pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living as an Example

Reading: 1st Timothy 1: 12-17

Verse 15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”.

Earlier on in life Paul was known as Saul. Saul excelled at being religious. As a boy he showed great promise in school (which was studying the scriptures). He quickly worked his way up the religious leaders ladder, becoming a Pharisee at a young age. He was full of confidence in his knowledge of God and the Law. Saul was arrogant and prideful. As the early church began to grow, it became Saul’s personal mission to stomp it out. He watched with approval as Stephen was stoned to death. Saul set out from there to persecute and arrest and kill as many followers of Jesus as he could. He refers to all of this in verse thirteen.

I’d like to say I used to be able to relate to Saul. My pride and arrogance are still things I wrestle with. It is sometimes a struggle to keep God #1. My need or desire to be in control occasionally makes it hard to let go of the steering wheel. I can see my path and head off without ever consulting God. Falling into gossip and being judgmental comes too easily. I require redirection often. The Holy Spirit keeps busy with me. Yes, I often need God to pour out abundant grace on my life. More often than I’d like to admit. There is that pride again. Every now and then, I too feel like the worst of sinners. I wonder, ‘how can a pastor have so much doubt’? Or worry or fear or confusion or unbelief or lack of trust…

In these moments, the Holy Spirit always reminds me: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. Ah yes, even for me. Even for me! Through his mercy and saving grace the Lord Jesus redeems me and sets me back on the right path, back on the road that follows him. I cannot forget the ‘why’. Paul writes,”so that in me… Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe”. This is evangelism 101. By living as an example of Christ, others come to know him. May it be so today.

Prayer: God, may my grateful response to your mercy and grace be service to you, my Lord. In and through me may others experience Jesus today, so that they too might come to believe in the King immortal, invisible, and eternal. Amen.

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The Way

Reading: Psalm 50: 1-8 & 22-23

Verse 7: “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you; I am God, your God”.

Within the 150 Psalms we find a variety of types or styles. Psalm 50 is a Psalm of judgment. We prefer the Psalms that praise God, that remind us of God’s love and care, that bring us comfort. Psalm 50 is a testimony against the people. Their sins have angered God and judgment is upon God’s lips. Verses one through six remind the people of who and what God is. God is in charge, God will gather the people, a fire is before and a tempest is around God. God summons the people to judge them.

In verse seven God opens the case against Israel. In this verse we read, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you; I am God, your God”. Prepare yourselves, Israel. It is about to begin. In verses eight through 21, which we did not read today, God lays out the case. In the first half, God addresses the sacrifices. Thank offerings are good, but otherwise – well, God has no need of animal flesh and blood. In fact, God owns all the animals, birds, cattle… anyway. Starting in verse sixteen God addresses the sins: the people ignore God’s words, they are thieves and adulterers, they speak evil. This section ends with, “But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face”. Judgment is coming.

When one looks at the list of sins in the middle verses of our Psalm, our first thought is ‘phew’! We think we are okay. But look a little deeper, search a bit more. You or I may not be thieves or adulterers and we may not ignore God’s words all the time and we do not offer meaningless sacrifices on the altar. But we are certainly not without sin. We are not without harsh words, gossip, maybe even slander. We struggle with pride and ego and selfishness… If we were Israel, we could not stand innocently before the Lord our God either. Thankfully, our story does not end here though.

Verse 23 speaks of “the salvation of God”. For the early readers of Psalm 50, this was a promise yet to come. Not so for us. Jesus Christ offers us the way of salvation. Through his gift on the cross we no longer stand condemned. Through his life we follow a Savior who shows us the way to live righteously in our world. In Christ we find forgiveness. In Christ we see the way. In all things may we bring honor and glory to his name.

Prayer: God, the judgment that we read about in Psalm 50 is so deserving. So too are my sins. Thank you so much for Jesus, the sacrifice for me and my sins. May all I do and say and think today bring honor and glory to you, my God. Amen.


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Do It Quickly

Reading: John 13: 21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”.

At the start of John 13, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet. He has “set you an example” and encouraged them to do as He has done. Next Jesus goes on to predict that one of His own disciples will betray Him. In verse 21 we read, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”. The disciples react as we all would in Jesus’ presence – at a loss. They each think in their own hearts – surely not I! They are all curious and Peter prompts John to ask. By sharing the bread with him, Jesus reveals it is Judas Iscariot. Jesus directs Judas to “do quickly” what he will do. At this, Judas slips off into the night.

