pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Fear the Lord

Reading: Psalm 111:10

Verse 10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.

To a degree we are all guided by fear. Fear helps us make many of our decisions. Sometimes fear is healthy. If I see a bear off in the distance when I am hiking, I will choose another path. If I fear high places, maybe I keep myself a little safer. If I fear failing my classes, I will make the choice to do my work and to study. In these cases, fear helps us avoid bad or harmful consequences. Fear can also do the opposite. Memories of my parents saying, “If your friend jumped off a bridge…”. Peer pressure is often driven by fears of rejection or being left out.

Verse ten reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. On the surface level, it seems odd to tie fearing God to gaining wisdom. The fear of God is not like a fear of spiders, where we avoid them at all costs. A fear of God is a healthy thing. Often in life we choose to face our fears because of our faith in God. For example, I can choose to do the right thing and possibly lose a friend or a client because I fear denying my faith when I cheat or lie or when I avoid speaking a difficult truth. I may choose to risk loving the other even though I fear being hurt or getting into a relationship that requires much energy and time. I do so because I fear what life would be like without love. Or I fear what will happen to that marginalized person if I remain silent more than I fear the consequences of speaking out against injustice or abuse. In each case, my fear of denying the nudges and whispers of God’s Spirit outweigh or override my personal fears.

The fear of God can help us correctly prioritize our lives. In our first fear is denying God, then our life will look robustly faithful. Our words and actions will be on the side of love and mercy and compassion and justice and forgiveness and the like. Understanding that God and the witness to our faith is our purpose in life is the beginning of wisdom. This day may we decide for God and His love. Amen.

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Rooted and Established

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Verses 17 & 19: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power… to know this love that surpasses knowledge”.

In this life we can pursue many things. Even for those who know God, the things of this world can call out in loud and enticing voices. We can act as if we were in love with the things of this world and our behaviors can indicate that we are smitten. Bright and shiny things that we chase are easier to identify: a new car, a bigger home, the latest iPhone. Non-physical things can draw us in too: the promotion, the recognition, the applause. No matter what we are pursuing, if it is not God, we find that ultimately self is at the core of the pursuit. We chase after things to try and satisfy self. And at the center of self we find pride.

Even though it looks like love as we pursue these things, none of these things can love us back. The new phone does not love us and the new title hanging outside the door does not love us. These things cannot make others love us. So we keep pursuing to find love. And if we dig down deep to the heart of the matter, we find that pride does not love us. Pride is willing to do much to elevate self but never finds love because the car or the title or whatever are never enough. Pride never rests because there is no final satisfaction.

To this endless cycle and for the rest of our souls, Paul offers this prayer: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power… to know this love that surpasses knowledge”. It begins with where we are rooted and established. Instead of being driving by pride, God invited us to be rooted and established in His love. Paul prays for us to have the power know God’s love because it is a love that brings peace and joy and contentment to our souls. It is not based on this world or on the things of this world. It is an eternal love. It is an unending love.

When we know and are rooted and established in God’s love, our focus shifts outward from self. We pursue God and the things of God as we reciprocate His great love. We begin to see as God sees, finding worth and value in all people. As this occurs, the things of this world grow dim. Relationships with God and each other become our pursuits. These have true value. Here we find a love that surpasses even knowledge. This day and every day may we be rooted and established in God’s love.


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Modeling God’s Love

Reading: Psalm 24: 1-2

Verse 1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”.

Today’s passage connects back to Genesis 1. There we find the familiar words, “in the beginning”. When there was nothing, God created – first the heavens and earth and then light, sky, and land. God would go on to create all living creatures, including humanity. It is from this place of understanding that the psalmist writes, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”. God is the creator.

It did not take long for mankind to question our place in the created order. Almost since the beginning of time mankind has wrestled with our position in the world. Consequently, God’s role as supreme, all-powerful creator has been questioned too. “Progress” in many fields has led to a questioning of God’s role in creation and the world and even of God’s existence. Yet, when push comes to shove or when we find ourselves in a time of trial and testing, we come to the honest realization that we have very little control. When one breathes their last, we are helpless. When cancer or other diseases set their course, in spite of our best efforts, we are powerless. When mother nature gathers power and moves across land or sea, we cannot deter her or alter her course or lessen her might.

Even though God is creator and is in control, we do have roles to play in the world. We are called to partner with and to work with God to love and care for the earth and for each other. We love and care for the earth and all of creation the same way we love and care for our fellow human beings. We model the love of God that we find in Jesus Christ. It is a love that considers others before ourselves. It is a love that sacrifices for the good of the other. It is a love that seeks what is best for the other.

When we live out this type of love and allow it to lead and guide all of our decisions and choices, then we honor and glorify God’s intent for all of creation. May it be so for you and me this day and every day.


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Room to Improve

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 45: “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”.

Mankind has long had an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. The dividing line can be drawn over many different characteristics and usually is drawn because of some level of ‘better than’ beliefs. Whether it has to do with race or nationality or ethnicity or education or socio-economics or gender or age or religion or… there is an artificial distinction created and an air of superiority floats over it all. There is a natural tendency to do this. To a degree we all like to be the best or at least to see ourselves or the group we belong to as the best.

Peter and the rest of the Jewish Christians thought so. Jews who had accepted Christ were the best, followed next by the regular Jews, and then there were the Gentiles – everyone else. It was ‘us’, ‘almost us’, and ‘them’. We still do this today. We each think this of our church or of our denomination. There is the Methodist Church, other Christian churches, and then non-believers. Each of us would substitute our own church or denomination in the first place. If we did not we would be attending a different church each Sunday morning. But ‘our’ must be universal, not singular and exclusive.

