pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living as an Example

Reading: 1st Timothy 1: 12-17

Verse 15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”.

Earlier on in life Paul was known as Saul. Saul excelled at being religious. As a boy he showed great promise in school (which was studying the scriptures). He quickly worked his way up the religious leaders ladder, becoming a Pharisee at a young age. He was full of confidence in his knowledge of God and the Law. Saul was arrogant and prideful. As the early church began to grow, it became Saul’s personal mission to stomp it out. He watched with approval as Stephen was stoned to death. Saul set out from there to persecute and arrest and kill as many followers of Jesus as he could. He refers to all of this in verse thirteen.

I’d like to say I used to be able to relate to Saul. My pride and arrogance are still things I wrestle with. It is sometimes a struggle to keep God #1. My need or desire to be in control occasionally makes it hard to let go of the steering wheel. I can see my path and head off without ever consulting God. Falling into gossip and being judgmental comes too easily. I require redirection often. The Holy Spirit keeps busy with me. Yes, I often need God to pour out abundant grace on my life. More often than I’d like to admit. There is that pride again. Every now and then, I too feel like the worst of sinners. I wonder, ‘how can a pastor have so much doubt’? Or worry or fear or confusion or unbelief or lack of trust…

In these moments, the Holy Spirit always reminds me: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. Ah yes, even for me. Even for me! Through his mercy and saving grace the Lord Jesus redeems me and sets me back on the right path, back on the road that follows him. I cannot forget the ‘why’. Paul writes,”so that in me… Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe”. This is evangelism 101. By living as an example of Christ, others come to know him. May it be so today.

Prayer: God, may my grateful response to your mercy and grace be service to you, my Lord. In and through me may others experience Jesus today, so that they too might come to believe in the King immortal, invisible, and eternal. Amen.

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Heaven Rejoices

Reading: Luke 15: 1-10

Verse 10: “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”.

The religious leaders are critical of Jesus for eating with sinners. His response is to tell two stories that let the religious leaders know that living out one’s faith is sometimes about living with the sinners. It is quite a contrast in their understandings of how faith works itself out. The Pharisees and other religious leaders think it is all about ministry to those already inside the four walls of the temple – to those just like them. Jesus was also about going outside the walls and ministering to the lost so that they could come inside the walls and could learn to be like him. These are radically different approaches.

Both stories that Jesus shares end in rejoicing. He illustrates the joy we experience when something that was lost is found. We have all experienced this in our lives. Whether it is car keys or that important letter or our purse or wallet or our phone… we all know that smile and good feeling that comes when we find that lost item. The shepherd feels it and the woman with the coin feels it. Heaven also feels it. In verse ten we read, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”. Verse seven is very similar: much rejoicing. How much more important to recover a lost soul than a set of car keys or whatever! Imagine for a moment what those celebrations in heaven look and feel like.

Yes, heaven is joyful when the church gathers for worship. Yes, there are probably knowing smiles, nods, high fives… when we kneel to pray or when we crack open our Bibles. I am sure that our practices of the faith are pleasing in God’s sight. But the living out of our faith cannot just be within the walls of our churches or just within our hearts. We must also practice what Jesus teaches in these two stories. Like him, we too need to seek the lost, to talk with them, to eat with them, to walk with them. We need to help them find a connection to the Good Shepherd. We are called to GO and to make disciples. Can we also make heaven rejoice today over one sinner who repents and turns to God?

Prayer: Lord, we are told that the harvest is ready, that the fields are ripe. Many people today are lost and are seeking that which is missing in their lives. Others are struggling with sin. Help me to reach out today to the lost and the broken. Amen.


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Joyful Praise

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 40: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”.

The parade that we observe today began with Jesus’ disciples singing joyfully as the approached Jerusalem. As His followers participated in a somewhat impromptu gathering, they did what Jews often did when approaching or ascending into the city: they sang a Psalm. The followers of Jesus were singing from Psalm 118 on this joyous occasion. Verse 26 reads, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. It has been implied that as the disciples neared the city, others joined in the singing and in the parade. Note the words in verse 38 from our text for today. It reads, “Blessed is the king who comes…”. It is a subtle but important shift.

