pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Walking as Witnesses

Reading: Acts 2: 14a and 22-33

Verse 24: “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him”.

As Acts begins, the early church is starting to take shape and to grow. In today’s passage we read part of one of the first sermons given about Jesus Christ. Peter uses Old Testament scripture to connect his audience to Jesus. In verses 17-21 he quotes from Joel 2 and in our passage today he quotes from Psalm 16. In preaching to a mostly Jewish crowd Peter is using their prior knowledge to build new understanding.

In today’s passage Peter recounts the basics of the crucifixion before turning to the reality of the resurrection. In verse 24 he writes, “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him”. Impossible. As Peter links into all the Old Testament scripture that speaks of and prophesies about Jesus, he believes that the plan, God’s plan, was perfect. All the dots connect. Therefore it is impossible for death to interrupt God’s perfect plan. Peter then uses the quote from Psalm 16 as his proof text. He reads these words of David as words about Christ – David’s promised heir upon the throne forever.

Peter closes his case with an eyewitness claim. Not only do the scriptures speak of Jesus’ resurrection, but Peter and his fellow disciples are eyewitness – they have seen the risen Lord. Peter is so sure that he states that they are “witnesses of the fact”. Peter is as sure of what he has seen as he is of the Old Testament passages that speak of the Messiah. All of this leads Peter to the place David found too – to “live in hope”. Jesus Christ is our hope too. He is our promise of God’s love. As we begin to walk anew as Easter people, may we too walk as witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Father God, may I bear witness to the truth of the resurrection today. May all I do and say and think point to the risen Lord, my Savior. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring you all the glory today. Amen.


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2020 – Committing

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 4: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”.

Our verses for today are a great reminder for us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, of who we are in him. These verses are a great summary of the good news. These verses also continue with the “now and not yet” of Advent and also add in a touch of the past. In verse four we again read: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”.

My mind connects to John 1: 1-5 when I read these words. In John’s gospel we read of Jesus in the same time frame: “In the beginning was the Word…”. This is the time frame that Paul is referring to. Since before Genesis 1 happened, you and I have been chosen by God to be holy and blameless. When we claim our “inheritance” and stand before the throne, we will be made forever holy and blameless in his sight. In this life, when we confess and repent of our sins, God takes away our sin and the shame and guilt and we do stand for a time as holy and blameless in his sight. But that time is usually short-lived. Our selfish hearts and the lures of the flesh draw us back into the world and we are no longer without sin. We do not remain in sin, but this is a cycle that we are pretty much always engaged in as we live in the flesh. Our human nature and our divine nature are ever at odds.

As we near 2020 I encourage you to consider the bigger scope of your faith journey. It is a journey towards perfection in this life. The times of walking as a disciple increase as our forays into sin decrease. As we walk the road of faith our love of God and neighbor grows. This leads us to walking longer stretches as children of the light. Our ears become more and more attuned to the Holy Spirit and our ability to be holy increases with the maturing of our faith. So as we enter 2020, what faith practice could you commit to for the coming year that would move you closer to following Jesus Christ more fully? Ponder it and pray over it, then commit!

Prayer: Lord God, as 2020 is about to dawn, help me to commit to being a better reader. Lead and guide me to grow closer to you and to my brothers and sisters in Christ as I commit to this plan. May this all be so in 2020. Amen.


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Overflow

Reading: Romans 15: 7-13

Verse 7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”.

Stop. Read verse seven again. Slowly. The words “as Christ accepted you” are powerful. Jesus accepted me as I am. That includes my sin, yes. But, more than that, Jesus accepted me knowing that I would sin again. And again. And again. A love so perfect, accepting me as I am, is a powerful love. The “you” is also universal. Jesus’ love and acceptance knew no bounds. Many rejected Jesus. But that did not stop him from loving even these.

Rejection is something we must consider if we are to really live out this verse. To the proper Jews, the Gentiles were base and vile. They were to be avoided. But to Jesus, to Paul, to the early Christians, the Gentiles became ones to accept, to love as Jesus had first loved them. The Gentiles were simply people in need of Jesus’ saving love. The rejection did not come from the Gentiles. It came from those proper religious folks who would not go there themselves. Jesus experienced this kind of rejection too. He ate with the sinners, touched the lepers, healed on the Sabbath. Oh the things Jesus would do to love another.

That’s what this passage is calling us to. It is so easy to love those like us, those that fit the same boxes we fit. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”. For Jesus, the “you” was universal. Ours should be as well. But be prepared – some will ridicule you for ministering to that people or in that neighborhood. Some will reject you because you love and accept those kinds of people. Do not worry – Jesus was rejected too. To those who accepted Jesus, he was life. That is what brought praise to God.

I close with Paul’s closing: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

Prayer: Oh God! Fill me with that hope, joy, and peace. Fill me so much that I overflow. Use me today as you will, O Lord my God. Amen.


