pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love and Peace

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13

Verse 11: “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace”.

After being a missionary to Corinth and helping to establish a church there, Paul writes two letters to them. They have become known as a church that fights a lot amongst themselves. Much of what Paul writes about in 1st and 2nd Corinthians centers around loving one another and being one with Jesus Christ and each other. I suspect there is a church or two today who would benefit from reading and working through these two books.

In his closing of the second letter, Paul writes these words: “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace”. There are four parts to this directive. The first, aiming for perfection, means going after the bullseye. In a church this would be to establish genuine love for the gospel of Jesus Christ and for one another. This means really serving as Jesus served. That is where love is most clearly shown. That means that most of your faith is practiced outside the walls of the church. It also means that you are willing to sacrifice for one another. The second part is to listen to Paul’s appeal – the things he taught when with them and the things he wrote in the two letters. These would cover living into the new covenant, being generous with both the church and in forgiveness of each other, and to endure suffering with joy and faith. Being a Christian is not easy. Paul definitely knows this from his own experience. But he also knows that true life awaits those who live with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That is Paul’s ultimate appeal.

The third part of Paul’s directive is to be of one mind. He does not mean that everyone has to think exactly alike. Paul often refers to having the mind of Christ and that is what he is leaning into here. Focus on being like Jesus, on seeing and understanding the world as he did. It means loving all people – even sinners. It means ministering to all people – even the ones on the fringes. It means welcoming all people – even those not just like us. Paul then closed with the command to live in peace. Accept one another – quirks, uniqueness, oddities, differences, and all. Each has their own gifts and ways they live out the gospel. Paul wants them to make sacred space for all who are a part of the body of Christ. All have things to contribute that make the church better.

Paul also reminds them of what happens when they practice these directives. The love and peace of God will reign down upon them and their church. Just as all churches are, the one in Corinth was a work in progress. All of our churches are. May the Lord bless you and your church as he did Paul and the church in Corinth. May you walk faithfully as a child of God today.

Prayer: Loving God, today may your Holy Spirit guide me to obediently walk with you. May I seek to do my best, to hear you whispers, to feel your nudges, to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. May it be so. Amen.


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Blessings to Praise

Reading: Psalm 119: 1-8

Verse 7: “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous ways”.

Psalm 119 is a very long, long song of praise. The song speaks of the joy found in faithful living. For the Israelites this revolved around the covenants and their relationship with God. To live faithfully brought both joy and blessings to their lives. The psalmist uses the word “blessed” twice in the opening verses. The blessings come when one walks according to the law of the Lord and when one seeks God with all their heart. The blessings are not worldly but are spiritual. The simple presence of God in one’s life and the maturing of one’s faith are the blessings that come through obedient and faithful living.

As Christians we add another layer to this idea of faithful and obedient living. Adding to and fulfilling the Old Testament commandments and bringing a new covenant into the mix, Jesus provides us the best example to follow concerning obedience to God and faithful living in this world. Like our lives, Jesus’ life was not always happiness and hugs. He experienced times of trial and suffering. Jesus had times of grief and sadness. Jesus felt the sting of rejection and the challenge of those who read and interpreted scripture differently than he did. In all cases, though, Jesus consistently looked first to God and not to his own wisdom or strength or to the ways of man. Whether in the moment during ministry or alone on a hillside in prayer, God was always present to and in Jesus’ life. God desires the same relationship with you and with me. Following obediently and living faithfully leads to a close, intimate, personal relationship with God. This is the same blessing that the psalmist speaks of in Psalm 119.

In verse seven we read of the psalmist’s response. Here we read, “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous ways”. What a joyful response to God’s blessings! This should be our response as well. Our praise can be in worship. It can be in a prayer. It can be in serving another. It can be in walking with someone through their grief or trial. There are many ways to praise the Lord. This day may we seek to be obedient and faithful servants, taking Christ to all we encounter today.

Prayer: Lord God, there is no better journey than the one I walk with you. Whether life is awesome or as bad as it can get, your abiding presence is my constant companion. Help me to walk faithfully all of my days, offering all of me as a fragrant offering to you. May it be so. Amen.


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Now Choose Life

Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

Verses 19-20: “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”.

Nearing the end of his life Moses addresses the people one last time. As much as anyone, he has lived “life and prosperity, death and destruction” with the people of God. He has been their mediator and communicator with God. He has worked and worked to get the people to the edge of the Promised Land. In the previous chapter in Deuteronomy they have renewed the covenant and in our passage today Moses urges them to choose obedience to God.

