pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.

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One More Year

Reading: Luke 13: 6-9

Verse 8: “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it”.

God made the tree in our passage today. In John 1:3 we read, “Through Him all things were made”. This tree, this tree that produces no fruit, was made by the loving hands of God. Just as it was with all of the rest of creation, this tree has the fingerprints of God all over it. In our minds and hearts we believe that we all have a purpose and a place in God’s plans. So it is for this tree as well. The man who planted the tree came to look for fruit. At this time it would have been a primary purpose for trees. The other primary purpose would be to become wood.

Our tree is young – the man has only been coming for three years to check for fruit. It is just beginning to mature to the point that it can bear fruit. At just 6 to 8 years old, though, it probably is not big enough to produce much wood for a project of any size. So, finding no fruit on the tree once again, the planter says, “For three years now… Cut it down”! The man is tired of waiting and getting no results. Let’s clear that little patch of ground and plant another tree in its place. Maybe this next one will be able to produce the fruit that is so desired.

But the gardener, the one who tends the tree, asks for patience. He says, “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it”. Just one more year. This is a big request. Imagine starting a new job and on day one your boss says, work one year and then we’ll start paying you. Imagine three years. For the owner, fruit probably equals money. Fruit has value. At a minimum, fruit will feed the family.

We too have similar expectations. Of young people, we often ask, “When will they grow up”? In our minds, they are past the point when they should be acting a certain way. Even of some adults we think a similar question: when will they ever quit doing ___? I suppose God looks down at me at times and sees the tree. I suppose God looks down and wonders, “When…”? Like the gardener, God is patient. God’s love and patience does not just ask for one more year either. God’s patience is extravagant with me. God patiently waits for me to produce fruit. He tends to me, fertilizes me… One more year. Yes, one day this will end too. One day we breathe our last. But until then, may we live to mature in our faith, producing fruit for the building of the kingdom. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, do a good work in me – today, tomorrow, and each day after that. Continue to make me a work in progress, a creation that seeks to grow and mature. May my life be one that produces fruit. Amen.


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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.


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A Process

Reading: 1st John 5: 1-6

Verse One: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well”.

Some view religion as a list of rules that one must follow. They see obedience as a burden. In today’s passage, John uses father-son language. When we look at the obedience that occurs in a parent-child relationship I think we get a good look at how mature obedience is a process that must be carefully developed.

Through early childhood the child looks up to the parents and behaves as a means to please their parents. This is mirrored in early faith as well as they join in table graces and bedtime prayers. Their faith is the faith of their parents. As a child grows and develops a sense of Independence, boundaries get pushed. There are an important set of years where skilled parents still exert some control yet begin to meter out more and more decision-making to their teenager. While this is rarely a smooth and gradual shift of the locus of control, when done ‘well’ the teen eventually learns good inner self-control and learns to take responsibility for one’s own actions and decisions.

A similar process occurs as the faith of the parents becomes a faith of their own. As a young person’s faith matures, they gain a sense of a personal faith that centers around a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The stories of Sunday school and vacation Bible School begin to take on a personal meaning and application. This too is a time of questioning and redefining boundaries and understandings that usually occurs during the teen years. When one professes faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, the love of God takes on a whole new meaning. As verse one states, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well”. When one comes to understand love and our faith this way, there is a shift in the locus of obedience. One moved from “having” to love God and neighbor to “wanting” to love God and neighbor. This becomes more like sharing a wonderful gift than carrying a heavy burden. This owning and living out of one’s faith is a process and can take many years.

Jesus is also involved in a process. He is in the process of conquering the world through love. He invited us to join him in this process of overcoming hate and sin with love. Each day may we join Jesus in the process. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.


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Stumble Behaviors

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 1-13

Verse One: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”.

Paul is dealing with a controversy in the church in Corinth. Because of their life experiences, one group in the church feels that eating meat sacrificed to idols is sinful. To them it has been tainted, so it should not be eaten. But to others in the church, they do not think there are other gods than God himself. Therefore, they see meat sacrificed to gods that do not exist as being okay to eat. These two groups are at odds.

