pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Praying Today

Reading: Acts 2: 12-15

Verse 12: “Amazed and perplexed they asked on another, ‘What does this mean”’?

The Jews from all over the world were drawn to the place where the Holy Spirit manifested itself and they heard these Galileans speaking God’s wonders in many languages. Many were amazed and perplexed. These asked, “What does this mean”? What was God saying to them? Yet there were others in the crowd. Jesus would describe these as those without ears to hear. They did not want to recognize the fact that God was at work and they wanted to dismiss the whole thing, accusing the believers of being drunk.

There have been several nights of violence and protest in the city of Minneapolis. Much of it represents the outpouring of emotions long felt in the African American community. The trigger was the murder of an innocent man. A vast, vast, vast percentage of the police force in Minneapolis would absolutely condemn the actions of the officer responsible for the death. We hope that it would be all, but we know that this is not the reality. Racism exists. Some would say it is better than it used to be. Perhaps it is less frequent and it probably infects less people today, but it will only be better when racism is gone.

A few summers ago a few fellow students and I were walking to the frozen custard place. Suddenly a police car driving by us turned on its lights and siren and drove part way up onto the sidewalk. The two officers leapt from the car in hot pursuit. Almost all of us became instant lookie-loos. We wanted to see what the officers were up to. In a class at the seminary we had been discussing racism in America. As we sat and enjoyed our custard like nothing had just happened, one in our group said, ‘You guys just don’t get it’. He went on to share that while our first reaction was to be curious onlookers, his first reaction was to run. He had done nothing wrong and knew it full well. Yet his brain said to run. He did well in school all his life and had never had a run-in with the police. Yet his first instinct was to run. His Latino upbringing had instilled that response in him. I finally felt how deeply ingrained racism was in our society.

This morning in Minneapolis, ad it has been the last two days, there are volunteers cleaning up the mess. They are black and white, brown and all shades of humanity’s beauty. They too ask, ‘What does this mean’? and they know that there must be change in our society. They are investing in one another and in their city. They are teaching their children well. They see visions and dream dreams about a better community – one without racism and hatred. May we join their actions today by praying for healing in our nation and for an end to these evils.

Prayer: Lord of all, I pray today for the healing of my nation and of my community. May the voices of love and empowerment and equality rise up and speak long after the grief and outrage have faded away. Continue the conversation and the learning that we are all created in your image until all forms of racism and oppression are no more. God, bless and heal our nation. Amen.


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Path of Life

Reading: Acts 2:28

Verse 28: “You have made known to me the paths of life: you will fill me with joy in your presence”.

Today’s reading was just one verse. It has two parts which are interrelated. The first half of the verse centers on the “paths of life”. What does David mean by this phrase? Just as it was for David, so it was for the man quoting him in this verse. Peter was a man who was a work in progress as he learned the path of following Jesus. That path, after all, is the path of life. Like David and Peter, we too are a work in progress. As Methodism founder John Wesley put it, we are on a “journey to perfection”. What he meant by this is that faith is an ongoing journey to become more and more like the perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ.

Also like David and Peter, we too have failures in our walk with the Lord. Our failures might not reach the level of adultery and murder or of total denial of our faith, but in our own ways we break our relationship with the Lord. Whether that comes a million times through what we think are “small” sins that we struggle with or through a season pursuing the things of this world or caught up in an addiction that feels like a “big” sin, it does not matter. All sin separates us from God. The path of sin is not the path of life. The Lord never gave up on David or on Peter. He will not ever give up on you or me either.

The second half of the verse today centers on joy. Joy and happiness are not the same thing. The world wants us to be happy. We think possessions or titles or popularity will bring us joy. Pursuit and attainment of these earthly things does make us feel good. But the feeling does not last. There is no joy in things. As we study and learn the ways of Jesus, we see that his life revolved around serving others, sharing a relationship with others, healing the brokenness and isolation of others, forgiving other’s sins. His life as a loving and humble servant is our model. We will find what he found when we walk his path. When we give ourselves away, we do not lose but we gain. When we humbly serve God and others, we are filled with a joy that is everlasting. This is the path of life. May we give of ourselves freely and generously today, in whatever form that may be.

Prayer: Father God, help me to walk on the path of your son, Jesus Christ. Help me to love extravagantly today. May I be poured out in service to you and to all I meet today. Amen.


