pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Holy, Just, Loving

Reading: Joshua 24: 14-25

Verse 18: “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”.

I closed yesterday’s writing with Joshua’s declaration that he and his house would serve the Lord. The words of this verse still echo in my mind as a song that was frequently sung at Promise Keepers events. It has been 12 or more years since I attended a PK event, but the song is still fresh in my mind. For me, this powerful song was like the unofficial official PK song. From Joshua’s personal declaration for God, he hears the people respond, “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”. Recognizing the mighty acts of God found in their exodus stories, the people commit to the Lord. But was it like that old PK song – thousands of men joined in because others were singing?

In response Joshua tells them, “You are not able to serve the Lord”. Huh? These words from Joshua must have been confusing. He goes on to explain his thinking: “He is a holy God… a jealous God”. This is one of those “are you sure?” moments. Joshua reminds them of who God is: holy and just. He reminds them that God will “bring disaster” on them if they forsake God and turn to idols. The people reiterate their pledge to serve the Lord – not once but twice more in our passage. The days ends with Joshua making a covenant and drawing up the law. Both are intended to help the people fulfill their pledge of faithfulness to God.

This pledge is made with the deepest sincerity possible. The people really, really intend to follow God faithfully. This scenario probably sounds familiar. It is my pledge every morning. Is it yours too? We are just like the people of Israel in this sense: we mean to do our best to faithfully follow the Lord each day. We really, really do. Some days we do follow the Lord faithfully – living out our faith well for almost the whole day. And some days we struggle. 2020 had a few more of those days for many of us. God is still holy and just. So why doesn’t he “bring disaster” on us? Why don’t lightning bolts rain down from heaven each time one of us sins?

Well, because of love. Love came and walked among us. And when Jesus returned to heaven, he left us grace and mercy and atonement for our sins. Day by day, sometimes even moment by moment, we live in his grace. Confession and repentance are always as close as our next breath. As we speak these words with a sincere heart, over and over, we are washed clean and made new again, over and over. Then we are ready to again declare our faithfulness and to renew our journey with our holy and just and loving God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for your love. It is a love that keeps calling me back into right relationship with you. No matter how many times I fail. Thank you for your grace. It is a gift that always says your love is greater than my sin. No matter how great my sin. Thank you for the atonement paid for me. Through Christ, disaster is averted because the price has already been paid. Talk about love. Guide me today, Lord, as I seek to serve you alone. Amen.


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Vows to All Peoples

Reading: Psalm 116: 12-19

Verse 14: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”.

Today’s reading begins with a question: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me”? It is a good question to consider. The psalmist’s answer is the fulfillment of his vows to the Lord. Like the psalmist, we too are in relationship with God. And like all relationships, this relationship with God involves a commitment and some expectations. In verse thirteen the psalmist begins his answer to this question. He begins by lifting the cup of salvation – a way to acknowledge and be thankful for the eternal nature of his relationship with God. He continues by committing to call upon the Lord. Today we would spell out this commitment as t-i-m-e. The psalmist is committing to conversation with God. The giving of time often defines the level of commitment that we have to a relationship.

Verses fourteen and seventeen are the same. Both read, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”. For the psalmist that involved thank offerings and praising God in the temple. Our vows certainly involve our worship and our gratitude too. Now, we may not initially think of our relationship with God or with Jesus as having vows. But when we confess and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are making a statement that has some vows attached. When we ask Jesus to be the Lord of our life, we are asking him to be in charge, to be #1 in everything. In doing so we are pledging to place our will, our desires, our all second to his will, his desires… We are vowing to love the Lord above all else in our lives. When we make that vow we are committing to walk as Jesus’ disciple or follower. This vow entails doing what he did – loving God and neighbor with all that we are and with all that we have.

