pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Servant

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 3: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”.

At the time of Isaiah, the Israelites are in exile in Babylon. They are living in a foreign culture that worships many gods. They are far outside of their normal ways of life and all the comfort and routine that it brings. The Israelites long for what was. Even though they know the temple and Jerusalem have been destroyed, it is still home. It is where God is found.

On our journeys of faith we can experience times in exile, times when we feel distant or separated from God. Depending on the root cause of our exile, the time there can vary. If it is a “small” sin, for example, one that we can confess and repent of easily, then our time of separation can be short. But if we sit in our sin or if the guilt or shame becomes too great, then the exile can lengthen. In these cases we come to the place the Israelites find themselves – we long to be restored and forgiven, but we feel stuck or trapped.

Today’s passage is the third of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs”. These songs tell of a servant who will draw the people back to Israel, restoring the twelve tribes. For the Israelites, they would find hope and promise in these words. Their first and immediate question would be: when? In verse three we read, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”. The people long for God’s splendor to once again be shown in and through them. They long to be back home, back to living in right relationship with God.

The words of the prophet Isaiah ring true with us too. God desires to shine in and through us, his servants. God longs to be in right relationship with each of us, to restore and redeem us. The Holy One has chosen us too. May we walk in the light of Christ, the Redeemer, helping others to walk in the light of Christ too.

Prayer: Lord God, you called me by name. You have restored me and brought me back over and over. In my human weakness you have been so strong. You guide and lead me. Today, as I seek to walk with you and to shine your light into the world, guide my words and thoughts. Fill them with all of you. This day, once again, use me as you will. Amen.


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Marked Beloved

Reading: Matthew 3: 13-17

Verse 16: “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”.

John the Baptist has been in the wilderness, baptizing people in the Jordan River. He offers a baptism of repentance, helping people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. People confess their sins and commit to walking “straight paths”. This walk yields the “fruit in keeping with repentance” that John references. In our passage today, Jesus comes to be baptized. John has just finished explaining how he baptizes with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. That is why John says in today’s text, “I need to be baptized by you”. Never mind that Jesus is without sin and does not “need” a baptism of repentance!

Jesus insists and John acquiesces, baptizing Jesus. Validation comes. In verse sixteen we read, “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”. Jesus’ baptism is a sign that he is ready to begin to live a new life of obedience to God’s will and ways. It is a step to beginning his formal ministry. The voice of God responds with words of identification as God’s Son, the beloved. From this initial step, Jesus is led out into the wilderness for forty days. There Jesus is tempted by Satan.

Baptism today incorporates much of what we read in John 3. Many believe baptism is the “right” thing to do as one enters the Christian life. Water is still the medium and it still represents the cleansing of sin and the commitment to die to the old earthly self. One moves forward dedicated to walking out a life of faith. The Holy Spirit is a vital part of baptism today – it is what “lights” upon us as the seal of being marked as a son or daughter of God. The Holy Spirit enters the life of the baptized, much as it did when Jesus was baptized. Through baptism one is marked as a beloved member of the community of faith. After baptism one enters the world, prepared to daily battle with temptation and sin.

As we enter the world today may we remember our baptism and our place as beloved in the family of God. Be strengthened and encouraged today, for you are loved!

Prayer: God of all the beloved children, be present to me today as I enter the world. Lead and guide my words and actions. Keep me from temptation. Thank you for your love and acceptance. Amen.


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Push Us

Reading: Acts 10: 34-43

Verses 34-35: “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”.

In our passage today, Peter reveals a heart that has witnessed the widening of God’s circle. Early on in his days following Jesus he was more focused on the chosen people, the Jews. Even though Peter was present when many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus after he spoke to the women at the well, his circle was still small. In Acts 10, Peter has a vision and a powerful moment that leads him to say, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”. In this experience God will even challenge Peter’s notion of what is right. (In the reminder of chapter ten the Holy Spirit comes upon the Gentiles before they are baptized – not the “normal” order!)