Reading the story, we think poorly of Judas. Yes, it had to be done to fulfill the scriptures. But we still dislike him because he betrayed Jesus, the one whom he had spent the last three years with. It feels like a worse betrayal than if it had been one of the Pharisees or a stranger. It could have been Matthew or John or James or Bartholomew or Thaddeus or even Peter, the one who most seemed like a leader. In the next section, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. It could have been any of the twelve.

It is Judas Iscariot that slips off into the night to betray Jesus. John tells us “it is night”. Night and darkness symbolize evil and Satan. By contrast, day and light represent God, Jesus… Because Judas does not question or linger, but acts, we can infer that he has been wrestling with this. He has been brought to the decision point this night: light or dark? Good or evil? When he takes the bread, we read “Satan entered into him”. On this night, the darkness won. The scale tipped in favor of evil.

We are all in this place often. The Spirit works to keep us walking in the light and the evil one tempts us to step off the narrow road and off into the darkness. The temptation may be to gossip or to tell a little white lie. It may be to steal that set of headphones that is just lying there or to cheat on that big test. Maybe it is to turn in a false tax report or to click that pop-up that is so enticing. Perhaps it is to falsely accuse another to paint a better picture of ourselves or it is finally consummating that affair. The degree of sin matters not to God. Yes, the human or earthly impacts and affects will be greater for one scenario versus another. But to God, all temptation that leads to sin is the same. We are choosing dark over light, evil over good, Satan over God. Each week, each day, each hour, we face temptation. May we each turn to God and may we do it quickly. May we allow the light to chase away the darkness. May we strive to walk in the light.

Prayer: Lord, the battle is hard. Satan is ever at work. So I pray that the voice of the Holy Spirit is loud and strong in me today. Quiet the call of the earthly and fleshy desires within me. When they rise up, remind me quickly of your will and your way and your word. Strengthen me, O God. Amen.


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Lost But Found

Reading: Luke 15: 1-3 and 11b-32

Verse 32: “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.

The bulk of our reading again today is the story of the prodigal son. It follows the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In these the shepherd and the woman do all they can to find what was lost. Like with the lost son, when what “was lost and is found”, they “had to celebrate and be glad”. These three stories of rejoicing in heaven and on earth are told in response to some muttering by some Pharisees and religious leaders. They had muttered about Jesus, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”.

For the self-righteous and judgmental religious folks sin was to be avoided at all costs. Sin is bad. Sin separates one from God. Sin makes one unclean and unable to participate fully in the temple. The Pharisees and religious leaders act as if sin is contagious. They are appalled when Jesus eats with sinners. They are also appalled when Jesus touches lepers or when He allows a prostitute to touch Him or when He calls a tax collector as a follower or when He calls one down from a tree to eat with him and his friends. At first I smirked at the idea of sin being contagious. Then I looked in the mirror and realized it sure can be! It often is. Gossip is a good example of this. The Pharisees and religious leaders feared sin so they walled up inside the four walls of the temple and they avoided contact – any contact – with those who were struggling with sin. Their message was: be right with God and then you can come to worship and hang out with us. This idea runs so counter to how Jesus did ministry. Yet today we continue to at least hint at the idea that you must look like, act like, live like, believe like we do to be a part of “us” in many societal groups and organizations and in many of our churches. So before we look down on the Pharisees and religious leaders too much, let us turn to the father.

The younger son realizes he has sinned. He humbles himself and decides to return to the father. He admits his sins and asks to be a hired hand, saying, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”. The father had every right to say, “Yes, go find the foreman and he’ll find you a bed in the bunkhouse and he’ll put you to work”. He had every right. But instead the father says, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”. There is then much rejoicing over the one that was lost but found. The older son has trouble with this idea. The Pharisees and religious leaders probably did too. And too many times we do too.

We are so grateful when the Father forgives our sins and welcomes us back into the family as a child of God. May we go forth and do the same for another who is lost.

Prayer: Jesus, my redeemer, may I love and welcome all as you loved and welcomed me, a sinner saved by grace. Amen.


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Pleasing

Reading: Psalm 19:14

Verse 14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer”.

These words are familiar words. The sermon or message in many churches, mine included, begins with these words. These words ask God to be present in and through the Word proclaimed and to guide our thoughts and responses to the message given. It is a prayer for both the pastor and the congregation. I love how this prayer closes with the dual reminder that the Lord is our foundation and our mercy – our guide through life and our help when we get astray.

