pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Either Or

Reading: Psalm 1 and Luke 6: 22 and 26

Verses 1 and 2: “Blessed is the man… delight is in the law of the Lord… he meditates day and night”.

In both readings today there is a distinct “this or that” choice to make. There is no middle ground. According to the psalmist and according to Jesus in Luke’s gospel, you are blessed when your life is aligned with God. Conversely, you are not blessed when your life is not aligned with God. In both readings, the blessings are God’s blessings, not the world’s rewards.

The psalmist connects meditating on God’s word to being blessed. In the reading of scripture we come to know God and how God desires for us to live our lives. For the psalmist, the scriptures nourish the soul. The faithful follower is like a tree planted by the stream, growing and yielding fruit in season. Fruit is the work of God evident in one’s life. For the Jews, this would look like devout worship, giving to and caring for the needy, studying the law, teaching and modeling love for God to family and neighbor.

The inward change that comes with and through the daily study of scripture is then reflected in outward behavior. Inner change, drawing closer to God, causes us to change how we act. Loving God more necessarily leads to loving neighbor more. Luke picks up on this idea too. In our two verses from Luke, Jesus addressed that fact that these inner changes and outward manifestations do not always sit well with the world. In verse 22 we are reminded that at times our faith will draw persecution from the world. When we speak out against injustice and violence, when we speak up for equal treatment and just laws, then we can draw some negative attention. In verse 26 Jesus contrasts this with how the world treats us when we act like a false prophet – speaking the world instead of God. The world likes us then and speaks well of us. But inside we are far from the ways of God.

This faith thing is an either-or choice. We can strive to live for God or we can choose to live for self and the world. We might like to try, but we cannot walk the middle road. We cannot waver between discipleship and the ways of the world. We cannot love two masters – we will come to love one and hate the other (Matthew 6). This day and every day, may we choose to love God and to pursue God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord, give me a heart that loves you alone. Break me of my fleshy desires. Cast them out of me! Daily draw me more and more into your love. Amen.


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Blessing, Woe

Reading: Luke 6: 17-26

Verses 17-18: “A great number of people… had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases”.

In Jesus’ ministry, His teaching and healing were often connected. People were drawn to the healing that Jesus’ physical touch would bring. In today’s passage we read, “A great number of people… had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases”. For those there were in need of physical healing, we read that they only needed to touch Jesus to experience healing. I imagine the crowd was milling around and pressing in on Jesus.

As Jesus begins to speak He addresses both the blessings and woes that people experience. The words that Jesus speak also offer healing. Through the “blessed are you” statements, Jesus offers the hope of a promised better life. These words bring comfort, reassurance, and healing. He also offers several “woe to you” statements. These words bring warning, conviction, and, ultimately, they offer healing to those living in sin. If all present will allow Jesus’ words to touch them, they can experience spiritual healing.

The first three “blessed are” statements deal with those who are poor, hungry, and weeping. To these, Jesus attached a future hope and promise. The fourth speaks to those who are being persecuted because of their faith in Christ. Jesus reminds them that they walk with Him. For all people, life has trials and sufferings. To those that day living with these, Jesus offers eternal hope as He says, “rejoice in that day” because “great is your reward in heaven”. Keep the faith, keep your eyes on Christ, trust in what is to come.

Jesus also addresses those who are enjoying life now. He speaks to those who are rich, well fed and to those who are laughing and are thought well of by men. Jesus says woe to these because they are pursuing and enjoying the things of this earth, all of which are temporary. The when or will statements apply to the life of torment that will come as well.

We live with the same choice to make. Our priorities, our focus, our faith, our concern for others – these things will bring us blessings or woes. Do we hunger for the Word? Are we concerned for and engaged with the poor? Do we weep with those who are suffering or struggling? Do we speak up and live out our faith courageously and boldly? These are the things that will bring blessing. May these be the things we pursue and chase after. Then all the glory will be to God.

Prayer: Lord, help me to live first for you and then for others. In all I say and do, may love be my lead and my guide. Amen.


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Foundation

Reading: Psalm 127

Verse 1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain”.

Today’s Psalm is about God’s presence in our homes. If one were to observe your home, where would God be present? Does your day begin with or take a break for or end with time in prayer and the study of God’s Word? Is prayer a part of your meal times and elsewhere sprinkled throughout your day? Do the sounds from your musical devices and the pictures coming from your TV bear witness to the presence of God in your life?

It can be easy to sleep a bit later or to just get “too busy” to have quality time with God each day. It can be a challenge to filter what we allow into our minds through the media and social media sources. There is no shortage of music, programming, news, or social media that is filled with negativity, violence, vulgarity, and other non-godly content.

Our Psalm opens with “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain”. Are you working with God in the building of your house? Are you doing your part to include God, to invite God, to make media choices that do not hinder God’s presence? Our decisions, our choices, and our priorities must be aligned with God’s will and ways or we labor in vain.

In verse 2 we see a warning against the work, work, work attitude that some of us hold dear. Toiling to gain more is in vain. It draws us away from time with our faith and time with our families. The last section of the Psalm speaks of children as a reward and as a blessing. Is this how your children feel? Do you spend time with them, show interest in their activities and pursuits, do you walk with them in the difficulties of growing up?

