pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Acceptable?

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-5

Verse 2: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”.

Isaiah 58 starts with a pronouncement from God. In verse one God encourages Isaiah to “shout it aloud. Do not hold back”. Proclaim it from the rooftops! The message is something God wants all the people of Judah to hear. Getting right to the point, God declares the rebellion of the people, laying their sins before them. In verse two we get a hint at the heart of the problem: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”. In these phrases, the key word is “seem”. On the surface the people of Judah appear to be seeking God. In verse three the people try to defend themselves, asking why God did not notice their fasting. There is a reason.

Yesterday in church we celebrated communion. At our church we offer communion on the first Sunday of each month. In the words before coming forward there was a prayer and a time to lay our sins before the Lord, inviting us to offer repentance along with confession. Everyone in church took communion. Did all take the opportunity to search their hearts and to make a humble and sincere confession of their sins? Did all humbly desire to repent and go forth walking a more holy life? In an ideal world the answers to these questions would be yes and yes! But maybe someone was thinking instead about the Super Bowl snacks that lay ahead or about which commercial would be their favorite. Maybe someone thought they had no sins to confess. If anyone came and took communion in these or similar mindsets, they were practicing a ritual not participating in a sacrament.

The people of Judah were going through the motions of fasting. Yes, they were abstaining from food. But that is as far as their fast went. They were exploiting their workers. They were quarreling and fighting amongst themselves. The ritual of fasting was not changing their sinful ways. Their ritual fasting was not changing their hearts or helping them to be holy. A fast, when celebrated properly, works to draw one closer to God and deeper into walking in God’s ways. Communion should have the same affect. The same can be said of prayer, worship, Bible study, meditation, practicing Sabbath…

Our section for today ends with this question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord”? Tough question. Reflect on yesterday for a minute or two. Would God ask this question of any part of your day set aside for God?

Prayer: Lord God, it is a bit disconcerting to think about when I just go through the motions instead of choosing to be fully present with you or others. Strip away my busyness, my selfishness, my distractions, my half-hearted efforts. Just as you are fully present with me, may I be so to you and to those you place before me today. Amen.


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Love God and One Another

Reading: Psalm 15

Verse 1: “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill”?

The opening questions in verse one of today’s Psalm deal with who may be in God’s presence. The broad answer to these questions is “anyone”. But it is not that simple. While it is true that anyone can be in God’s presence, not all are able to. Anyone who is in a right relationship with God can be in his presence. But if we are separated from God because of the sin in our lives, then we cannot be in a right relationship with God. This Psalm is intended to help worshippers look within, to confess and repent of the sins they bear, before they enter into God’s holy presence.

Verses two through five give us a short list of who may or may not enter God’s presence. Those who are blameless, righteous, and who speak the truth – “even when it hurts” – are welcome into God’s presence. Those who slander or gossip, cast slurs, or lend with usury (high interest) are not able to stand in God’s presence. This, of course, is a short list. There are many more ways to do right in God’s eyes and there are many more ways to sin. But the list does serve to get us thinking about the condition of our relationships with God and with one another. We must consider both because they are intertwined.

This is not just an Old Testament or just a Biblical times issue. In the New Testament, for example, Jesus says not to come to the altar of God if there is an issue between you and another. Jesus instructs us to set that right before coming to God. We reflect this idea in communion, confessing and repenting of our sins before coming forward for the cup and the bread. In our own personal prayers we should also practice confession before bringing our requests and thanks to God.

This idea of righteous living is at the core of how one is able to come into God’s sanctuary or into his presence in any other place or time. Righteous living is based upon our love of God and of one another. Our love of God is reflected in how we love one another. How we love one another reflects how we love God. These two loves are intertwined and inseparable. In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus teaches that everyone is our neighbor. The Psalm ends with “he who does these things will never be shaken”. Loving both God and one another, may we never be shaken.

Prayer: God of love, speak into my heart this day. Where I am not loving you or others, convict me. Where self or pride or arrogance are limiting my ability to really love you or others, strip that sin away. Show me, Lord, how to be love to one and all, to you and to each I meet. Amen.


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Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verse 13: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”.

Paul writes today about belonging. We all want to belong, to have a place we fit into, to be loved. For most of us, we belong in three groups – family, church, and friends. Sometimes there is overlap in these, sometimes there is not.

The traditional family we belong to is generally biological. We add to that though. My immediate family would include my parents, my wife and children and daughter-in-law, and my brother and his wife and children. Connected from there are cousins, aunts, uncles… My family of friends is a little different but is still based on some common characteristics: love, trust, care, investment in relationship. With friends we can pick and choose more as things like common interests and personality also play into who we allow into our family of friends.

Our church family falls somewhere in between these two other families. There is a certain admission process that occurs, like with our friends. But it is different in that we in the church were first chosen by God, according to his plan. When we accept God’s invitation – “having believed” in Paul’s words today – then we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”. This process places us within a family that is more like our traditional family. We are connected to one another as the body of Christ. These connections are like those we find in our traditional families. Our local church is like our nuclear family – closely connected, strong bonds of love, trust, care… Our denomination or connectional system is like the next circle out – aunts, uncles, cousins… There is still a sense of community and we call each other family. The worldwide church of Jesus Christ is the outer circle. We should look at all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m afraid we look at some of these as our sixth cousin twice removed or like Uncle Fritz – the one no one talks about or mentions anytime. Sadly this also happens in our closer circles as well.

There is but one God, one Lord Jesus Christ, one abiding Holy Spirit. We who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are all baptized into one inheritance, eternal in the heavens. May our lives and our connections to one another reflect these basics, all to the praise of his glory.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me on the path of love. Root me in the core essentials of faith. Grant me grace in all other differences. Amen.


