pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Kingdom of Love

Reading: Amos 7: 10-17

Verse 15: “The Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people'”.

Our passage today is overcast. Amos has bad news to deliver and the people receiving it do not receive it well. The one who represents power, Amaziah the priest, basically tells Amos to be quiet and to go home to Judah. The powers that be do not want to hear that King Jeroboam will die and that Israel is headed off into exile. It is just not good news. At least not for Jeroboam and his allies.

In a general sense, today’s passage is a good representation of the Old Testament cycle. The cycle is: God’s people fall into sin, God sends a prophet, the people usually continue to sin, God brings punishment, they eventually repent. Once in a long while the king and people heed the warning. Most often, though, the pattern follows today’s reading. The sin begins with the king or leader and trickles down from there. For most, that means that life becomes more pleasurable, more fun, less rule bound. To hear Amos say that God is bringing their worldly lifestyle to an end is not good news for most of Israel. It is not surprising that they tell Amos to hush up and get on back to Judah. Things are not any better there. Under King Uzziah they are worshipping foreign gods and have abandoned the law of God. Amos has prophesied that fire will consume Jerusalem. They too have become followers of the world.

This cycle that includes a heaping dose of doom and gloom is a reason that many do not like to delve deep into the Old Testament. These is a lot of violence and punishment and death. Many, many prophets come to speak to the kings and to the people as God attempts to bring them back into covenant living. We cannot miss the fact that this is always God’s purpose, always God’s main desire. The prophet’s words, as is the case in today’s passage, are hard to hear and are rejected. Yet these words are not bad news to everyone.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”? This has long been true. God has always been a caring and good and benevolent God. The poor, the widows, the outcast, the marginalized have always had a special place in God’s world. These are the ones who would hear Amos’ words as good news. As the nation returns to walking in God’s ways, life gets better for these. Injustice and abuses of power lessen. Hearts and hands become more generous. The kingdom of love returns. This is good news for today too. May we ponder and live into our role in this kingdom of love.

Prayer: Lord, when I am faithful and walking closely with you, I see and feel the world differently. It is a world filled with more love. Help that to be my world today and every day, O God of love. Amen.

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Before Our God

Reading: Revelation 5: 13-14

Verse 13: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing”.

Today the congregation swells! All the angels are joined by all the creatures of the earth. Verse 13 indicates that it is all of the living creatures on, under, and in the earth and sea. That is a big congregation. I wonder if they tried singing in a round with the angels in heaven.

The song is almost the same as the one the angels sang in verse 12. It acknowledges the Lamb on the throne who is worthy and receives praise, honor, glory, and power, for ever and ever. In these words there is a reverence and an awe. It is pure worship of the Lord. After the “Amen” is said, the elders fall down and worship. In my mind this looks and feels a lot like prayer. They fall to the ground and worship the Lord in prayer.

When praying, we often teach our children to bow their heads and to fold their hands. The idea or practice of bowing our head is a sign of respect – it is found in many cultures and religions. Often it is also a sign of someone else’s higher position or status. This is all appropriate for God. Folding our hands can represent waiting, being patient for God to be present, to answer, to speak. Some pray with hands open, palms turned towards heaven. This posture indicates a willingness to receive what God has to offer – being open to God’s possibilities. To pray and turn the palms towards the earth represents allowing the things of the world to fall away and the releasing of our sins, worries…

In our passage today the elders fall down to worship. We do not know if it was to their knees or if it was all the way to the ground, lying prostrate. These physical postures also demonstrate respect for God but also add an element of surrender. At times our prayer life can take on these postures. It is good for our souls to kneel before the Lord or even to lie down on the ground as we pray. In prayer today, may we kneel or lie before the Lord our God and join with all the angels in heaven as we worship our Lord and King!

Prayer: Jesus, in submission I bow. In humble surrender, I kneel before you now, acknowledging that you are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thank you for being my King and my Lord. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Amen.


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Glory and Power

Reading: Revelation 1: 4-8

Verses 5-6: “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be glory and power for ever and ever”.

Today and tomorrow we spend a brief time in the book of Revelation. The vision of the unfolding of the end of this present time is given to John by an angel. It is a story that plays out over a long period of time. Revelation contains a lot of frightful imagery and violence. Ultimately, though, Revelation is the story of God’s love and of how God will bring about the new creation. Revelation will end with the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of a new heaven and earth. Like humanity did in the original garden, we will once again walk, talk, and dwell with God.