In today’s passage God demonstrates that all people are invited into faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit blows across all barriers and distinctions and includes all people. Verse 45 reads, “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”. The words ‘even on’ indicates the early church’s struggle with this new revelation. We too may struggle at first. But if we are open to the work of God in all forms then we too will accept all whom the Spirit calls. Once we get to know another and discover their heart for God, then we will see them as just another brother or sister in Christ. When we see the image of God in others, then we grow to love them as God loves them.

We remain far from being an ideal church. Individually we all have room to improve. In all, love remains the key. Each day may we strive to be more like Jesus Christ, to love more like He did. Today may we be more like Christ. And tomorrow may we love more. And the next day too. Holy Spirit, blow into our lives each day, leading us to love more fully and more completely. Amen.


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Action

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse Eighteen: “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”.

Already in the early days of the church John was seeing a struggle between the words Christians said and claimed and the actions that they were living out. In the first chapter of 1st John, he encourages the followers of Christ to walk in the light. Walking is an active verb – John wanted them to walk in the faith or to have an active faith. He continues this encouragement in chapter two and then turns to warnings against loving the world and being led astray by false teachings. In chapter three John turns to our call as children of God and how to live righteous lives. It is within this chapter that our passage today lies.

For John and for the church today, we cannot separate the idea of being a Christian from the idea of love. The two cannot be separated. Jesus was all about loving others and that is one of Jesus’ primary directives to His followers. In most churches, we do this very well with each other. Yes, we will disagree now and then, but by and large the folks in our churches love one another well. Those John was addressing must have done this well too. The challenge comes in loving those outside the walls of our churches, those who are different, those who struggle with sin or hardships in their lives.

John was challenging the church to love those in need in a time when persecution was high. We are challenged today in a time when it is pretty safe to be a Christian. Yet we too struggle to always help those who cannot help themselves and to offer self-sacrificing love that goes out and meets people’s needs where they are at. John wrote, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”. Don’t say you love your neighbors but actually go out and love them. Don’t see injustice and do nothing about it. Don’t see the hungry without feeding them, the naked without clothing them, the lonely without visiting them…

There is much need and brokenness in our world. There is much love in our hearts. May the two meet not only in our thoughts and words but out there in the real world too. May we each be a part of making this happen today.


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A Day of Quiet and Reflection

Reading: Matthew 27: 57-66

Verse 59: “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock”.

Today is a hard day for the followers of Jesus. It is a day of waiting. We read today of a brave man named Joseph who wanted to care for Jesus’ body at the end of the day Friday. He did not want the body left on the cross on the Sabbath. So Joseph gets permission from Pilate to place Jesus’ body in his own tomb. We read, “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock”. In John’s gospel we are told that Joseph had a helper. In John 19:39 we read that Nicodemus, the one who secretly visited Jesus at night, helps Joseph. A seed planted by Jesus has obviously been at work in Nicodemus.

Also present are two of the women who were regularly in the group that followed and cared for Jesus. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses “were sitting there opposite the tomb”. They are present maybe for a couple of reasons. One is practical. The placing of Jesus’ body in the tomb was quick and temporary. The women intended to return after observing the Sabbath to properly care for Jesus’ body with the usual spices. They were also present to mourn and grieve. To be physically near the one who has just passed is something that can bring some peace and comfort. In these moments, what else can one do?

This day has traditionally been a day of waiting. For Christians, we know what happens tomorrow – the grave is empty! Today we wait with anticipation and excitement. But, for Jesus’ followers, this day is a day of mourning and a lot of “now what” questions. It is a day of stillness and quiet. It is a day of confusion and discomfort. We have all been through the day after losing someonene dear. We all know the emotions and the thoughts that run through our hearts and minds. We know just what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and all of Jesus’ followers felt that day.

Today, may we too enter the stillness and the emotions of what it would be like to not have Jesus’ presence. In the stillness may we connect to the women outside the tomb. In the consideration of not living in His presence may we come to rejoice in the glory of living daily with the power and presence of the risen Christ. Today us a day of quiet and reflection. For us there is no sadness, for we know that Easter is coming. Hallelujah and amen!


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Narrow and Hard

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s passage is all about commitment, dedication, obedience, discipline, and, ultimately, transformation. This call to discipleship is hard. That is why Jesus said the way is narrow in Matthew 7. Faith is just like all other things of great value – it requires a great deal of effort to attain our goal.

Jesus begins today’s key verse with, “if anyone would come after me”. He is implying the first thing about faith is a choice. All people everywhere have a sense of God one way or another. Some sense a higher power, some sense God in the created world, some sense God in the “there must be more to life than this” feelings. Faith begins with the inner urge to live for and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Beginning a relationship is the first step.

Next Jesus turns to those big words I opened with, saying, “he must deny himself”. Denying self and our own wants and desires is the beginning of living out our faith. When asked, Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. When we truly do this, there is little room for self. In denying self, the transformation process also gets under way. The study and practice of our faith through prayer, worship, Bible study, … is what begins to transform our hearts and minds so that we begin to see and feel and think as Christ did.

Then Jesus turns to our calling. He next instructs us to “take up his cross”. As we are transformed more and more into His image, we come to discover that special blessing or talent or gift that God has given us to serve His will. Some teach, some preach, some feed, some clothe, some visit, some sing, some clean, some sew, some lead, some transport, some… The cross represents Jesus and our gift or talent is how we share Jesus with others. Our “cross” is what helps others to connect to Jesus.

Once we have been drawn into relationship, once we have been transformed to love God and others more than self, once we have found our niche in serving God, then and only then can we say we follow Jesus. May we all choose the hard and narrow way of Jesus today. It is through the Lord that we find the life truly worth living. Blessings on your journey.