pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Only in Surrender

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-31

Verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to address a division that has arisen. On one side of the divide are the Greeks. They love learning and discussing ideas. They look for and prize wisdom above all else. They want to know their way into believing in Jesus Christ. On the other side are the Jews. The Jews look for signs. This is how they had always recognized and identified the power of God at work. Way back the power of God was revealed in the manna and in the wall of Jericho falling down, just to name a couple of examples. More recently it shown as Jesus and the disciples healed and cast out demons. The Jews wanted to be awed into believing in Jesus.

Paul tells both sides that they are wrong. Both the Greeks and the Jews are looking in the wrong place if they want to find the power of Jesus Christ. In our opening verse Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. To the world the cross represents weakness and shame and wrong doing. To the world it was foolishness for Jesus to die on a cross like a common criminal. But the world is perishing. Paul instead reminds the Jews and Greeks that true power is found in the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus demonstrated servanthood and obedience. It was there that he became humble to death as he died to save us all. In his death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and paved the way for us all to experience “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Just as Jesus was humble, we too must be humble as we approach faith. We cannot think our way into believing. Nor can we argue another into faith. We cannot “genie” our way to believing either. We cannot try and force God to prove he is real. We find faith when we come to the point of kneeling before Jesus, aware of our sin and our need for his grace, humbly asking him to be the Lord of our life. Only when we surrender do we find victory in Christ. It is more of that upside-down kingdom. When we are weak, he is strong. May we walk in surrender to our Lord and Savior today.

Prayer: Loving Father, you took me as I was, broken and filled with so many sins and weaknesses. Just like a potter, you went to work reforming and reshaping me, guiding me to your purposes. I am far from perfect. I beg you to continue to be at work in me. I surrender all to you for your glory. Amen.


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Turn Back to God

Reading: Joel 2: 1-2 and 12-17

Verse 13: “Rend your hearts and not your garments”.

Joel was a prophet who worked to call the people back to God. His beloved nation has been invaded and destroyed by a great swarm of locusts. The swarm has come, of course, for a reason. Joel calls the priests to lead by example – to put on sack cloth and to grieve what has happened. The nation lays shriveled and dry in the aftermath of the swarm. The souls of the people are in the same state. This is the context that we use to turn to today’s passage from Joel 2.

Joel is not looking for lip service, a weak apology, or for someone to just go through the motions. In verse one Joel gives us a sense of urgency, declaring, “Blow the trumpets… sound the alarm”! Why? Because the day of the Lord is close at hand. In our Lenten journey we should have the same urgency. In our pursuit of holiness and justice and righteousness, we should be charging down the gates as we look within and strive to be more like Jesus. Whether it is April 12 or whether our day comes sooner, we too should sound the alarm and we should work to be made ready for the day of the Lord.

In verse twelve we hear God’s call to return to him with fasting and weeping and mourning. Does the state of our soul lead us to these practices? When we honestly look within we may be lead to tears. In verse thirteen Joel calls for us to“rend your hearts and not your garments”. Don’t just tear the superficial clothing, but dive deep and get to the core, to the heart of the matter. When we do so, we too will experience the God described by Joel: gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love. God is not a destroying God but a restoring God. In faith may we turn back to God, asking the Holy Spirit to be at work in our souls. In faith God will respond, joining us in sacred assembly. God meets us there because God is loving and faithful and gracious. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for reminding me once again today of your grace and compassion, of your abundant love. The gentle reminder encourages me to seek deeply within, to search honestly for what must go. As a refiner, purify my heart, cleanse my soul. Make me more in thy image. Shine within me so that I may light my world today. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 26-31

Verse 30: “Christ Jesus… our righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Paul opens the passage today with a great challenge: “think of what you were when you were called”. Ponder that for a minute. Think back to who you were and what your life was like before you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior… While the “then” to “now” transformation is probably significant, the great truth of our journey is that the change continues. On our journey of faith we are never “there” so God is always at work, seeking to make us more and more like Jesus Christ.

Paul sees the church in Corinth just like most of us see our churches. Yes, we might have a few movers and shakers, but overall not many are wise, not many are influential, not many are of noble birth. Most of us are just regular people. All of us are just trying to be faithful and obedient in our daily walk. Paul speaks of God choosing the foolish and weak things – things we don’t usually like to associate too much with. Wise, influential, noble, foolish, weak – he is speaking in terms the world uses. Weakness, for example, is shunned in the world but in faith recognizing our weakness leads us to trust God more than in ourselves. If we are foolish in terms of our faith, we see that we cannot figure it all out on our own. Instead we turn to God for guidance and direction. When we know we need God, we do not boast in our own talents and abilities. Leaning into another for help and strength is not what people of the world do. That’s why the cross is foolishness to do many people living in the world.

