pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Kingdom of Love

Reading: Amos 7: 10-17

Verse 15: “The Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people'”.

Our passage today is overcast. Amos has bad news to deliver and the people receiving it do not receive it well. The one who represents power, Amaziah the priest, basically tells Amos to be quiet and to go home to Judah. The powers that be do not want to hear that King Jeroboam will die and that Israel is headed off into exile. It is just not good news. At least not for Jeroboam and his allies.

In a general sense, today’s passage is a good representation of the Old Testament cycle. The cycle is: God’s people fall into sin, God sends a prophet, the people usually continue to sin, God brings punishment, they eventually repent. Once in a long while the king and people heed the warning. Most often, though, the pattern follows today’s reading. The sin begins with the king or leader and trickles down from there. For most, that means that life becomes more pleasurable, more fun, less rule bound. To hear Amos say that God is bringing their worldly lifestyle to an end is not good news for most of Israel. It is not surprising that they tell Amos to hush up and get on back to Judah. Things are not any better there. Under King Uzziah they are worshipping foreign gods and have abandoned the law of God. Amos has prophesied that fire will consume Jerusalem. They too have become followers of the world.

This cycle that includes a heaping dose of doom and gloom is a reason that many do not like to delve deep into the Old Testament. These is a lot of violence and punishment and death. Many, many prophets come to speak to the kings and to the people as God attempts to bring them back into covenant living. We cannot miss the fact that this is always God’s purpose, always God’s main desire. The prophet’s words, as is the case in today’s passage, are hard to hear and are rejected. Yet these words are not bad news to everyone.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”? This has long been true. God has always been a caring and good and benevolent God. The poor, the widows, the outcast, the marginalized have always had a special place in God’s world. These are the ones who would hear Amos’ words as good news. As the nation returns to walking in God’s ways, life gets better for these. Injustice and abuses of power lessen. Hearts and hands become more generous. The kingdom of love returns. This is good news for today too. May we ponder and live into our role in this kingdom of love.

Prayer: Lord, when I am faithful and walking closely with you, I see and feel the world differently. It is a world filled with more love. Help that to be my world today and every day, O God of love. 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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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 32

Verse 1: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered”.

When we confess our sins to the Lord and seek to earnestly repent of them, we are washed clean, made new once again. This is what David is writing about in the opening verses of Psalm 32. In verse 1 he writes, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered”. When we walk honestly with the Lord we are blessed.

But we do not always walk honestly and righteously. Sometimes we sin. We are called to confess and repent whenever we feel the conviction of our sin. But we do not always do that. Sometimes we tell ourselves that God doesn’t really know. Sometimes we can try and justify our sins. David tries to hide from God. In verse 3 he writes, “when I kept silent… my bones wasted away”. He felt God’s “heavy hand” upon him and his strength was gone. We have all been there, drained by the efforts to keep up our charade. We know that we are sinning and we know that we need to confess and repent, but we just cannot quite get there. The power of sin is just a bit too much.

With renewed trust and confidence in God’s love, David pushes through. In verse 5 he writes, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you”. David confessed and knew God’s love and mercy: “you forgave the guilt of my sin”. He confessed and was made right with God. David encourages all to pray to God so that they can experience what he did: protection and presence. In verse 8 we read about this as God instructs and teaches, counsels and watches over. We will be surrounded by God’s love.

This Psalm is a great reminder to us. If we are struggling with a sin in our life, it reminds us that life is better when we are honest with God. When we confess and repent, the guilt and shame fall away and we are restored into God’s presence, protection, and peace. Living honestly, not having to hide, is liberating and joyful and leads us to be glad and to sing of God’s love. Psalm 32 is also a great passage to share with those we know who are stuck in their sin. If offers a view of the Lord’s “unfailing love” that we experience when we are made right with God and it offers a view of the life of joy and peace and security we find when we walk with the Lord. Thanks be to God for His unfailing love for all people!

Prayer: Lord, when I find myself in sin and feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, help me to quickly confess, repent, and turn back to you. When I don’t quite see my sin as sin, reveal it to me by the same power of your Holy Spirit. Give me compassion and love and gentleness when I seek to help another to be freed from their sins. Let your unfailing love shine through. May all I do and say and think reveal your unfailing love to a world in need. Amen.


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Repent

Reading: Luke 13: 1-9

Verse 3: “Unless you repent, you too all will perish”.

Today’s passage begins with two tragedies. In the first Pilate has killed some folks who were making sacrifices. Jesus asks if they were worse sinners than others because of this tragedy. No! He then recalls the 18 who died when a tower collapsed. He again asks if they were more guilty than others. Again the answer is “no”. In life there are terrible things that happen. But God does not single out the worst sinners or any sinners or those sinning at that moment to experience these bad things. Pilate’s cruel decision and the structural weakness of the tower are things that happened and unfortunately affected people. The folks affected were innocent victims, not sinners forced into those situations by God.