Paul opens our passage today with these words: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”. He is referring to those who know it is okay to eat the meat as being ‘puffed up’ or arrogant in their stance. Instead of looking down on those struggling with this issue, those Paul calls ‘weak’ or who are less mature believers, Paul encourages them to choose love instead. Paul goes on to acknowledge that idols are “nothing at all” yet reminds the puffed up believers that some are still so accustomed to idols that eating this meat defiles them. Paul then asks the mature believers to abstain from eating such meat because it has become a stumbling block to the less mature Christians. Paul even goes so far as to call it a sin when they intentionally do something that is not a sin if that causes another believer to stumble.

We do not eat food sacrificed to idols today, but we do practice behaviors that cause others to stumble. Imagine the impact on one considering a walk with Christ if they see you regularly joining the office gossip circle or if they hear you harshly judging a fellow worker. Imagine the effect of a Christian using unethical business practices or acting in immoral ways concerning their marriage. Imagine the consequences of making your children go to youth group or Sunday school when you use the same hour to grab a coffee or to do the grocery shopping. As the world witnesses the words and actions of Christians, they can draw others to Christ or they can lead them away from Christ. Through and through we must reflect the love of Jesus Christ first and foremost. We must be diligent in our walk with Jesus, guarding our words and our actions so that we always build one another up. May it be so today and every day.


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Journey

Reading: Philippians 2: 1-5

Verse Two: Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

If you think back to when you were young, perhaps you can think of someone you wanted to be like.  Maybe it was one if your parents or maybe it was a grandparent.  Maybe it was an older brother or sister.  Maybe it was an older student on the team or in the choir or band.  Whatever the case, you looked up to that person for the qualities you admired in them.  They were qualities you wanted to have or practice as well.  As we mature in life, we often have mentors who help us along at work or in our faith or in our marriages…  They are usually more experienced and are “successful” and are willing to pour into us to make us ‘better’.

In today’s passage, Paul wants us to recall how Jesus brings us encouragement, comfort, compassion, love, tenderness, and fellowship.  He then says, “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose”.  Paul is asking us to look to the ultimate role model and to emulate Jesus.  Do to others what Jesus does for us.  Jesus set aside selfish ambition and conceit.  Paul says for us to do the same.  Jesus chose humility – looking at others needs before His own.  Paul says for us to do the same.  Delve into the Word, understand what Jesus is really all about.  Get to know Him so well that you can emulate Him well.  But do not do this for just a day or even a week.  Keep reading, keep deepening your connection.  This is a lifetime project.

If we make Jesus Christ our role model, we still need mentors.  The journey of faith is not easy and it does take some experience.  It is far better to have wise counsel than it is to stumble along on our own.  Each Christian should seek out a wiser, more mature Christian as a mentor.  To be able to tap into and to learn from one who has walked where we want to walk is essential to our journey of faith.  May we each reflect on our journey to date and seek God’s direction on how and with whom to continue our path to being one in mind and spirit with Christ.


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Intercessor One

Reading: Romans 8: 26-39

Verse 26: We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.

Paul knew that we, as humans, are weak.  He knew from his own faith journey that living the life of faith cannot be done on our own.  Through his own life, Paul has discovered that the Holy Spirit is an essential part of one’s faith.  It is only through the power and presence of the Spirit in the life of a believer that one can overcome our human weaknesses.

A key role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives is that of intercessor.  The Spirit works as an advocate for us, coming before God with prayers on our behalf.  When we do not know what to pray for or how to put our mess into words, then the Spirit takes over.  Verse 26 speaks of this: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us”.  In this way, the Holy Spirit is always bringing our needs before the throne of God.

The second way the Spirit prays for us begins with God searching our hearts.  In doing so, our weaknesses and shortcomings are revealed and the Spirit prays for these “in accordance with the will of God”.  In this way the Spirit helps to form and shape us into the person God created us to be.  Through this prayerful transformation process, we grow to become more like Jesus, the image of God.  As our faith grows and we become more mature in our faith, we become justified through the saving work of Jesus.  In our humanity we will always be weak.  Therefore we will stumble and fall now and then.  In these moments, the love of God again enters in and we are made righteous by His grace.  It is through Jesus that our weakness is made spiritually strong.  Through all of this the Holy Spirit continues to lift us up in prayer, to bring our needs before God, and to reveal in us what needs to conform more to the likeness of Christ.  Thank you God for the gift of the Holy Spirit.