Peter’s mind and, more importantly, his heart were changed when he allowed himself to be open to God’s voice in the visions and when he followed where God led. Once in a position to do so, Peter shared the good news with his Gentile audience. As God opened up Peter’s circle he came to understand what Jesus really meant by “go and make disciples of all people”. This would not have been possible if Peter was not willing to consider that God might just be doing a new thing in and through him. If Peter stayed stuck in his old understanding of God’s love, he would never have encountered Cornelius and family.

This leads me to wonder: when have I tried to stay in my comfort zone, avoiding the new thing that God is trying to do? When have I been hesitant to see how God is moving and opening up the path to faith to someone I do not think is worthy or ready or acceptable? Sometimes what I have understood previously has been the thing that kept me within my own little circle. At other times my stereotypes and preconceived ideas have been my barrier.

God pushed Peter to new people and to a new understanding of just how big God’s love is. It happened because Peter allowed himself to be pushed. May we each allow God to push us today.

Prayer: Loving Father, your love knows no bounds, does it? You see one and all as worthy of your love. Who and what they are or have been does not matter to you. A heart turned towards you is simply the starting point for us all. Help me today to better be your love in the world. Make my love a love for one and all, Lord. Allow me to follow closer. Amen.


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Righteous and True

Reading: Psalm 145: 17-21

Verses 17-18: “The Lord is righteous… is near to all who call on him in truth”.

The reading from Psalm 145 reveals two things about our God. In the first four words we read, “The Lord is righteous”. This word is a broad word. To be righteous most simply means to be one who chooses to do what is right. This includes not only doing the morally “right” thing but also seeking justice, equality, and generosity. The psalmist reminds us that God loves us as his creation. Much of our sense of and compassion for being righteous comes from love. Our love of God and love of neighbor drives our desires for righteousness, justice, equality…

Being “right” and loving can sometimes create tension or can even feel like they are clashing. One example would be Jesus’ healings and other actions on the Sabbath. Whether healing a man’s deformed hand or picking grains as they walked along, Jesus’ choices brought him into conflict with the religious authorities. Jesus’ question about doing good or doing evil on the Sabbath got to the deeper truth: our call to love. Here is where we can tie into the second half of today’s reading.

In verse 18 we read that God is “near to all who call on him in truth”. We are each unique and beloved creations of God’s own hands – formed in the womb, loved since that day. Because of our connection to God we can trust fully in God and in God’s plans for our lives and our world. When we are willing to release our fears and doubts, the parts of us that question God’s love and care for us, then we can live the life that God intended us to live. From a place of trust and security we can begin to look out beyond ourselves and can begin to see the needs of others. Here we can begin to address their needs. Often we come back around to working for justice and equality, becoming generous to the poor and broken in spirit.

As we grow deeper in God’s love and in our trust in God, we grow closer to the heart of Jesus. Along this journey we share God’s righteousness, love, and truth with all we meet. May it be so today for us all.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I rejoice in your love for me. I exalt your name for being the creator and sustainer of my life. May your love and righteousness be my love and righteousness. Like Jesus, may I give it away to all I meet. Amen.


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Righteous God

Reading: Psalm 119: 137-144

Verse 137: “Righteous are you, O Lord”.

There are several words used by the psalmist to describe God and the law in our verses for today. God is described as righteous. The law is described as right, trustworthy, tested, and true. The relationship between the psalmist and the law is also revealed in these verses. He loves the law, does not forget the law, is his delight, and gives him understanding. The psalmist clearly appreciates his relationship with the law. Conversely, he is distressed by those who do not have the same relationship with the law.

Many people relate to the feelings of the psalmist. I am one of them. My nature is to be a rule follower. Yet a part of me will also struggle with rules that seem unjust or that are just ends unto themselves. In general we have laws or rules to keep us safe, to keep us in right relationship with one another, to govern our society and our institutions. But when it feels like we are crossing the line into legalism, I struggle. Take, for example, our confirmation class at church. We have a covenant that the youth, parent(s), and I all sign. The covenant, of course, spells out the “responsibilities” we each have. In reality, it establishes the rules for being in confirmation. The process leads to being confirmed and likely to joining the church. At times it is necessary to re-emphasize one or more of the rules. Each and every time I do so I feel like I am stepping across the line of legalism. Yes, it is good and likely a positive thing to remind them to be in worship, to turn in their sermon notes, to read and come to class prepared for a discussion… But at some point I fear the loss of the love of God. The rules or law becomes a requirement instead of a means to fall more in love with God. The letter of the law replaces the forming of a relationship.