In general, the Romans allowed the Jews to practice their religion. They were allowed to hold the three major festivals each year even though they drew large crowds. Large crowds meant possible rebellion so the Romans tended to be on edge during the festivals. Passover was approaching so the population of Jerusalem would be starting to swell. As long as the religious leaders kept the crowds under control, the Romans tolerated the festivals and regular practices of worship and sacrifice. Being able to keep things under control was essential to the religious leaders keeping their positions. Thus, as the crowd built, waving palms, singing, laying down a royal carpet with their cloaks, the use of the word “king” aroused the religious leaders. They asked Jesus to quiet the crowd. Jesus chooses not to. Instead, Jesus says, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”. It is a reference to how all of creation glorifies the Creator. It is a way to claim who He was without crossing too far over the religious leader’s line.

Today, on Palm Sunday, we too may get caught up with the crowd. There will be lots of smiles and some joyous singing in churches this morning as the palms are paraded around. That joy is good for us in two ways. First, it connects us to our King, to our creator, to our sustainer, to our redeemer, through joyful praise. It is good and right to praise the Lord. Second, we need some joy as we step off into Holy Week. The joy of today reminds us of the joy that comes in a week, on Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It is important to remember that in the end, we are Easter people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, like the stones, may I cry out. May I join the crowd this week in joyful praise of you, my King. Sustain me with that joy as I walk through Holy Week, bringing me at last to Easter Sunday. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Blessed Is He

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 38: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”.

In today’s passage we remember the triumphal entry. The people line the road leading into Jerusalem, praising God and shouting in loud voices, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”. This line connects back to Psalm 118, which we read earlier this week. This is just one more connection back to the Old Testament. This connection reminds them of the glorious days when King David ruled the land. But the last few hundred years have been hard. For about 400 years there had been no prophet. The people long for the Messiah who will come and restore Israel’s greatness. The donkey instead of a great white horse, the rag-tag disciples instead of an army – these facts did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. The disciples and the crowd “began to joyfully praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen”. In this they hope that Jesus will turn into their kind of king. He will not. It will not be so.

The path to get to the triumphal entry reveals something important about Jesus. Jesus instructs two disciples to go on ahead to get a young colt for Him to ride. The scene unfolds exactly as Jesus had said it would. Jesus knows how this last week will play out. And He still goes forward, drawing closer to His ultimate purpose.

At the end of our passage is yet another clash with the religious authorities. They ask Jesus to quiet the crowd. They are not caught up in the crowd, in the emotion. They fear the joyful parade might draw the attention of the Romans. That would not be a good thing. Jesus responds by saying that if the crowd were quiet, then “the stones would cry out”. He is implying that nature itself recognizes who is entering the city. There is also an implication here that the religious leaders are still missing out, still not understanding who Jesus really is. Their hearts are hard.

In the next verses Jesus goes on to weep over the city, to lament what is now “hidden from their eyes”. All because they “did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you”. Part of His weeping is personal too. In just a few days the religious leaders and the people will turn on Jesus as He is arrested…

For now, though, Jesus enters the city and teaches as before. He does what He has done but there is a bit more of an edge now, knowing what will come in the days ahead. As we look forward to the days ahead, may we also walk slowly through the week, feeling the emotion and the weight of it all. May the power of the gospel deepen our walk this week.

Prayer: Lord, draw me into the story this week. May I feel and experience the passion anew this upcoming week. Connect me to your story. Amen.


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Straining, Straining, Straining

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-14

Verse 12b: “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.

Paul opens this section of Philippians with a long list of his accomplishments in his “past life”. At times we can do this. The “back in the good old days” stories can be fun to relive or they can be good reminders of what or who we used to be. For Paul, they are the latter. Before knowing Jesus, Paul was known as Saul. Saul was a very devout rule follower. Saul checked all the boxes of obedience to religion and was very respected among other rule followers. Saul and his fellow religious folks knew the Law inside out but did not follow the Law-giver. They had tons of head knowledge with no heart change.

Then Saul met Jesus one day and had a radical change of heart. In an instant he knew all of those past accomplishments we’re “rubbish”. He came to understand that righteousness comes not from following the letter of the Law – from checking off the boxes – but from faith in Christ alone. Saul took the Gentile-based version of his name and, as Paul, set about introducing as many people to Jesus as he possibly could. Knowing Christ and helping others to know Christ became Paul’s only goal, no matter the cost. He writes the letter we read from today while he is in prison. Where he is does not matter to Paul. His focus remains the same. Even as Paul sits in chains he writes, “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. Yes, his freedom has been taken, he is barred from speaking in the square and the synagogue, but Paul still writes to encourage the church in Philippi and churches ever since. His words are of great encouragement today.

