pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living Faith?

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-15

Verse 11: “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”?

Our passage today has some pretty tough words for Israel. In verse ten Isaiah compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah – two towns that were so evil that God wiped them from the face of the earth. If that were not enough, God goes on to say, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”? It is just empty offering after empty offering after empty offering. God has had enough and finds no pleasure in such actions. The stream of offerings is compared to “trampling” in the temple. For a people and religion built upon the sacrificial system, it is quite a thing to hear God say, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings”.

To what would God compare this in today’s church? What motion or actions are we going through that feel to God as if it were meaningless? Where is our worship far away from our actual living?

A big part of what was driving God to make such a declaration was how the people were living out their faith. They were failing miserably. Yes, they were going through the motions of worship and sacrifices. Their hearts were far from God. It showed most in those easiest to neglect and abuse. The poor were being oppressed and the widows and orphans were being neglected. Those without power and those without voice were not being taken care of. These are the ones nearest to the heart of God. They are far from the hearts of God’s people. They were showing up on the Sabbath and they were checking the sacrifice boxes. And then they were leaving the temple and returning to the world where they took advantage of their workers, used unfair scales in the market, and ignored the cries of the needy. Today this would equate to those who leave church on Sunday to eat, drink, and be merry while swearing at the TV as their team loses or to those who use dishonest business practices to earn a little more profit. Do such as these show up on Sunday morning and then go out and neglect the poor and needy around them?

Verse fifteen ends with a tough indictment: “Your hands are full of blood”. If said today, what would God be referring to in our lives? What must change so that our worship leads us out the door and into acts of mercy and kindness and love?

Prayer: God, it can be easy to focus on self or to rush through devotions or worship to get on with life. Slow me down, soften my heart, attune my ears to their cries, and open my eyes to see their realities. Lead me to action, living out my faith in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen.

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Opportunities

Reading: John 12:1-8

Verse 3: “Mary took… expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”.

Mary offered an extraordinary gift to Jesus in our passage today. Mary, being open to the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit, offers Jesus a gift. We read, “Mary took… expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”. We know from Judas’ objections that this perfume was costly – worth 300 denarii or a year’s wages. While the value of the offering is significant, the personal nature of the gift is much greater. It is a beautiful scene of one follower giving her all for Jesus her Lord. To kneel and wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair is an act of humble and loving servanthood.

As we also read, Mary is helping to prepare Jesus for burial. Mary senses that Jesus is making His final stop at their house as He heads to Jerusalem for the last time. In her offering, Mary is joining Jesus on His journey.

We too will find ourselves in places and in moments where we have the opportunity to give generously to another. Our gift need not be worth a year’s wages although it could be if led and guided by the Holy Spirit. For some, such a gift is possible. Ultimately, though, the gift does not have to be valuable by worldly standards. What really matters is what is behind the gift. Mary’s gift came out of her love for Jesus as Lord and Savior. The gift would have been just as significant if it were inexpensive perfume. When we see a need or are led by the Holy Spirit to give generously and graciously and sacrificially and from the heart, our gift can be extraordinary too. A relatively small financial gift or the gift of our presence or the time we help out physically in a time of need – these offerings or gifts can make “all the difference in the world” to the person or persons impacted.

When we find ourselves in those opportunities, when led and guided by the Holy Spirit, may we too give all we can for the building of the kingdom here and in the future.

Prayer: Generous Lord, may your Spirit ever guide me to be loving and kind and giving to all I meet. Whether by my physical hands and feet or by my presence or by my monetary giving, make me responsive to the needs I encounter. May it be so. Amen.


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Generously and Joyfully

Reading: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11

Verse 10: “I will bring the first fruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me”.

Being thankful or grateful is such an important part of our faith. It was so important to God that this practice is one of the key tenets of the chosen people’s faith. Every year it was celebrated. Today we read, “I will bring the first fruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me”. By bringing the first fruits we act in faith and trust. Abel brought the first lambs of his flock trusting that God would give him more. In faith Abraham offered his only son Isaac on the altar trusting that God would provide.