In response to both tragedies, Jesus says the same thing. Twice He says, “Unless you repent, you too all will perish”. He is not saying that Pilate is about to rage violently or that another tower is about to fall. He is not saying that some sinners will find themselves in those situations. Jesus is saying that we are all sinners. We are all sinners who need to repent of our sins and to be made right with God. If any one of us fails to repent, we will perish. Jesus is not talking about perishing immediately. If I sin today and do not confess by the end of the day, then it does not mean that I will die tonight. Jesus goes on to share a parable about this in verses 6-9, but that is for tomorrow.

Repentance is not just saying “sorry”. It also involves a change and an effort to not commit that sin again. For me to tell at a child of mine, then to repent, then to turn around and yell at them again is not true repentance. To truly repent means to turn away from the sin and to work to not go there again and to be align oneself with God. A hollow apology with no intent to be more holy is not what is required of us.

We are all sinners. We will all sin multiple times today. Most often my sins occur in my head. My thoughts can turn to judging or condemning or comparing all too quickly. The old stereotypes or prejudices or experiences can creep in to influence my interactions with or my compassion for others. When I stumble and fall into one of these sinful behaviors, fortunately the Holy Spirit is quick to convict me. At that very point I must humble myself and confess my sin to God. I must commit to try to not turn to that sin again. I must try and take on the heart and eyes of Jesus to see that person or that situation as Jesus does. I must see with eyes of love. With those eyes I do not become sinless, I just sin less. The closer we can be to Jesus, the further we are from sinning. May we all strive to be closer to Jesus today.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, strengthen me today. When temptation comes knocking, may your Holy Spirit intervene quickly. Guard my heart and mind today, O God. Amen.


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Hearts

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 5-10

Verse 10: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind”.

Our passage today closes with this reminder: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind”. God knows all that is in our heart and mind. There is nothing that we can hide from God. Jeremiah writes that the heart is “deceitful” and is “beyond cure”. He then asks the question: “Who can understand it”? The One who knit us together in our mother’s womb, the One who formed us – God can understand our hearts and minds. God’s power pierces through our bodies of flesh to see the condition of our spirit.

Speaking through Jeremiah, God sees trust as the essential characteristic of our heart. The person who trusts in man, in the flesh, is cursed. They have turned away from God and that is indeed a cursed place to be. It is a dry and parched place to dwell. By contrast, blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord. This person experiences joy and is nourished by the waters of life. This person experiences no fear or worry. The one who trusts in the Lord “never fails to bear fruit”. It is a loving and wonderful place to dwell.

If trust were a simple thing, life would be just great. But it is not. Our culture tells us that we should be independent and that success comes from hard work and from within us. Culture tells us that wealth and possessions and status are what matters. How and whom we go through to attain these things is secondary to attaining them. The many voices of the world run counter to the idea of trusting in God. Our heart tries to navigate these waters. Like Jeremiah, we too can ask, who can understand it?

God certainly understands our hearts. God knows us through and through. All that we are is transparent to God. It is for us as well when we are honest with ourselves. Inside our spirits we know the condition of our heart. God searches our hearts to know us, not to condemn us. God seeks to refine us. God searches not to find reasons to punish us but to send the Holy Spirit to convict us and to lead us towards repentance. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can become more than the world says we are. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can become who God says we are: holy. As we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, we draw closer to God. We come to know God more and more. This process reveals a God who loves us deeply. God’s love wants the best for us and our lives. This is a God we can trust. In this place of trust, we are truly blessed.

Prayer: Holy and gracious God, ever draw me to you. Give me ears sensitive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Give me a heart that soaks up more and more of you. May it be so. 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.


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Jesus’ Baptisms

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 & 21-22

Verse 16: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”.

Our passage today begins with John the Baptist. He is preaching a baptism of repentance out in the wilderness. There is a certain wildness, an unknown edge to John. His clothing, his lifestyle, the way he challenges both scare and attract us. He calls for and leads people to radical change in their lives. This too attracts and yet scares us. We are drawn to find and live into a better version of ourselves. But at the same time, change is hard and requires us to step into the new and unknown.

John is pointing beyond himself to Jesus. John’s role was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. John speaks of Jesus, saying, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. John’s baptism of water was more a cleansing of sins and a commitment to walk a better faith. But Jesus’ baptism will be different. There is a winnowing fork in Jesus’ hand. This is used to separate the good from the bad, the useful from the unusable. The action of conviction and repentance is taken from our hands and placed into His hands. The baptism of the Holy Spirit leads to a new source of power within us. The Holy Spirit does not rationalize or try and look past sin like we might perhaps try to do.

There is also a gathering up and a burning aspect to today’s Word from John. The good, the useful for the kingdom, will be gathered up into Jesus’ barn – into heaven. The bad, the unusable, the evil, will be burned with an unquenchable fire. It will not be pleasant. This is the fire that Jesus Christ will bring. It is not necessarily anyone’s destiny. Yet some will choose it. Judgment will come to us all. May we each sense the voice of Jesus in the Holy Spirit’s voice, allowing it to guide and lead us to all righteousness. May we daily live a life that honors and brings glory to the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Prayer: O Jesus, may your Holy Spirit ever be present and loud and clear in my life. Guide me to walk in your ways, always seeking to bring you the glory and praise. Amen.