pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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True Transformation

Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7 and 18-19

Verse 4: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”.

Psalm 72 picks up on the themes of Isaiah 11. God’s “royal son” will rule with righteousness and justice. There will be prosperity for the land. This ideal leader “will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”. The poor and needy, the marginalized and outcast, will share in the blessings that come with prosperity. The rich will not simply get richer. The good ruler insures that all are included in the blessings.

The psalmist compares the falling rain to the good ruler’s reign. The rain falls on the whole land – on the good and the bad, on the rich and the poor. In the same way, a good ruler’s efforts fall on all people. Because the good ruler cares for all people, it breeds compassion amongst the people. The ones who have prospered, the ones who have been blessed, become blessings to those without. A good ruler influences the people. A generous ruler soon leads generous people. An empathetic ruler soon leads empathetic people.

We follow a leader who was generous and compassionate, who had a special love for the poor and needy, who cared for and was a blessing to all people. If we are true followers, we will be generous, compassionate… We have the power to be God’s light and love in the world. We can feed the needy, stand up for those on the margins…

In verse eighteen we get a good reminder: God alone “does miraculous deeds”. The changing of hearts, the healing of brokenness, the breaking down of walls – this is the stuff of God, not us. We can do much good in the world on our own. True transformation comes only when God is involved. We can do our part and it is often necessary. God alone changes lives. May our lives tell the story of Jesus and his love. In the process may we be blessed to see the Lord of all at work transforming hearts.

Prayer: God of love and compassion, use me today. Allow me to bear witness to your blessings in my life. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to say and do as you will. Work in the lives of the lost and broken today, O God! Build your kingdom of love in this time and place. Build it in me. Amen.


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The Spirit of the Lord

Reading: Isaiah 11: 1-5

Verse 2: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…”

Isaiah 11 begins by connecting Jesse, King David’s father, to the “branch” that will spring up to bear fruit. Looking at this verse through the lens of Jesus, we read these words and connect them to Jesus. The lineage is one logical line of thinking that does connect Jesus to Jesse. But our passage today also describes the person of Jesus. In verses two through six we get a great description of the character and heart of the Messiah.

Verse two begins with “The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…”. Yes, God was clearly with Jesus. In fact, Jesus was God incarnate – God in the flesh. This verse continues to describe what the Spirit gave Jesus: wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and fear of the Lord. Looking through the gospels one can see these gifts sprinkled throughout Jesus’ life and ministry.

The Messiah will rule, but not in the militaristic way that the Jews longer for. Jesus was an altogether different king. He was not influenced by those in the halls of power. He did not judge by first impressions or by what others thought. Jesus was guided by the love of God. Consequently, Jesus cared for the needy with righteousness and brought justice to the poor. Jesus’ reign of love sought to bring all people into the family of God. There was not one person Jesus encountered that he did not try and draw into God’s love. Many rejected Jesus, but he turned no one away.

Our passage closes with two reminders. At the end of verse four we are reminded that Jesus will one day defeat evil and the wicked. His culmination of power will be with might and strength. But it will be clothed in righteousness and faithfulness. The belt and sash will guide his reign forevermore.

As we consider our call to be followers of Jesus, we must seek to be filled by the same Spirit. In our worship and in our study, do we seek to be filled with wisdom, understanding, knowledge…? Do qualities like righteousness, justice, and faithfulness clothe us and our words and actions? If we are to truly follow Jesus, we must live out what Jesus lived out. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me more and more with the qualities of Jesus and of you. Instill in me a sense of justice, a sense of righteousness. In faithfulness, fill me with a deep knowledge of you and your ways. Clothe me with Christ. 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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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.