Verse sixteen is the call to obedience: “walk in his ways… keep his commands, decrees, and laws”. Doing so leads to good life, an increase in numbers, and God’s blessings. In verse seventeen Moses details what happens when one turns away from God. Moses defines turning away as being drawn away from God and bowing down to others gods. The consequence is dire: “you will certainly be destroyed”. Given such a stark difference in outcomes, who in the world would choose the second? Well, the world chooses disobedience. The Israelites did in Moses’ day and we continue to do so today. I think that we have more gods than ever to bow down to today.

Moses then calls on heaven and earth as the witnesses to the choices the Israelites will make. The choice is simple: “life or death, blessings or curses”? It seems so simple. But Moses has been around these stubborn, stiff-necked people for forty years now. He has observed how difficult obedience is. Again, it is at least as difficult today. Yet Moses has hope, both in God and for the people. He compels them towards obedience, saying, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”. May this be our choice as well. May we love God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are life. In all else there is but death. Yet sometimes I choose other than you. My thoughts and words and sometimes even my actions can be of the world. I am weak. But you are strong. Bend me ever towards loving obedience. Fill me with your Spirit. Amen.


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God’s First Love

Reading: Micah 6: 1-3

Verse 2: “The Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge”.

God is a god of relationship. All of the covenants, the agreements that give structure to the Bible, are all about living in right relationship with God. The fuel of relationship is love. We can see how love fuels a relationship when we look at marriage or parenting. In a marriage covenant we pledge to love no matter what – in sickness, in poverty… When we assume the role of parent we commit to loving our children unconditionally, no matter what they do or do not do. These models are human versions of the covenant love that God has for each of us, his children. But even these human models are lacking. The greatest marriage ever, for example, pales in comparison to God’s love for us.

In the opening verses of Micah 6 we can see that God is not happy. God calls on Israel to “plead your case”. He is calling them to task because they are failing miserably at their side of the covenant relationship. We have all had friendships and even relationships that have not lasted. Maybe it was because of them, maybe it was because of us, maybe it was both. One or both sides came to the conclusion that the relationship was not worth the effort to keep it sustainable. So the friendship or relationship ended. We have also all had or have friendships or relationships that we have invested in and developed and grown over time. They are so valued by us that we will even risk calling the other out when they are lacking in effort or commitment. In those cases we are saying that we love deeply enough to risk calling the other out.

In verse two today we read, “The Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge”. Israel has not been keeping up their part of the covenant. God is calling them to task. It is a love that is unconditional so God calls on the mountains as witnesses to the case. They have been silent witnesses since the beginning of creation as the relationship between God and humanity has unfolded. The people Israel have been disobedient and God is calling them out. The relationship that is life-giving has become like a burden to the people. They have forgotten their first love. God has not forgotten. God never forgets us, his first love.

Prayer: Lord of all, as I think about this passage, I look within and I search for times when I have not loved you fully, for times when I have been disobedient. I find them too easily. And yet you love me, you call out to me. Against me too you could bring a charge. But you don’t. Help me to bring mercy and love to those who I could bring a charge. Make me more like you. Amen.


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Awaiting God’s Work

Reading: Haggai 2: 6-9

Verses 6 and 9: “I will once more shake the heavens and earth… and in this place I will grant peace”.

Haggai continues to address the people on God’s behalf. He has just encouraged them to be strong, to have courage, and to remember God’s covenant to be with them. In today’s reading, the prophet continues to help the people know the end game that God has planned. They were worrying that the rebuilt temple would not measure up to Solomon’s temple. Into their worry God says, “I will fill this place with glory”. God also reminds them that all the silver and gold belong to God – they will have whatever they need to complete their efforts.

Through Haggai God also speaks to the future. God pronounces, “I will once more shake the heavens and earth”. God will be at work. Yes, change is on the horizon, but God is in the midst of it all. God will shake things up for the better. We read that the new glory will be greater than the glory of the former. I can’t but help that this applies to the church today. With an uncertain future we need to trust that God’s plans are for the good and that whatever God creates, it will be for God’s glory. The passage today closes with these words: “And in this place I will grant peace”. May it be so. In my heart and in the hearts of the faithful, may God’s peace reign as we await the work of the Lord Almighty.

Prayer: Lord, on those days when I feel more anxiety and worry over the future, reassure me. I know that you are in control and that your plans are for good. Whisper those truths into my heart and mind when the clouds arise. Plant my hope for the future in you alone. Amen.