As we continue our journeys of faith, as we walk more and more in faith, we live into verse 30 more and more. Verse 30 reminds us that Jesus Christ is our “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”. As we follow longer and closer, we live lives that are increasingly righteous and holy. We are not faultless, we still stumble from time to time. But we do walk better the longer and deeper we pursue Jesus Christ. And Jesus ever redeems us. In the day to day, he redeems us when we fail and when we stumble. Working ever towards perfection, we await the day of our final redemption – the day we stand in Jesus’ presence in glory. That’ll be the day! Until then may we walk out our faith day by day, bringing Jesus Christ and his love to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the long walk. Looking back at where the journey began, I can see the change you wrought in me. But it was not an A to B journey. There are moments day by day and in even smaller intervals – moments when I had to choose you over self and other interests. Even when I was selfish and disobedient, you have remained faithful. Thank you, God. Please continue to have me as one of your own. Lead and guide me always and forever. Thank you for being my all in all. Amen.


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The Gradual Process

Reading: Romans 13: 11-14

Verse 12: “The day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”.

Our passage today begins with Paul sounding the alarm. “Wake up”! Paul says. Quit sleeping! We could sound the same alarm today. Sometimes the alarm would be for us. At times we drift away or we let our faith slip a bit, becoming complacent. We go through the motions. Most of the time, though, the wake up call would go out to the many living outside of a saving relationship. For these, we must sound the call.

Paul is speaking today to the believers in Romans 13. His urgency to wake up is driven by his belief that salvation is nearer now than when they first believed. This remains true for us today. Paul, however, believed the day of Jesus’ return was imminent. You can feel it in his words as he proclaims that the night is almost over and that “the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”. As it is in our day and in our lives, people were struggling with temptation and sin. Paul encourages them to set aside these deeds of darkness. Instead he admonishes them to walk in the light. Paul uses the familiar illustration of armor here, much like he does in Ephesians 6. Paul sees the pull between good and evil, between God and Satan, as a battle. The armor of light protects the believer against the attacks of the enemy.

The armor of light is found in Jesus Christ. In verse fourteen Paul begs the believers then and us today to clothe ourselves with Christ. For almost all believers this is a gradual process. At first we try on a little Jesus and then gradually add more and more as we grow or mature in the faith. The more we come to know and follow Jesus, the better protected we are. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, called this gradual process the “journey to perfection”. In pursuit of what Wesley called “personal holiness” the altogether Christian strives to become more and more perfect – more like Jesus Christ. Perfection comes only at the end of our journey, when we meet Jesus face to face. Until then, may we live as children of the light, prepared for today to be the day.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, guide me to live every day with urgency. May my pursuit of you and my desire for all to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ drive all I do and say and think. Each and every day, bring me a little closer to Jesus, the perfector of the faith. Amen.


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God’s Plan

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 69: “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”.

Today’s passage comes early in Jesus’ birth narrative. So far in Luke, the births of John the Baptist and Jesus have been foretold. Zechariah doubted the angel Gabriel’s birth announcement and was struck silent. Mary has visited her cousin Elizabeth. Zechariah has been unable to speak for nine months. He is finally able to speak after naming his son John, in accordance with Gabriel’s directions. Zechariah is then filled with the Holy Spirit and gives us today’s prophesy.

Zechariah begins by praising God for coming to redeem his people. He connects into our reading from the past two days (Jeremiah 23:1-6) as he says, “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”. Zechariah echoes Jeremiah’s prophesy that promises a righteous branch will come from David’s line. Zechariah also echoes the praises for salvation and mercy that will come from this shepherd king. Zechariah also notes how blessed we will be as followers of this king. We will be able to serve him all our days without fear because his holiness and righteousness will be our holiness and righteousness. This is because Jesus Christ will become both the Lord of life and the Lord over death. In Christ alone we find victory over both sin and death. Praise God!

As we draw near to the end of the Christian year and prepare to begin a new year as Advent dawns on December 1, it is good to remember the roots of our faith. Just as the first part of Zechariah’s song connected back to Jeremiah, the second part also finds roots in the Old Testament. In the second half of his song, Zechariah connects back to Isaiah. The plan just beginning to unfold as we near Advent has been at work for a long time. In fact, since before the creation of the world.

As we live out our faith today and in the weeks to come we will surely enjoy God’s mercy, grace, protection, and salvation. We too are part of God’s plan to redeem and restore the world. May we also choose to serve without fear, being light and love to all the world. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Redeeming Lord, as the evils of this world rise up, shield me. As the temptations to sin creep in, extinguish those flames. As opportunities come to serve you, gird me up and lead me out to proclaim your love and mercy. Amen.


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Praying for our Leaders

Reading: 1st Timothy 2: 1-7

Verse 1: “I urge that… requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for everyone”.