Paul’s words can become our words. In verse 13 he speaks of “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. I love his choice of “straining”! In spite of opposition or trial or suffering or cost, with all that he is Paul is giving everything he has to spread Jesus’ name so that all can know the good news. Paul strains for the same reason we should strain: the goal, the prize “for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. May we keep our focus on the goal too, straining ahead, straining to share Jesus Christ with as many as we can.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to strain more often. Push me a bit more out of my safe, comfortable places. Amen.


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Lost But Found

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

Verse 32: “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.

The bulk of our reading again today is the story of the prodigal son. It follows the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In these the shepherd and the woman do all they can to find what was lost. Like with the lost son, when what “was lost and is found”, they “had to celebrate and be glad”. These three stories of rejoicing in heaven and on earth are told in response to some muttering by some Pharisees and religious leaders. They had muttered about Jesus, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”.

For the self-righteous and judgmental religious folks sin was to be avoided at all costs. Sin is bad. Sin separates one from God. Sin makes one unclean and unable to participate fully in the temple. The Pharisees and religious leaders act as if sin is contagious. They are appalled when Jesus eats with sinners. They are also appalled when Jesus touches lepers or when He allows a prostitute to touch Him or when He calls a tax collector as a follower or when He calls one down from a tree to eat with him and his friends. At first I smirked at the idea of sin being contagious. Then I looked in the mirror and realized it sure can be! It often is. Gossip is a good example of this. The Pharisees and religious leaders feared sin so they walled up inside the four walls of the temple and they avoided contact – any contact – with those who were struggling with sin. Their message was: be right with God and then you can come to worship and hang out with us. This idea runs so counter to how Jesus did ministry. Yet today we continue to at least hint at the idea that you must look like, act like, live like, believe like we do to be a part of “us” in many societal groups and organizations and in many of our churches. So before we look down on the Pharisees and religious leaders too much, let us turn to the father.

The younger son realizes he has sinned. He humbles himself and decides to return to the father. He admits his sins and asks to be a hired hand, saying, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”. The father had every right to say, “Yes, go find the foreman and he’ll find you a bed in the bunkhouse and he’ll put you to work”. He had every right. But instead the father says, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”. There is then much rejoicing over the one that was lost but found. The older son has trouble with this idea. The Pharisees and religious leaders probably did too. And too many times we do too.

We are so grateful when the Father forgives our sins and welcomes us back into the family as a child of God. May we go forth and do the same for another who is lost.

Prayer: Jesus, my redeemer, may I love and welcome all as you loved and welcomed me, a sinner saved by grace. Amen.


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Magi Faith

Reading: Matthew 2: 9-12

The Magi and the religious leaders in Luke 2 are an interesting contrast.  The religious leaders are steeped in the stories of the prophets, in their own long history with God, and in the prophecies of the much-awaited Messiah.  The Jewish people told their stories over and over again so that all knew the faith.  The Magi notice a new star and somehow connect it to a story they heard long ago.  God helps them begin to connect the dots and they head off on a two year journey to find the answer.

The Magi’s and religious leaders’ paths cross.  Herod brings them together in a meeting that could have been most fatal to his reign.  The Magi provide a thread of a prophecy they heard long ago and the religious leaders quickly rattle off the connecting prophecy from Micah.  The leaders knew the stories well.  It amazes me that the appearance of the Magi did not set off bells and whistles for the religious leaders.  It astounds me that the story of the Magi following a star for two years to this time and place did not draw their attention.  The religious leaders rattle off the prophecy and quickly head back to whatever they were doing.

It amazes and astounds me until I realize how much we today are like this story.  In the Bible, we too have the stories that we read and tell over and over.  In the Word, we clearly understand the call of Jesus upon our lives and how He calls us to live out our faith in the world.  We know the stories well.  But too often we rattle off phrased like “love your neighbor” then walk away from the one in need so that we can get back to what we were doing.  Too often we miss what God has placed before us.  Oh that we were more like the Magi – attuned to the holy mystery, pursuing that which God has placed before us, being faithful to the end of the journey.  May this be the faith we both profess and practice.