pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Christ Brings New Life

Reading: Luke 18: 9-14

Verse 7: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

Pride. One can take pride in one’s work or in something one is doing. If all it leads to is doing your best and being happy and content with the result or outcome, then pride is a good thing. But if it leads to boasting or bragging, then there is a problem. When one begins to feel superiority and arrogance creeping in, then pride has taken root. From there it is only a small step to judging and even condemning others because they fall short of your standards or expectations. Here sin has fully taken root. This is a path that the voices of the world seek to lead us down. Worldly success is measured in volume of wealth and possessions, in titles and appearance. Pride easily takes root in the pursuit of worldly success and gain.

In our parable today, the Pharisee struggles with pride. His pride is not rooted in wealth or possessions in a worldly sense. The Pharisee’s area of expertise is the Law. He has excelled at learning and now practicing the Law. He has risen up the religious system to the highest accolade: Pharisee. Rising to the top naturally fuels one’s pride and ego. Even in religious systems it can be a battle to keep pride in check. In our story, the Pharisee has failed to do so. His exquisite practice of the law has clearly elevated him far above others. His words call out the obvious differences between himself and those several rungs down the ladder – the robbers, evil doers, adulterers, and tax collectors. The Pharisee even thanks God that he is not like them.

The other option would be to look at such as these and to be moved towards empathy and compassion. This option would lead to ministering to them, to helping them to come to know God, to introducing them to the only one who can help them overcome their sin. It is so much easier to sit in judgment and to just go on with ones own life.

It is messy to enter into someone’s life if they are struggling with adultery or some other form of evil such as an addiction or abuse. If one has walked that same road, it is not easy to think that maybe you can “fix” them. There’s that pride again. Only the Lord Jesus can bring complete healing and wholeness. With a humble servant’s heart we must simply bring Christ to them and then step back, allowing Jesus Christ to work in them. We can bring the gospel; it is Christ that brings new life. May it be so.

Prayer: God, convict me when pride rises up and starts to gain a hold. Help me to die to my pride. Fill me instead with the heart of Christ, ever seeking to help others know the healer, the redeemer, the restorer – Jesus. Amen.


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Do Not Be Afraid

Reading: Genesis 15: 1-12 & 17-18

Verse 12: “Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him”.

Abram has just gotten back from rescuing Lot. The Lord appears to him and says, “Do not be afraid”. God tells Abram that He is Abram’s shield and his reward. Abram’s mind immediately goes to children. Children, often many children, were the sign of being blessed by God. If a couple did not have children, then they had displeased God or had sinned against God. Abram and Sarai were older and without children. What reward could possibly come for Abram? He was already resigned to giving his inheritance to a relative. Abram pointedly asks God, “What can you do for me since I am childless”? This is both a very honest and a practical question. It is also a question of faith.

In response God gives clarity to the promise He made in Genesis 12:2 to make Abram the father of many nations. God tells Abram, “a son coming from your own body will be your heir”. God then shows him the stars in the heavens and tells Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. Abram believes God and he is called “righteous”. God then goes on to promise Abram the land that he is now living in as a foreigner. One day all this land will belong to his descendants. Because God is God, one day all this will come to fruition. But in the moment, Abram still questions. He says to God, “How can I know…”? The emphasis is on “know”. I am old and tired and weary and living in a foreign land. How can I know that all of this will come true? Here is where it becomes a question of faith.

We find ourselves at this point too. We come to places or times in life when we feel tired and weary, maybe old too. We’ve heard and often have experienced the promises and presence of God in the trials and sufferings. As we enter that place or time again our mind asks Abram’s question: how can I know that you, God, will be with me and will get me through this?

God instructs Abram to prepare a sacrifice. He does so and then a strange thing happens. We read, “Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him”. God removes all distractions, even light, and focuses Abram in on God alone. In the intervening verses that we did not read, God foretells the time in slavery in Egypt and the return to the land. Then the sacrifice is burned and God makes a covenant with Abram, giving his descendants this land that will become the Promised Land.

