pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God’s Possession

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse Four: “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight”.

Today’s passage is a great reminder of the good news we find in Jesus Christ. It begins with verse four, “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight”. Since forever we have been chosen to be in Christ. Because of His love we were “predestined” for adoption into the family of God. To me that does not mean that I or anyone is chosen for heaven and is guaranteed a place in heaven no matter what. I believe that God has a plan that is best for each of us. If I am living in accordance with God’s will, I will walk that best path. But I don’t always chose well. Sometimes I go down road B. Even then God still loves me and, through the Holy Spirit, goes back to work to get me back on that best road. It may take running me through several forks in the road, but God always remains at work to bring all of us into His will. To end up on that best path – the narrow way – is God’s intent for all people.

When we do sin, verse seven reminds us: “we have redemption through His blood”. The forgiveness of our sins is a free gift to us. God’s grace is “lavished” upon us, given at no cost to us. Yes, to give His blood Jesus paid a high price. Out of His great love for you and I, Jesus was willing to be the sacrifice. Redemption and forgiveness are ours if we are willing to humble ourselves, to confess our sins with a repentant heart, and to allow Jesus to make us into new creations. Saving each of us is part of God’s plan. It is His “good pleasure” to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Jesus Christ”. The redemption of all of creation is God’s ultimate and final plan.

The passage concludes with our promise. Once we place our trust and hope in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are marked with a seal: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a “deposit” within us that guarantees our inheritance into eternal life. Once we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are saved. This becomes our forever status. Once we enter into this personal relationship with Jesus, we are God’s. We will stumble and we will sin, but we are convicted by the Holy Spirit each time and we are led to confess and repent. Each and every time we experience grace and forgiveness and redemption. We are forever God’s possession. Thanks be to God for His great love. Amen.

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Oh Those Thorns!

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Verse Nine: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”.

Paul opens chapter twelve with the revelation of heaven that he experienced. To keep him from being too conceited, he was “given a thorn in my flesh”. ‘Thorn’ implies that it was painful and hard to endure. The ‘thorn’ tormented Paul. And just like we would and do do in a heartbeat, Paul “pleaded with the Lord to take it away”. We do not like to endure pain or suffering or hardship. Neither did Paul.

God’s response is wonderful. In response to Paul’s pleading, God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. It is in moments of pain that we must turn to God to carry us through. It is in moments of weakness that we must rely on God for strength. It is in moments of heartache that we most need God’s grace and love. It has often been said that the view from the mountaintop is wonderful but we grow most in the valleys. Paul’s vision was his mountaintop and the thorn was his valley.

At times in our lives we will certainly suffer trials and hardships. I believe these occur two basic ways. One way, I believe the most common, is simply because life is naturally hard at times. We live in a world where people are imperfect, where disease and illness are part of the cycle of life, and where our free will does not always lead to good decisions. I also believe that we encounter a ‘thorn’ like Paul did at times. Sometimes the thorn comes to remind us that we have strayed from God. It is a poke back towards a right relationship with God. Sometimes the thorn is what it was for Paul – to remind us of our limited ability to control anything and of our absolute need for God. To me, this is Romans 8:28 lived out: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”.

Thorns in life are hard. God’s words illicited this response from Paul: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. May we also trust in, turn to, and rely on God at all times. It is there that Christ’s power shines in and from us. May we acknowledge our own weaknesses and, in doing so, may we reveal how strong we are in Christ. Amen.


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Receive God’s Grace

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse One: “As fellow workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain”.

When we look at Paul’s hardships listed in verses three through five, one might question taking up a life of faith. Yes, life itself will bring all of these hardships at times, but to choose a life’s journey that almost invites these seems like a tough choice to make. To be a Christian in today’s world is not an easy task. Our culture is not very well aligned to Christian values any longer.

As one moves on to verses four through six, it gets a little better but there are still undesirables on that list. In these verses Paul begins to paint the picture that this difficult journey is worth it. The Christian Life is a life of genuine love and fellowship, of eternal hope and real joy. Yet the world and our culture will say one can find love and joy and happiness without walking the narrow way of faith. Culture says there is an easier way.

All one has to do to find love and joy and happiness is to work a little harder and to be willing to take advantage or exploit another on occasion. Yes, a day of rest and time with God and family might be fun, but it will cost you. Come on, lots of people work on Sunday. You might miss a ball game or recital here and there or a birthday if the potential payoff is big. Don’t worry – there will be other events that you will be at. These are the lies of the world. These are the ways that we convince ourselves that it is okay to work on Sundays and evenings.

Paul opens today’s passage asking the Corinthians and us to “not to receive God’s grace in vain”. Receive it and allow it to change you. Receive it and pass it on to others. Receive it and gain a sense of hope that the world cannot give. Allow God to bring you hope in times of sorrow, peace in times of stress, joy in times of despair, and love in times of hate and anger. Receive God’s grace and allow it to open your heart wide. Walk the narrow and hard road of faith and find life. Amen and amen.


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Love First

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse Eight: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”.

Each day and each encounter provides us with an opportunity to draw close to God, to worship God. Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise from King David. It praises God for His love and faithfulness. It encourages us to “sing of the ways of the Lord”. It speaks of God preserving our lives when we walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalm is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, His dear children.

