pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Shining for All to See

Reading: Jeremiah 18: 6-11

Verse 11: “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”.

In today’s reading from Jeremiah God widens the circle. The metaphor of the potter and the clay is expanded to the nation. The application extends to all nations and people groups. In verses seven through ten God outlines how this works. If a nation is doing evil it will be uprooted and torn down. But if it repents of its evil, God will relent. The reverse is also true. These verses imply that God is engaged not only in our personal spiritual lives but also in the public and corporate lives of our communities and of society.

Together people form a community. This happens at all levels. Our families and our churches are the base level and this is where our faith lives seem most evident. Our identity or our “collective life” comes from the sum of us. In a church, for example, if most of the people are friendly and welcoming, then the church will be friendly and welcoming. Jeremiah is extending our lives out further today. Jeremiah is implying that how we live out our lives of faith in our community, town, city, state, and/or nation affects the social and political realities of said groups.

As people of faith we can seek justice for all and can stand with those facing injustice. As people of faith we can seek to be positive contributors to the projects, events, and happenings in our localities. As people of faith we can care for and call others to care for the marginalized and victimized. As people of faith we can work for peace and reconciliation in our spheres of influence. As people of faith we can be strength and comfort and aide in the midst of loss, violence, and other tragedies. As people of faith we can speak words of love and understanding instead of words of hate and division.

Through Jeremiah God warns Israel and, by extension, all nations. In the last verse of our passage today we read, “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”. No, as people of faith we cannot be a part of the evil or injustice or abuse or… But, yes, we are also called to live out an active and engaging faith. We are called to let our light shine for all to see. In doing so we strength not only our own faith, our families, and our churches, but our communities as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be light and love outside the walls of my home and my church. Lead me to shine your love and light out into my neighborhood, my community, and beyond. Amen.

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All Nations, All Peoples

Reading: Luke 4: 21-30

Verse 23: “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”

It is likely that almost everyone in the synagogue in Nazareth knew Jesus – many since He was a baby or since He was a small boy. As He claims that He fulfills the prophecy from Isaiah 61, many in the crowd think or say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son”? Isn’t Jesus just the carpenter’s boy? Hearing or sensing this, Jesus says, “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”. It is hard to be at home as something or someone different than you were just a few months before. The crowd, who are hanging in the balance, want to see someone new, someone who has made good. To know it is true, they want to see a sign, a miracle. They want proof for who Jesus is claiming to be.

Perhaps the words from Jeremiah 1 – the words that we have been looking at the past two days – began to ring in Jesus’ ears. Maybe Jesus hears God reminding Him of who He was created to be. Jesus knows the plans that God has for Him. Perhaps this is what keeps Jesus from offering a sign at this moment. Pretty fresh off of the temptations in the wilderness, perhaps Satan returns with a fury, egging Jesus on to ‘just do it’. Satan would delight in Jesus using His power for the wrong reasons – to bring Himself glory. But Jesus resists all of this.

Instead, Jesus chooses to redefine their understanding of God and faith. To His audience, who are part of the chosen people, Jesus shares two stories that illustrate that God is bigger than Israel’s God. In reminding them that God rescued a foreign widow’s son fro death and healed a Syrian army commander of leprosy, Jesus is saying that it is not all about Israel. The idea that God’s love extends beyond them, beyond the people who keep the circle tightly closed, beyond the people who look down upon all outside of Israel as Gentiles, this was too much.

Yet we know it is not too much. To go just to Zarephath or to heal just an outsider who wanders in is not enough. Jesus called us to go to the ends of the earth, to make disciples of all nations, if all peoples. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, may I live into Jesus’ vision of the kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom that includes all people. May I see all as a part of your family, especially those who have trouble seeing it themselves. Guide me to help others to become someone who walks in the light and love of Jesus. Amen.


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On the Throne

Reading: 1 Samuel 8: 4-20

Verse Seven: And the Lord told him… “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

The Israelites come to Samuel with a request: give us a king. The people want a king to lead them. A king rallies the troops and goes out in battle before the army. A king can negotiate with the nations around them. The people say, “then we will be like other nations”. But this is not God’s plan. This was not God’s intent for the chosen people.

