pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Longing

Reading: Luke 13: 31-35

Verse 31: “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you are not willing”.

In our passage today we have a lament from Jesus. In His “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem” statement we can hear the sorrow and anguish in His voice. The city and people that Jesus loves have and will continue to reject Him and His love. We can hear how this hurts Jesus as we read, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you are not willing”. He has tried and tried and tried. He has loved and loved and loved. To no avail – they are not willing. To such as these the house is left desolate – without hope.

This emotional response to rejection was the one that God has felt for a long time. Ever since the rejection in the Garden, God has been feeling the pain of men and women and groups of people choosing other than God. Even after God came in the flesh so that His children would really see what His love looked and felt like, they still rejected the love that He offered. Not in spite of but for those who rejected Him, Jesus still went to the cross in the supreme demonstration of love. After walking out of the tomb, after defeating the power of sin and death, people still rejected Jesus.

It is not a whole lot different today. Yes, there are millions of Christians in the world. But there are billions who have not heard the good news of Jesus Christ and there are many more who have rejected Jesus’ love. And even for those who are followers, at times we choose the idol of self or power or success or possessions over His love. We choose sin over faith, rejecting Jesus and our relationship with Him over and over. And still He loves. But I can be sure it causes Jesus to lament over and over and over.

On the larger scale, society causes Jesus to lament too. Because we are a part of society, we have some guilt in this too. The prejudices and stereotypes and injustices and abuses of power that go on must cause Jesus to weep. This is not the way of love. The simple fact that people go to bed on the street and are always hungry and lacking clothing and basic care in the land of plenty must crush Jesus’ heart. And still He loves. Yes, how He longs to gather His children together. Yes, how Jesus longs to gather all of the children together.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, how you too long to gather all of your children together to a place of love and care and compassion. May our churches and our homes be just such a place. May it be so. Amen.

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Here I Am!

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

As our passage opens, Isaiah finds himself in God’s presence. God is seated on the throne and seraphs are above God. These 6-winged creatures are calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory”. To add emphasis to this powerful scene, the building shakes and smoke fills the space. I cannot imagine all of what Isaiah felt in those moments – awe, terror, pure joy, amazement? It is a scene of absolute power and might.

There, in that moment, Isaiah realizes how out of place he is. He finds himself in the presence of God and all of heaven. He realizes how unworthy he is to be there. Isaiah utters this confession: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. But instead of condemning him or removing him instantly, God sends a seraph to Isaiah with a burning coal in the tongs. With the coal, the seraph touches Isaiah’s unclean lips and takes away his guilt and atones for his sin. God redeems Isaiah. God prepares Isaiah for what comes next: hearing God’s call.

At times we experience God’s presence. Sometimes it is in the church – sometimes on a Sunday morning in worship, sometimes on a Tuesday afternoon in the stillness. Sometimes it is in the hospital – maybe with parents who have just brought a new life into the world, maybe with a family as they say goodbye and send a loved one on to their new life with God. We can and do experience God in many ways and in many settings. In some if these moments, we too can feel a little of what Isaiah felt – overwhelmed and in awe at the holy privilege that we are part of. I always feel blessed and am humbled by the experience. Once in a while, I can relate to Isaiah’s feeling of being unworthy to be in God’s holy presence that has settled on that place or situation. Yet God remains present to me as well.

No seraph comes with a hot coal, but the Holy Spirit surely leads and guides, assuring me of what I am a part of. Whether the prompting is to offer a scripture or a prayer or just to be present or maybe to give a hug, as the Spirit leads, I say in my heart as Isaiah said with his lips, “Here I am. Send me!”

When we accept our place in God’s presence and we allow God to work in and through us, the power of the Holy Spirit takes charge. When we find ourselves with an opportunity to be sent, to be in partnership with the Holy Spirit, may we trust fully in God’s call, joyously saying, “Here I am. Send me!”

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart, encourage my mind and spirit today so that I may faithfully respond to each call you give. Amen.


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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?