Paul writes to Timothy, instructing and encouraging the younger leader. In today’s passage the topic is about prayer. At the time of the writing the Romans ruled over the land. One of Rome’s demands was to worship the Emperor. For a monotheistic people who believed in the one true God, this was a difficult request. Instead of worshipping the Emperor, Paul guides the believers to pray “for kings and all those in authority”. He is direct, writing “I urge that… requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for everyone”.

The Romans taxed the people heavily and limited some of their freedoms. For some it may have been hard to pray for the Emperor. Today some disagree with our political leaders because of policies or decisions. Yet Paul’s advice to Timothy is still the practice we should follow. The reason is the same: “so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. The Romans allowed the Israelites some religious freedoms – temple worship and sacrifices. Maybe this is partly because they were praying for them. We are free to go to church, to worship God, and to practice our religious beliefs. These freedoms remain in place. We are to pray for our leaders to be saved and to know Jesus. Why? So that they too can become Christians? Absolutely. To see the world through eyes of faith alters the choices and decisions made. Love for the least would reshape our care for those living in poverty and without the necessities. How we interact with other nations would change. The idea that “they will know we are Christians by our love” would positively impact our cities, states, nation, and world. This day and every day may we lift our leaders to God’s guidance, direction, and protection.

Prayer: Lord, I lift our mayor, our governor, our president, along with all other elected and appointed leaders, to you today. Lead and guide them in your ways of love, compassion, and justice. Align their thoughts, words, decisions, and actions with your will and your ways. Amen.


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A Willing Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verses 1& 2: “Have mercy on me, O God… Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

The common understanding of the background of Psalm 51 is that it springs forth from David’s sins around the Bathsheba-Uriah episode. His outpouring of repentance comes after Nathan confronted him. The depth of his sin has settled in on him and David comes to God with a broken and sorrowful heart. This pours from the Psalm.

David begins with, “Have mercy on me, O God…”. Forgiveness begins with God extending us mercy. Mercy is that undeserved gift that we cannot earn yet never run out of. It is the love that makes it possible for our sins to be removed. Mercy says that God understands our plight as the sinful creatures that we are. The depth of God’s love says this over and over again.

In just the opening lines, David continues with, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. It is precisely what God does with our sin. He washes it away and remembers it no more. Unlike us, when we repent, God forgets our sins. This is a second sign of the depth of God’s love – we are made totally clean again. God restores us to righteousness and holiness. I imagine that God smiles as He looks upon us in this state. It is a knowing smile that I picture on God’s face. He knows us well.

As this section of our Psalm closes, we read these familiar lines: “Create in me a pure heart and a steadfast spirit within me”. These familiar words ring out over and over in my church and in churches all over the world on Ash Wednesday as we enter into a season of preparation for Easter. The sign of the cross on our foreheads reminds us that sin has a cost. Yes, mercy and forgiveness are free to you and me, but they did come with a price.

Verse 12 asks God to “grant me a willing spirit”. It is David’s request to walk more closely with God. Like David, may we too be honest with God, admitting our failures, welcoming His cleansing, and continuing our journey of faith with a resolute mind and heart. May we live today and every day with a willing spirit and a repentant heart. May it be so, all to the glory of God. Amen.


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Be Holy

Reading: Leviticus 19: 1-2

It is tough to be holy, yet God calls us to be just that.  To be in the most intimate relationship possible, we must be as like God as we can be.  Holiness is one characteristic of God that seems hard to fully grasp, nevermind live out each day of our lives.  More often than not, we are not capable of being holy on our own.  By ourselves we simply are not capable of being holy all the time.  We can freely share our money and possessions with those we love, but we struggle with giving to the stranger.  We can love those who love us, but it is another story with ‘him’ or with ‘her’ – those we do not like even slightly.  On our own, our holiness only goes so far.  We know that God’s holiness has no end and no boundaries.  This is the holiness we are called to.

God knew from the beginning that we are not capable of always being holy.  God began with the law, a set of guidelines on how to live in relationship with God and with each other.  The Ten Commandments grew over time to be a huge list – but they were more do’s and don’ts than a way to be holy.  In time, God sent Jesus to show  humanity how to live a holy life.  Jesus gave us the example of what God’s love and holiness look like lived out every day.  But the example is not enough.  To help us in our daily walk with Jesus, God sends us the Holy Spirit – the constant presence that helps us to be holy, the constant presence that helps us care for the needy, to love the stranger, to offer mercy and forgiveness to all who wrong us.  With the power and presence of Holy Spirit, we begin to be holy as God is holy.

We cannot, however, simply rely on the Holy Spirit.  We too must play a role. We too must put in the work because it is hard to be holy.  We must commit to our own spiritual growth.  We must spend time in prayer and in the Word each day.  We must be in community to worship the Lord our God and to offer one another fellowship and encouragement.  We must daily confess our sins, repent, and seek His renewing touch.  It is through all of these means of grace that we can draw near to a God who is holy, becoming more like Him ourselves.