pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Immense Love

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 20: “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man”.

Sometimes we get ourselves into a situation we regret. We say or do something without giving it much thought. Then in an instant we know we are in a pickle. Jesus’ miracles prompt some chatting at a little party that Herod is hosting. Comparisons with Jesus eventually get around to John the Baptist. This sparks a memory in Herod of a pickle he got himself into.

Herod had an interesting relationship with John. On the one hand, John was enjoyable to listen to and to talk with. On the other hand, John kept pointing out Herod’s sin concerning his brother’s wife, Herodias. It was a love-hate relationship. It was a bit more love, as we read in verse 20: “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man”. Overall, Herod preferred to keep John around.

Well, we all know how parties can get. Add to that the fact that Herod liked to impress his guests. His wife’s daughter danced and was just awesome. In a moment he forever regrets, Herod promises her almost anything – up to half the kingdom. His boastful offers leads to John losing his life. Herodias had long nursed that grudge against John. Now Herod nurses his guilt.

At times the pickle we get ourselves into involves our relationship with God. We do or say something and we regret it as soon as the Holy Spirit conviction settles in. We know it was a sin. Sometimes the guilt or shame keeps us from confessing it right away. Sometimes we enjoyed it enough to tell ourselves we can hide it from God. Or worse yet, the sin latches on and we tell ourselves ‘just one more time’ as we maybe offer a hollow confession, knowing we will return to that sin. In these cases, our sin creates a guilty conscience that causes a season of separation from God.

Thanks be to God that God is not a God of guilt or a Good that holds onto grudges. Whether we confess and repent right away or after a long season of sin, God’s response is the same: welcome back. Whether the sin was a small unkind thought or something we deem ‘bigger’ that causes us more guilt or shame, God’s response is the same: welcome back. We do not ever need to carry guilt or shame. As soon as we confess and repent, our sin is gone. It is remembered no more by God. It is gone. Thanks be to God for this immense love. A love for even sinners like you and me. Thanks be to God.

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Here I Am

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse Eight: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us’? And I said, ‘Here I am. Send me’!”

Isaiah is blessed by his vision of God on the throne. It is an awesome sight to behold. Yet he is also reminded of his own life and that it falls short of the glory of God. He knows he is unclean. As soon as he utters this confession, one of the seraphs takes a coal from the altar. It is brought to Isaiah and the coal is put to his lips. As this is done, the seraph says, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for”. Isaiah is made pure and holy once again in God’s sight.

For Christians today, we have a similar experience. In the house of the Lord, we sense God’s glory as His presence is with us in worship. As we approach the altar, we confess that we too are unclean, living with sin in our lives. Just as the coal is brought to Isaiah, the fruit of the vine and the bread is brought to us. When we take the elements that represent Christ’s atoning sacrifice upon our lips, our guilt is removed and our sins are no more. They have been atoned for by Jesus. Through the sacrament of communion we are each made holy and perfect in God’s sight.

Once Isaiah is made clean, he hears God asking, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us”? in response, Isaiah says, “Here I am. Send me’!”. Isaiah has been blessed and cleansed by God and now he is prepared to go out to serve the Lord as one sent by God. Today we receive the same call. This very day may we each respond as Isaiah did, saying, “Here I am. Send me!”


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Preach

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.

Paul is writing of Jesus’ crucifixion. As Christians we see Jesus’ obedience and submission to the cross as the supreme sign of love. Jesus walked the path to the cross out of love for God and for us. He suffered and died so that we can experience the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. This is the lens through which Christians see the crucifixion.

The Jews and Gentiles of Jesus’ day, however, see the crucifixion much differently. The Romans used crucifixions as deterrents. The torture and pain and humiliation were intentional reminders that told all who witnessed a crucifixion that they did not want to do whatever that person did. The cross came to represent guilt, shame, weakness, and death. It is in this context that verse 23 makes perfect sense: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. Of course the idea of the Messiah going to the cross is a stumbling block and is foolishness.

Our sad reality is that it remains so for people today. Some think that there had to be another way – a better or more humane way to achieve the same end. Some stumble over how a loving father could allow their son to suffer this way. Some do not see or cannot take in the incomprehensible and awesome love that is revealed in this act. The depth of love is too much. For some, this is the stumbling block. Others get the love but wonder how they could ever be worthy of a relationship with a God who loves this much and is this good.

What is the proper response to all of this for a Christian? It is the same as it was for Paul: we preach Christ crucified. Through our witness and through how we live out God’s love, we preach the transformative and all-encompassing love of God in Jesus Christ. We preach that Christ died once for all and we are clear that all means all. We preach about how Jesus has and continues to transform us over and over. We preach about those mercies that come new every morning and about how they never stop coming because His love is never-ending too. As we preach the good news, we help others past their stumbling blocks and we dispell the foolishness so that they too can enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior. May it be so. Amen.


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Round and Round

Reading: Romans 4: 13-16

Verse Sixteen: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”.

In our culture we generally like to feel we are at least ‘even’ with each other. If someone brings us a plate of cookies, for example, we feel we need to return the favor by bringing them a cake or plate of cookies or treats. If we ask someone to help us move, then we feel obliged to show up when they are moving. If wr have someone over for dinner they drive home contemplating when they can have us over for dinner. We go round and round.

Sometimes I think we feel faith is like this too. We try to do good things to gain or earn God’s favor. We pile on more when we have sinned and feel the guilt or shame. We try and check off all the boxes to meet what we think God and others expect of us to be considered ‘good’ Christians. So we go to church and to that pot luck and to the small group and to the rescue mission to help serve the meal and… We go round and round.

