pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Ambassadors

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-21

Verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us”.

Today many will gather in churches and homes to worship. We will sing, pray, read scripture, hear a message,… An outside observer could probably identify us as Christians. Then we will leave our places of worship and enter the world. When observed there will we still easily be identified as Christians?

Paul encourages us to not see people as the world sees them. He reminds us that once we are “in Christ” we are a new creation. We no longer see as a person of the world but now see as Jesus Christ saw the world. As such, we are called to first reconcile ourselves and then the world to Christ. We confess and repent and seek to live like Jesus. In turn we are called to help others do the same. Paul writes, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us”. As ambassadors we should represent Christ well and should help others to know the One that we know.

In a general sense, folks should see Christ in us. This emerges in how we treat others, in the ways that we live with integrity and honesty and love and compassion and mercy… People should notice that we are different from the world. But being “in Christ” also calls us to go a step further. We should also see and act as Jesus did. That means noticing the one who feels unlovable and then loving them as Jesus does. It means noticing the one that feels trapped in their sin or the guilt and shame and then helping them to be freed. It means seeing the one in need and then meeting their needs as we are able. It means seeing oppression and injustice in our community and addressing it. In living out our faith in real and practical ways we serve as good ambassadors for Jesus Christ. In this process, we also become more and more “the righteousness of God”.

This day and every day, may we not only live as good examples of Christ, but may we also be Christ’s love.

Prayer: Lord, help me to not only see as you saw and to not only love you, but also to see and love my neighbors in both word and deed. Amen.

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Choose to Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey that focuses on self-reflection, fasting, and prayer. The 40 days comes from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. During Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He focused on these three practices. For Him it was a season of preparation to begin His ministry. Lent is a season of preparation for us. During Lent, the 40 days do not include Sundays – they are holy days set aside for worship. At the end if Lent we arrive on April 21 at Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 58, our passage for today, focuses on fasting and the effect that it should have. To be honest, fasting has become a little-practiced spiritual discipline. Traditionally fasting was a practice that led to prayer, study, and self-reflection. It was also practiced at critical decision points. Esther’s fast in chapter 14, verses 15 and 16, comes to mind. In general terms, abstaining from food should lead one closer to God. The meal time and the periods of hunger would be spent in study and prayer and reflection, drawing one closer to God. The physical hunger reminds one of our spiritual hunger for God. During Lent, some practice a fast and focus on self-reflection, introspection, confession, and repentance. Today many churches will use Psalm 51:10 to begin Lent as ashes are placed on foreheads. It reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Today many people chose to fast from an item or habit. People give up chocolate or pop or TV or social media. When the desire for this arises, it leads one to prayer, study, and self-reflection. Others choose to add something during Lent – a Bible study or a daily devotional or guided prayer. The goal is the same: to draw closer to God through self-reflection and repentance. Whatever fast you choose, this remains the goal. Fasting should lead to a positive change of heart and soul. This is what Isaiah is talking about.

Verse 6 opens with this line: “Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen…”. Fasting creates the heart of God in us – a heart filled with compassion for others. A more Christ-like heart leads us to speak up against injustice and for the oppressed and to share our food and shelter and clothing with those in need. It does not allow us to turn away from our brothers and sisters in the world. This is the impact of fasting that is pleasing to God. It leads to a pure heart that loves without conditions. It leads to a steadfast heart that walks out Jesus’ love every day with every person without limits.

Fasting connects us to God. It changes us and makes us more like Him. Then our “light will break forth like the dawn” and “you will call and the Lord will answer”. When we cry out, God will say, “Here I am”. This Lenten season, may we choose to fast, to come closer to the heart of God, to better know and serve our fellow travelers in the world.

Prayer: Lord, in this holy season, may my heart focus in on you and on the changes you seek to make within me. May my fast bring me closer to you and to those I meet in the world. Amen.


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Eyes to See

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verses 26 and 26: “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars… nations will be in anguish… men will faint from terror”.

In our gospel lesson for this week, Jesus tells us that there will be signs that signal His second coming. In our opening verses, He says, “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars… nations will be in anguish… men will faint from terror”. These verses make it sound like it will be evident when the time is at hand. Yet for thousands of years people have seen catastrophic wars and diseases and disasters and wondered: is it now?

