pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.


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In Those Shoes

Reading: Jeremiah 4: 11-12 and 22-28

Verse 22: “My people are fools, they do not know me… They are skilled at doing evil”.

In the opening two verses we can hear God’s frustration with the people and that the judgments are coming. We too experience this same process. In Jeremiah’s time, God sought to work through the prophets to bring the people back into right relationship with God. Today God seeks to work through the Holy Spirit to bring conviction that leads to repentance and back into holy living. There are times when I am sure that I frustrate and maybe even anger God.

In verse 22 God gives the evidence, saying, “My people are fools, they do not know me… They are skilled at doing evil”. To know God and to know the law, the stories, the scriptures… and to not choose to walk with God is foolishness indeed. Yet we too walk in these shoes. We know God, the Bible, Jesus, and the peace, joy, contentment… of walking the narrow road of faith. Yet we too fall into temptation and into sin at times. We too can act as fools even though we profess faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

As we read Jeremiah 4 it paints a bleak picture for Israel. God has decided upon a judgment. In verse 27 we read, “the whole land will be destroyed”. Yet it is not total destruction. The verse continues: “though I will not destroy it completely”. God holds onto hope. A remnant will remain. Yes, the earth will mourn and the heavens will grow dark, but a remnant will remain. Here we see God’s compassion and mercy. Because of a great compassion, God is patient. Like a loving parent, God will wait for the lost children to return home. God is also a God of limitless mercy. Over and over again God pardons and forgives. God longs for the people to give up their foolish ways and to return to their loving father. God also knows the end game. All of creation will one day experience restoration and redemption. These small cycles of sin play out within God’s bigger picture.

We too walk in these shoes. We stumble and fall. We experience God’s compassion and mercy. We have been redeemed and restored back into right relationship over and over. If you are outside of that love right now, know God loves you. Confess your sin, repent, and return to God. Our God is always waiting and ready for us to respond to God’s great love.

Prayer: Creating and redeeming God, thank you so much for your unending compassion and mercy and love. No matter how foolish I become, no matter how many times I stumble and fall, your love draws me back. Thank you so much, O God! Amen.


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Wait

Reading: Psalm 27

Verse 14: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”.

Psalm 27 and its emotions look much like our life and the ups and downs we experience. Part of what I love about the Bible and about Psalms like this are the honesty. It is not all fairy tale – there is hurt and trial and pain and doubt and fear… David, the author of this Psalm, was a real person who struggled with real things. Because of this, the words written many years ago remain relevant.

David opens by sharing the confidence he has in the face of evil men and enemies. “My heart will not fear” speaks of his sure trust in God. He then writes of his desire to spend time in God’s house, the temple. David finds beauty and safety and can sing to and praise God. We go through much of life feeling like David does here in the first six verses. We live more good days than bad.

In my head at least, the tone changes in verse 7. I hear a more desperate voice in the next verses. The “hear me” sounds like a plea, the “do not hide” sounds like a sincere request, the “do not reject or forsake me” sounds like a wishful exhale. David comes to God in this manner for the same reason we do at times. Our human nature is to doubt, to wonder, to question if God will stand by us again.

Some of the time, at least, we question why God would “allow” this thing to happen. That leads us to question if God will be present. And sometimes we create our own trial or suffering by our decisions or because we chose to sin. Especially then we wonder if God will help us out again. David was in all these situations at times too. He questioned and wondered too. He turned to God in prayer for and he sought God in the scriptures. And God was always there. This too will be true for us. Our loving God will always be there.

The Psalm closes with these words: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”. Yes, it can be hard to wait. But at times we must wait and trust in the Lord. Sometimes there is a learning to be had, sometimes God’s plan is bigger than our limited vision or understanding. May we be strong in the waiting. May our hearts remain connected to our God. Wait for the Lord – God is faithful.

Prayer: Loving God, above all else you are faithful and loving. In my ups and downs, keep me ever cognizant of your presence. Thank you for your love that never fails. Amen.


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Thy Word

Reading: Luke 4: 1-13

Verse 13: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”.

Jesus heads out into the desert to fast for forty days as a preparation to begin ministry. During this time of denying self He is tested by the devil. The three temptations that we read about today come at the end of the 40 days. It is when Jesus is at His weakest that Satan tempts Him in these ways.

The first test concerns food. No food for 40 days – this is the perfect test. It gets right at Jesus’ human need. How often does Satan tempt us here too? Yes, I deserve that bowl of ice cream or that drink. It was a hard day. Satan helps us twist things too. This can lead to accumulating things for ourselves and to not being generous with our gifts, talents, and time.