Lent is a good example of this idea. The concept behind a season of preparation for Easter is to be ready spiritually to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. What do we do to get ready? We give something up for Lent, wr join another Bible study, we go to that special Lenten small group, we read an extra devotional, we… Sometimes it feels like we are going round and round instead of connecting more deeply to God. But we can’t quite avoid it either. If I were to just say “Stop!” all this and just get closer to God, I would feel inclined to follow it up with advice to just pray more or to just read your Bible more. And we go round and round.

God knows. He knows. In verse sixteen we read,”Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”. We are saved by grace alone. No matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or don’t say, God’s grace is always sufficient. This removes our need to check boxes or to give up this or to add in that. This need is within us, in our minds, maybe even in our hearts. God says enough, my grace is enough. If abstaining from chocolate or whatever helps you feel closer to God, then do it. If reading an extra devotional or being in a small group helps you grow closer to God, then by all means enjoy your time. In the end, though, may we all rest upon the promise of salvation by faith alone. In this promise, grace is sufficient. It is all about God. This we know. May it be so.


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The Only Question

Reading: Matthew 25: 45-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we come to the end of Matthew 25, to the end of the parable of the sheep and the goats.  For me, it is one of the most difficult passages of scripture to read and ponder.  It often leads me to the question of whether or not I am doing enough for the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God and His justice are not about keeping score, but I often feel conviction when I read this passage.  I fail on both ends of the spectrum.  There are times when I see hunger or loneliness or some other need and I fail to act.  There are times when I do act but not for the right reasons.  I do meet a need but it was not for the building of the kingdom of God but it is for a selfish reason that I served.  So when I read, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”, the word ‘whatever’ looms large.  It seems that I often fail Jesus and the ones He loves and the ones sent my way.

I also often try and rationalize things in my mind to assuage my guilt.  I make excuses or I rationalize why I should not give this person money or I try to convince myself that I do not have the time…  I judge and try and make the one n need unworthy of love in my mind, helping my inaction to feel a bit better.  And when I do all of these things, they eventually bring on their own conviction and sense of guilt.  This sometimes leads me to try and do something for someone, but soon enough I am made aware that my motivation is in the wrong place and I am a goat in the parable.

It is a tough parable to wrestle with.  I do not like where it often leaves me.  Yet in the end, I realize that it is not a giant scoreboard that Jesus keeps, ever balancing my times when I did meet Jesus in the service of another against those times when I did not serve or when I served for the wrong reasons.  Instead Jesus keeps an overflowing well of mercy, grace, and love, offering me chance after chance to love as He loved, to serve as He served.  In the end, I believe the only question that will matter is this: do you love me?


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Rejoice, Be Glad

Reading: Psalm 32

The confession of our sin is an essential part of our faith.  It always has been the key to restoring our relationship to God and to finding renewal in our innermost being.  When we fail to confess our sins, we carry around within us a weight or a shame or guilt that inhibits us from truly living life.  The psalmist calls us blessed when our transgressions are forgiven.  The writer contrasts this with his experience when he did not confess – his bones wasted away and he groaned day and night.  We to experience similar consequences when we hold onto our sin.

Even more important than avoiding the negative consequences of holding onto our sin, which we can do, is the forgiveness and grace we experience when we do come to God with our sins.  In verse five, the psalmist writes, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, you forgave the guilt of my sin”.  He speaks of the guilt being forgiven and of the protection he felt after being made right again with God.  The psalmist describes it as being surrounded with songs of deliverance.  When we confess our sins and allow Jesus to remove the guilt and the burden, we too feel both a sense of relief and also a sense of elation at once again being in a right relationship with the Lord our God.

Today in many of our churches we will celebrate communion.  It is our time to confess our sins, to repent, and to be forgiven as an individual and as a community of faith.  We trust God to hear the words of our confessions and to then restore us to holy and pure.  In verse ten the psalmist writes, “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts Him”.  This day and each day, may we be people of confession and repentance, ever seeking to be in a right relationship with God, ever desiring to walk within God’s blessing and protection, so that we too, like the psalmist, may rejoice and be glad.


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Worthy

Reading: Colossians 1: 10-14

Jesus desires for all people to enter His kingdom.  Jesus showed this by engaging everyone He met so that He could share the good news of love with them all.  The kingdom of Jesus offers freedom from the chains of sin.  Once we confess Jesus as Lord, we are not free of sin.  We are freed from sin as we find forgiveness and redemption in Jesus.  As humans we will always be prone to sin.  But because of Jesus that us not the end of our story.  We can be made new and find peace each time we confess and repent of our sin.

The forgiveness of sin us a free gift.  There is nothing we can do or say to remove the guilt and shame of our sins on our own.  All the power to do this rests in Jesus alone.  Once we claim Jesus as Lord, the free gift is ours.  It is a gift without limit.  That is how great Jesus’ love is – forgiveness and redemption are ours in limitless supply.  What a great love.  What a gift.

The response to the gift and the love is what Paul is writing about in Colossians 1: “that you may live a life worthy of the Lord”.  Our response to what Jesus has offered and done for us is to try and live like Jesus.  This is the never-ending journey of faith, to grow to be more and more like Jesus.  Living like Jesus involves bearing fruit for the kingdom.  Our primary way we bear fruit is by loving others as Jesus first loved us.  It is living lives if love, compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness.  It is being a servant to all.

We are equipped to live a life worthy of Jesus through the practices of our faith.  We read the Bible and meditate on the Word to grow in our understanding of and connection to God.  We pray often to be known by and to know God more.  We worship to bring our praise and thanksgiving to God.  When we fill ourselves with the things of God, then we are also able to pour His love out into the lives of others.  This is a life worthy of Christ.