As our passage opened God began with these words: “Do not be afraid”. God speaks these words to us today. The promises that follow are also ours: God is our shield and our reward. In moments and in times of weariness and doubt, when our minds question, may our hearts turn to God. Through faith may we, like Abram, turn to God and call upon God to be our shield and defender, our reward and redeemer. God is faithful. May we trust in Him alone.

Prayer: Lord, in my moments of fear and doubt and questioning, may I turn to you alone. Remind me of the time after time after time when you have kept your promises so that I may trust in you once more. Amen.


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Pleasing

Reading: Psalm 19:14

Verse 14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer”.

These words are familiar words. The sermon or message in many churches, mine included, begins with these words. These words ask God to be present in and through the Word proclaimed and to guide our thoughts and responses to the message given. It is a prayer for both the pastor and the congregation. I love how this prayer closes with the dual reminder that the Lord is our foundation and our mercy – our guide through life and our help when we get astray.

Many of us walk out the doors of worship on Sunday morning and return to the world and its ways almost immediately – cussing the one who cut us off in traffic or being rude to the waiter. Some if us might manage to make it to Monday morning before the world creeps back in. At work or school we gossip about the weekend or we resume the shady, worldly business or study practices that we felt convicted of just the day before. We find there is no shortage of ways that we can be displeasing to the Lord. The world is always providing opportunities or encouragement to do so. The battle is constant.

But so is God’s love. And His mercies are new every morning. And His grace is unending. The world is where we now dwell, so the lures of this world will be there. But Jesus had overcome the world. Through faith in Him, we too can walk in the light. Just as Sunday morning is that little boost to our faith and walk, so too can be our own daily time with God. When we read and study and meditate on God’s Word daily, He becomes more a part of our lives. When we spend time each day talking with God, our prayers strengthen our faith. When we open ourselves to the guide and direction of the Holy Spirit, our faith grows stronger still. When we choose to be faithful to our daily disciplines – time in the Word, time in prayer, time connected to the Holy Spirit – our walk with the Lord is closer. We find that we grow more and more into today’s verse. More and more often our words of our mouth and the thoughts of our hearts are pleasing to God. More and more the Lord is our Rock and Redeemer. May we each stay deeply in love with God, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, this moment and every moment, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.


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Horn of Salvation

Reading: Luke 1: 68-75

Verses 69 and 72: “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us… to show mercy… and to remember His holy covenant”.

Zechariah’s prophecy that comes to us today in Luke 1 begins with, “Praise be to the Lord”. His son has been born, fulfilling the promise of the angel. It is a personal experience to go along with all of Israel’s experiences of God being with them and loving them. God was present in the time in slavery, in the time in captivity, and in all of the other hard places that the people have found themselves. Added to that are the many experiences with God blessing the people when they turned to God – the sea parted and the giant fell, the fire consumed the offering and the rain once again fell from the sky.

In our passage today, the first half of Zechariah’s song, he speaks of the redeemer who is about to come. Zechariah says, “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us… to show mercy… and to remember His holy covenant”. Jesus Christ will be that horn. Through Jesus Christ, God will show His people mercy. Through Jesus Christ, God will remember His covenant to love His children and to always be their God. In and through Jesus Christ, the people of God will be able to “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness”. The Savior will restore people through the forgiveness of sins, making us holy and right with God each time we repent and seek His love and grace.

Prophets often brought change and usually challenged the status quo of their day. They called the people away from sin and back into right relationship with God. Jesus Will and certainly continues to do this – calling us to walk the way of the cross. This day may we each help one more person to know the “horn of salvation”, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, may my words and actions reveal Jesus to all I meet. May what they see lead them to want to know you. Amen.


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Redemption

Reading: Ruth 3: 1-5

Verse 1: “My daughter, should I not try and find a home for you, where you will be provided for”?

Our passage today opens with Naomi expressing concern for Ruth. Naomi says to Ruth, “My daughter, should I not try and find a home for you, where you will be provided for”? Ruth has shown deep dedication to Naomi, leaving her own land to follow Naomi home to Israel so that she can care for and provide for her. Both are widows when they arrive in Israel. Naomi realizes that Ruth is young enough to remarry and knows that this would bring security to her future. Based upon her past actions and loyalty, Naomi probably felt assured that Ruth would continue to care for her.

