pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Lord of Life

Reading: Galatians 6: 11-16

Verses 14-15: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… What counts is a new creation”.

I am a rule follower by nature. Yes, I may stretch the speed limit by a few mph, but I won’t intentionally run a red light or drive the wrong way on a one-way street. I’m not saying I’ve never done these two things either. But when I did, I felt guilty because I did something wrong and wouldn’t have been upset if I received a consequence for my error. Most people feel like following the rules is a good and right thing to do, especially when the rule has been around for a long time.

Paul comes to battle this idea in Galatia. When he came there on his missionary journey, he started a church there. He taught them that faith in Christ alone was the priority. They were to learn to be like and to follow Jesus. This was the practice until some came and began to teach otherwise. Confusion arose. It would be like me standing up next Sunday and quoting an Old Testament verse and proclaiming that all must follow this to belong to the church. No more shellfish (Leviticus 11:9)!! For Paul’s audience, the practice of being circumcised was more serious. This action physically identified or set apart God’s people. The new teachers were circumcised and wanted all in the church to be circumcised. Some questioned this demand. The people did not know what rule to follow. People in the church who were Jews wanted to go back to the old Torah law. Non-Jews questioned it because Paul had said nothing about this. Now he must address it. Paul reiterates that following Christ is most important. In verse 14 he says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The people were allowing circumcision to be a higher sign of belonging. Paul wants to refocus them on Jesus Christ. Circumcision was not essential. Paul goes on to state, “What counts is a new creation”. Being made new in Jesus Christ is the sign of belonging. Being made into a new spiritual creation is the physical sign of faith. Declaring and living with Jesus as the Lord of your life is the priority. It was for Paul and he wanted it to be so for those in the Galatian church. May it be our priority as well!

Prayer: Dear God, may Jesus ever be my first, my last, my all. May following your son be my only priority. Amen.

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The Way

Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Verse 9: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”.

Peter, like almost 100% of the early church leaders, is a Jewish Christian. Yes, they are Christians first, but their Jewish upbringing is still a big part of their faith. All of the dietary laws, the rite of circumcision, the Sabbath observation… are keys to the new Christian faith. To become a believer and to be baptized into the Holy Spirit one must become a proselyte – in essence, a believer in training. One must prove their faith over a period of time by following all of the rules and only then could you become a baptized believer. The church has not existed for very long and they already have a set method to join! The idea of having a clear process to follow and a defined set of rules to obey sounds very much like another establishment of the day.

Our passage today opens with the aftermath of Peter going to Caesarea. The other leaders of the church in Jerusalem say to Peter, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them”. You broke rule 19.a.2 and rule 27.f.4. How could you. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” in what we read in Luke 15:2. The Pharisees make this statement just before Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. You might recall each parable ends with a celebration when the lost are found.

In our passage today, Peter uses some of the rules to establish why he broke the rules. First, he was praying. Second, God brought him a vision. Third, God explained the vision to Peter. Not once but three times. Peter even shares that he protested what God was instructing him to do, saying to God, ‘I have never broken rule 4.e.3’. God responds by saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”. Rule 4.e.3 had been revoked. Peter then goes on to tell the story of what happened in Caesarea.

This passage leads to the question: what rules or traditions or unwritten codes are we hanging onto that are preventing unbelievers from becoming believers? Yes, change is hard. What new understanding might God be bringing to Christianity today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes that I may see. Holy Spirit, speak into my life and my heart, illumining the way you would have me go. Amen.


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God, Our Help

Reading: Psalm 30

Verse 2: “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”.

Today’s Psalm is a great reminder of how God works in our lives and of how we should respond. God saves and rescues and redeems us; we exalt and praise and bring honor and glory to God. Both the action and reaction are built upon the same foundation: love.

The psalmist begins by recalling a time when God rescued him from the depths – from his enemies and from death. To gain rescue, he cried out, “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”. God saved him. God rescued him. The response? To sing praises to God and to acknowledge that God’s favor “lasts a lifetime” and that because of God, joy comes in the morning. At times, God will also save us from the chains of death. At times, God turns us from the path that leads to death and guided us back to the narrow road that leads to life. As we reflect on those times, may we too praise our God of love.

In verse 8, the psalmist cries out to God for mercy. God’s mercy is something we do not deserve, but that God offers anyway. Our sins deserve punishment, but out of God’s great love for us, we are extended grace instead. Again the psalmist cried out for God’s help and faithfully God responded. This turns the psalmist’s wailing into dancing and he sings with joy to the Lord. May we also join in and sing our thanksgiving to God.

We have known God’s rescue and God’s redemption. For both we are eternally grateful. In the middle of the Psalm, in verses 6 and 7, there is another feeling we know. At moments the psalmist felt secure in life, good about himself and his situation. All seemed to be good. We’ve been there. We’ve begun to coast, to rest on our laurels. The psalmist writes, “when you his your face”. It feels like that when life again gets hard – we question God and God’s presence. But the reality is that we drifted, we got comfortable and complacent. As soon as we realize that and return to God, as soon as we cry out, like the psalmist experienced, God is present. God is our ever present help. May we too run back to God when we drift, remembering that God is always near, ready to love on us once again. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I am powerless. Without you, sin and death would rule. You are all-powerful. You have defeated that which I cannot – the power of sin and death. So reign in me, O God; walk with me, O Lord. Rescue and redeem me so that I can sing of your love for me with joy. Thank you for your presence in my life. You are an awesome God! 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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He Is Our Peace

Reading: Micah 5: 2-5a

Verses 4 & 5a: “They will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace”.

