pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Righteousness

Reading: Romans 4: 17-25

Verse Twenty: “He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God”.

Paul connects back to the Old Testament today and recounts the faith of Abraham. Paul refers to the story in Genesis 17 where God promises to make Abraham and Sarah into a great nation. Despite being ninety-nine and ninety years old, they “in hope believed” what God promised. Paul writes that Abraham “faced the fact that his body was good as dead” and chose the possibility of God. Yes, he did question and doubt a bit – the Genesis passage tells us they laughed at first – but in the end, “He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God”. Abraham chose to be “fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He promised”. We know from hindsight that Abraham does go on to be the father of many nations.

Within this story we too can have hope for our faith. We see that our God keeps His promise even if we question or doubt or laugh or take a little time to rachet up our faith. This is because the promise is based on God’s power and love, not on ours. Abraham shows faith in spite of the seemingly impossible of his context. Deep down, he knew that anything was possible with God. We also trust into this fact. Abraham chose to believe and chose to live into this promise from God. Even though we may wrestle and question and doubt now and then, we too are called to choose to believe. We are not perfect, God is. In the end, we must come to trust into our relationship with God and to believe that God can do anything in our lives as well.

For Paul, righteousness comes through Jesus Christ. Paul writes, “for all who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord”, God will credit us as righteous. Jesus not only died for our sins but was also “raised to life for our justification”. For us, this means that Jesus makes us right before God. He washes away our sin and makes us holy and pure before God. When we falter, when we stumble, Jesus is there to pick us up and to return us to a place of right standing before God.

In Deuteronomy God said, “I will never leave or forsake you”. This too is a promise. It is a no matter what promise. This promise is carried out today through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Through the Spirit, Jesus remains ever by our side. Like the Father, the Son keeps the promise for us. Thanks be to God for the power and presence of Jesus, our righteousness.

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Intimate, Personal

Reading: Psalm 123

Verse One: “I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.”

The Psalm today begins by acknowledging that we look up to God whom we envision in heaven, seated on the throne.  It is a position we are comfortable with – God up there, us down here.  This vision fits into our schemata of an all-powerful, almighty God who reigns over all.  This is the type of God we imagine we have.  This God is the God that can do anything.  It is the expectation conveyed in the opening line: “I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.”

The next verse sees the relationship differently.  Now our eyes look to our master or to our mistress.  We now have the eyes of a slave or maid.  This is perhaps a less comfortable way to look up to God.  To properly understand this image we must understand the context of the times in which this was written.  Slaves and maids lived in the house of the master or mistress, right alongside the rest of the family.  The slave or maid was given food, a bed, and usually spent time in community with the family.  They were an extension of the family in most cases.  Yes, there was a subservient nature to the relationship, but it was also a relationship of love and care.  The slave or maid desired to please the master or mistress, much as a child desires to please their parent.

When we see God as our master or mistress it changes out perspective.  As almighty God in charge of it all, there is a separation or distance between us.  In some ways this view is perhaps safer, less threatening.  As a slave or maid, we are right in there with God.  We are walking and living our day to day life right there with God.  It is a very intimate and personal way to look at our relationship with God.  It is a “hold your hand” relationship instead of a “look up to heaven” relationship.  It is a relationship of mutual dependency.  It is a relationship built upon God’s love and care for us and our personally serving God.  In what ways will we live out this intimate, personal relationship with God today?


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Empty… Fill

Readings: Psalm 106: 1-6 and Philippians 4: 7-9

Keys verses: We have sinned… we have done wrong and acted wickedly (Psalm 106:6).  Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things (Philippians 4:8).

Pairing today’s readings together yields a wonderful truth for our lives.  The Psalm leads us to seek a repentant heart, to admit our sins to God, to begin again to walk in step with His ways.  We are all sinful creatures, living in a world that is full of temptations and that glorifies many sins.  Satan is always at work in our lives, trying to pry his way into our hearts and minds, working on our bodily passions as well as our human frailties and weaknesses.  It is no wonder we occasionally sin.  However, it cannot stop there.  We cannot live with or in our sin.  Each day we must come before God to be honest with God and ourselves, to name our sins, to repent and seek His forgiveness for this time and God’s strength for the next time.  To do all this is essential because it makes space for God in our lives as it clears away all the gets in the way of our relationship with Him.

Paul speaks of what can fill this space created by confessing our sins.  Into that space created by releasing our sins and inviting God into our lives, Paul suggests we think about the things of God.  He writes, “Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things”.  When we train our minds to focus on these things, then we begin to see the world, ourselves, and others as God sees them.  This will help us to walk as Jesus walked – loving God and loving neighbor.  Walking this way will not only strengthen us in our battle with Satan, it will also lead us to have a thankful and grateful heart within us.  Once we are emptied, then He can fill us up.

When we honestly confess our sins and empty ourselves of these burdens, then we are opening ourselves up for God’s participation in our lives.  This is my prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right Spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  May it be so today.  


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A Right Relationship

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse Two: I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery.

Today’s passage is perhaps one of the most familiar in all of the Old Testament.  They are but ten of the hundreds of laws or commandments found in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.  Yet we know these ten fairly well.  They are on countless Sunday School room walls and most Christians can name a majority of the ten.  They are mostly a list of “shall not” laws with a couple “do” laws in there too.  They are partly about our relationship with God (1-4) and partly about our relationship with each other (5-10).

Maybe the Ten Commandments are well-known because of their timing.  Maybe they are well-known because of the dramatic fashion in which they are given.  Maybe they are top-of-the-list because of their simplicity.  When Moses receives the Ten Commandments on top of the mountain, it is the first time that God has given laws to live by.  This is significant.  The scene below the mountain was powerful too.  God has just led them to victory, a violent storm rages on top of the mountain, and Moses speaks with God in the storm and lives.  And the Ten Commandments are pretty straight forward.  They are simple enough to be taught in Sunday School classes – even for the little ones.