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Right Relationships

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verse 24: “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”.

At the core of today’s passage is the call to live in right relationship with God and with one another. In each small section Jesus first reminds us of the “big” or obvious sins – murder, adultery, divorce, dishonesty. Then he digs deeper, looking at the “smaller” and easier to hide or rationalize sins that we struggle with more often. These sins are the ones that lead up to murder… Each of these sins are offenses against both God and one another.

In verse 23 Jesus invites us to consider if our “brother has something against you”. If this is part of our daily prayer life, the the Holy Spirit will reveal to us these sins that we have committed against another. This process requires a careful and thoughtful introspection. When our words or actions or looks have caused hurt – when we get an immediate reaction – then we know we have sinned and must seek forgiveness. The careful and thorough introspection must go deeper, searching our day for instances where our interactions caused harm.

Jesus even seems to place our human relationships before our relationship with God. He says that before offering our gift to God – whether a thank offering or a guilt offering – to“first go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”. Be right with one another first. I think Jesus offers this thought because we think we can more easily hide or overlook our sins against our brothers and sisters. We think that God sees all and knows all (and God does) so that we cannot slip our offenses past God. In these words, Jesus is calling us to first be accountable to one another and then to God. Tend to the smaller relationships then to the bigger one with God. This is yet one more example of God’s upside down kingdom.

May we be mindful of our interactions with one another today, seeking reconciliation and forgiveness when we should, seeking to live in right relationship with God and with one another. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, make me mindful of all I do, say, and think today. Send the Holy Spirit to bring sure conviction when I sin and to guide me in the ways of peace and reconciliation and grace. Elevate my relationships with each I meet today, leading to deeper fellowship with them and with you. Amen.


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The Way of Life

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verses 21 and 22: “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you…”

As Jesus begins to unpack how he is the fulfilment of the Law, over and over he uses the two statements above. The “you have heard…” part refers to the specific law and the “but I say to you” is Jesus unpacking said Law. In this space we find ourselves between religion (that which can be legalistic and intellectual) and faith (that which is guided by the heart and can be more fluid). Put another way, before Jesus we had religion; in Jesus we find faith. A great example of this would be Jesus’ frequent clashes with the religious leaders over his habit of healing on the Sabbath. The Law said not to work on the Sabbath. Healing was work. Yet Jesus’ compassion led him to do this work on the Sabbath several times.

After a sermon on stewardship and tithing a pastor was approached by a parishioner. He appreciated the call to give to God. But he had a question or two. He wanted to know about exactly what amount does the 10% come from. He asked, “Is that after I pay for my new car, my new phone, my mortgage, and all my other necessities? Or is it based on some other figure”? A legalistic religion looks for loopholes and ways to limit obedience to the minimum letter of the law.

In our reading the first law is “Do not murder”. For most people this is a pretty easy command to keep if you are only willing to take it at its surface level. After the “but I say to you” the command becomes much more difficult to fully obey. Jesus begins by saying that we cannot even be angry with another. He also adds that this means to not speak harshly of another. Certainly this does not include gossip and slander and half truths, does it? Of course it does. Jesus backs this up by saying not to come before God if you have an unsettled disagreement still out there. What was that about “forgive us our trespasses just as…”? Jesus concludes unpacking this command by telling us to make things right with our adversaries. When one dives down deep with Jesus and looks at the heart behind “do not murder”, one begins to see the way of life that God calls us to.

Take some time to consider the depth behind the commands on adultery, divorce, and oaths. If you find these helpful to your walk of faith, consider working your way on through verse 48. That one is the real clincher. May our faith deepen more and more as we delve into the faith that Jesus taught and practiced.

Prayer: Dear God, what a challenge. In some ways religion is easier than faith – just tell me what to do. But you call me to faith – to living out a heart connection with you. Walk with me into the depths of your love, O God. For there I begin to see and understand what Jesus is unpacking in passages like today’s. Thank you for calling me to more. Amen.


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May Love Guide

Reading: Matthew 5: 17-20

Verse 17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets… but to fulfill them”.

What does Jesus mean by “to fulfill them”? The Law and the Prophets all had the same basic function: to teach us how to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Beginning with the first laws, for example, this has always been the case. The first part of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship with God and the rest deals with our relationship with each other. In choosing the word “fulfill” though, Jesus is not implying simply following the letter of the Law, but is hinting at how we also fully live out the intent of the Laws.