Part of the psalmist’s vow was to fulfill his vow to all of God’s people. All are children of God. Yes, perhaps some do not realize this, but they are still children of God. This is how Jesus fulfilled his vows to God. For the psalmist this would include the tribes and clans outside the nation of Israel. For Jesus that would mean loving the leper, the Samaritans, the blind and lame, the possessed, the sinners… Who might that be for you? Jesus said that we would be known by our love. What unexpected person will you extend love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the person in need of love that I meet today. Help me to see as you see, to maybe see something or someone that I might normally miss. Break my heart to respond, O Lord. Amen.


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May Love Guide

Reading: Matthew 5: 17-20

Verse 17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets… but to fulfill them”.

What does Jesus mean by “to fulfill them”? The Law and the Prophets all had the same basic function: to teach us how to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Beginning with the first laws, for example, this has always been the case. The first part of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship with God and the rest deals with our relationship with each other. In choosing the word “fulfill” though, Jesus is not implying simply following the letter of the Law, but is hinting at how we also fully live out the intent of the Laws.

As the rest of the Sermon on the Mount unfolds, this is just what Jesus does. He begins with “Do not murder” in the next section. Jesus explains that there is so much more to this law than just not killing someone. Jesus, in essence, begins long before this step and tells us that being angry with another or speaking words of contempt put us in danger of “the fire of hell”. When we allow these evils in our heart, Jesus says we are already on the road to murder. It may not end in physical death but maybe it does end in emotional or relational death. All of this violates the rule of love that is supposed to be how one is identified as a disciple of Jesus Christ and as a child of God.

In the rest of the Sermon, Jesus unpacks laws relating to adultery, divorce, honesty, revenge, loving our enemies, giving, prayer, fasting… Each and every one has the same focus. God’s intent is not just the words on the paper but it is more. The Law and the Prophets should lead us into deeper relationship with God and one another. To get to this place, one must allow the words we find in the Bible to become the way we love, see, interact, and treat God and each other at the heart level. Please take some time today to read through to the end of Matthew 7, understanding how Jesus unpacks many more laws.

We fulfill God’s plan by loving unconditionally, by loving just as Jesus first loved us. As we read and seek to understand our Bibles, seeking to discern how to model our lives after our Savior, may love be our guide.

Prayer: God of love, I’ve heard it said that if I do not have love, I am just a clanging cymbal. I’ve heard it said that love can conquer a multitude of sins. I’ve heard it said that if I am your disciple others will know me by my love. May it be so. Amen.


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The Light Remains

Reading: Matthew 4: 12-17

Verse 17: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”.

Our passage begins with some news that signals a transition. Two events have already occurred to facilitate this transition. As the voice in the desert continues to preach a baptism of repentance, Jesus is baptized and then spends his time in the wilderness. Both of these events were preparing him to begin his public ministry. As John the Baptist is arrested, there is now space for the one to whom John always pointed. What was is passing on and the new is taking its place.

To begin his ministry, Jesus moves to Galilee, to a town that would be his base for ministry. Capernaum is located on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. This location is a bit removed from Jerusalem and the southern half of Israel. It is adjacent to Samaria. At times it will be a place of refuge for Jesus and his disciples. But as his ministry begins, Jesus announces a different reason for being there. It is according to God’s plan. Quoting from a prophet that spoke 700 years prior, Jesus announces that he has come to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: he is the light that shines into the darkness.

Just as John had done, Jesus picks up the call to follow God and to walk in his ways. Jesus’ initial theme echoes John’s message. Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. The focus is now fully on Jesus as the light begins to shine out into the world. In him, the kingdom has drawn near. The Messiah, the Christ has come. The Good Shepherd has arrived to tend the flock of lost sheep.

The light remains with us, continuing to shine light into the darkness in our lives and in the world. Jesus remains present, healing and restoring the broken, reaching out to the lost, guiding us as we walk the narrow way. The Christ, the light, is here. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my light in the darkness, my hope in times of despair. Thank you for your abiding presence and gentle guidance. Thank you for pulling me back when I drift, for redeeming me when I slip. Ever be my light! 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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Open and Obedient

Reading: Acts 16: 9-10

Verses 9-10: “Paul had a vision… ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’… We got ready at once”.

