesus character. Not many are not looking for the servant king predicted in the Bible.

Let us return to the question for a moment. We have read the end of the story and we know that Jesus is the Messiah. We know the gift of salvation, the promise of eternal life, the daily presence of the Holy Spirit… In turn, do we live out a life of faith seeking to make disciples of all people? Or do we live out a personal, private faith?

Dear God, I can do better. Help me to better live out my faith. I do not always love the least and the lost. I do not always share the good news with the broken and hurting. Lead me outside my comfort zone, O God. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-9

Verses 8-9: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love… he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things”.

The Bible is one big story that tells of God’s love for all of creation. It begins in a garden paradise and it ends by returning to a paradise – the new heaven and earth. In between it is the story of God helping as many people as possible find eternal life.

In today’s Psalm, the writer recalls some of the ways that God has expressed love for the Israelites. In the opening verses of Psalm 107 God is remembered redeeming them from their foes, gathering them from afar, delivering them from distress, and leading them to a city to settle in. Verse eight echoes some of verse one. In verses eight and nine we read of the psalmist’s response to all that God has done for Israel. He writes, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love… he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things”. These verses themselves also remind the people of God’s love and care.

As Christians, we can look to the New Testament to find many stories of faith. We also each have our own faith journey that is also filled with stories of when and how we personally experienced God’s love and care. There is the time when Jesus became “real” and we claimed a personal relationship with him. There was that time that God saved us from injury or worse. There was that time when God answered that big prayer and then all the times those small prayers brought help or relief or comfort or guidance or peace or… Then there was that time, in the darkest of valleys, when God carried you through. And there was that time when helping a stranger you saw the face of Christ. And then there was…

Those stories, those moments, those experiences, they lead to growth in our faith and to deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ. They build our trust in God’s love and care. They make us feel connected. They bring us into the family of God. Like the psalmist, may we too remember a few of our own stories of faith today and may we then declare with the psalmist, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Prayer: Lord God, as I look back on my years I can see the many times and ways you have been a part of my life. Some are monumental for me; others are quiet and personal. Most fall in between these two. Yet each, every one, has led me a step or several steps closer to you. Thank you for your unfailing love. You are good! Amen.


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In Our Focus

Reading: Psalm 16: 8-11

Verses 8 & 11: “I have set the Lord always before me… You have made known to me the paths of life”.

Not too long after beginning to really follow Jesus, one learns that life is better with Christ. No, one’s troubles do not just go away but the presence of the Lord makes the journey better. Our faith brings us hope, comfort, strength, peace… Through these experiences we come to know one of the truths that David states: “You have made known to me the paths of life”. Through our own experiences we too come to believe that Jesus is the only way to live and to eternal life.

Yet even though we come to know this as we mature in our faith, the reality is that we must make an effort to keep our faith in focus. In verse 8 we read, “I have set the Lord always before me”. I think the key word here is “always”. That means 24/7. To keep God ever before us – 24/7 – takes a lot of effort and a lot of discipline.

The effort is shown in how we connect with God. In our prayer life it must be more than a quick ‘thank you God’ here and a table grace there. Daily prayer must be intentional and should include praise, thanksgiving, confession, and petition (asking). Our study of the Word must also be more than superficial. For example, when we read the Upper Room or some other devotional, do we read the passage or just the key verse listed at the top? Reading the passage will add depth to our understanding. We must turn to the Bible for guidance and for direction as well. Another practice that helps keep our faith in our focus is fellowship with other believers. That is certainly public worship but it is also in small group or Sunday school settings. Talking about our faith and learning together are great ways to expand our perspective and to deepen our understanding of God’s word.

And then there is discipline. The daily and intentional attention to the means of grace requires discipline. Discipline is essential to the life of a follower of Jesus. It is too easy to put off the prayer time or Bible study or small group. It is an easy excuse to say I’ll do it later or I’ll catch up tomorrow or I’ll start going again next week. How would we feel if we lifted up an earnest prayer and God responded with “I’ll try and get to that next week”? May we strive to keep the Lord ever before us and in our focus. May it be so.

Prayer: Thank you God for my routine. There is no better way to start my day! Thank you for the regular opportunities to engage with you and with other believers. Blessings upon blessings! Amen.