Since war and violence and pestilence seem to be natural parts of our world that occur with regularity and frequency, it is hard to interpret any of these as the signs that Jesus Christ is speaking of in today’s passage. So how will we know? I think the better question is: how do we see?

In our modern world we often rely on medicine instead of prayer. We turn to prayer as a last resort. We turn to ourselves to solve life’s problems instead of seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When this doesn’t work, we may try and numb ourselves or may turn to other ways to take our minds off the matter. Again, we turn to faith when all of our efforts to solve, avoid, numb, forget, ignore… have failed. We do not always see the world – both the bad as well as the good – through eyes of faith. If we are looking for signs with our human eyes, surely we will miss the signs from God.

To use a simple illustration, I see this revealed at funerals. If the person and family are people of faith, they see the loss with a long-term vision. If the person and/or family is not a person or people of faith, then the death is the end. Both families feel the sting and pain of human loss, but when viewed through eyes of faith, the hurt is tempered by the hope of eternal life and by thoughts of eventual reunion. These same can be said for how people view change, other losses, hard times…

Yes, Jesus will return. If we are looking for, even anticipating this, then we see the world with eyes of faith and our daily lives are so much richer. We will see signs of the kingdom often, being strengthened and encouraged along the way. May we ever be on the watch, seeing with eyes of faith, eager and ready to encounter Jesus here and when we do stand before Him one day. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, prepare me. Lord, give me kingdom eyes to see. Come Lord Jesus, come. Amen.


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Deep Need

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”.

Yes, Elkanah loved Hannah more than anything in the world. Yes, Elkanah treated Hannah much better than his other wife. But shame of shames – Hannah could bear him no children. The second wife, Peninnah, had lots of children. Peninnah frequently reminded Hannah of this fact. This only added to Hannah’s already deep sadness and bitterness. Each year when the family would go up to the temple to worship, Hannah would bring her situation before God.

This particular year the provoking by Peninnah and the deep sadness over her barren state seemed especially painful. Instead of simply praying once more, we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”. Hannah felt like she was at the end of her rope. It was not an ordinary prayer that she offered up to God. The Spirit was moving in her as she poured out her soul. This was a deep, gut-wrenching prayer. It was as ripe with emotion as it could get.

We too have uttered this type of prayer. We too have been at the end of our rope and have cried out to God. We too have been at the bottom of our pit and have begged for God to reach down and pull us out. We too have felt so desperate that the prayer just poured out from the core of our souls. Our circumstances or the cause of our situation may have been different, but we have all prayed like this before.

What does Hannah’s prayer reveal? What do our prayers of deep emotion reveal? First, they reveal our utter dependence on God. Sometimes we are weak, unable to alter the situation. But God can. Second, they reveal a trust in God not only to hear but to respond. He alone can rescue. He alone can save. God is faithful to Hannah. Samuel is born. God will be faithful to us as well. May we pour out our souls in those times of deep need, trusting in God to do what we cannot.

Prayer: God, thank you for the reminder today of your deep, deep love for us, your children. Like Hannah, may I always seek you in my deepest times of need, trusting in you and in your plan for my life. Amen.


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Sing God’s Praises

Reading: Psalm 146

Verse 5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”.

The psalmist has chosen God. He will praise God and he will put his trust in God. In contrast to this, the psalmist addresses where many put their trust – in man. He writes, “Do not put your trust in mortal men, who cannot save”. They die and return to the earth; their plans end with them. We often extend this idea to the things of men. We place our trust in our possessions, in our wealth, in our titles, in ourselves. All of this is finite. None of this has the power to save. Only the Lord can save.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”. We can place our trust in God because God is the maker of all and because God “remains faithful forever”. This contrasts sharply with men and the things of man. God is also pure love and goodness. Because of who God is, because God is faithful to his children, the cause of the oppressed is upheld, food is given to the hungry, prisoners are set free, the blind receive sight, those who are down are lifted up, the alien is watched over, the orphan and the widow are sustained. God cares for and loves on the weak and powerless. God gives hope and strength to the least and the neediest. How does the God who dwells in heaven do all this? Through those who are faithful.

