pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love First

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse Eight: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”.

Each day and each encounter provides us with an opportunity to draw close to God, to worship God. Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise from King David. It praises God for His love and faithfulness. It encourages us to “sing of the ways of the Lord”. It speaks of God preserving our lives when we walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalm is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, His dear children.

These few days at Annual Conference have been filled with worship. Sometimes the songs and worship have been slow and reflective. Sometimes the songs have been upbeat and energetic. Sometimes the music has been loud and passionate. Our worship has also included much besides music. We have shared scripture and been blessed by the proclamation of the Word by several gifted pastors. Through each of the messages and the conference itself, the idea of “love first” has been the focus. To me, this is what our worship should do. In all of our styles and in all if the components of worship, our worship should first express our love of God.

Verse eight today reads, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”. When we offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God’s love, then we experience a love that lasts forever. When we surrender our lives to God, we begin to live into and to live out an everlasting love. In doing so, we discover the first half of our verse: our purpose. We are all created to love as Jesus first loved us: fully and completely. There is no greater love than the love we see modeled by Jesus. May our lives today be living acts of worship, overflowing with the grace and mercy of God, as we seek to love first. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.

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Parent God

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse One: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.

What were your parents like growing up? Were they kind and living and came to all of your activities? Were they hard-working and focused on providing for you? Were they the type that did not say “I love you” with words but certainly did with their actions? Were they overprotective or strict or were they too lenient? And… how did they affect how you parent or how you parented?

Today’s Psalm speaks of the ways that God is our parent. We often say something along the lines of “we’re all God’s children”, but do we really consider what that means? Today’s Psalm does! It begins with, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”. First, as our parent, God knows us inside out. God knows how we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we need and desire, … The psalmist goes on to remind us that God is “familiar with all of my ways” – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Our ways do not sway or change God’s love for us. As a loving parent, God’s love is always there for us. God balances who we are with who we are created to be, ever drawing us to the latter.

Verse four speaks of a loving parent who knows us so well that He knows the words before we even speak them. God really does know us inside out. Verse five reads, “You hem me in…”. It is not that God limits or controls us absolutely, but that God’s protection is ever around us. The Holy Spirit is also present, always leading and guiding us – when we are willing and receptive. God never forces or coerces us. We are as free to make poor decisions as we are to make decisions that please God.

Our passage closes with, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me”. It is hard to fathom just how good of a parent God is. Although we cannot fully understand the extent of God’s love, we can appreciate it. To God almighty, creator of the universe, parent to us all: thank you.


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Lavished

Reading: 1 John 3: 1-3

Verse One: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God”.

Identity is an important thing. At times we are very sure of who we are. We feel confident and we know our purpose in life. So often, for many people, this is wrapped up in earthly things like our job or our position on the team or in the money we have or in the possessions we own. When this is how we define ourselves, then the trials of life rock our world.

Today’s passage opens with a reminder of who we truly are. John writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God”. This sums up the core of our true identity. It is because of God’s great love. This is where it starts. It is a rich and lavish love that God wants to pour down on every single person. Not all accept His love. But for those that do, we are called “children of God”. There is a huge difference between knowing that all people are God’s children and actually living as one. When we live as a child of God, we know our true identity.

When we identify as a child of God, life takes on an eternal perspective. Yes, this life will still have its trials and hurts and sufferings, but they are temporary. In addition, as a child we do not walk alone through these valleys either. Our Father walks with us and will even carry us at times. Our Father gives us strength to face any challenge because we do not face it alone and we can draw on His limitless strength. How great is the love indeed!

No matter what life has brought us or will bring us, we can trust in the love that God has for each of us, His dearly loved children. Thanks be to God for His great love!


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Hope, Promise, Opportunity

Reading: Genesis 9: 8-17

Verse Nine: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature”.

The flood was a catastrophic event that has no match. The totality of the loss of life is unparalleled in the history of mankind. It is hard to imagine what living in the aftermath would have been like. A small group of eight people enter the ark with a multitude of animals, the rain falls, the flood waters rose, and soon they were all alone. Noah and family emerge from the ark to a desolate and unpopulated world. It must have been difficult to know they were it.

Our passage today begins with God promising to never do such a thing again. God says to the eight, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature”. God is maybe seeking to rebuild trust. Maybe it is a pain that God never wants to experience again either. Noah and family do trust into God’s promise and they trust into the future that lies ahead in this new world. From this perspective, all must have seemed new and beautiful. There was no war or violence or anger or hatred. They must have felt a great sense of hope and promise and opportunity.

At times in life we also experience a flood. It may have been when we packed up everything we owned and moved to a place where we did not know anyone or anything. It may have been in the loss of the dearest person in our world, when in the days after we felt as if nothing was the same. Floods can come in many ways. Through these disorienting experiences we must continue to trust into God and His promises. Key for us is to remember that God loves us dearly and desires the best for us. Even in the hard times that life can bring, God is always at work to bring beauty from our ashes, joy with the morning. God’s covenant promise to love us always and no matter what is sometimes all we can lean into.

One day we emerge, like Noah and his family, seeing the world in a whole new way. Once again there is hope and promise and even opportunity. No, things are not the same. But once again we have seen that God is faithful, that God always remains present to us, that God continues to honor His covenant. Each trial of life draws us closer and closer to God, deepening our trust in His love and care, reinforcing the depth of His covenant commitment. Thank you God of the promise, for your love and care for us, your beloved children.