The prophet Micah identifies tiny Bethlehem as the place that will bring forth something great. The One will rule over Israel with an authority that is from “ancient times” – the beginning of time, as a matter of fact. The One will stand and “shepherd His flock”. He will be filled with the strength of the Lord. Yes, this great King will come from tiny Bethlehem.

God always has been and always will be a God who uses the unlikely and the least. Sometimes the enemy is mighty. God chose stuttering, shy Moses to take on Pharoah and to lead the people through the wilderness. God chose the youngest – still just a shepherd boy – to anoint and to defeat the giant, rescuing Israel from the Philistines. God chose Saul, the greatest opponent of the early church, to become Paul, one of the greatest apostles of that same early church.

God chose an unwed teenager from tiny Bethlehem to bear the Savior of the world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary gave birth to a baby, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. Christ was born to save us all. God incarnate, the One who would bring salvation through the cross, entered the world as a helpless little baby.

Jesus does not stay a baby. He grows up and ministers to the people, giving us an example of how to live out God’s love. Jesus also reveals what it looks like to be fully obedient to God, trusting all things to God. Micah writes, “They will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace”. His greatness is making its way to the ends of the earth, one new believer at a time. As the good news spreads, so too does His peace. Today, may we each contribute to the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ, sharing His peace and love with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace today. Amen.


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What a Savior!

Reading: Mark 10: 17-22

Verse 20: “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy”.

In our passage we begin with the young man. He runs up to Jesus and falls on his knees before Him. The young man is eager to see Jesus. He has a question to ask. He runs to Jesus. The young man also looks up to Jesus or at least to His reputation. The young man falls on his knees – a sign of respect and a recognition of authority. And then the young man asks a spiritual, heartfelt question of Jesus. He desires eternal life and wants to know what he must do to gain it. Oh that we would approach Jesus each day like this young man approached Jesus!

Jesus and the young man’s conversation begins with keeping the Law. This was the goal for all devout Jews. Jesus and the disciples were in Judea so we can safely assume this young man was a devout Jew. He answers Jesus’ inquiry well, saying, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy”. He has followed the rules. From the interactions we see between Jesus and the Pharisees and other religious leaders, following the rules, keeping the Law, was all that mattered. We too like rules. Go to church on Sunday. Receive communion once a month. Sing the songs. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Pay attention during the sermon. Put a little something in the offering plate. See you next Sunday.

Like us, the young man follows the rules, he checks the boxes. But God is not his all in all. Maybe God has most of this young man’s heart, perhaps even 90 or 95% of it. And in spite of his lack of total commitment, verse 21 says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him”. What a Savior! This is the story played out on the cross. Jesus looked at mankind and our proclivity to sin and said, ‘I love you anyway’. Jesus endured the cross, taking all of our sins upon Himself, so that we could continue to run up to Him and kneel before Him. When we do, when we come to our Lord and Savior, and imperfect as we are, Jesus looks upon us and loves us. What a Savior. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Loving Savior, thank you do much for loving me as I am. There is nothing I can do and no one and no thing can separate me from your love. Thank you Lord! Amen.


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Humble Submission

Reading: James 4: 7-8a

Verse 8a: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”.

In our short one and a half verses, James gives us three pieces of advice. In James 4 he has just finished quoting Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. When we are proud and allow pride to guide our words and thoughts, then we have trouble with today’s advice.

Most Christians are rule followers. In general. Sometimes we follow the rules because of circumstances. For example, in my old truck I do not drive 80 miles per hour on the interstate. 80 is the rule. I could physically drive 80 and the truck can too, but the gas mileage plummets and I am cheap. Most of the time, though, I do follow the rules because it is simply the right thing to do.

Sometimes rules do not make sense or we know they are wrong. In the cases when the rule does not make sense, we struggle to follow it. But when the rules are wrong, as Christians, we must take a stand. Such was the case back in the 1960s, when rules excluded or denied or segregated based on race. These rules were broken by and protested against by people, bringing reform to a bad system. Although it is sometimes long and hard, what is right usually wins out in the end.

Today, James is advising us to follow a rule that is both good for us and is in alignment with our faith. James says to submit to God. Tying in the verse from Proverbs, we are to humbly submit to God. Yes, it is good and right to do so. No, we cannot argue or protest against this rule. Yet at times we struggle to follow it. The devil is always at work, trying to tempt us. It is precisely then that we must over God. When we obey God, we are resisting the devil. When we obey God, the devil flees. And then we receive the promise: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”. Come to God and He’ll come to you. Draw near and rest in His presence. Connect with God and live in His light and love. How could life be any better?

O Lord, my God, in humble submission I draw near to you. In awe, I come into your presence. It is a good place to be. Fill me up with your love and grace and mercy and compassion. Fill me to overflowing, so that you can flow out of me and into the lives of those I meet today. Amen.