Samuel senses right away that their request is a bad idea. Their request displeased Samuel. But God says to him, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”. Yes, Samuel is God’s voice as the prophet, but it is ultimately God that they are rejecting as their leader. The Israelites are creating a system that we ourselves know is difficult to follow. One cannot serve two masters. One cannot chose both God and the world.

Samuel gives the people a litany of ways that a king will use his power to take their sons and daughters, their crops and livestock, and even some of them as slaves. The people do not heed the warning. They simply say again, ‘give us a king – we want to be like all the other nations around us’.

We too can sense the danger in this line of thinking. We question the logic. But how often do we choose other ‘kings’ over our relationship with the one true King? The primary king we often choose is self, placing ourselves on the throne of our heart. When we do do we soon are like the Israelites, focusing on the other things of the world in pretty short order: power, possessions, status, recognition, popularity… We top it off by justifying it, saying we’re just like all the other people around us. This too is a rejection of God. But God will never force or coerce us into loving or obeying. God is a true King.

When we are tempted to follow anyone or anything other than God, may we remember the cost of that choice. May we also remember the awesome place we find ourselves when we keep God on the throne of our hearts.


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Remember and Retell

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4 and 12-16

Verse Four: We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.

Today’s Psalm is about remembering and retelling.  It is about remembering the times of God’s presence and activity in the past and retelling it to others.  The Israelites are very good at doing this.  It keeps reminding them over and over of both God’s love and their status as the chosen people of God.  Remembering and retelling keeps them intimately connected to God and His love.

As Christians, we also are called to remember and retell.  We are first called to tell the good news of Jesus Christ.  The Great Commission charges all believers to tell of Jesus to all nations.  In doing do we help people to connect to the Savior.  In telling the story we also remind ourselves of how Jesus saves, loves, forgives, … each of us.  This personal story is the second calling we have to remember and retell.

Each of us has our own personal faith story.  It is the story of how Jesus Christ makes a difference in our lives.  It is the story of how Jesus is better – better than any other god we can chase after, be it money or power or some other religion.  It is the story of how Jesus walks with us through the joys and the trials, lifting us up at times and carrying us at others.  It is a deeply personal story because Jesus is a deeply personal Savior.  And it is a story that others need to hear.  We remember and retell our faith story so that others can see how the good news of Jesus Christ can be good news to them as well.

So what is your faith story?  Why Jesus?  Just as the Israelites pledged to “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord”, we too are called to follow the same.  Jesus put it this way: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  May we go and tell all we meet of our faith in the only one who can save.


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 68: 1-10 & 32-35

Verse 35: The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.

Psalm 68 speaks of God’s love and care for His people.  It begins with protection as God scatters the enemies.  In response, the righteous are glad and rejoice.  God has provided protection.  In the next verses, God helps the widow, the lonely, the prisoners – those on the fringes of society.  Not only does God lead and protect the nation, He also protects the least and the lost.  Surely you and I fit somewhere along this spectrum.  Let us also praise our God who protects and watches over us.

The psalmist then recalls the people’s wilderness experience.  They were freed from slavery in Egypt but wandered for forty years.  God gives them “abundant showers” as they eat their fill of manna and quail.  God led them on and they settled into the Promised Land – the land of bounty.  God again leads and guides and protects the people.  And again the psalmist notes that God also gave from that same bounty to provide for the poor.  In how many ways does God continue to provide for and bless us?  Let us praise the Lord our God!

The Psalm closes by offering singing and praise to God’s power and majesty.  God’s power is revealed to the psalmist in the skies – thunder representing God’s voice.  In the thunder is power and majesty.  The Psalm ends by acknowledging that God also gives power and strength to His people.  Verse 35 reads, “The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people”.  They experienced this in the pillars of cloud and fire in the wilderness.  They experienced this in the partings of the waters and in the crumbling of the walls.  The Israelites had some very tangible experiences with God’s power and majesty.