As the rest of the Sermon on the Mount unfolds, this is just what Jesus does. He begins with “Do not murder” in the next section. Jesus explains that there is so much more to this law than just not killing someone. Jesus, in essence, begins long before this step and tells us that being angry with another or speaking words of contempt put us in danger of “the fire of hell”. When we allow these evils in our heart, Jesus says we are already on the road to murder. It may not end in physical death but maybe it does end in emotional or relational death. All of this violates the rule of love that is supposed to be how one is identified as a disciple of Jesus Christ and as a child of God.

In the rest of the Sermon, Jesus unpacks laws relating to adultery, divorce, honesty, revenge, loving our enemies, giving, prayer, fasting… Each and every one has the same focus. God’s intent is not just the words on the paper but it is more. The Law and the Prophets should lead us into deeper relationship with God and one another. To get to this place, one must allow the words we find in the Bible to become the way we love, see, interact, and treat God and each other at the heart level. Please take some time today to read through to the end of Matthew 7, understanding how Jesus unpacks many more laws.

We fulfill God’s plan by loving unconditionally, by loving just as Jesus first loved us. As we read and seek to understand our Bibles, seeking to discern how to model our lives after our Savior, may love be our guide.

Prayer: God of love, I’ve heard it said that if I do not have love, I am just a clanging cymbal. I’ve heard it said that love can conquer a multitude of sins. I’ve heard it said that if I am your disciple others will know me by my love. May it be so. Amen.


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Faithful

Reading: Hebrews 11: 29-40

Verse 39: “These were all commended for their faith”.

Today we continue with the “Faith Hall of Fame” that we found last week in Hebrews 11. The people, both named and unnamed, are heroes of the faithful. Those we find in today’s reading are like those we read about last week in the first 28 verses of chapter eleven. Although on the list, the people on the list are not perfect examples of faith. Remember, for example, the Hebrews complained about ever leaving Egypt as Pharaoh’s army closed in on them in Exodus 14. And then God parted the sea and they walked through on dry land. Don’t forget about David either, who after living quite the blessed life and becoming king stooped to adultery, abuse of power, and murder.

Those in the Hall of Fame are not perfect. Much like you and me, they are rather imperfect people. Like us, their faith waivers at times. In general they are followers who desire to be faithful that stick close to a faithful God when life really presses in. Yes, Gideon doubted and Barak questioned God. Yes, Samson murdered innocents and Samuel failed miserably as a father. But these and all on the list were like David in one key way: they were people after God’s own heart. It was not in spite of their human weaknesses and failures, but rather because of them, that they pursued a relationship with God. They knew that their extraordinary God was faithful. Each stepped out and stepped up in faith. Because of that, “these were all commended for their faith”.

When I look in the mirror I too see imperfection. As I think about this past week – nevermind over the course of my lifetime – I see failures and sins. I am not without blemish. None of us are. But God is. And God is the one who can take imperfect vessels and can work amazing and awesome results. I can do all things with the one who strengthens me. So too can you. May we walk in faith today.

Prayer: Lord, my name will never be added to this list that I read in Hebrews 11. That is OK! Yet this I ask: use me as you will today. Then do the same tomorrow. And keep on going. Amen.


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Rooted

Reading: Psalm 52

Verses 8-9: “I trust in God’s unfailing love… in your name I will hope, for your name is good”.

As is the case with many Psalms, Psalm 52 is a response to a historical event. Before becoming king, David was viewed by King Saul as an enemy. Saul tried to kill David and pursued David and his supporters, forcing them to flee into the wilderness. On one occasion in the wilderness, David went to see a priest. The priest, Ahimelech, gave David and his men bread and gave David a sword. When Saul heard about this, he ordered the killing of Ahimelech and all his family… Over 85 were killed. Verses 1-7 are David’s reaction to this tragedy.

We may have or feel a similar reaction to the events we hear about in our world. Each day there are stories of murder and violence, of irrational behavior with tragic ramifications. These events lead us to see the perpetrators as evil and as deserving of God’s justice. It is not uncommon to want to see them “snatched” up and brought to “everlasting ruin”. While we may feel much of what David felt toward Saul, we too must do as David did: turn to God and rest in him.

