pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Mercy

Reading: Romans 11: 1-2a and 29-32

Verse 29: God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.

Romans 11 deals with Israel, the people of God, and their rejection of Jesus as Messiah.  Paul writes from the perspective of one who used to be a very devout Jew but is now a follower of Jesus Christ.  He looks at the people he dearly loves, his fellow Jews, and is heartbroken that by and large they do not accept Jesus as the Messiah.  Through his own personal encounter with Jesus and his subsequent faith journey,  He knows Jesus intimately and he loves Jesus deeply.  Because of this, Paul wants all people to know Jesus as Lord – especially the chosen people of God, his own countrymen, his fellow Jews.

In today’s passage, Paul emphatically declares that God has not rejected the Jews.  Paul writes, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable”.  The call of God upon the Jews is irrevocable.  Since the beginning of time, God has been in relationship with this people.  In the beginning He walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden.  The conversation continued through Moses and Samuel and Elijah and… as God continued this relationship with His chosen people.  The conversation continued with Jesus, who was born of the chosen people, born from the line of David.

Paul then turns the conversation to present reality.  Because of the Jew’s rejection of Jesus (which Paul calls disobedience), the way was opened for the Gentiles to end their disobedience and to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  It was through God’s mercy that the relationship was extended beyond the chosen people.  For Paul, God’s mercy is still present, waiting for the Jews to respond.  God’s call to the chosen people is still in tact.  But to Paul, the tables have now been turned.  The people who were not chosen have accepted Jesus and through this merciful act of God, they now are called to minister to the Jews, “that they too may have mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you”.  In other words, because of the mercy they have received others may now receive it.  

Jesus commissioned all believers to go out and share the good news and to make disciples of all nations.  Part of the good news for us is the mercy we receive from God.  Paul saw the chosen people as one of many nations who needed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  There continues to be many who need to experience God’s mercy and to hear the good news.  Like Paul, who did all he could to share Jesus with others, may we too do all we can to help others know Jesus and God’s mercy.


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Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse One: How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

The Psalm for today is written to a community.  It may be to a specific congregation or group of people or it may be to all the Israelites.  It is believed that at the time of the writing, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms and the psalmist wrote this Psalm to try and help unite the two kingdoms.

Whether it is a sports team or a book club, a family or an office staff, a congregation or a nation, the goal and hope is always unity and peace.  Our Psalm today opens with “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”!  This is indeed true!  Unity and peace are signs of love and togetherness.  The image of oil being poured out in the Psalm represents God’s blessings being poured down.  The dew represents well-being and is also a connection to God’s blessings.  It is God’s plan and intent for creation to get along – from the two friends to the couple to the family to the neighbors to the community to the nation to the world.  To live in peace and unity and love and harmony is God’s intent.  If we all loved neighbor as Jesus first loved us then God’s intent would be our reality.

Although this is God’s intent, there is no shortage of conflict in our lives and world.  Much of it is interpersonal.  Society’s bent towards individualism and self-gratification pits one against another in the battle for power and status and wealth.  In the larger society there is much tension between groups of people as well as between nations.  One only has to look at Charlottesville and North Korea to see the seeds of hatred and bigotry and mistrust and evil.

If God’s intent is unity, as followers of Jesus Christ, what is our role to play in bringing unity to our world?  It begins by loving all we meet as Christ loves us.  Loving and seeing as Jesus loved and saw leads us to stand up for what is right, to stand against what is wrong, and to seek to bring peace and justice and unity and love into all situations we find ourselves in.  We are to be the light and love.  We are to bring peace and hope.  May it begin in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches, and in our worlds.


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Beautiful Feet

Reading: Romans 10: 14-16

Verse 16: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.

Paul has just built his case for what one must do to be saved: believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord”.  In verse 13 Paul writes, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  It is a faith that is offered to all people.  This echoes Jesus’ commission to bring the good news to all nations.  God’s love and saving grace are for all peoples in all places.

Today’s passage shifts to some realities that make most Christians a bit uncomfortable.  In our minds, yes, we all know that the Great Commission applies to all followers of Jesus Christ.  We are all called to proclaim the good news.  Today, Paul gives us a series of questions to consider.  First, how can anyone call on someone they do not believe in?  If one does not believe in Jesus then they will never experience salvation.  This is a matter of great eternal consequence.  It is imperative that all people have the opportunity to call on Jesus for salvation.

Paul then asks how one can believe without hearing of Jesus Christ.  It is indeed very hard to believe in someone you have never heard of or understand.  So all must hear the good news and come to understand what Jesus offers.  Then Paul asks how someone could hear without someone else speaking.  Again, if we do not tell others the good news of Jesus Christ then it is very unlikely that they will hear.  Paul then says that we each must be sent in order to tell.  Jesus’ parting words to all of us was to go and make disciples of all nations.  We are sent.  Each Sunday we close worship with a benediction – a reminder to the people of God to go out and bring Jesus to the world – to go forth to love and serve the Lord our God.

Paul closes with these words: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news”.  He is quoting from the prophet Isaiah, who lived hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth.  Isaiah’s statement remains true.  The good news is still the good news.  All need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  Do you want beautiful feet today?


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Anything

Reading: Romans 9: 1-5

Verse Three: For I could wish that myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.

Paul writes of the sorrow and anguish he feels because his fellow Jews, his brothers, have rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  Paul initially rejected Jesus too.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection Paul, then known as Saul, was one of the greatest persecutors of the new Christian faith.  But after his face-to-face with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was converted and became one of the greatest evangelists ever.  His conversion brought him great joy and peace in his life.