As we fast-forward a few thousand years, we too have a very real and tangible presence of God in our lives.  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit know that God continues to be near His people.  Through the Spirit we continue to receive God’s protection, guidance, direction, power, and strength.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit provides God’s constant presence in our lives.  It is a wonderful gift.  Through this presence we experience what the psalmist writes about.  For this deep and powerful connection to the Lord our God, may we lift our thanksgiving and praise!


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Controlled by God

Reading: Romans 8: 6-11

Verse 6: The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

Paul establishes an either/or situation in today’s reading.  Either we are controlled by the Spirit or we are controlled by the flesh.  Either we submit to God’s ways or we pursue our sinful nature.  Either we are alive as Christ dwells in us or we are destined for death.  Either we are filled with God’s peace or we are hostile to God.  Paul is drawing some clear distinctions.

For Paul, being a part of God’s family was a universal invitation.  He did not see any limitations on who could live in covenant relationship with God.  It was not by birth that one gains access.  This remains true today – some born into a “Christian home” never find a faith of their own and others raised in a secular home come to a deep faith.  Paul also saw no barriers in regards to race or ethnicity or nationality or status or anything else one could name.  We also see this today.  Jesus’ mandate to “make disciples of all people of all nations” has brought the gospel all around the world.

There are many, many people today who are active participants in fulfilling the great commission of Jesus.  While some are in far away places bringing the Word of God to every tribe and tongue, most of us operate in a much smaller, more local context.  While our prayers may go far and wide for the work of the church universal, our actions and words most often impact those close at hand.  Those affected can be family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, and even strangers.

When our “mind is controlled by the Spirit”, we exhibit a life of peace and love and hope.  When we are filled with the Spirit, our lives are different than those whose live by the flesh.  We do not chase after the things of the world because the Spirit helps us and leads us to trust in and to rest in God.  We live life longing for and trusting in an eternal time when we will forever dwell in the light and love of Christ.  The day to day of this life is small change.  We are not held captive to but are set free from the power of sin and death that so easily entangles the world.  We follow God’s ways and offer love and hope and peace to the world.  This day may our lives be a living testimony to the power and presence of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit within us, drawing others into the kingdom of God.


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Signs and Wisdom

Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

Jesus did not fit into the mold that some people had.  He did not meet their expectations, so they struggled to see Him as the Messiah.  Even though the Jews were looking for a Messiah, Jesus did not match their vision, therefore He was rejected.  The Greeks operated on wisdom and logic.  A person cannot be argued into or convinced of belief.  The miracles had to have some logical explanation.  Jesus did not fit their mold either.

For the Jews, their history is full of big signs of God’s presence.  The signs are often on the national scale.  All of the firstborn die in Egypt – except the Jewish families were passed over.  The manna and quail come for a long period of time to feed the whole nation in the desert.  God sweeps in the Assyrians and then the Babylonians to deal with the nation’s sin.  Perhaps Jesus giving sight to a blind man or raising one person from the dead were simply too small.  These miracles did not fit into their understanding of God at work amongst the nation.

We are not too far removed from the Jews and Gentiles of Jesus’ day.  Wisdom gets in the way of following Jesus all the time.  We rationalize why we couldn’t possibly do this or that instead of stepping forth in faith. We think we know best and need to be in control instead of trusting in God’s lead.  At times we demand signs too.  We try and strike if-then deals – if You will do this Jesus, then I will…  We want to see Jesus at work in the answer to our prayer or in the resolution to a situation and then we will…

The perspective had also changed.  God’s covenant was with the nation of Israel and it covered individuals.  This is how they wanted Jesus to act too.  They wanted to see the Romans banished in one fell swoop, for example.  But Jesus sought a personal relationship with each believer.  Jesus sought a covenant with individuals that extends to the whole world.  This is still what Christ seeks: a one-on-one relationship with each of us.  This relationship is based upon faith, belief, trust, love…  All are foundational.  And all must be experienced.  This is how the relationship begins and how it grows.  These are our experiences that translate into ‘wisdom’ and ‘signs’.  This is what we have to share with those in our lives who do not have a relationship with Jesus.  Through each of us, may the world come to know Christ, one person at a time.