Boaz, the man Naomi identifies as a good potential husband, is family. There is family there with closer ties, but Boaz has demonstrated kindness and good character towards Ruth already. They first met when Ruth was gleaning in his fields along with his servant girls. He shows her favor and is familiar with her story. Naomi identifies Boaz as a “kinsman redeemer” – a term for a relative who rescues a family member from trouble or a difficult situation. His invitation to continue to work in his fields and the instructions to his men to leave extra stalks for her indicate that he is stepping into this role.

Naomi suggests that Ruth go to and lie down at Boaz’s feet. She lies in the this place as a sign of respect. Servants would often sleep at the feet of their master. Uncovering his feet was also cultural and symbolic. In doing so, Ruth let Boaz know that she was there and she was using the customs of the day to nonverbally ask him to share his coverings with her. Culturally this was a right that the servants had. Symbolically she was asking him to provide for her. Boaz would go on to redeem her as his wife.

In our passage Ruth continues to show love for Naomi through her obedience. She also trusted that God would continue to guide and bless her. Ruth’s faithfulness to both God and her family are models that we can follow. In doing so, she finds redemption. She is restored to new life. This day, may we take the opportunities that God provides to offer love and care to the other, opening their eyes to the redemption that God offers to all.

Lord, may Ruth’s model of love and care be my way of living too. Help me to open others eyes to the redemption that you offer. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verse 11: “By keeping them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward”.

Verses 7-10 tell of God’s laws, statutes, precepts, and commands. These guide believers in how to live our lives pleasing God. In turn, our lives are better as well. To me, this is the basis of our relationship with God. In reality, all of our relationships are built upon a set of rules or guidelines or understandings. Sometimes these are not written down but are implied or simply understood.

In our earthly relationships, the value of keeping the relationship on good terms has temporal worth. In my most important earthly relationship the phrase “happy wife, happy life” applies in many ways. When my relationships with my wife, kids, boss, congregation, clients, … are good, then all are happy and life is rewarding and blessed. In our heavenly relationship, it is much the same. The psalmist writes, “By keeping them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward”. God’s laws, statutes, precepts, and commands keep us out of trouble and out of toxic situations and are also the path to a rewarding and blessed relationship with God.

In the next few verses, there is an admission that to live in a relationship that is pleasing to God is one that requires help from God. For us, the Holy Spirit augments our efforts to know God by reminding us, by directing us, by convicting us when necessary. The Holy Spirit helps us maintain a good relationship with God.

When all of this is humming along, we can pray verse 14 with confidence. It is a verse that I quote just before preaching. I guess it is more of a request and a hope. As I reflect on it this morning, it occurs to me that it should be a part of my morning prayers every day too. May it be so.

Lord God, your ways are perfect and trustworthy. They bring me joy and life. Remind me if them often so that life is both blessed and is pleasing in your sight. My rock and my redeemer, thank you for your steadfast love, your unwavering understanding, and your endless grace. I love you God! Amen.


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Out of Love

Reading: Matthew 16: 16-20

Verse 16: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

As we continue along on our faith journey, we come to know Jesus Christ more and more as our faith develops and matures.  We come to know Jesus in various dimensions: friend, shepherd, redeemer, healer, restorer, protector, and so on.  He comes to be all things to each believer.  The longer we walk with Jesus, the longer our list becomes.  If we were asked the question “Who do you say I am?” today and then again in a month, our answer might be different.  Yet no matter our need or where we are at in life, ultimately our answers all tie back to Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.

As the Son of the living God, Jesus embodies God’s character.  Central to that character is love.  Above all else, love arches over everything.  It is God’s unending love for you and me that first drew us into relationship with Him.  It is through this love that we experience grace.  Grace is God’s undeserved, unmerited free gift of forgiveness.  Because grace is built upon God’s love it is also unending.  Love is at the core of all Jesus is for us.  He guides us out of love.  He redeems us out of love.  He heals us out of love.  He ___ out of love…

Once we begin to understand the depth of Jesus’ love for us, we begin to sense the call to share this gift with others.  As we go forth and share this love, it grows in us.  So this day, whether in word or action or deed, may each of our lives join Peter in declaring Jesus Christ the Son of the living God.