John understands Jesus’ central role in restoring the world. Our passage today is the greeting and doxology of the letter. John begins with the eternal nature of Jesus – who was and is and is to come – and then identifies Jesus’ roles. He is “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth”. Each of these roles focuses on the central theme of Revelation: God’s love. As Jesus lived out His life on earth, He was a faithful and obedient witness to God’s love. He lived it out every day. At the end of His earthly life, Jesus was raised from the dead – the tomb was empty. His death was out of love for us and His resurrection demonstrates God’s eternal love for us. Because He lives we will also live. One day Jesus will return to rule over all the earth. He will rule over all the kings and over all of creation. Every knee will bow. His rule will not be one of power and might through force, but one of love.

John closes the greeting with worship and praise for his Lord Jesus. In verses 5 and 6 he writes, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be glory and power for ever and ever”. There is a connection between Jesus, His blood, and our sins. Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to die for us while we were yet sinners. Jesus shed His blood in love. On the cross Jesus took upon His perfect self the sins of the world. He then died as the atonement or payment for our sins. With His life Jesus was the sacrifice for our sins. That is love. Because the price is paid, we are freed from the guilt and shame and debt of paying for our sins. Through His blood we are redeemed and made new again. It is a foretaste of eternity.

May our reaction and response to this gift be the same as John’s – to proclaim to Him be the glory and power for ever and ever. All praise be to Jesus Christ, our Lord and King!

Prayer: God, thank you for your love. Thank you for a love that gave your only Son for me, a sinner saved by grace. May all I do and say bring you honor and glory today. Amen.


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It Is Finished

Reading: John 19: 16-30

Verse 30: “Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”.

In John’s gospel we move quickly from Pilate handing Jesus over to Jesus being on the cross. In the other gospels there is not much attention paid to the painful and torturous process that Jesus actually went through. The focus is on the fact that Jesus went to the cross for us. Once there, John focuses on a few details.

First, the sign. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. The religious leaders protest but Pilate does not budge. The truth remains atop the cross. Second, the four soldiers divide His clothing and cast lots for the 5th item – the perfect one. This fulfills a passage from Psalm 22. Third – the human side of Jesus emerges. He is near the end and looks down and sees His mother. Also present is John, “the disciple whom He loved”. In an act of care and compassion, Jesus arranges for His mother’s care.

A bit later the time comes. After a sip of wine vinegar, “Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”. The sins of the world had been heaped upon Jesus. He was ready to depart. Jesus was not at the point of death by crucifixion. He was not suffocating. The task had been completed and it was time for Jesus to end the earthly pain. His last breath was on His terms.

The body that God has inhabited hung on the cross, naked, bloodied and beaten, lifeless. It showed how God’s love had entered the world and lived among us. It showed how God endured much pain and suffering for our benefit. The scars are the scars of our sin. The marks represent what Jesus bore for you and for me. Jesus was wounded for and by our transgressions. It would be a tragic end to a really good three years of ministry and teaching if it all ended here on the cross.

The body will be laid in the tomb. Two brave men go and get the body of Jesus, prepare the body, and leave it in the tomb. The Sabbath is near. The Jewish day of preparation is drawing to a close. God was preparing for much more. We await it upon Easter Sunday. God bless.

Prayer: Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.


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Joyful Praise

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 40: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”.

The parade that we observe today began with Jesus’ disciples singing joyfully as the approached Jerusalem. As His followers participated in a somewhat impromptu gathering, they did what Jews often did when approaching or ascending into the city: they sang a Psalm. The followers of Jesus were singing from Psalm 118 on this joyous occasion. Verse 26 reads, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. It has been implied that as the disciples neared the city, others joined in the singing and in the parade. Note the words in verse 38 from our text for today. It reads, “Blessed is the king who comes…”. It is a subtle but important shift.

In general, the Romans allowed the Jews to practice their religion. They were allowed to hold the three major festivals each year even though they drew large crowds. Large crowds meant possible rebellion so the Romans tended to be on edge during the festivals. Passover was approaching so the population of Jerusalem would be starting to swell. As long as the religious leaders kept the crowds under control, the Romans tolerated the festivals and regular practices of worship and sacrifice. Being able to keep things under control was essential to the religious leaders keeping their positions. Thus, as the crowd built, waving palms, singing, laying down a royal carpet with their cloaks, the use of the word “king” aroused the religious leaders. They asked Jesus to quiet the crowd. Jesus chooses not to. Instead, Jesus says, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”. It is a reference to how all of creation glorifies the Creator. It is a way to claim who He was without crossing too far over the religious leader’s line.