Remember where the Psalm began – with the rulers of the earth. Their plans cannot save, they fade. They are concerned with themselves and their things. Contrast this to the desires of God. The endless love of God is concerned with those who are in need. There is poverty and neglect in our cities. Many sit in prisons – some with bars and some without. Injustice and abuses of power splash across the headlines and our feeds. A stream of aliens, orphans, and widows nears the land of opportunity. As the people of God, how are we making God known in the midst of all this hurt and pain and sadness? How are we working alongside God to alleviate the affects of poverty and injustice and inequality and prejudice? When we enter into the places and into the lives of those affected by these things, we bring the hope and love of God with us. We are opening the door for them to know God, to know God’s endless love. One day they will also sing God’s praises. May the work of our hands and feet and the love in our hearts make it so.

Lord, make me an instrument of hope, love, and peace. Amen.


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Priesthood

Reading: Hebrews 5: 1-4

Verse 2: “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness”.

Today’s passage speaks of the priest and the roles the priest played for the people. In Biblical times, the priest offered gifts and sacrifices for the people and he taught the people, often calling them back to a faithful walk with God. Verse two speaks of this. At times the priest, being human, would go astray as well. In these cases, the priest would do as he did for the people – offer a sacrifice for the sin.

At the time of our writing, all official priests would come from the Levites, the family line of Aaron. Aaron and his descendents were identified by God to be the priests for Israel. From within the clan or tribe of Levi, men would be called by God to serve as a priest. From within this group, one would be selected to serve as the high priest. This role brought special duties and was a great honor.

For clergy down through the ages and in our present time, the role has changed slightly. Men and women are still called by God to serve His people, but they can come from any family and from all walks of life. Clergy still perform religious duties such as leading worship, teaching on God’s Word, offering guidance and direction, and so on, but do not offer sacrifices on the altar for the sins of the people.

The expansion of the clergy to a much bigger pool has also led to an expansion of the roles played by the people in the pews. Many churches and denominations have something called the “priesthood of all believers”. This concept began with Jesus. He was the rabbi amongst His followers. Jesus sent out His followers to teach and to heal, including them in the role traditionally held only by the Levites. Today, in many churches, we also see our members in this way. Each Sunday all people are encouraged to go forth to be the light and love of Jesus Christ in the world – to minister to others on behalf of Jesus.

May we each follow the call by Jesus to make disciples of all peoples and nations.

Lord, you call each follower to plant seeds and to meet needs. This day, may all I do and say bring glory to your name, drawing others to you as I love my neighbors. Amen.


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Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-16

Verse 12: “The word of God is living and active… it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”.

Today’s passage is a great two-part message. First, we read that “the word of God is living and active”. Initially this speaks of the words we find in the Bible. The passage we read last year suddenly has new meaning and life as we read it anew this week. The passage that did not seem to have much relevance last week springs back into our mind today, offering application into a situation or decision we face. The living word of God remains ever alive, always able to speak into our lives.

The word is also the Word, Jesus Christ. By extension this is, for us, also the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ words and example and the Holy Spirit’s activity in our life bring not only guidance but also conviction: “it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”. Verses 13 and 14 conclude this section reminding us that God sees and knows all – we cannot hide our sins from God. All is “uncovered and laid bare” before the One who will judge us. Being sinful creatures by nature, to this point in our passage it would seem that we are in deep trouble. Not so.

The second half if our passage addresses the realities of the first half. Here we find our truth, our promise, our hope. First, we have a great high priest, Jesus Christ, who sympathizes with our weakness. When Jesus was in the flesh, He felt the temptations we feel. Jesus was without sin, but because of His experience on earth, He can intercede for us before the throne of God. Therefore, we are encouraged to “hold firmly to the faith we profess” because Jesus is on our side.

This second half concludes with our encouragement and our hope: “let us approach the throne of grace with confidence”. We approach the throne of grace, not the throne of judgment or condemnation. The price has been paid. Our great high priest’s work on the cross is finished. The power of sin and death have been defeated. Therefore we approach a throne where we receive “mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. When we are weak, He is strong. When we fail, He offers only mercy and grace, restoring us to righteousness. Thanks be to God for our great high priest, Jesus Christ.

O Lord, today I am reminded of your power and majesty. I am humbled by your love, poured out in mercy and grace. Thank you for the words if truth, for the active and living presence of the Holy Spirit, and for your Son, my great high priest. Strengthen me today for the battle. Walk with me step by step. Amen.