These few days at Annual Conference have been filled with worship. Sometimes the songs and worship have been slow and reflective. Sometimes the songs have been upbeat and energetic. Sometimes the music has been loud and passionate. Our worship has also included much besides music. We have shared scripture and been blessed by the proclamation of the Word by several gifted pastors. Through each of the messages and the conference itself, the idea of “love first” has been the focus. To me, this is what our worship should do. In all of our styles and in all if the components of worship, our worship should first express our love of God.

Verse eight today reads, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”. When we offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God’s love, then we experience a love that lasts forever. When we surrender our lives to God, we begin to live into and to live out an everlasting love. In doing so, we discover the first half of our verse: our purpose. We are all created to love as Jesus first loved us: fully and completely. There is no greater love than the love we see modeled by Jesus. May our lives today be living acts of worship, overflowing with the grace and mercy of God, as we seek to love first. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.


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Come into Grace

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse Five: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

In our passage today Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the Lord. He sees God seated in the throne, high and exalted. Around the throne are beautiful and powerful seraphs – six-winged angels. These angelic creatures are singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty”. In the Bible things are repeated three times to show importance and for emphasis. Much as it would probably be for you or I, Isaiah is taken aback by the scene and where he finds himself.

In this passage Isaiah reminds me of the tax collector we find in Luke 18. This man stands off in the corner of the temple and will not even look towards heaven. He beats his chest and confesses to God, begging, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”. He senses his unworthiness in God’s presence. Isaiah comes to a similar realization, saying, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. Standing in the presence of the holy, holy, holy God, Isaiah feels his sin.

We all feel this way at points in our lives. Sin wins the day and we feel unworthy of being in God’s presence. We think our sin too great to be forgiven, never mind even bringing it into God’s presence. We may even feel like we need to sit in this place of guilt and shame for a period of time. Even though a part of us knows that God loves us, we feel like we must remain a bit distant. Like the tax collector standing in the corner and like Isaiah declaring “Woe to me!”, we hover on the edge of our relationship with God – not quite good enough to stand before God.

Some find this barrier at the foot of the cross or at the communion table, the places of grace. They see the sacrifice of Hesus or the cup and bread on the table and they may even hear the words of grace and love, but cannot quite approach. Maybe this is in a place of worship, maybe this is in their minds. God says the same to one and all: “Come, come to me. Find grace and love”. If you feel stuck in your sin or in the guilt and shame of sins past, know that you are invited to come into God’s grace and love. Know that you are loved and welcome.


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As He Is Righteous

Reading: 1st John 3: 4-7

Verse Seven: “He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous”.

Our passage today from 1st John talks about how we live our lives. In general terms, it is about living in sin or living in Christ. On the surface, John delineates the two, but upon deeper reflection sin is a thing we all struggle with daily in our lives. Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, it is not as if we never sin again. The reality is that we sin less and less as we become more and more like Christ as we grow in our faith. But we are never really sinless in this life.

In verse five John writes, “you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins”. John is writing of the grace and mercy and forgiveness that we are offered through Jesus. He appeared or became incarnate so that He could go to the cross to take upon Himself the sins of the world. Jesus, who “in Him is no sin”, took on our sins so that we could be forgiven and free.

John goes on in verse six to say that when we live in Jesus Christ we do not keep sinning. When we live in a personal relationship with Jesus, we gain the power and strength to overcome our sins. One by one we are able to cast aside those temptations that lead us to sin. For example, when we look back over our life, we can see things that used to cause us to sin that do not lead us into sin anymore as we have matured in our faith. But Satan is always at work, always trying to find a new angle, a new temptation, a new way to lead us into sin. It is a constant battle that is being waged against the followers of Jesus.

Every day, therefore, brings its challenges. This we know. We also know that God’s love never ends and that His mercies are new every morning. We also know that Jesus will wipe away our sins each and every time we repent and seek forgiveness. As we grow in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus, we more and more mirror verse seven, which reads, “He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous”. May we seek to be like Hesus every day, living as a righteous and holy people in the world. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.


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Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse Three: “There the Lord bestows His blessings, even life forevermore”.

Psalm 133 is all about the blessing of living in unity. When our relationships are filled with unity and communion, life does not get much better than that. It brings to mind those carefree relationships of early childhood, when we simply played together, and those days of first falling in love, when he or she could do no wrong. Yet as we age our relationships with others grows and becomes more complicated. Even the relationship with the love of our life has times of strife and discord. As we are imperfect creatures, there is no earthly relationship that is perfect.

Still the psalmist is clearly calling us to live with each other in unity. It is a worthy thing to call us to. As he writes, it is good and pleasant when we get along and work well together. The oil on the head and the dew on the land are blessings. We too experience God’s blessings when we live in unity. It is because “there the Lord bestows His blessings, even life forevermore”.

God is also a part if our community of faith. We are also called to live in unity with God. This is a little different than living in unity with one another because God is perfect. In covenant, God promised to be our God and to always love us. He does so without fail. But fail we do! We fall to sin and create separation from God. But through the covenant of Jesus’ blood God offers us mercy and grace and forgiveness over and over and over. Through this gift we are restored to the holy and perfect person that can be once again in relationship with God.

From our relationship with God we learn what it requires to live in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It starts with love. As Jesus said, they will know we are His disciples by how we love one another. Next we must be quick to add mercy and grace and forgiveness to our human relationships too. When we focus on these qualities, then we can experience unity and live in communion with each other. May we ever practice love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. May we ever live in unity with our community of faith, bringing God honor and glory.