In our passage today, the first fruits are being offered as a “thank” offering. The first grapes or wheat or olive oil or lamb or goat or… was brought and sacrificed to God along with prayers of thanksgiving for the blessings in their lives. It was a time of joy. Our passage closes with, “rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given you”. These offerings also acknowledged that it is God alone who provides. This is still an important perspective for us to keep.

These two practices remain essential to healthy faith. Our first fruit is often referred to as a tithe in the church. We usually think of it as money but it can also be our time or our talents too. Either way, God still calls for it to be the first fruits. In practice that means we write the check or give the gift at the start of the month. This demonstrates trust and faith in God. It requires much less to wait until the end of the month to give what is left. No one wants leftovers. To give thankfully and joyfully is also an essential. To give willingly with a heart that rejoices in all that God has done is pleasing to God. Remember cleaning your room grudgingly because you had to? Don’t give that way.

Lest we think it too easy, we must remember that God calls us to this thankful giving so that we learn to always live with a generous and giving heart. In the day to day of life we are also called to give of ourselves when opportunity arises. It may be time for a lonely friend, it may be a meal for a hungry person, it may be watching a young mom’s kids so she can go to the grocery store. In all we do may we be thankful to God and may we share richly with others.

Prayer: Lord, may I hold loosely to all you bless me with so that it may freely go to those in need. Amen.


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Follow God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 10: “By that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.

God established many laws for sacrifices in the Old Testament. The purpose was to bring one closer to God. Too often though, it was just a wrote observance. Perhaps the way we rattle off the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday is a good parallel. Many of the Old Testament prophets called for more than ritual observance – they wanted people to live faithful lives 24-7. The prophets called for loving God and loving others to be the focus and these would lead to mercy and justice and such. In many ways, this continues to be the church’s struggle today. Worship on Sunday is great but how do we live that out the other 167 hours of our week?

In His ministry, this struggle was often a topic Jesus addressed. He frequently clashed with the religious leaders who were more about observing the law than about loving God and neighbor. The religious leaders knew these love commands were the central commands of the Jewish faith. They saw the Law as the means to achieving the love commands. Jesus saw it the other way around. These two love commands lead us to living a life that naturally follows God’s laws and ways. If our focus is on loving God and neighbor, then all the offerings we give and all the sacrifices we make come from a good and holy place in our heart.

The will of God is a hard thing to follow 24-7. Jesus came to give us an example of what this looks like. To follow Jesus and to live out God’s will for our lives pleases God more than any offering or sacrifice ever could. When we are faithful in following Jesus’ example, we are in alignment with God’s laws and will and ways. In living out God’s will all the way to the cross, through Jesus we receive the gift of sanctification. In verse ten we read, “By that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”. By being fully obedient to God’s will, Jesus Christ provides the way for us to be made holy. It is not a one time thing either. We can confess over and over and can be made new, holy and perfect in God’s sight, over and over because Christ died “once for all”. For all people, for all sins. As we seek to follow Jesus, we allow others to see Him at work in our lives and to feel the desire for Him to work in their lives too. May we each live as a witness to Jesus Christ’s saving power today.

Prayer: Lord, may I follow your will today – loving you fully and loving neighbor as Jesus first loved me. In doing so, may I bring others to know you more. Amen.


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God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 7: “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”.

Much of the Old Testament covers the when, what, how, and why of the sacrificial system that atoned for sin. Chapter after chapter details this system. In many ways temple sacrifice was a core element of the Jewish faith. Yet, sprinkled here and there in the Old Testament are verses like the one that Jesus quoted from Psalm 40. When an offering or sacrifice became just a motion they were going through, it displeased God. When the same sacrifice was given over and over because the sin was repeated too, it displeased God. The act of atonement had to include repentance in the heart.

At times I have been guilty of this too. I have asked for forgiveness without a full commitment to repent of that sin. I felt guilty enough to confess but not enough to change. I have gone to church or MYF or men’s group because I was supposed to, had a poor attitude the whole time, and left just as empty as when I came. I have helped my neighbor or the stranger I met not because I wanted to or was led to but because it was my “job”. We have all been there (or close to there).

