pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Free to Love

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 13-15

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”.

Paul speaks a lot of freedom. While it is true that in Christ we find much freedom, it is a freedom that is bound by love. We are free to live a full and wonderful life, but Paul is clear that there are lines that we are not to cross. In Paul’s way of thinking, we are free to love others. Paul describes the love we are to have for one another as “becoming slaves to one another”. That means we place the needs of others far ahead of our own needs.

In verse 14 Paul makes an important statement. He writes, “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”. This is a big and bold statement. As Saul, he would have never made this statement. The law and keeping every letter of the law was very important to the former Pharisee. For most Jews, the law was a key focus and was the underpinning of life. Paul has come to understand what Jesus meant when he talked about love. It was a complete and sacrificial love that gave all for the other.

When we are willing to live out this sacrificial love for the other, we are building up or pouring into the other. Instead of giving ourselves away and emptying ourselves, we find that we too are filled up and we feel more freedom to love others. As we give ourselves away, we gain more and more. Our freedom in Christ abounds!

Prayer: God, grant me the opportunity to pour into another today. As I do so, thank you for your giving love that overflows my heart. Amen.

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Poured Into Us

Reading: Romans 5: 3-5

Verse 5: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul begins our passage today by stating that we rejoice in our suffering. Taken by itself many would question this statement. For those outside the faith it sounds a bit crazy. Why would anyone rejoice in suffering? After the fact one can often look back on an experience and see that they did grow or did learn something. Even so, most folks would rather learn or grow in a way that did not involve suffering.

Paul bases his statement on a believer’s hope and faith. When a believer knows God’s presence in the midst of suffering, there is a strength that one finds. When a believer holds onto hope because of a trust in God’s plan, then there is a power that is present. Here Paul is connecting back to verses 1 and 2. God’s strength and power in us is what leads to perseverance. When God has been present in our suffering, we trust that God will be there again and again, building our ability to persevere. This, in turn, builds our character – we gain confidence in God and in God’s plans. We can trust God through the suffering.

Running in and through this all is one common thread: God’s love. It is a love that wants to be there, to be present, to carry us at times. In verse 5 Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. Because we have God’s presence in us through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a faith and hope that is rooted deeply in us, that is always there to draw upon. God’s love is a part of us. For this, we rejoice and praise the Lord our God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your constant and abiding presence in my life. Continue to lead and guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Flourishing

Reading: Psalm 72: 5-7

Verse 6: “He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth”.

The Psalms reveal God with a poetic beauty. Sometimes it is a God who judges, who has high expectations. Sometimes it is a God that is patient and loving. Today’s Psalm is of the second variety. In either case, the Psalms are about revealing God and bringing Him glory.

Verse 5 speaks of God’s span of time. The psalmist equates God’s span to the life of the sun and moon. From the Genesis 1 account we know that God pre-exists these heavenly bodies because on the first day God created light. The light brought order out of the darkness. Through Jesus Christ, the light continues to dispel the darkness and evil from our lives and from the world. The King that the psalmist speaks of, Jesus, will indeed endure through all generations as well.

Verse 6 states, “He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth”. After the harvest, the rain falls on the remnant, even then nourishing it and preparing it for new life. When we have been pruned or when we have repented and chosen a better path, Jesus’ love you pours out upon us, bringing growth and new life. The showers that water the earth also bring blessing. As well as bringing growth, the waters also wash away and cleanse.

Verse 7 also speaks of the blessing that will fall upon the righteous, upon those who are faithful to God. The psalmist says that they will flourish. The writer names prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing. Prosperity can be in terms of wealth and resources, but not always. These are temporal, earthly. To me the hope and joy and peace and contentment that come from faithful living are the true and lasting blessings. All we do and say flourishes when we are at rest in our relationship with the Lord. All is well when it is well with our souls. Today, as we wait upon the One who was and is and is to come, may it be well with our souls as we trust in God.

Prayer: Lord of the universe, thank you for being my God. This day and every day, may I rest in you and your love. Pour out your peace and hope and contentment upon my life. May these things overflow into the lives of all I meet today. Amen.


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Engagement

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 16: “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief”.

Hannah is in a tough spot. She is barren in a culture that places high value on producing children. This is the main purpose of marriage. Her husband clearly prefers Hannah, his first wife, but that relationship remains intact largely because his second wife has produced the all-important offspring. Without any children of her own, Hannah is vulnerable. She would be all alone if Elkanah died or if he decided that Hannah was displeasing as a wife. Hannah’s shame over being barren would have also extended to the community. She would have been looked down upon and usually found herself outside of the circles of women who would gather periodically.

Year after year Hannah has endured Peninnah’s provocations and the cultural shame of being childless. Her situation is no fault of her own. Nearing the point of breaking, she finds herself in the temple. She pours out her heart to God. Instead of seeing a woman deep in pain and in need of comforting, Eli the priest assumes she is drunk. Eli makes a quick assumption. How often we do the same.