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The Embodiment

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

God is a God of perfect love. Through that perfect love we are forgiven and made new over and over again. We, humanity, are far from perfect. We struggle to always be faithful to God, breaking our relationship with God again and again. If we were involved in a relationship with a person that displayed these same dynamics, the relationship would end quickly. Thankfully, God is the God of perfect love.

In our reading from Jeremiah, God promises Israel that a new covenant is coming. A covenant is an absolute agreement. A covenant says I will keep my side of the agreement no matter what you do or do not do with your side. In the old covenant God said ‘I’ll love Israel whatever they do or do not do’. The nation of Israel pledged faithful obedience and love to God. At times the Israelites generally kept the covenant, but this was not their norm. Yet God still loved them and remained their God. A time came, however, when something new must come about. At the time of Jeremiah 31, the new birth was about 600 years away.

The new covenant will be different. In verse 32 God reveals that the new will not be like the old. In the new covenant God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. The new will not be based on just the words on stone tablets or on scroll after scroll of parchment. Instead, it will first be lived out amongst humanity. Then, looking at Jesus, one will see what obedience to God looks like. Through Jesus’ example people will know what the intent of all the laws are: to love God with all that one is and to love neighbor just as Jesus loved us. But we do not just have an example. Believers in Jesus Christ also receive a deposit, a gift: the Holy Spirit. The embodiment of God’s laws and ways and love comes to reside in each of us. In verse 33, again God says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. God does so with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Loving and forgiving God, I do not know where I would be without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I read and meditate on your word. I pray daily and worship regularly. But the whisper or the nudge is that first line of defense – leading, guiding, correcting, convicting. Thank you for this awesome gift! 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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All in All

Reading: Colossians 3: 1-11

Verse 1: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”.

Paul is writing to the Colossian church. He opens the letter in chapter one with prayers for the church, reminds them that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and that they have been reconciled to God through Christ’s death and resurrection. In chapter two Paul reminds them that they must claim their faith and that he is praying for them. In my Bible, today’s section is titled “Rules for Holy Living”. Understanding these ‘rules’ is a gradual and evolving process. For most of us, this is a slow but steady lifelong process.

When I first met David I had no idea who he had been. Maybe the long hair and slightly loud personality could have hinted at his story. David had church in his childhood but stepped away in his early adult years. His life had become one of fast cars, fast boats, and a fast life. David had money and became involved in the drug world. Soon he was always racing to stay a step ahead of the law. He wove into his story that his mom and grandma were always praying for him. Then one day, in a face to face with mortality and the finite nature of the life he knew, David reached out to God in desperation. God reached back. It began David on the journey to being a servant of Jesus Christ.

In Colossians 3 Paul writes, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”. The people in the Colossian church had died to the world and were raised to new life in Christ. In verse two Paul also encourages them to set things minds on the things above. In verses five and eight Paul lists several things to not do and lists things to be rid of. These are the things of the world. These are the things many people chase after.

It is hard to set these aside and to always put on the things above. It is, in fact, impossible to do on our own. In verses nine and ten Paul shows how God makes it possible. In Christ we can take off the old self and put on the new self. The new self is renewed day by day. This is part of our lifelong faith journey. Paul concludes our passage today by writing, “Christ is all and is in all”. That became true for my friend David, it is becoming true for me, and it can become true for you. May it be so.

Prayer: God, I am far from perfect but I strive to become more like your perfect son every day. Fill me more with Jesus day by day, making Christ my all in all. Amen.


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Way of Love

Reading: Galatians 3: 23-29

Verse 26: “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”.

Paul grew up as a strict adherent to the law. His life was all about knowing the law and about living by the holy guidance of the law. But on one of his journeys to arrest more followers of Jesus, Paul encountered the living and resurrected Jesus. Paul came to a new understanding of faith. He no longer saw the law as the thing that defined or gave you faith. Instead Paul came to know Jesus as the source of faith and hope and life. Paul found his identity in Christ alone and he went to work to help all know this same reality. In verse 26 we read, “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”. He goes on with a list – no Jew or Greek, no slave or free… – that really defines how God sees no limits. We are all children of God.

For Paul then, it also meant that through faith in Christ we are all connected to the promises found throughout the Bible. Because of this connection, Paul sees no division and sees a faith that is big enough to offer all the way to eternal life. This faith brings a freedom too. We no longer live under the law but instead live within a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Through this relationship we seek to follow or emulate Jesus. We will not be perfect as Jesus was perfect but we do strive towards his example of perfect love. Our love will fail at times but because we are clothed in Christ, he will always lead and guide us to love better. Things like fear or the concerns for worldly things like wealth and status and titles… can inhibit our love, but Christ within is always at work to help us love more. When we root our identity in Christ alone, then the way of faith is the way of love. May it be so this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord of all, be my all in all. Root me firmly in Jesus Christ alone. Water my roots with the Word and nourish my soul by your Spirit. Shape me with your hands and mold me to be more and more like your son. Be my all in all Lord God. Amen.


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It Is Finished

Reading: John 19: 16-30

Verse 30: “Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”.

