pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Choose Love

Reading: Genesis 45: 3-7

Verse 5: “For God sent me before you to preserve life”.

Today’s passage is part of a familiar story. As we pick it up today, Joseph has been in Egypt a long time and has risen to the second place in the kingdom – second only to Pharoah. But it has not been an easy ascent. He has been a slave, has been falsely accused, and has spent time in prison. And he has been blessed over and over by God. Now the brothers who sold him into slavery stand before him begging for some food. Famine has struck the lands far and wide.

Joseph may have felt a twinge to extract a little payback from these brothers of his. A lesser man might have chosen revenge. But God has been at work in Joseph’s life for many years now. Each trial and suffering that he has been through has refined and developed his trust in God. No matter how bad things seemed to be, God has always seen Joseph through. So as he looks back on the events of his early life, when he had those dreams and when his own brothers sold him off into slavery, Joseph can see the overarching hand of God at work. He says to his brothers, who are fearing the worst: “God sent me here before you to preserve life”. It was God – not you – who sent me to Egypt. It was God’s plan all along that it would work out just like this. It is pretty amazing to see the story through God’s eyes.

In our lives we too come to these moments. We come to these crossroads where we can choose love or hate, where we can choose to forgive or to hold onto our anger. Our faith calls us to choose love and to extend mercy every time. Every time. Our faith calls us to lay aside our own hurts and to offer healing. Every time. We may feel like we have the right to be mad or hurt or to strike back. Not so. Never. We are people of love and light and hope and mercy. Always. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Lord, when it is hard, grant me the courage to lay aside my anger and jealousy and bitterness. Help me to cling to light and love. Allow all I say and do to shine your glory out into the world. Amen.

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Plans

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”.

As God begins to prepare Jeremiah for the mission ahead He begins by declaring His intent for Jeremiah from even before his earthly, human beginning. I believe the same is true for you and for me: God has an intent, a plan, for our lives. I believe these same words can be said to each of us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”.

Although God has a plan or intent for each of us and for our lives, I do not believe that God forces us into His plan or will or way. We live in the world and are influenced by Satan and other things of this world. Therefore there is a constant battle in our hearts and minds. In that battle we have a choice to make – God or the world? Good or evil? Being human, of the flesh, sometimes we do not always choose well – sometimes we sin. Through Jesus Christ, God has a plan for that too!

When we go astray, God does not ever give up on us. God created us, imperfections and all. God understands us, fallabilities and all. When we sin we sense our alienation from God. Through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit we seek to be made right again. It is scary in those times if separation. Verse 8 reminds us, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will rescue you”. Even though we hurt our relationship at times, God’s love is greater.

Because of His great love, God always works to bring us back into alignment with His plans for us. If I choose plan B instead of God’s plan A, for example, then God goes to work to bring me back around to plan A. Through a variety of sources – the Word, the Holy Spirit, other people – God always tries to work us back to the preferred future that He has intended for us. Why? Because God loves us and wants the best for us. That is His plan.

Again, God says to each of us, “Before I formed you…” I knew you and had a plan for you. God is a loving and good God. God’s plan will lead us to good. Living within God’s plan we experience God’s love. This day may we each recommit our lives to living out God’s plan for our lives.

Prayer: God of all, thank you for thinking of me, for choosing me before you even formed me. Thank you for including me in your plans. Thank you for my place in your family. Help me to live into all of this each and every day. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 8-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

The pilgrims are on their way to Jerusalem! There is joy in where they are headed. They are going to be close to the God they love. As today’s passage opens, the people are petitioning God to hear and listen with favor to their prayers. This joy on the journey, this sense of anticipation – is it what we have when we walk out the door as we head to church?

For the pilgrims, the joy is not just in the journey. Being there is God’s house is really the point. Verse ten illustrates the value placed on being in the sanctuary: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. There is delight found in the place of the Lord. There is a sense of peace and strength in God’s house. Do we reflect this attitude on Sunday mornings? If we feel blessed to be in worship, then yes we do!

The psalmist also names the popular alternative. One can choose God or one can choose not to. Instead, one can live a wicked life. This is a life centered on self, filled with gluttony and greed and the pleasures of the flesh. The ego dominates and shows itself in pride and jealousy and anger. The psalmist would rather be one day with God than to spend a thousand days in the tents of the wicked. Yet those tents are crowded. The things of the world look good to those who do not know God. To the faithful, yes, they are temptations.

If we were to modernize the Psalm, what would we replace the tents of the wicked with? Today, for some, it is the cathedral of green pastures and little white balls. For others it is the sea of peaceful waters and sharp hooks. Still others prefer the sense of security and comfort found in the great comforter and soft pillow. Yes, these things do have their appeal. Yes, one sure can spend their days someplace other than in God’s courts. It is a choice.

The Psalm closes with this line: “O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you”. The world tells us to trust in ourselves, in our possessions, in our titles. But a thousand days of these things is not worth one day in the courts of the Lord. May we trust in the Lord. May we walk blameless today with our God. May we find the Almighty’s favor. Amen and amen.


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Living Wisely

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-17

Verses 15… 17: “Live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity… understanding what the Lord’s will is”.

Today’s words about living wisely fit well with yesterday’s words from Psalm 111 concerning wisdom. Today’s focus is not so much on gaining God’s wisdom but on applying it to our lives. A summary of today’s passage reads, “Live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity… understanding what the Lord’s will is”. Paul’s basic admonition is to live wisely. To me, this begins with choosing well. Usually most decisions we make have a pause point where we consider our options. Second bowl of ice cream or not? Give her a second glance? Say the sarcastic comment? “Forget” to report that income? Help with that event next weekend? Life is full of moments when we come to that point. Paul’s advice is to choose well. That means choosing according to the good and pleasing will of God.