In verse 7 Jesus quotes Psalm 40, saying, “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”. This is reminiscent of Samuel and others who responded faithfully when God called. Samuel and many like him had a heart willing to follow God and His ways. This too was the heart of Jesus. His purpose was to do the will of God. All day, every day. Jesus lived with a heart ever centered on God’s will. It showed in all He did and said. Jesus exemplified obedience and this allowed Him to be God’s love and mercy lived out to the fullest. May we go and be like Jesus, doing God’s will always.

Prayer: Lord, prepare me to be your servant each and every day. Mold me, shape me, refine me to follow Jesus’ way. Help me to become less each day so that my life glorifies you more and more. Amen.


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Offering

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”.

The book from the prophet Malachi closes the Old Testament. Like many other Old Testament prophets, Malachi’s words connect to Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Chapter 3 opens with God letting Malachi and all of Israel know that God will send “my messenger”. This messenger will “prepare the way before me”. Malachi is prophesying John the Baptist. As we work through the other readings this week, we will flesh out the story as we learn that John will indeed prepare the way for the coming of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Malachi goes on to write, “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come”. As John preaches repentance out in the wilderness, Jesus will come to be baptized. The Spirit of God will descend on Jesus, marking the beginning of His ministry. Jesus will be the “messenger of the covenant”. The new covenant will be written on the cross, where Jesus will die for our sins. This new covenant changes everything – both now and eternally. It frees us from the guilt and shame of our sins as the blood washes them away. It makes a way for us to be saved to eternal life as we are made new again. There is a lot in verse 1: repentance, forgiveness, salvation, life.

Then, in verse 2, there is a shift, a reality check. Malachi writes, “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”. No, Jesus is not all peace and love and flowers. One does not have to spend too much time in the Gospels to discover that there is a cost to discipleship and to find that the road is narrow. When Jesus tells us that we must die to self and take up our cross daily, we find a cost. When Jesus redefines our priorities by telling us that we must first love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and then we must next love our neighbors as Jesus first loved us, then we find the road is narrow and is hard to walk at times.

If we are really following Jesus, we find that the Refiner calls us to die to self over and over and over. Sin after sin falls away as Jesus refines us. Our life gradually becomes the “offering given in righteousness”. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: God, take me as I am today and refine me to be more like you. Strip my pride and selfishness and judging – all that leads me to think I am more, making you less. Reverse that O God – help me to die to self so that I may be less so that Jesus is more. Amen.


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Witness

Reading: Mark 12: 41-44

Verse 43: “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”.

This passage is a hard passage for many Christians today. Part of me wonders if it is a stay-home passage. That is a passage that people know is being preached on so they choose to stay home from church that day or they quit reading the blog at that point. It is a passage that challenges us to our core if we are willing to consider Jesus’ message and to really look within to see if we are equalling the example set by the widow.

“This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”. She only put in two small copper coins. They were worth just a fraction of a day’s wages. This would be equivalent to a $40,000 a year business person putting in a couple of dollars at church today. Jesus and the disciples have watched rich person after rich person throw large sums of money into the temple treasury. Compared to their large gifts, it is hard to say that the widow’s offering is “more” than theirs. Yet Jesus says it is more. In fact, more than all the others.

No matter how big or small our offering is today in terms of cash value, I wonder if Jesus would say our offering was “more” when set beside all the other gifts brought to our church today? It is NOT about the cash value of the gift but is about the cost to the giver. A four-year-old could bring the best offering today, just as the widow did. Jesus explains why the widow’s gift was such. Jesus says, “They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on”. Wow.

Some folks blanch at the word “tithe”. Compared to the widow’s faith, even 10% might look weak. There was not only great cost for the widow, there was a deep, deep faith on display. When you consider what you bless your church or community of faith with each week, does it demonstrate such cost and such faith in God? In not, I ask you to reconsider your faith.

Dear Father who blesses me so richly: may I ever give to you as the widow gave. Whether my time or my money or my gifts, may the portion I give you reflect the love you have for me. Amen.