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The Embodiment

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

God is a God of perfect love. Through that perfect love we are forgiven and made new over and over again. We, humanity, are far from perfect. We struggle to always be faithful to God, breaking our relationship with God again and again. If we were involved in a relationship with a person that displayed these same dynamics, the relationship would end quickly. Thankfully, God is the God of perfect love.

In our reading from Jeremiah, God promises Israel that a new covenant is coming. A covenant is an absolute agreement. A covenant says I will keep my side of the agreement no matter what you do or do not do with your side. In the old covenant God said ‘I’ll love Israel whatever they do or do not do’. The nation of Israel pledged faithful obedience and love to God. At times the Israelites generally kept the covenant, but this was not their norm. Yet God still loved them and remained their God. A time came, however, when something new must come about. At the time of Jeremiah 31, the new birth was about 600 years away.

The new covenant will be different. In verse 32 God reveals that the new will not be like the old. In the new covenant God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. The new will not be based on just the words on stone tablets or on scroll after scroll of parchment. Instead, it will first be lived out amongst humanity. Then, looking at Jesus, one will see what obedience to God looks like. Through Jesus’ example people will know what the intent of all the laws are: to love God with all that one is and to love neighbor just as Jesus loved us. But we do not just have an example. Believers in Jesus Christ also receive a deposit, a gift: the Holy Spirit. The embodiment of God’s laws and ways and love comes to reside in each of us. In verse 33, again God says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. God does so with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Loving and forgiving God, I do not know where I would be without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I read and meditate on your word. I pray daily and worship regularly. But the whisper or the nudge is that first line of defense – leading, guiding, correcting, convicting. Thank you for this awesome gift! Amen.


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Mediator

Reading: Hebrews 12: 18-24

Verses 23-24: “You have come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”.

Verses 18-21 remind us of many people’s image of the God of the Old Testament. God was seen as frightening and distant, as angry and vengeful. Even Moses, the one who talked with God and glowed after being in God’s presence, at times trembled with fear. The covenant established in the desert with Moses and the Israelites became a hard and fast set of rules to follow. To a large degree, the rules were followed out of fear and out of the desire to avoid upsetting God.

The vision shifts in verse 22. The writer of Hebrews reminds the people of the new covenant that we have “come to Mount Zion, to the new Jerusalem, to the city of the living God”. Many angels sing praises of joy to God. The righteous have been made perfect. There, the faithful have “come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”. Through the gifts of his body and blood, Jesus Christ himself replaced the old covenant that required sacrifices to atone for sin and to find forgiveness. Jesus was and is and ever will be the atoning sacrifice for sins. And he is the mediator. Jesus stands between us and God. Jesus stands in our defense, in our place even. Jesus walked the earth. He knows our trials and our struggles. He knows our pains and hurts. In the person and Spirit of Jesus, God has become a very personal and loving God. We now follow out of love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for being willing to do so much for me. You took on flesh, becoming weak and poor. You walked the earth, giving us an example of God’s love. Then you gave your life for our sake. You gave so much. Help me to give to others this day and every day. Amen.


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A Great Love

Reading: Hosea 1:10

Verse 10: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”.

The people of Israel and Judah have separated and Israel has departed from God. God has decided to mercilessly send them into exile. The sins of idolatry are so great that a consequence is required. The people are no longer God’s people and God is not their God. At times we too get to a place that feels like this. Because of our sin we have created separation from God.

In today’s passage we find hope. God reveals through Hosea that Israel will be restored. The separation will not be forever. God begins by telling them that they will be as vast as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted. This image and these words echo the covenant that God made with Abraham. It speaks of a day when Israel will be a vast nation.

God also connects back to the reference to Jezreel. What had once been a place and event that was displeasing to God will now be where the restoration begins: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”. Once again Israel will live in covenant relationship with God. The relationship will come full circle. Israel will once again be God’s children and God will be their God.

At the start of the book of Hosea Israel was so far from God’s ways that a harsh consequence was necessary. Even though the sin was this great, God did not give up on them or forever abandon them. God did not stop loving his children. The message for us is the same.

Although our sin might be great, God will never stop loving us. It is that great love that gives us hope. It is a love that never fails. Therefore, whatever we might do, whatever we might become, there is still a God who loves us. There is still a God who wants to bring us back into right relationship. For us, for you and for me, God even went so far as to amend the sacrificial system. It cost God his son on the cross. Now, through Jesus’ blood, we can personally be restored and redeemed. It is a great love that never fails. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your love for me is amazing. No matter what I do, no matter how far I run, no matter what, your love always calls out to me, ever seeks to restore me, ever yearns to make me righteous again. Thank you for your love. Amen.