The book of Acts is the story of the growth and building of the early church. In today’s passage Paul receives a vision from God, calling him to go to Macedonia. The man asks him to come and “help us”. Paul is an apostle who preaches the good news of Jesus Christ. He is also a tent maker who practices his trade to support his missionary efforts. When Paul receives a call from God, it is not to make tents or to mow lawns or to paint houses or to fix roofs or to sort clothing. Paul is sent to do what he does best – to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

You and I probably won’t have such visions. We might. But we are more likely to be nudged or whispered to by the Holy Spirit. God remains just as active today as He was in Paul’s day. God continues to lead and guide His people to humbly share the good news and to serve others. It might be to mow a lawn or to paint a house or to fix a roof or to sort some clothing. The way God nudges or whispers can also come in many forms. It can be in a conversation with another, in an observation as we pass by or consider a situation, in an invitation from a stranger or friend to help them with an opportunity to serve.

After Paul receives his vision, “we got ready at once”. There was no delaying, there was no procrastination, there was no fear or doubt. “We got ready at once”. God called, they responded. Immediately. They were ready to fulfill the mission that God had given them. Paul and his companions began the journey to Macedonia so that they could “preach the gospel to them”.

Paul’s vision and our nudges… have some common threads. First, it is a call from God to share His love. Second, it is God asking us to respond as a humble servant, seeking to bring God glory and to make His name known. To accomplish the mission, we, like Paul, must be open to hearing God (or feeling the nudge…). Then we must be obedient to respond in faith and in trust. When we step out in faith we find that, like Paul, God will lead and guide us well, walking step by step with us. May we be open to God’s call and obedient to follow. May both be true each day.

Prayer: Jehovah God, you provide over and over. This day, when I feel the nudge or hear the call, may I respond faithfully and obediently. May I step forward, trusting in your love and care. Amen.


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Obedience

Reading: John 13:31-35

Verse 31: “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him”.

Jesus’ ministry on earth was all about glorifying God. In the miracles Jesus brought glory to God. In His words that were full of wisdom from above, Jesus glorified God. As the gospel of John works towards its conclusion, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him”. The Son will be glorified when God brings Him out of the tomb. God is glorified when the Son goes to the cross to fulfill the Father’s plan. Through an act of obedience Jesus glorifies God. It is through our acts of obedience that we too glorify God.

Jesus’ act of obedience is a bit more than most of us could offer. While the reality is that someone will probably be martyred today, it is an obedience most of us will only have to ponder. Yet in our day to day lives our smaller acts of obedience accomplish the same purpose – to bring glory to God. Each time we offer a simple act of kindness or do something unexpected for another, then the other sees the light of Christ in us. That reveals the glory of God.

Throughout our day today we will each feel nudges or hear whispers from the Holy Spirit, calling us to action. If we are obedient to the lead and guide of the Spirit, then our words or actions will bring glory to God. Often we are faced with a simple choice in these moments. The choice often puts self against God and the other. We can easily try and trick ourselves into thinking we are too busy or that the cost is too great or… Excuses are much easier than obedience. Yet what Jesus modeled and what God calls us to is obedience. It is not a pick and choose obedience but a full time commitment. That is the one that Christ offers to us. May we return the blessing today by offering our all in all to God, being obedient to the point of dying to self so that we can live for Jesus.

Prayer: God, I know most is not all. Being obedient most of the time is where I usually find myself. Move me closer to you and away from me today so that I can walk step by step with you. May it be so. Amen.


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Come… Come and Hear

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-5

Verse 1: “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”!

To the world, our passage today sounds just as strange as it did to Isaiah’s audience. In our culture, nothing is free – at least nothing of value is free. Our culture values power and status and possessions – things that can be counted and that can be compared to our neighbors and teammates and office mates. Hard work and talent are what brings success and the new car, house, boat, phone… Free? Why would you want anything that is free?