But ultimately, I think the Ten Commandments are significant because of what they begin.  Verse two reads, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”.  For the initial Israelites, they were literally brought out of physical slavery in Egypt.  But quickly for them and for each generation since, right up and through us, the slavery we face is sin.  The Ten Commandments represent the beginning of a personal relationship with God.  This personal relationship is essential if we are to ultimately conquer sin and death.  The first four commandments, in particular, establish the relationship we must have with God.  These must be kept in order to stay in a right relationship with God.  These are summarized in Deuteronomy Six and again by Jesus – love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  The next six commandments cover how we are to live in a right relationship with each other.  These are summarized in Leviticus 19 and by Jesus – love your neighbor as self.  The Ten Commandments begin our right relationship with God and each other.  May we honor the Ten Commandments as we live out our love for God and for neighbor each day.


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Trusting

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7

Verse One: Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry.

The psalmist cries out to God for an answer to his prayer: “Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry”.  He asks God to “give ear” to what he requests.  Then he adds a reminder to “see what is right”.  He wants God to not only listen and to pay attention but to see it his way as well.  This is a familiar prayer pattern for most of us today.  We want God to hear our prayers and to answer as we have requested because, as you can see God, we are right and correct in what we are asking for.

To back up his case and to help God act on his behalf and in the way that he desires, the psalmist builds his case.  He invites God to examine him and to test him.  He is confident that God will not find any sin in his life.  He reminds God that he has kept “the words of your lips” and has not followed the ways of the violent.  The psalmist reminds God that he has “held to your paths”.  Some of the time we also add similar reminders to our prayers.  We add things like: went to church each Sunday, read Bible every day, served at the rescue mission last month… We remind God that we have not gossiped or caroused too much.  We also build our case and on occasion we may even pray the “if You’ll only…” prayer.

The psalmist closes this section by again asking God to hear and answer.  He requests that God would “show the wonder of your great love”.  It’s almost as if he were reminding God of how much God loves us as a way to prompt God to show it by answering his prayers.  It is an “if you really love me” kind of prayer.  We too go here once in a while.  We too imply that because God loves us, He should answer as we desire.

All of this seems to both bring God down to our level and to elevate our needs above God’s understanding.  God knows our needs.  God has plans to prosper us.  May we bring our humble and honest prayers simply to God, trusting that He will hear and trusting that He will act according to His will and to His plans for us.


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Big Plan

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21

Verse 12: It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.

God’s big plan is at work.  Sometimes it is hard to see the big plan from our own limited vantage point.  From our small view sometimes we cannot see very far.  In today’s passage, God knows the big plan.  He says to Abraham, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned”.  This is the big plan.  The nation of Israel will come through Isaac – his child with wife Sarah.  It fulfills the promise made long ago.  The covenant involves divine guidance and blessing.

The big picture even influences the writers of Genesis.  Notice that in our passage the name ‘Ishmael’ is not used.  The writers instead use ‘son’ and ‘boy’.  Maybe the story is less personal that way.  Yet when we look at Abraham, we see that this is very personal.  It is his son Ishmael that must be cast out.  It is his first born son that he must send out into the desert.  Even though it is part of God’s big plan, this is a hard thing that Abraham is being asked to do.  He is stuck in his small view.

As Abraham teeters in the balance, God gives him some reassurance.  In a way, God is saying, ‘truth’ me’.  Abraham has had lots of experience trusting God when he could not see the big plan, so he trusts once again in God and follows obediently.  At times we find ourselves in a situation similar to Abraham’s.  The things that we need to ‘send out’ are often sins or other things that we can see we need to let go.  Once in a while, though, we find ourselves in a spot like Abraham, having to make the “more right” choice.  We have to let go of something we kind of love to remain obedient to God’s big plan for our lives.  In these moments, may we recall God’s faithfulness in our lives and trust in Him to be faithful once again.


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He Died for Us

Reading: Romans 5: 6-8

Verse Six: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

To me, today’s three verses speak to the depth of God’s love for all of humanity.  The key words are ‘love’ and ‘all’.  It is an amazing, mighty, almost unfathomable love that would send His Son, knowing He would die a painful death.  And speaking of unfathomable – Jesus died for sinners, for you and me, plus all those who hate God and those who deny God and those who refuse to acknowledge God’s existence…  To die for the sinners we all are is one thing.  To die for the haters, the atheists, the non-believers… is a whole other level of ‘all’.

Verse six reads, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly”.  In His infinite wisdom, God initiated His plan to save us at ‘just the right time’.  God’s hand is often at work in the world.  Sometimes it happens in big ways, like this, and at other times God’s hand is at work in smaller ways, like the time that person said that thing to you at that time in your life.  There is another truth in this verse.  We are powerless.  Before the cross humanity was trapped in our sin and held captive by death.  But through the cross we find forgiveness and hope.  As Christ conquered sin and death, He opened the way for us too.  Through a personal relationship with Jesus we can claim salvation and eternal life.

In the next two verses, Paul returns to the idea of just who Christ died for.  He notes that maybe some would die for a good man.  I think some are even willing to die for a good cause.  But no one would be willing to die for an enemy or for a cause they do not believe in.  Jesus died for both.  “While we were sinners” – separated from God – He died for us.  That’s amazing, but it goes farther.  Jesus knew we would continue to sin.  He knew His death would not end sinning.  But He died anyway.  We, by our imperfect nature, are prone to sin.  And Jesus died for each and every one of us anyway.  Thanks be to God.