For me, the psalmist borders on this idea in our passage. The verses feel more about loving the law rather than loving the writer of the laws. Yes, the law comes from God and carries God’s authority. But we cannot reverse the order. We must follow and obey God’s laws because we love God. We do not love God because we follow and obey the laws. Loving God must come first. Living out and obeying the laws must flow from our love of God. Righteous are you, O Lord.

Prayer: Loving God, continue to pull me deeper and deeper into relationship with you. Grow my love of prayer and worship, of reading and study and meditation upon your love and your word. May it be so. Amen.


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Merciful and Just

Reading: Luke 18:1-8

Verse 3: “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”.

Today Jesus teaches us to pray and not to give up. The scene in the parable begins with the one able to answer the request. The judge has the power but is not concerned with God or with men. He feels that his power has placed him above and out of the reach of anyone or anything. Any courtroom decision comes with a price – justice had very little to do with his courtroom proceedings.

Next we meet a woman who is about the exact opposite of the judge. She is powerless. She has no husband to speak for her and she lives in a society that does not value women. She operates on justice. In verse three they meet. Here we read, “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”. Right is right. That does not change tomorrow or any day to come. So she keeps coming at the judge day after day. Not right away, but after a while the judge gives in. The widow cannot pay him off yet he grants her justice. Why? So she will not wear him out.

The woman perseveres because she is right. She seeks justice. Even the corrupt judge recognizes this. Instead of barring her from court or refusing to acknowledge someone without means, he does what is right. Here we find our model of God – the one who always does what is right, the one who is on the side of justice and the weak and powerless. When our prayers are right and just and when we bring them to God over and over, our God hears and answers. God is merciful and just and loving. In our times of need, God draws near and is present to us. In our persistence we grow stronger and our faith grows deeper. As we bring holy and just prayers to our God, know that God hears and answers.

Prayer: Lord God, when my prayers align with your will and your way, they are just and right. When I cry out for your mercy and grace with a repentant heart, you are pleased. Thank you for being a God of both justice and mercy, of grace and love. You are an awesome God! Amen.


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Resource Usage

Reading: Luke 16: 1-8

Verse 8: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”.

The dishonest manager is about to find himself unemployed. He surely knows why his boss is firing him. Instead of taking some time for introspection, he turns to more dishonesty as he adjusts the debts owed his boss. He takes from another to insure a better future for himself. In a turn that always surprises me, we read “the master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”. Instead of sulking or walking away mad, the manager does what he can to make the best of his situation. The master credits him as being shrewd.

When we read this story, it rubs most of us the wrong way. It goes against our sense of right and wrong. There is dishonest gain and it is commended. But we cannot get stuck here, in our indignation. If we do, we miss Jesus’ point. He too acknowledges that “the people of this world are far more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light”. Those who live in the world use the world and its ways to their advantage. As a man of the world, the master commended his ex-manager for playing the game so well.

Jesus is not encouraging us to be dishonest but to use the resources that we have been given shrewdly. We all have gifts and resources at our disposal. Maybe you have been blessed financially. Use that resource to do some of God’s work in the world. Maybe you have been blessed with mechanical ability. Use that resource to teach another a skill or use it to help out someone in need. We have all been given resources. We need to use the things of the world as we follow Jesus and as we seek to help others know him. We are to use the things of this world that we have been given wisely – to grow in the grace and love of God and to help others do so as well. Whatever resources God has blessed you with, engage the world as you use the resources well.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all that I have and am are yours. All of my gifts and talents, all of my possessions, all of my relationships are gifts from you. Show me how to use each of them well, building my faith and advancing your kingdom here on earth. Amen.