pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Straining, Straining, Straining

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-14

Verse 12b: “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.

Paul opens this section of Philippians with a long list of his accomplishments in his “past life”. At times we can do this. The “back in the good old days” stories can be fun to relive or they can be good reminders of what or who we used to be. For Paul, they are the latter. Before knowing Jesus, Paul was known as Saul. Saul was a very devout rule follower. Saul checked all the boxes of obedience to religion and was very respected among other rule followers. Saul and his fellow religious folks knew the Law inside out but did not follow the Law-giver. They had tons of head knowledge with no heart change.

Then Saul met Jesus one day and had a radical change of heart. In an instant he knew all of those past accomplishments we’re “rubbish”. He came to understand that righteousness comes not from following the letter of the Law – from checking off the boxes – but from faith in Christ alone. Saul took the Gentile-based version of his name and, as Paul, set about introducing as many people to Jesus as he possibly could. Knowing Christ and helping others to know Christ became Paul’s only goal, no matter the cost. He writes the letter we read from today while he is in prison. Where he is does not matter to Paul. His focus remains the same. Even as Paul sits in chains he writes, “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. Yes, his freedom has been taken, he is barred from speaking in the square and the synagogue, but Paul still writes to encourage the church in Philippi and churches ever since. His words are of great encouragement today.

Paul’s words can become our words. In verse 13 he speaks of “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. I love his choice of “straining”! In spite of opposition or trial or suffering or cost, with all that he is Paul is giving everything he has to spread Jesus’ name so that all can know the good news. Paul strains for the same reason we should strain: the goal, the prize “for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. May we keep our focus on the goal too, straining ahead, straining to share Jesus Christ with as many as we can.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to strain more often. Push me a bit more out of my safe, comfortable places. Amen.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Heart, Mind, and Soul

Reading: Romans 10: 8b-13

Verse 9: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”.

Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome longing to visit Rome. It is a trip that he will eventually make. But for this present letter, he is writing to help them understand the core of the faith and how to live as a community of believers in a pagan world. As chapter ten opens Paul is explaining that one cannot live a Christian life simply by obeying the Law. The law is only a knowledge of what is right or wrong. Following the rules is good, but this alone does not make one righteous. In verse 8 Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 30. He reminds the Romans that the word of God is in their hearts and in their mouths. In this chapter Moses is encouraging the people to “choose life” – to love God and to walk in His ways. For Moses it is the same as for Paul: live out your faith in love. Allow God to dwell in your heart, in your mind, and in your soul. Yes, follow the law, but even more than that, let God’s love flow from all you do and say and think. Allow God’s love to be the core of who you are.

Paul then goes on to the next step in verse 9. In our hearts we believe. Then our voice joins in, professing faith in Christ. In this verse Paul shares the essence of the gospel, writing, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”. To confess this with our mouth, we must believe it in our heart. We cannot know that Jesus is Lord, we must believe that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the Lord in our lives because we believe that He is the Lord over sin and death.

Jesus defeated the two greatest weapons that the world has when He went to the cross and when He walked out of the grave. Sin has no power over us because Jesus has already paid the price for atonement. Yes, we do sin but because the price has been paid, because the sacrifice was given. When we confess and repent, Jesus says, ‘You are forgiven’. We move forward as a new creation in Christ, holy and pure, leaving behind any guilt or shame. Jesus also defeated the power of death. There is no fear or unknown or thinking this is the end. Jesus said because He lives, we too shall live. If we put our faith in Jesus as Lord, then He is the way to eternal life. We are saved when we profess, “Jesus is Lord”!

This day and each day, may Christ dwell in our heart and in our mouth and in our soul. May all we see, think, do, say, and feel reflect the love of Christ that is in us. In doing so, we proclaim Jesus is Lord with all of our heart, mind, and soul. May it be so.

Prayer: God of all of creation, be my all in all. This day and every day fill me with your love so that my life is that love lived out. Fill me so much that this is all there is in me. May I be fully yours. Amen.


Leave a comment

Ever Growing, Ever Reflecting

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 3: 12-18

Verse 18: “We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory”.

Paul connects back to our passages from Exodus 34 and Luke 9. He uses the language connected to Luke 9 and the transfiguration of Christ to help us understand that we too are transformed day by day as we grow closer to Christ. He uses the veil language of Exodus 34 to speak of how some things remain hidden from people. Paul is looking at this Old Testament passage with his Christian eyes. This is a common practice for many in the New Testament, including Jesus. Jesus quoted the prophets and parts of the Law and then went on to explain how He fulfilled those words or to talk about divorce and other topics from the Old Testament. Jesus always sought to deepen our understanding and therefore our faith. Paul likens the veil that Moses had over his face to cover up God’s radiance to the Jews’ hearts that are veiled to Jesus Christ. To Paul, if one does not trust in Jesus Christ, the veil remains. If one professes faith in Christ, then the Holy Spirit comes and lives in that believer. The Spirit would lead and guide the life of the believer.