Many of us walk out the doors of worship on Sunday morning and return to the world and its ways almost immediately – cussing the one who cut us off in traffic or being rude to the waiter. Some if us might manage to make it to Monday morning before the world creeps back in. At work or school we gossip about the weekend or we resume the shady, worldly business or study practices that we felt convicted of just the day before. We find there is no shortage of ways that we can be displeasing to the Lord. The world is always providing opportunities or encouragement to do so. The battle is constant.

But so is God’s love. And His mercies are new every morning. And His grace is unending. The world is where we now dwell, so the lures of this world will be there. But Jesus had overcome the world. Through faith in Him, we too can walk in the light. Just as Sunday morning is that little boost to our faith and walk, so too can be our own daily time with God. When we read and study and meditate on God’s Word daily, He becomes more a part of our lives. When we spend time each day talking with God, our prayers strengthen our faith. When we open ourselves to the guide and direction of the Holy Spirit, our faith grows stronger still. When we choose to be faithful to our daily disciplines – time in the Word, time in prayer, time connected to the Holy Spirit – our walk with the Lord is closer. We find that we grow more and more into today’s verse. More and more often our words of our mouth and the thoughts of our hearts are pleasing to God. More and more the Lord is our Rock and Redeemer. May we each stay deeply in love with God, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, this moment and every moment, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.


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A Choice

Reading: Ephesians 4: 25-29

Verse 25: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body”.

Today’s five verses form four messages unto themselves. Paul begins with, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body”. In other words, do not say what others want to hear but speak the truth in love. Sometimes it is hard to say or hear, but truth is truth. Why let a neighbor pursue something that is hurtful or sinful when you can help them back to the righteous path?

The next verse is about anger. Paul’s advice – do not act out of a place of anger and do not let it fester. Find the middle ground. Offer forgiveness, be a part of reconciliation, be open to differing thoughts and opinions, allow the Holy Spirit to guide your words and actions. Why? Because when we give anger control, then we are giving the devil a foothold. Satan is already working hard enough to pry us away from our faith. Why give him a straight path into your life?

Verse 28 calls for us to work, to do something useful. Paul equates choosing not to work with stealing. Do not take from others (or the government) when you are able to work. And as a bonus you will be able to bless those truly in need. Work is good for us. Plain and simple. It is God’s design.

The last verse is a warning, followed by a better option. Paul writes, “Don’t let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths”. Don’t slander, don’t lie, don’t gossip, don’t curse, don’t judge, don’t insult, don’t quarrel, don’t grumble, don’t complain… Yes, this list is long but also very incomplete. There are many other ways that unwholesome talk escapes our lips. Paul says, instead speak only words that build others up. When we use words to encourage, to compliment, to applaud, to edify… then we build one another up in love.

Each of these ideas are choices. We can choose to do the Christian thing or we can choose the earthly thing. We can build up or we can tear down. We can glorify God or we can elevate Satan. We can walk the narrow path that leads to life or we can meander the wide way that leads to death. It is a choice. Like Joshua declared, may we too declare each day that we will serve the Lord. It is a choice. May our choice ever be for God.


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Loving the Child

Reading: 2 Samuel 18: 5-9

Verse 5: “The king commanded, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake'”.

David’s son Absalom has led a revolt to become king by force. He is a ruthless man who formed an alliance that has led to a civil war against his father and his supporters. The troops prepare for battle. As they are heading out, David says to his leaders and the army as a whole, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake”. After all, Absalom is still his son.

One could certainly argue that David’s refusal to deal with his sinful children had led to this very moment. His children have gone unpunished for a long time. Rebellion and disobedience go hand in hand with how they have been raised. Yet still overriding all of this is a father’s love for his child. This may not seem to make sense, but neither does God’s love for us.

When I think about how often I sin against God’s ways and allow pride or jealousy or gossip or … to creep in, then I am amazed that God still loves me. God’s love is a love for us that just keeps coming, no matter how many times I say I’m sorry and repent of whatever I’ve fallen into. Maybe this is the love that David is trying to model with Absalom. Maybe David is hoping that he has finally learned. If not, like God, David will still love his child.

Our passage ends with Absalom stuck in a tree. This will be his end. But when we are stuck in our sin, it is not the end. God comes along and gently sets us down on the ground. We took the ground as we offer up our apology. God dusts off our sin and sends us back on our way through life. He smiles lovingly as we head off to try again. He says, “See you soon”. Thanks be to God. Amen.