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Opened Wide

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verse Seven: “You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir”.

Today’s text is a great reminder of the depth of God’s love for us.  Prior to the coming of Jesus, there was one relatively small group of people who were blessed to be in the family of God.  A small band of twelve tribes were the “chosen people”.  But then, “when the time had fully come, God sent His Son”.  It was then that the door began to open for you and me.

In God’s wisdom the time had come to establish a new covenant.  It was not quite the extensive makeover that came with Noah and the flood, but what God had in store was a pretty radical shift.  But even the sin that had come into the world through Adam survived that flood.  Humanity remained under the law of sin and death.  So God sent His Son to “redeem those under the law”.  That is you and me and all of humanity.  God sent Jesus to a pretty big crowd of people.

As Jesus ministered to those He met, a couple of things became clear.  First, Jesus cared for and loved all people.  It did not matter who or what you are or were, Jesus loved you just as you came.  There were no hoops to jump through, no boxes to check off, no barriers to keep people out.  Second, Jesus was a humble servant who was obedient to God alone.  From washing feet, to welcoming sinners, to touching the unclean, to healing the hurt and broken and damaged, to going to the cross – Jesus offered all He could.  Why did Jesus do all of this?  To make a way for you and me, so that we “might receive the full rights of sons”.

Full rights means we are in.  We are part of God’s family and part of His plan of salvation.  As a child of God, we are loved and cared for, protected and provided for.  As a child of God, we are privy to the Holy Spirit and to the gift of eternal life.  Before Jesus, we would just be another Gentile on the outside looking in.  But with Jesus, we are now a part of the family.  Jesus was such an amazing gift to the world.  Jesus is such an amazing gift to you and me.

Paul concludes our passage today with these words: “You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir”.  Through His blood we have been set free from our slavery to sin and death.  Through His love we have been made children of God.  The door has been opened Wide so that all may enter in.  Praise be to God!  Thank you Jesus!


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Luke 1: 26-38 and 46-55

Verse 28: “Greetings you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!”

Do you remember the birth of your child or children?  It was an awesome experience!  Yes, there was great pain and perhaps it lasted too long, but at one point there was suddenly life when before there was none.  The baby emerges into the world and draws its first breath – life is born!  There is a sacredness to the moment that life is first brought into the world.  It is a holy moment when God is present.  It is something we will never forget.

When one steps away from the birth of our own children and we look at birth in general, it is still an amazing thing.  In each birth is the beginning of something new, therefore it is filled with excitement.  It is also filled with hope and dreaming.  Parents all over the world look at that newborn child and wonder about their son’s or daughter’s future and hope that it is blessed.

For Mary, the angel tells her she too is blessed.  The angel Gabriel says, “Greetings you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!”  She will carry the One who will save the world from our sins and show us the way to enter into life eternal.  Likewise, her cousin Elizabeth carries a special baby.  She will give birth to John the Baptist, he who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.  For these two mothers, they know through the angel’s visit that children are something special.  This must ramp up their own sense of excitement and dreaming about the future.

Yet we know what Jesus and John will eventually experience.  Both of these precious babies will give their lives in obedience to God.  Both will suffer.  Both will die willingly for their God.  Both willingly die for the people they love – John for Jesus and Jesus for you and me.  We celebrate Jesus’ birth tomorrow night.  It is a birth orchestrated by God.  It is a holy birth.  It is a birth that brings hope and promise to all the world.  It is a birth that brings hope and promise to you and me.  It is a hope and promise not just for tomorrow night, but for forever.  Thanks be to God.  Amen!


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Favor

Reading: Luke 1: 26-30

Verse 30: “Do not be afraid… you have found favor with the Lord”.

Out of the blue, an angel visits Mary.  Her first reaction is what I think mine would be: fear.  The angel greets her and then tells her that the Lord is with her.  Maybe her fears subsided a bit knowing that God was with her.  In that moment, though, Mary must have really been wondering what would be coming next.  I would be!

Our passage tells us that Mary was “troubled” – again, a reaction I think most of us would have if an an angel appeared to us.  At a minimum, if I am being honest, knowing that I was on the brink of something big, I would be really troubled.  While it is probably quite exciting when an angel comes for a visit (I assume it is), there is also the scary recognition that things are about to change pretty seriously.

The angel then says to Mary, “Do not be afraid… you have found favor with the Lord”.  The first part is good to hear, but the second part is great to hear.  Mary has found favor with God!  Hallelujah!  Praise be!  Amen!  Yes, it is indeed wonderful to know that she has found favor with God.  While in this setting it is particularly good news for Mary, our reality is that this is good news for us as well.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we have all found favor with God.

In the book The Shack, the lead character Mac and God have frequent conversations.    Most of the time when the conversation is about people in Mac’s life, they are people that he could do without.  Each and every time God says, “Oh yes, I am especially fond of that one”.  Every time.  Although it is just a fictional book, I believe this part to really be true.  God is especially fond of every human being because we are all children of God.  He loves us all.  And some – those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior – have found favor with God.  Talk about good news!  Hallelujah and amen!