The Holy Spirit is our continued remover of the veil. When we choose Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit dwells in us as Christ’s living presence. With this presence, we gain new understandings and insights into the faith we profess and live out. We do not know it all at once. It is an ongoing process. This is what Paul writes about today. He writes, “We… are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory”. Day by day we grow in faith. As we do we reflect more and more of Jesus Christ out into the world. Each day we should strive to grow closer to our Lord and Savior.

Paul’s New Testament eyes are eyes we continue to see through. Over the ages we have relied on the lead and guidance of the Holy Spirit. At times this has led to changes in the church and in how we understand and interpret scripture. For example, at one point in our history we used the Bible to justify slavery. Even though those verses remain in the Bible, our context and our understanding has led to a new understanding concerning owning another human being. This process happens at different rates and in different ways for different people and churches. For example, there are things in my life that I now see as sin that I did not see as sin when I was less mature in my faith – pride, judging… This is a process that I want to continue within myself. In doing so I am growing and becoming closer to God, reflecting more of His light.

As individuals and as churches we continue to turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction and understanding. Collectively we also turn to the Word – both written and revealed – to grow in faith and to reflect His light and love out into the world. May it ever be so.

Prayer: God of all creation, you are eternal, just as your love for each of us is eternal. I beg you to continue to reveal your will and way to me and to our churches. Be loud and clear in our lives. Lead us, O great God. Amen.


Leave a comment

Listen

Reading: Luke 9: 28-36

Verse 35: “A voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”!

I think Peter, James, and John have been up a mountain with Jesus before. They get to the top and are weary. They expect the same again – Jesus will pray and pray and pray and they’ll try to stay awake to pray with Him. But as He is praying, Jesus is transfigured. The appearance of Jesus’ face changes and His clothes become as “bright as lightning”. Moses and Elijah, also in “glorious splendor”, appear and talk with Jesus about His departure.

Who is talking with Jesus and what they are talking about are both significant. The Law is the core of the Old Testament. Moses represents the Law. When the people deviated from the Law, God would send a prophet to lead and guide the people back into right relationship. Elijah, one of the ‘greats’, represents the prophets. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking about Jesus’ departure. In short order He will enter into Jerusalem to be tried and crucified. Jesus will not be held by the power of death. He will walk out of the grave and eventually ascend back to heaven. In short, this conversation is connecting the Law and the prophets to what is about to take place. It must have been of great encouragement to Jesus to be reminded of the plan that has been in place all along – the plan that leads to the cross and the plan that leads all who believe in Him as Lord to one day join Him in eternity. Seeing and overhearing all of this must have been great encouragement to Peter, James, and John as they head down the mountain and at points in their ministries when they faced trial and suffering.

Peter, perhaps aware of the meaning and magnitude of what was happening, asks about building shelters. Peter wants to prolong something that must have been really amazing. But then a cloud moves in. A cloud is often symbolic of God’s presence. Again, Peter, James, and John are afraid. God speaks from the cloud, echoing what was said at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”! God announces that Jesus is divine and that He chose to send Him. Listen to Him. Listen to all that Jesus says. All of it. As it was for Moses and Elijah, as it was for Peter, James, and John, may it be for you and I. May we listen.

Prayer: Father God, place in me the heart and eyes of Jesus. Fill me with His love. May I feel and see as Jesus did. Fill me with your Words, lead and guide me by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Leave a comment

Either Or

Reading: Psalm 1 and Luke 6: 22 and 26

Verses 1 and 2: “Blessed is the man… delight is in the law of the Lord… he meditates day and night”.

In both readings today there is a distinct “this or that” choice to make. There is no middle ground. According to the psalmist and according to Jesus in Luke’s gospel, you are blessed when your life is aligned with God. Conversely, you are not blessed when your life is not aligned with God. In both readings, the blessings are God’s blessings, not the world’s rewards.

The psalmist connects meditating on God’s word to being blessed. In the reading of scripture we come to know God and how God desires for us to live our lives. For the psalmist, the scriptures nourish the soul. The faithful follower is like a tree planted by the stream, growing and yielding fruit in season. Fruit is the work of God evident in one’s life. For the Jews, this would look like devout worship, giving to and caring for the needy, studying the law, teaching and modeling love for God to family and neighbor.