We must build our children up in the Lord as well, establishing a firm foundation for their future. When we do, they will not be put to shame when the enemy Satan contends at the gates of their hearts. May this be true for us as well as we seek to build our lives upon the sure foundation, Jesus Christ.

Dear God, thank you for your presence in my life. May I ever seek you and encourage my family to do the same. You are our sure foundation, our ever present help. May it be so all of our days. Amen.


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The Law

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verse Eleven: “By them [the Law] is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”.

The Law that began simply with the Ten Commandments is the core of the Old Testament and Jewish religious practices. The Law is what defines the relationship between God and the chosen people. The Law also teaches how God expects His people to be in relationship with each other. Yes, over time the Law became a man-made beast with over six hundred rules or statutes. It was practically impossible to keep all of the Law. Yes, in the New Testament we see a shift away from the rigid Law with all of its punishments and consequences to a covenant relationship with Jesus based upon love and grace. Because of all this, the Law tends to have a bad reputation in Christian circles.

Today, I invite you to consider the Law from the psalmist’s perspective. At its core, the Law is good and holy because it is from God. Even Jesus said He did not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law. The psalmist sees the Law as it was intended. Listen to the words he uses to describe the Law: perfect, trustworthy, giving joy to the heart and light to the eyes, more precious than gold. Instead of seeing the Law as something that limited and only dealt in consequences, the psalmist sees the Law as providing structure and guidance in his relationship with God. The Law is seen as the teacher. With the Law we learn of our shortcomings; this leads us to walk a more holy path and to recognize our need for God.

In these ways the Law is not much different than the ways of Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus was all about showing us how to live out God’s love in the world. Jesus was all about the relationships He had with God and with His fellow man. These things too are the essence of the Law. The psalmist wrote, “By them [the Law] is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”. The reward comes in knowing God better and in having a fuller understanding of our relationships with God and with each other. May we be open to the Law and all that it reveals about God, His love, His plan for creation, and His intent for humanity. Jesus is still our way, truth, and life. But there is also much to learn from the Law.


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Humble

Reading: Matthew 22: 11-12

Verse 12: Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Jesus has just finished “teaching” the Pharisees about how un-humble they are.  They love to be seen and heard, to be recognized and honored.  Elsewhere in Scripture we are told that they already have their reward.  Earthly accolades have no heavenly value.

Jesus tells them and us that there is a better way.  In verse 12 He says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.  He is speaking of here and there, of earth and heaven.  Those who have exalted themselves here will be humbled one day.  The Word speaks of the day when  one will be taken and one will be left behind.  The implication here for the Pharisees is that they will be humbled on that day.

The other side of Jesus’ advice applies to the disciples.  If you are a humble servant now, one day you will be exalted.  For the disciples and many others who would suffer for their faith, the ‘one day’ promise was powerful and encouraging.  For people like Paul and his fellow workers for the gospel, they had many experiences that humbled them.  They knew well the promise of one day being exalted.

Humility is sometimes in short supply today.  In a culture that values and espouses power and position and possessions, humility can be hard to find.  In our lives we occasionally have experiences that force humility upon us.  But too often we choose to blame others or to make excuses for our failure.  The other, more pressing, consideration has to do with our faith though.  The question we must wrestle with as Christian is this: if we do not experience humility in our faith journey, are we risking too little for Jesus Christ?  Are we playing it too safe?  Are we holding back from the Spirit’s lead?

Jesus tells us that we will be humbled when we share our faith, lead other to belief, or love the least and lost in His name.  When we step out in faith, when we risk much for the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is then that we become aware of His power and strength moving in and through us.  We come to see that it is Jesus that saves, moves, loves.  It has very little to do with us when we are truly humble servants.  May we all seek to be humbled today.


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Imperfectly in Perfect

Reading: Psalm 19

Verses 7 and 12: The Law of the Lord is perfect… forgive my hidden faults.

Our Psalm for today begins by recognizing how the natural world shines forth God.  When one looks to the sky at night, one gains a sense of the vastness and power of God.  As the sun moves across the sky, we can sense God’s perfect plan at work.  The earth was placed at exactly the right distance from the sun – much closer or further and we could not have life on our planet.  The sun is described as a bridegroom bringing light and heat to all.  This is much like the Son who brings light and love to all.

In verse seven, the psalmist begins comparing God’s beautiful and perfect creation to God’s Law.  He writes, “the Law of the Lord is perfect”, trustworthy, right, and radiant.  The psslmists says the Law revives the soul, makes wise the simple, gives joy to the heart and light to the eyes.  These ordinances of God are “sure” and “righteous” and are “sweeter than honey”.  Reading all these descriptives the Law is much like the perfection and beauty of nature.  It is a wonderful thing to keep and a great place to be.  Verse eleven summarizes this: “By them is your servant warned, in keeping them there is great reward”.  All who walk daily with the Lord know this is true.

Even though we live in the beauty and wonder of God’s creation and even though we know the law and have Jesus’ example, there are times when we choose to walk outside of God’s law and love.  There are times we sin.  In verse twelve we read, “forgive my hidden faults”.  The next verse seeks protection from “willful sins”.  Within the perfection of creation and beside God’s perfect law reside us humans.  Just as the psalmist does, so too must we recognize our absolute need for God’s grace and forgiveness.  Out of His perfect love God brought us Jesus Christ, so that through His perfect love we could be redeemed.  Each day may we choose to stand upon our Rock, seeking God as we dwell imperfectly in His perfect love.