We see a person who appears to be homeless and we jump to conclusions about their work ethic or their problems with drugs or alcohol. We see a young mom struggling with her kids in line at the grocery store and we assume things about her parenting skills… These are just two examples of the countless ways that we judge, infer, misread, oversimplify, stereotype… people. As was the case with Eli, often we are wrong. We do not know the person or their real situation or the many circumstances leading up to that moment. But unlike Eli, we usually do not take the time to talk with them, to get to know them, to hear their story. At least Eli did that for Hannah.

When we, like Eli, jump to conclusions, when we quickly label, when we make assumptions, may we pull ourselves up short, take a breath, and connect with that person we have sinned against. May we choose to risk engagement, trusting in the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Jehovah, give me eyes to see as you see. Move me past first impressions and on to honest conversations. Soften my heart to love others as you love them. In doing so, allow me to see you in them and they to see you in me. 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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To Know Jesus

Reading: Hebrews 2: 5-12

Verse 8: “In putting everything under Him, God left nothing that is not subject to Him”.

The passage for today is about establishing authority. The writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm 8 to remind the Jews of God’s action with Jesus, “You crowned Him with glory and honor and put everything under His feet”. The writer is drawing upon a sacred and ancient text to connect to Jesus, the one with this authority. He then goes on to the practical application of this reference to Psalm 8, writing, “In putting everything under Him, God left nothing that is not subject to Him”. All of creation is subject to Jesus’ authority. The implication for the Hebrews is that they are under this authority that has been established by God. The same implication applies to us.

In the remainder of verse 8, we get reality. Yes, all are under Jesus’ authority, “yet at present we do not see everything subject to Him”. I’d guess the writer is thinking of folks who know of Jesus but refuse to know Jesus. To know of Jesus and to know Jesus are worlds apart. Some of these folks are Jews who know of Jesus but will not accept that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. Some are followers of Jesus Christ, yet in name only or on a very limited basis. This last group appears to be Christians – they come to church on Sunday but live a worldly lifestyle otherwise.

I can recall a time when this was me. Perhaps you can too. As I reflect on this passage, I can remember folks who came alongside me and helped me to really know Jesus as the one that “God put everything under His feet” – including me. With the support and encouragement and presence of some godly men and women, Jesus went from 1/168 to 24/7. He went from Sunday morning Jesus to Lord of my life Jesus. Today, as I consider my journey, I am grateful. I also wonder who I know that is where I was at. I wonder who I can begin to walking alongside, nurturing and mentoring in faith, helping them to know Jesus as Lord and Savior too. My challenge to you is to do the same.

Lord Jesus, to be known by you and to know you brings great joy. To know you as my all in all brings peace and contentment. To walk always in your love brings deep assurance. This day, help me to identify others that I can walk alongside and pour into. May your Spirit lead and guide me in this desire of my heart. Amen.


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Blameless, Upright

Reading: Job 1:1

Verse 1: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”.

Today we begin a short journey with Job. For the month of October we will read a selection from Job each week. It will be, of course, just a small sampling of who Job was and what his story teaches us. Even so, the passages will reveal much to us about ourselves and our faith journey.

Job was a man who lived in Ur, a city far outside of Israel. He worshipped God in a foreign land in a culture that often counter to God and God’s ways. We find ourselves in a similar position today. In our time culture and society in general is ambivalent to matters of faith, even clashing with our beliefs and practices from time to time. The values and priorities of modern culture in the western world do not align well with the values and priorities that God calls us to practice and live out.

Verse one tells us, “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”. Job is an early example of faith. On our best days we might be blameless and upright for periods of time. While this is our goal, it is not very often our reality for long stretches of time. But because it is our goal, like Job, we too must deal regularly with the attacks of the enemy. Because we are seeking to live and walk out a life of faith, Satan is ever on the lookout for ways to lead us into sin.

Job also feared God and shunned evil. These qualities of Job are much more realistic for us. Job’s fear was not a fear of ghosts or spiders type of fear. It was more of a reverence or healthy respect of God. To have this, one must have an intimate relationship with and knowledge of God. For Job, it came from having a deep and personal connection to God. Because of this, Job shunned evil. When we love God deeply, we too will shun evil. When our love of God is strong, we desire to please God. This leads us to shun evil and therefore to avoid sin, the thing that separates us from God.

As we live out our faith, being blameless and upright are worthy goals. Fortunately, they are not one and done goals. If we stumble or even if we fail, God’s love and mercy allow us to reset our goals and to begin anew. May we strive to grow closer each day, fearing God and shunning evil in all its forms. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit may it be so for me and for you.

God of Job, God of all people, God of me, pour out the power of your Holy Spirit on me today. Help me to be blameless and to live out an upright faith. Amen.