Yet he would willingly give all of this up for his people, the Israelites, who refuse to accept Jesus as Lord.  He writes, “For I could wish that myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers”.  Paul is ready to give up the best thing that ever happened to him so that the Jewish people could come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It pains him greatly that the chosen people reject Jesus.

On our own faith journeys we too will encounter people who reject Jesus.  Many will choose to walk away from the faith of their childhood.  We may have family members and know close friends who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.  For many a parent it is a very painful experience to have a child choose to live without Jesus in their life.  For those we have a deep personal relationship with, it is indeed painful to think of one we love missing out on the joy and peace and mercy and forgiveness and all else we have, nevermind the eternal consequences.

In this many of us are like Paul.  We would give anything, even our own faith, to see ‘that’ person or persons accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  We pray for them, we try and share our faith with them, we do all we can.  Lord God, may our work be fruitful in bringing those we love into relationship with you.


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In All Things

Reading: Romans 8: 31-39

Verse 37: In all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Paul opens our passage with a great question.  He asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us”?  He opens this section with a question and the answer leads to his first point.  That point is that if God have His only Son then He will certainly give us anything else we need too.  God is our ultimate good Father who will give us all good things because He loves us.

The next question, who will condemn, is asked in a similar way – to set up the answer.  It is a legitimate question because in our lives we do much that deserves condemnation from a God who is perfect in all ways.  But condemnation is not what we receive.  Instead we receive forgiveness and love.  Instead of being condemned by the one who was without sin, we are defended by Jesus.  Jesus intercedes for us before the Father.  He who has walked in our shoes speaks up for us in heaven.

The third question has the best answer.  Paul asks, “Who will separate us from the love of God”?  The answer is quite a list.  In reality the answer is nothing can separate us.  Paul lists some of the common things that can separate us – persecution, famine, danger, nakedness, death, demons, worry about the future.  Tying back into our recent parables, these are the thorns and weeds along our path.  Yet when we remain faithful and keep our hope and trust in God, we find that nothing can separate us from the love of God we find in Jesus Christ.  It is a deep and eternal love.  It is an everlasting and encompassing love.  It is a love for which I am very grateful.

The God who is for us, the God who gives forgiveness instead of condemnation, brings us victory.  “In all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us”.  Thank you God for the victory.


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Gardeners and Bakers

Reading: Matthew 13: 31-33

Verses 31 and 33: The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed… like yeast.

Our two parables today are seemingly about something small – a tiny mustard seed and some yeast.  These two parables follow two others.  One is about the receptivity and sticking power of a seed of faith and the other about the weeds of sin that can grow in people’s lives.  Taken in the context of the today’s parables, the previous two are all about the planting of a small seed as well.

Just as the tiny mustard seed becomes a large tree that gives shelter and rest to many, the tiny yeast works its way through the whole batch of dough, causing it all to rise.  These are like the good seeds planted in the good soil that produce a crop 100, 60, or 30 times what was sown.  Satan’s “bad” seeds also work the same way – producing a crop that must be bundled at harvest time.

This brings us to two questions.  First, how are we planting seeds or being yeast?  Second, what kinds of seed or yeast are we planting or mixing in?  Like the sower and the baker, we are called to work in and through all areas of our lives – at work, at home, at church, on the ball field, in the restaurant… – and with all we meet all the time.  Like the mustard seed, we are called to offer even the smallest of kind words or the simplest act of kindness, trusting that God can do a mighty work through any act of love or kindness or grace or mercy or … that we can offer.  How? Any place, any size, any time.

Hopefully we are choosing to sow good seeds and to act as good yeast.  In our simple and small acts and words we want others to see Jesus.  If we are all-in, 24/7 Christians then we are like the yeast – permeating all aspects of our own lives with our faith as well as permeating the lives of those we cross paths with each day.  What kind?  The kind that speaks love.  The kind that Jesus spoke.

The small seeds and the simple leavening yeast bear witness to the love of Jesus Christ in us and to the love He wants to share with the whole world.  May we be good gardeners and bakers today.


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Intercessor One

Reading: Romans 8: 26-39

Verse 26: We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.

Paul knew that we, as humans, are weak.  He knew from his own faith journey that living the life of faith cannot be done on our own.  Through his own life, Paul has discovered that the Holy Spirit is an essential part of one’s faith.  It is only through the power and presence of the Spirit in the life of a believer that one can overcome our human weaknesses.

A key role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives is that of intercessor.  The Spirit works as an advocate for us, coming before God with prayers on our behalf.  When we do not know what to pray for or how to put our mess into words, then the Spirit takes over.  Verse 26 speaks of this: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us”.  In this way, the Holy Spirit is always bringing our needs before the throne of God.

The second way the Spirit prays for us begins with God searching our hearts.  In doing so, our weaknesses and shortcomings are revealed and the Spirit prays for these “in accordance with the will of God”.  In this way the Spirit helps to form and shape us into the person God created us to be.  Through this prayerful transformation process, we grow to become more like Jesus, the image of God.  As our faith grows and we become more mature in our faith, we become justified through the saving work of Jesus.  In our humanity we will always be weak.  Therefore we will stumble and fall now and then.  In these moments, the love of God again enters in and we are made righteous by His grace.  It is through Jesus that our weakness is made spiritually strong.  Through all of this the Holy Spirit continues to lift us up in prayer, to bring our needs before God, and to reveal in us what needs to conform more to the likeness of Christ.  Thank you God for the gift of the Holy Spirit.