In verses 8-9 David returns to his bedrock. He writes, “I trust in God’s unfailing love… in your name I will hope, for your name is good”. No matter what goes on in the world around him and no matter what happens to him, David knows his roots are sunk deep in God. David knows that God’s love is unfailing. God is his portion for ever and ever. God is David’s guide and protector. For all of this, David praises God. At the end of each day, David’s hope remains rooted in God because God is good.

When we, like David, observe or even experience violence or some other tragic event, may we too keep rooted in God, trusting in his goodness and love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, the world is full of hurt and pain and violence. So much of it is senseless. Help me, like David, to remain fully rooted in you, trusting in you alone. Amen.


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Layers, Ripples, and Depth

Reading: Exodus 20: 12-17

Verses 12-17: “Honor your mother and father… you shall not… murder… commit adultery… steal… give false testimony… covet…”

Today we look at the last section of the Ten Commandments. These six deal with our relationship with each other. They are not written in isolation but within the context of all ten. The covenant relationship that God establishes with us in the first four commandments influence our relationships with each other. Just as the first four revolve with loving God fully, so too do the last six center on loving each other completely.

On the surface level the last six are pretty straight forward and easy to understand. Yet each also has layers to it. For example, the command to “honor your mother and father” is generally about our relationship with our parents and the lifelong benefits of doing so. But this commandment can also extend to all who help parent us – grandparents, teachers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and even some of our bosses.

The layers on some can come from the ripple affects they cause. For example, committing adultery is simply not an act that affects just the two people involved directly. It also impacts families and friends and self and maybe even employment or social standing. The same can be said of all of the other six. We never sin in isolation.

The depth or breadth of a couple are also amazing when we take time to really ponder them. The command to not give false testimony is about not lying. Simple enough, right? But is not telling the whole truth or not being fully honest the same sin? When we think of a few other ways that false testimony can play out we can see how deep and wide this sin can really be. Do we gossip? Do we slander? Do we compare others unfairly to elevate ourselves?

The last of the Ten Commandments fits all three of the above. When we covet it can begin as an attraction. But it can soon become an obsession. The layers or levels of covetousness can also create ripples. Who we use or what we are willing to do to get that “thing” can leave a wake of hurt and pain in our trail. The sin of coveting can also become widespread. While it certainly is in our society, it can also become contagious in our lives. Finding joy or pleasure in getting some “thing” can lead us to search for joy or pleasure in other things and in other ways.

But all is not lost! When we love others as God intended, all is good in our lives and in the world. May we love well today!


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Do Not…

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-26

In this section of Matthew, Jesus deals with three of the ten commandments.  As always, Jesus seeks to get at the root of the Law instead of just the surface letters.  Today’s segment of this section deals with “do not murder”.  For most people in Jesus’ audience and for most of us reading it today, we hear this commandment and think, ‘no problem’ – we would never think of actually murdering someone.  It is one of the commandments you read and move right by because it seems so easy to abide by.

But Jesus says, not so fast.  He dives right into the heart of this commandment.  He first addresses the root that can cause murder.  Jesus focuses in on anger.  He states that if we are angry with our brother (or sister) then we are subject to judgment.  First, He says, in essence, do not come to the altar seeking God’s forgiveness or blessing if you are harboring anger or if you have wronged someone else.  Jesus advises us to make things right with our human relationships before trying to right our relationship with God.  Second, Jesus advises us to settle disputes quickly and personally – long before it ever gets to the judge.  Jesus is telling us to be personally accountable for our relationships.

On the surface, Jesus is speaking to our relationships with each other.  But there is also an inner layer.  Anger is something that can burn and smolder within us.  Think of the deepest grudge you have ever held or have heard about.  In the original text, the word translated ‘anger’ carried the idea of seething or underlying rage.  If we allow our anger to fester and to feed upon itself, our anger soon comes to match this idea of rage bubbling just below the surface.  It can build pressure until it erupts in a verbal tirade or even in violence.  Suddenly murder may not seem too far away in an extreme case.  In most cases, the words spew forth and much damage is done to our relationship.

It is relatively easy to obey “do not murder”.  The concept of “do not be angry” is much harder to master.  The battle must begin early – we must be honest and open and deal humbly with one another.  We must seek to love first, to listen carefully, and to be quick to reconcile when we wrong another.  May the Lord our God strengthen and encourage us in our walk.