Today, on Palm Sunday, we too may get caught up with the crowd. There will be lots of smiles and some joyous singing in churches this morning as the palms are paraded around. That joy is good for us in two ways. First, it connects us to our King, to our creator, to our sustainer, to our redeemer, through joyful praise. It is good and right to praise the Lord. Second, we need some joy as we step off into Holy Week. The joy of today reminds us of the joy that comes in a week, on Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It is important to remember that in the end, we are Easter people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, like the stones, may I cry out. May I join the crowd this week in joyful praise of you, my King. Sustain me with that joy as I walk through Holy Week, bringing me at last to Easter Sunday. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Blessed Is He

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 38: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”.

In today’s passage we remember the triumphal entry. The people line the road leading into Jerusalem, praising God and shouting in loud voices, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”. This line connects back to Psalm 118, which we read earlier this week. This is just one more connection back to the Old Testament. This connection reminds them of the glorious days when King David ruled the land. But the last few hundred years have been hard. For about 400 years there had been no prophet. The people long for the Messiah who will come and restore Israel’s greatness. The donkey instead of a great white horse, the rag-tag disciples instead of an army – these facts did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. The disciples and the crowd “began to joyfully praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen”. In this they hope that Jesus will turn into their kind of king. He will not. It will not be so.

The path to get to the triumphal entry reveals something important about Jesus. Jesus instructs two disciples to go on ahead to get a young colt for Him to ride. The scene unfolds exactly as Jesus had said it would. Jesus knows how this last week will play out. And He still goes forward, drawing closer to His ultimate purpose.

At the end of our passage is yet another clash with the religious authorities. They ask Jesus to quiet the crowd. They are not caught up in the crowd, in the emotion. They fear the joyful parade might draw the attention of the Romans. That would not be a good thing. Jesus responds by saying that if the crowd were quiet, then “the stones would cry out”. He is implying that nature itself recognizes who is entering the city. There is also an implication here that the religious leaders are still missing out, still not understanding who Jesus really is. Their hearts are hard.

In the next verses Jesus goes on to weep over the city, to lament what is now “hidden from their eyes”. All because they “did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you”. Part of His weeping is personal too. In just a few days the religious leaders and the people will turn on Jesus as He is arrested…

For now, though, Jesus enters the city and teaches as before. He does what He has done but there is a bit more of an edge now, knowing what will come in the days ahead. As we look forward to the days ahead, may we also walk slowly through the week, feeling the emotion and the weight of it all. May the power of the gospel deepen our walk this week.

Prayer: Lord, draw me into the story this week. May I feel and experience the passion anew this upcoming week. Connect me to your story. Amen.


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Like Him

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verses 6-7: “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”.

Today’s passage is at once both awesome and humbling, inspiring and challenging. It is awesome and inspiring because the divine chose to become human. Jesus stepped out of heaven and became one of us. This is a deep, awesome display of love. That Jesus would take on flesh and dwell among us is hard to fathom. Then to look at how Jesus lived, that is inspiring. Paul encouraged the Philippians and encourages us to have the same attitude. He writes, “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”. Jesus set aside His divinity and lived as a servant. He let go of divine power and grasped the role of a servant instead.

Jesus could have summoned a legion of angels or done a little wham! and bam! and been rid of the Romans, the religious leaders, and the whatever else was inhibiting a fuller understanding of God’s kingdom. He could have placed Himself as the next great king, ruling from Jerusalem like King David used to do. Instead, though, Jesus taught little groups, small crowds, and mostly individuals. He met and ministered to people right where they were at. For some this meant a story or a teaching that called them to a better walk with God. For others Jesus healed them of whatever it was that bound them or kept them from community or relationship with God and others. In all He did and said, Jesus modeled God’s love.

If Jesus were a powerful political king up on a big throne, you and I and most people would think we could never do that. And we would be right. So here is where it gets humbling and challenging. Jesus became one of us. Yes, a perfect and far superior one of us. But in many, many ways Jesus was a common person – a basic human being. This means that we can be like Jesus. We can’t be Jesus, but we can be like Jesus. The divine took on human flesh. This human flesh that we are can take on the divine. We can be Christ-like servants living out God’s love. To understand this is both humbling and challenging.

Jesus became like us so that we could become like Him. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me an example that I can try and live into. I fail often and I don’t always have a servant’s heart. You are divine with a little flesh. I am a lot of flesh reaching for the divine. Please make me more and more like you, Lord Jesus. Amen.