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A Season of Sin

Reading: Hosea 1: 1-10

Verse 2: “The land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord”.

Hosea is a prophet that lived during the divided kingdom. Israel and Judah are separate nations, each with their own king. Hosea first preached in Israel and then, after they fell into captivity, he preached in Judah. The king of Israel had instituted idol worship and the people became unfaithful to God in every way. Their relationship with God was in tatters.

God calls Hosea and instructs him to marry Gomer, who is a harlot or prostitute. This marriage represents God’s relationship with Israel. They are running around with false gods. They have chosen to step outside of the loving, covenant relationship that God offers in exchange for the worldly worship of idols. Israel had turned to the things of this world and the emptiness that it brings. Yet God remains present and longs for his people to return. In our world many have turned to things other than God. At times we too choose to turn from the things of God. We can pursue the power and wealth and popularity that the world dangles in front of us. We can chase after things that lead us away from our relationship with God.

Hosea and Gomer have children. These children’s names each have meaning. The first is Jezreel. This is a bloody massacre that occurred in the past that was displeasing to God. The idol worship and related letting of much blood is now displeasing to God. Their daughter is named Lo- Ruhamah, which means ‘no mercy’. God will not show mercy now. The people will be defeated and taken off into exile. Israel will experience the consequence of their sins. The third child is named Lo-Ammi, which translates to ‘not my people’. Because of their sin, there will be separation. Israel will not be God’s people and he will not be their God. God’s patience appears to have come to an end.

When we allow temptation to lead us to sin, we too have a moment or season when we do not deserve God’s mercy. When we are willfully living in sin, we cannot receive God’s mercy. In those moments or seasons of sinful living we too have stepped outside of our covenant relationship. It is a cold and dark place to be. It is a place we can find ourselves at times, but it is not a place we must remain. Our faithful God waits patiently, continues to love us, longs for us to repent and to come back into right relationship. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, stories like today’s are hard to read. They are hard to read because they point out a reality that can be our lives too. Sin is ever at the door. Help me, O God, to ever turn from sin and towards you. Amen.


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Kingdom of Love

Reading: Amos 7: 10-17

Verse 15: “The Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people'”.

Our passage today is overcast. Amos has bad news to deliver and the people receiving it do not receive it well. The one who represents power, Amaziah the priest, basically tells Amos to be quiet and to go home to Judah. The powers that be do not want to hear that King Jeroboam will die and that Israel is headed off into exile. It is just not good news. At least not for Jeroboam and his allies.

In a general sense, today’s passage is a good representation of the Old Testament cycle. The cycle is: God’s people fall into sin, God sends a prophet, the people usually continue to sin, God brings punishment, they eventually repent. Once in a long while the king and people heed the warning. Most often, though, the pattern follows today’s reading. The sin begins with the king or leader and trickles down from there. For most, that means that life becomes more pleasurable, more fun, less rule bound. To hear Amos say that God is bringing their worldly lifestyle to an end is not good news for most of Israel. It is not surprising that they tell Amos to hush up and get on back to Judah. Things are not any better there. Under King Uzziah they are worshipping foreign gods and have abandoned the law of God. Amos has prophesied that fire will consume Jerusalem. They too have become followers of the world.

This cycle that includes a heaping dose of doom and gloom is a reason that many do not like to delve deep into the Old Testament. These is a lot of violence and punishment and death. Many, many prophets come to speak to the kings and to the people as God attempts to bring them back into covenant living. We cannot miss the fact that this is always God’s purpose, always God’s main desire. The prophet’s words, as is the case in today’s passage, are hard to hear and are rejected. Yet these words are not bad news to everyone.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”? This has long been true. God has always been a caring and good and benevolent God. The poor, the widows, the outcast, the marginalized have always had a special place in God’s world. These are the ones who would hear Amos’ words as good news. As the nation returns to walking in God’s ways, life gets better for these. Injustice and abuses of power lessen. Hearts and hands become more generous. The kingdom of love returns. This is good news for today too. May we ponder and live into our role in this kingdom of love.

Prayer: Lord, when I am faithful and walking closely with you, I see and feel the world differently. It is a world filled with more love. Help that to be my world today and every day, O God of love. Amen.