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Heart, Mind, and Soul

Reading: Romans 10: 8b-13

Verse 9: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”.

Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome longing to visit Rome. It is a trip that he will eventually make. But for this present letter, he is writing to help them understand the core of the faith and how to live as a community of believers in a pagan world. As chapter ten opens Paul is explaining that one cannot live a Christian life simply by obeying the Law. The law is only a knowledge of what is right or wrong. Following the rules is good, but this alone does not make one righteous. In verse 8 Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 30. He reminds the Romans that the word of God is in their hearts and in their mouths. In this chapter Moses is encouraging the people to “choose life” – to love God and to walk in His ways. For Moses it is the same as for Paul: live out your faith in love. Allow God to dwell in your heart, in your mind, and in your soul. Yes, follow the law, but even more than that, let God’s love flow from all you do and say and think. Allow God’s love to be the core of who you are.

Paul then goes on to the next step in verse 9. In our hearts we believe. Then our voice joins in, professing faith in Christ. In this verse Paul shares the essence of the gospel, writing, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”. To confess this with our mouth, we must believe it in our heart. We cannot know that Jesus is Lord, we must believe that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the Lord in our lives because we believe that He is the Lord over sin and death.

Jesus defeated the two greatest weapons that the world has when He went to the cross and when He walked out of the grave. Sin has no power over us because Jesus has already paid the price for atonement. Yes, we do sin but because the price has been paid, because the sacrifice was given. When we confess and repent, Jesus says, ‘You are forgiven’. We move forward as a new creation in Christ, holy and pure, leaving behind any guilt or shame. Jesus also defeated the power of death. There is no fear or unknown or thinking this is the end. Jesus said because He lives, we too shall live. If we put our faith in Jesus as Lord, then He is the way to eternal life. We are saved when we profess, “Jesus is Lord”!

This day and each day, may Christ dwell in our heart and in our mouth and in our soul. May all we see, think, do, say, and feel reflect the love of Christ that is in us. In doing so, we proclaim Jesus is Lord with all of our heart, mind, and soul. May it be so.

Prayer: God of all of creation, be my all in all. This day and every day fill me with your love so that my life is that love lived out. Fill me so much that this is all there is in me. May I be fully yours. 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.


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Reflecting His Glory

Reading: Acts 17: 22-28

Verse 24: … the Lord of heaven and earth​… does not live in temples built by human hands.

Today’s passage finds Paul in Athens.  He is there doing what he always did: sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.  But Athens is not Jerusalem.  It is the center of the Greek world and has overlays of the Roman world as well.  Centuries of philosophers have sat in the Aeropagus and argued and debated all aspects and facets of life.  They have covered mortality and religion, ethics and justice, their own existence and the meaning of life.  Paul observes that the culture is very polytheistic.  They worship many different gods.  Paul takes all of this into account as he begins his sermon this day.  He begins by sharing the observation that they are very religious and then turns to the “unknown god” statue.  Paul goes on to proclaim the unknown god to be the God of all creation.  He even quotes a couple of Greek philosophers to help his case.  Paul is using a piece of the dominant culture to win over his audience.  We too have an opportunity to do this as well.

Where will you find yourself coming up against non-believers today?  Will it be at work?  At lunch?  Out on your walk?  And will they be worshipping an unknown god?  As we consider all of this, we also must how we could do that Paul did – use some of today’s popular culture to tie back into our God and our faith.  Maybe it is by working with integrity and honor and finding success on God’s terms.  Maybe it is by being gracious and by practicing Good listening skills while at lunch.  Maybe it is by noticing the person on the street and by taking a moment to be the hands and feet of Jesus for them.  There are many ways to meet people where they are at and to bring our faith into the situation.  Allow the Holy Spirit to lead!

But maybe you are not quite here yet.  Maybe today’s passage speaks to your own ‘unknown god’.  Is it parked in the garage?  Does it sit on a large lot?  Is it kept safe in a vault?  Or is it fragile and rests upon the opinions of others?  At times it can be easy to worship idols.  So maybe our challenge today is to identify our idol and to begin to let it go.  Paul stated, “the Lord of heaven and earth​… does not live in temples built by human hands”.  Are we living or acting as if God did live here?

Wherever we find ourselves in today’s passage, may we strive for our life to reflect His glory, “for in Him we live and move and have our being”.


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Growing

In our relationship with Jesus Christ we can be doing one of three things: we can grow to be more like Him, we can stay where we are, or we can become less like Him.  In Revelation 3:16 Jesus warns us that if we are lukewarm, He will ‘vomit’ us out.  Another word for lukewarm would be stagnant and no one wants to be stagnant.  The path of becoming less like Jesus is the path of sin and that only leads to death and destruction.  Paul instead urges us to seek to grow from “one degree of glory to another” as we strive to grow in our faith.

As Moses’ face reflected God’s glory, our lives should also reflect God’s glory that is within us.  The love that Jesus has for us is the love that we should reflect to others.  He challenges us to love others as He first loved us.  As we grow in our faith and in the depth of our understanding of Jesus, we come to know more and more how deep and vast and wide His love is for us.  As we grow in this way, we are in essence moving from one degree of glory to the next as our lives come to reflect His love more and more to those around us.

This transformation that is occurring in us should be noticeable to those in our lives.  If we are growing in our faith, others should see this.  The love and compassion we exhibit should slowly grow.  The care and understanding we offer should slowly become greater and greater.  The depth of mercy and forgiveness we extend should be ever-increasing.  In all aspects of our lives we should be seeking to become more and more like Christ.  This day may we strive to grow a little more in our faith, growing so that we may know Jesus more, reflecting His glory in increasing measure.

Scripture reference: 2 Corinthians 3:17 to 4:2