In John’s gospel we move quickly from Pilate handing Jesus over to Jesus being on the cross. In the other gospels there is not much attention paid to the painful and torturous process that Jesus actually went through. The focus is on the fact that Jesus went to the cross for us. Once there, John focuses on a few details.

First, the sign. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. The religious leaders protest but Pilate does not budge. The truth remains atop the cross. Second, the four soldiers divide His clothing and cast lots for the 5th item – the perfect one. This fulfills a passage from Psalm 22. Third – the human side of Jesus emerges. He is near the end and looks down and sees His mother. Also present is John, “the disciple whom He loved”. In an act of care and compassion, Jesus arranges for His mother’s care.

A bit later the time comes. After a sip of wine vinegar, “Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”. The sins of the world had been heaped upon Jesus. He was ready to depart. Jesus was not at the point of death by crucifixion. He was not suffocating. The task had been completed and it was time for Jesus to end the earthly pain. His last breath was on His terms.

The body that God has inhabited hung on the cross, naked, bloodied and beaten, lifeless. It showed how God’s love had entered the world and lived among us. It showed how God endured much pain and suffering for our benefit. The scars are the scars of our sin. The marks represent what Jesus bore for you and for me. Jesus was wounded for and by our transgressions. It would be a tragic end to a really good three years of ministry and teaching if it all ended here on the cross.

The body will be laid in the tomb. Two brave men go and get the body of Jesus, prepare the body, and leave it in the tomb. The Sabbath is near. The Jewish day of preparation is drawing to a close. God was preparing for much more. We await it upon Easter Sunday. God bless.

Prayer: Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.


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The Father’s Love

Reading: Luke 15: 1-3 and 11b-32

Verse 20: “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him”.

Today we turn to a familiar parable. It is the story of a father and two sons. It is the story of God and us.

One son sees his father as the means to really live life as he wants to live it. He is selfish and immature. He collects what his father owes him and heads off. This son reminds me of the times I have acted selfishly and the times I have prayed prayers that speak of my own will and desires. It may have been about a new car I did not really need or about a situation that I created and needed to take steps to remedy. These actions and prayers were selfish and immature. When this son “came to his senses”, he headed back towards the father. With humility and maturity he went to his father and “his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him”.

The other son did not leave the property. But at some point he left the father-son relationship too. He saw his father as the boss that he worked obediently for. In essence he also saw his father as the means to finally being able to live as he pleased. He was just biding his time in a way that appears more socially acceptable. This is reflected in the anger over the celebration for his brother. The hard heart is revealed as he says “this son of yours”. To him too the father goes. “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him”.

The father does not wait until his sons are perfect sons before he offers his love and compassion. The father does not require a fully repentant heart before he goes to his sons. The love of the father is unconditional and unlimited. It is a pure love. It is a love not based on efforts or merit or privilege. It is a love fully and freely given.

When we place ourselves in the story, we easily find our place. At times we are the son who is selfish and wants our way. At times we are the son who dutifully does what is expected, loathing it the whole time. God does not look at us as we are – sinful, unworthy, broken. God looks at us as the child of God that we are. God doesn’t wait for us. Like the father and his sons, God sees us and comes to us and is filled with love and compassion for us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for always loving me – always. I am far from perfect. I seldom come close to being all you created me to be. You love me anyway. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Washed Clean

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13: 9-13

Verse 12: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”.

Today’s passage talks about our process and the end product. Paul begins by talking about when perfection comes. One day – maybe today, maybe in a few years, maybe in many generations – Jesus will return, making all things new and perfect. For some, perhaps many of us, we will be made new and perfect before that day. When we breathe our last and stand before Jesus we will be made new, holy and perfect in His eternal presence. Yet here, in this life, we also experience this in bursts. As we confess our sins and take communion this Sunday, we will be for a time holy and perfect in God’s sight as we are washed clean by the blood of Jesus.

Most of our lives, though, we are but a stained image of who and what we were and are created to be. Yes, we are made in the sacred image of God. But very soon in life, sin enters in and we are in a constant battle between faith and the world. We face temptation and we sin. We become stained, less than perfect. Yet our God never leaves us there. Just as the Holy Spirit brings conviction, so too does it lead us to confession and repentance. Grace and mercy wash over us, making us new again. And the process begins anew. It is different though. As we grow in our faith, our ability to detect and fight temptation grows as we learn to walk a more Christlike faith. We actually get a handle on a few sins and can leave them behind as we die to self. Yet sin is ever present. Like with Paul, there are some thorns in the flesh that remain. For example, I ever struggle with pride and ego and the need to be in control. Yes, the struggles are less, I see the sin more quickly, but they do persist. In this way we do begin to see that “poor reflection” more and more clearly as we grow to be more and more like Jesus.

Paul writes, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”. Today we know and love Jesus to a certain point. Tomorrow we hope to know Him a bit better. The same the next day as well. Then one day we will stand before Jesus and we will know Him fully. May we each journey well until that glorious day.

Prayer: Jesus, my hope and my salvation, keep me ever drawing closer to you. Work in me to reveal your love and glory to the world in need. May I reflect you to those I meet today. Amen.