The second hurdle is making the most of every opportunity. What does it look like to “make the most”? It means going above and beyond. It means going a little deeper. It means not just giving the needy mom some formula and diapers, but also talking with her to see how we might help improve her situation, to see how our community of faith might surround and walk with her. It means saying “yes” to the whispers and nudges of the Holy Spirit.

When we choose wisely and according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, I think we are closing in on Paul’s third encouragement: understanding the will of God. When we choose to follow, we naturally gain understanding of God’s plan. Choosing not to sin or choosing to live life closely with another both connect us to God and deepen our understanding of how to best live out our faith. In doing so we also help others to understand who and what God is like and to see how faith could make a difference in their lives too.

Each day may we choose to live wisely in alignment with God’s will and purpose for each of us. May it be so to bring glory to God and to build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Fear the Lord

Reading: Psalm 111:10

Verse 10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.

To a degree we are all guided by fear. Fear helps us make many of our decisions. Sometimes fear is healthy. If I see a bear off in the distance when I am hiking, I will choose another path. If I fear high places, maybe I keep myself a little safer. If I fear failing my classes, I will make the choice to do my work and to study. In these cases, fear helps us avoid bad or harmful consequences. Fear can also do the opposite. Memories of my parents saying, “If your friend jumped off a bridge…”. Peer pressure is often driven by fears of rejection or being left out.

Verse ten reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. On the surface level, it seems odd to tie fearing God to gaining wisdom. The fear of God is not like a fear of spiders, where we avoid them at all costs. A fear of God is a healthy thing. Often in life we choose to face our fears because of our faith in God. For example, I can choose to do the right thing and possibly lose a friend or a client because I fear denying my faith when I cheat or lie or when I avoid speaking a difficult truth. I may choose to risk loving the other even though I fear being hurt or getting into a relationship that requires much energy and time. I do so because I fear what life would be like without love. Or I fear what will happen to that marginalized person if I remain silent more than I fear the consequences of speaking out against injustice or abuse. In each case, my fear of denying the nudges and whispers of God’s Spirit outweigh or override my personal fears.

The fear of God can help us correctly prioritize our lives. In our first fear is denying God, then our life will look robustly faithful. Our words and actions will be on the side of love and mercy and compassion and justice and forgiveness and the like. Understanding that God and the witness to our faith is our purpose in life is the beginning of wisdom. This day may we decide for God and His love. Amen.


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King

Reading: Mark 15: 1-15

Verse Five: “But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed”.

In our passage today, Jesus stands trial before Pilate. The religious leaders bind Jesus and bring Him to Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus a simple question: “Are you the king of the Jews”? Jesus gives a simple answer: “Yes, it is as you say”. Then the chief priests pile on the charges against Jesus. He remains silent in the face of all the accusations. They do not matter. Who and what He is has been established. What He came to do clearly lies ahead. All is going according to plan. So Jesus just stands there. Verse five reports, “But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed”.

In the same situation I think we would defend ourselves right up to the moment the nails we’re driven in. But not Jesus. The work is done. If one looks back over the course of His ministry, this fits the pattern. In all of His teachings, Jesus said what He wanted to say and left His hearers to make their own decision. Sometimes His words were encouraging, sometimes they were challenging. Sometimes they were loving, sometimes they were hard words of truth. But they were said and the rest was left up to the hearer. Jesus did not ever chase after someone who chose to walk away. He did not ever try to reword a parable so someone could understand it better.

So when Jesus stands before His accusers and Pilate, He is silent. The past three years give plenty of evidence as to who Jesus is. In the miracles we see divine power. In the teachings we see incomparable wisdom. In the parables we see the path to living for God. In the words of forgiveness we see what grace and mercy look like. Over all of this we see love. In the silence after we encounter Jesus each time, we too are left to decide. Do we follow closer or do we choose to remain where we are at? Do we engage and become a greater part of Jesus or do we remain on the edge of the crowd? Do we commit or do we wait and see what happens?

Over the cross on which Jesus died Pilate wrote these words: “King of the Jews”. It was one more silent testimony to who Jesus is. He desires to be our king as well. But there is no forcing or coersion. The choice is fully ours. Will we each choose to let Jesus be our King today?


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Walk in Light

Readings: Numbers 21:7-9 and John 3:14-21

Verse 19: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”.

Mankind has always wrestled with sin. Complaining against God and Moses led to snakes appearing, biting and killing people. The people repented and that is where our Numbers passage picks up. Because they repented, God lovingly provides a way for snake bitten people to live. To be saved, the people must look up.

In the passage from John, it speaks of living in darkness or living in light. When we choose to live in the darkness, we are always looking down. For practical purposes, it is to see our way in the dark. The emotional and spiritual analogy would be we look down because of our guilt or shame. When we instead choose to walk in the light, all us illuminated. Our path is clear to see and we carry no guilt or shame because the light reveals our sin and we repent of it in the light.

John presents a clear picture of the gift of salvation: for God so loved the world… He goes on to remind us that Jesus came into the world to save us, not to condemn us. Yet not all accept this. In verse nineteen John writes, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”. Some people continue to love darkness because they think their evil deeds are hidden. They are not – God sees just as well in the dark as He does in the light. But for those who are saved, they choose light. John writes, “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God”.

This day may we walk in the light so that all will see that we walk with God and that we live by the truth and light of Jesus.