The Israelites hear Isaiah’s words from another viewpoint. They sit in a Jerusalem that has just been destroyed. The walls, the gates, the temple lie in ruins. The best of the people have been hauled off into exile and those left behind sit on a rubble heap. They have absolutely no material wealth. They are in dire straits. To these Isaiah comes and invites them to drink and eat. The people have no money to buy from him. To their surprise what he has to offer is free. Isaiah proclaims, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! Isaiah goes on to offer what they need most, saying, “Listen to me… eat what is good… your soul will delight in the richest of fare… hear me, that your soul may live”. Yes, the people need actual sustenance, but even moreso they need to feed on the word of God. In their time of trial and fear, Isaiah offers food and drink that bring hope, strength, and a future.

Sooner or later most folks chasing the things of the world realize that the chase is endless. The food and drink they pursue is nice and all – for a while. Then their shiny things become dull or the Jones buy a newer, bigger house or Suzie-Q gets a nice promotion at her job and the race is back on. Peace is never known. A sense of purpose is never quite found. There seems to be a hole that is never really filled. Counter to all of their understanding of what matters and of what is of worth, God too calls out and says, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! God offers what money or possessions or status cannot buy – no “money” in the world can. When we finally become willing, God says to each of us, “Give ear and come to me, hear me, that your soul may live”.

If we have given in to God, we have a story to tell because we have found true life and have experienced grace, mercy, and love. Thanks be to God! Go and tell your story. If our ears have been deaf, may we be willing to step off the treadmill, to humble ourselves, and to bow before the Lord. There and only there can we find peace, purpose, and fulfillment. Trust in the only one that offers food that lasts. May it be so.

Prayer: Each day, O God, help me to lay aside my fleshy, worldly desires to pursue you and your word. Be with me each day and make me more and more wholly yours. Amen.


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Ever Growing, Ever Reflecting

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 3: 12-18

Verse 18: “We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory”.

Paul connects back to our passages from Exodus 34 and Luke 9. He uses the language connected to Luke 9 and the transfiguration of Christ to help us understand that we too are transformed day by day as we grow closer to Christ. He uses the veil language of Exodus 34 to speak of how some things remain hidden from people. Paul is looking at this Old Testament passage with his Christian eyes. This is a common practice for many in the New Testament, including Jesus. Jesus quoted the prophets and parts of the Law and then went on to explain how He fulfilled those words or to talk about divorce and other topics from the Old Testament. Jesus always sought to deepen our understanding and therefore our faith. Paul likens the veil that Moses had over his face to cover up God’s radiance to the Jews’ hearts that are veiled to Jesus Christ. To Paul, if one does not trust in Jesus Christ, the veil remains. If one professes faith in Christ, then the Holy Spirit comes and lives in that believer. The Spirit would lead and guide the life of the believer.

The Holy Spirit is our continued remover of the veil. When we choose Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit dwells in us as Christ’s living presence. With this presence, we gain new understandings and insights into the faith we profess and live out. We do not know it all at once. It is an ongoing process. This is what Paul writes about today. He writes, “We… are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory”. Day by day we grow in faith. As we do we reflect more and more of Jesus Christ out into the world. Each day we should strive to grow closer to our Lord and Savior.

Paul’s New Testament eyes are eyes we continue to see through. Over the ages we have relied on the lead and guidance of the Holy Spirit. At times this has led to changes in the church and in how we understand and interpret scripture. For example, at one point in our history we used the Bible to justify slavery. Even though those verses remain in the Bible, our context and our understanding has led to a new understanding concerning owning another human being. This process happens at different rates and in different ways for different people and churches. For example, there are things in my life that I now see as sin that I did not see as sin when I was less mature in my faith – pride, judging… This is a process that I want to continue within myself. In doing so I am growing and becoming closer to God, reflecting more of His light.

As individuals and as churches we continue to turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction and understanding. Collectively we also turn to the Word – both written and revealed – to grow in faith and to reflect His light and love out into the world. May it ever be so.

Prayer: God of all creation, you are eternal, just as your love for each of us is eternal. I beg you to continue to reveal your will and way to me and to our churches. Be loud and clear in our lives. Lead us, O great God. Amen.