The inward change that comes with and through the daily study of scripture is then reflected in outward behavior. Inner change, drawing closer to God, causes us to change how we act. Loving God more necessarily leads to loving neighbor more. Luke picks up on this idea too. In our two verses from Luke, Jesus addressed that fact that these inner changes and outward manifestations do not always sit well with the world. In verse 22 we are reminded that at times our faith will draw persecution from the world. When we speak out against injustice and violence, when we speak up for equal treatment and just laws, then we can draw some negative attention. In verse 26 Jesus contrasts this with how the world treats us when we act like a false prophet – speaking the world instead of God. The world likes us then and speaks well of us. But inside we are far from the ways of God.

This faith thing is an either-or choice. We can strive to live for God or we can choose to live for self and the world. We might like to try, but we cannot walk the middle road. We cannot waver between discipleship and the ways of the world. We cannot love two masters – we will come to love one and hate the other (Matthew 6). This day and every day, may we choose to love God and to pursue God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord, give me a heart that loves you alone. Break me of my fleshy desires. Cast them out of me! Daily draw me more and more into your love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Connection

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 7-8 and Psalm 1: 1-3

Verse 7: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

In both Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 we read about being connected to God. It is a connection that helps us avoid those who are wicked and who are sinners. It is a connection that lessens our fears and worries. In Jeremiah 17:7 we read of the benefits of staying connected to God: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

The psalmist identifies the connection point. When we delight in the law and when we meditate on it, we are blessed. When we read our Bibles and when we meditate on what we read – seeking understanding and application for our lives – then we are blessed. For the psalmist, this is the source that is like water to the roots of a tree. Water is essential for life. It nourishes the tree. In time, the tree produces fruit. Its leaves do not wither, it prospers. So it is with us when we sink our roots down into the Word, delving into our Bibles, soaking up God’s word.

Jeremiah also speaks of blessing when we are connected to God. When ‘heat’ comes we do not fear and when hard times come we do not worry. If our roots are connected to God, then we can rest in God’s presence and peace. The things of this world do not consume us. In those times when life ramps up and we feel the heat, we can turn to God for assurance and refuge. When we face difficult situations, instead of worrying, we can turn to God and place our lives in His hands, trusting in His love.

This metaphor is also picked up in the New Testament. Just yesterday I shared a message from John 15. In the first five verses, Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches. Jesus emphasizes our absolute need for connection too. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. And just as Jeremiah and the psalmist speak of bearing fruit, so too does Jesus. In verse 4 Jesus shares the key to bearing fruit: “remain in me and I will remain in you”. We do this by spending time in our Bibles and by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In these ways we remain connected to the true vine – Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus, our commission is to make disciples. By sharing the good news of Jesus and by telling the story of what He has done in our lives we help others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. As others come to know and accept Jesus as Lord, our lives are bearing fruit. In John 15, Jesus tells us that when we remain connected to Him we will bear much fruit.

This day and every day may we connect to our Bibles, drinking deeply from the connection that we find in Jesus. May this be the source of life that we share with the world!

Prayer: God of all creation, help me to know you more intimately today. Strengthen my connection with you, build up our relationship. Fill me with you so that all I do and say brings you glory. Amen.


2 Comments

Pleasing Words & Thoughts

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 11: “By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”.

Psalm 19 was a song that the people sang in worship or when preparing for worship. It begins with praise for the handiwork of God that we can see in creation. This first section reminds us of both God’s might and power and the perfection of creation. Then the psalmist transitions to God’s law and precepts. Again we take in hints of completeness and perfection. The Law is perfect and trustworthy and right and radiant and sure and precious and sweet. It brings joy to the heart and light to the eyes. Creation and the Law can be seen as parallel works of God’s mighty hand. The Law section ends with this line: “By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”. How true!

The Psalm is also realistic. In verses 12 and 13, there is an acknowledgement that we are human and, therefore, will struggle with the Law. We each have our hidden faults. There will be times when they lead us into sin. By our nature we are attracted to the things of this world. The psalmist asks for both forgiveness and for God to keep him from “willful sins”. These are the ones that we consider and mull over and still fall into despite knowing they are sin. Only with God’s help can one stand against the temptations of this world.

Why do we praise God for the work of His hand in all of creation? Why do we meditate on the Word of God on a regular basis? So that we can live into the wonderful line that concludes this great Psalm. So that our words and thoughts are pleasing to our God. May they be so for you and for me.

Prayer: O Lord my God, help my eyes to see your hand at work in and around me. Make me sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit so that your Word is ever before me. Keep me closely connected to you so that my life is a fragrant offering to you, one that is pleasing in your sight. Amen.