The second temptation is for power and authority. Feeling weak after 40 days of self-denial – wouldn’t a little power feel good? Just worship the deceiver and all this can be yours. But will it really be ours if we worship the ruler of this world? Yes, there is much splendor in the world. But all that is shiny and bright does not really satisfy – it just leads to wanting newer or better or more. This too can get twisted. Pride and ego kick in and lead us to think things would be so much better if we were in charge. Then it becomes easier to cut a corner, to not quite be so moral…

The third temptation comes down to testing God. Satan quotes from Psalm 91 in encouraging Jesus to put God to the test. Just jump off and God will save you. God’s word says He will. Is it true? This idea can catch us too. We can be pretty good at trying to wheel and deal with God. Those if-then prayers are an attempt to bend God’s will and plans to our will and plans. Like Satan we too can twist and cherry-pick scripture to try and get our way or to make our point. This too is a way to test God.

For each temptation, where does Jesus turn? He turns to scripture. In each case today, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy. In each case, the bottom line is the same: trust in God, not in the things of man. This should be our model when we face temptation.

Our passage closes with this line: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”. Satan keeps coming back. Jesus was tested over and over and over. In the next moment of weakness or frustration or exhaustion, Satan came right back at Jesus. We too can expect the same. Satan is ever on the lookout for the next opportune time to test us. Like Jesus, may we also immerse ourselves in the word of God, ever readying ourselves for the next inevitable attack.

Prayer: Lord, may I dwell in your holy word so that it richly dwells in me. May it be my wellspring of life. 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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Worship God… with all our heart

Reading: Psalm 138: 1-3

Verse 1: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”.

Today’s three verses from Psalm 138 are about worshipping God because of and through our personal relationship with God. Like all relationships, this relationship resides in our heart. It is a relationship build upon love and faithfulness. God’s love and faithfulness is, of course, much more pure and constant than our fickle nature allows. But God does not let our nature deter His. God’s love and faithfulness are “no matter what” – God loves us and remains faithful to us regardless of what we do or do not do.

Our proper response is what David begins the Psalm with: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”. The competing interests of self and world make it pretty hard to love God with all of our heart. In our day to day living the voices to succeed and attain and to earn and to gather more and more are loud. To have a chance at loving God with all of our heart, this relationship requires what all relationships require: time. If we really want to love God fully, then our daily disciplines should reflect that. Our day should include both structured and spontaneous times of prayer. Our day should include some time set aside to read the Word and to meditate upon what God is saying to us through the Bible that day. If we give time and attention to prayer and the Word, then our relationship with God will grow and deepen. Yet there is one more thing.

If we are to really love God with all of our hearts, then we must also worship God daily. This type of worship in not necessarily or even often done in a church. Yes, a time of corporate worship done at least weekly is essential in our relationship with God. But intimate, close, personal heart worship is the key to loving God with all of our heart. Taking time each day to reflect on God’s blessings and presence in our lives each day is essential to building our love of and faithfulness to God. This can be done anywhere and at anytime, but, again, making this practice a part of our daily disciplines will help our love of God and our faithfulness to God to grow.

Whether now or at some other point in the day, take some set aside time to worship God with your thanksgiving and praise. Thank God for being present in this situation or for guidance in that project or relationship. Worship God for the ways you saw God in your child or spouse or co-worker. Take some set aside time and grow more in love with God. Be faithful to God today. And then… do it again tomorrow and the day after that and…

Prayer: Lord of Lords, I marvel at how your love and faithfulness are always present, both revealed in so many ways. I praise you for the small and the big ways that you are present to me in and throughout each day. You are the creator and the God of the entire universe, yet you are also my God. All praise to you, O God. Amen.


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Love First

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse Eight: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”.

Each day and each encounter provides us with an opportunity to draw close to God, to worship God. Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise from King David. It praises God for His love and faithfulness. It encourages us to “sing of the ways of the Lord”. It speaks of God preserving our lives when we walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalm is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, His dear children.

These few days at Annual Conference have been filled with worship. Sometimes the songs and worship have been slow and reflective. Sometimes the songs have been upbeat and energetic. Sometimes the music has been loud and passionate. Our worship has also included much besides music. We have shared scripture and been blessed by the proclamation of the Word by several gifted pastors. Through each of the messages and the conference itself, the idea of “love first” has been the focus. To me, this is what our worship should do. In all of our styles and in all if the components of worship, our worship should first express our love of God.

Verse eight today reads, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”. When we offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God’s love, then we experience a love that lasts forever. When we surrender our lives to God, we begin to live into and to live out an everlasting love. In doing so, we discover the first half of our verse: our purpose. We are all created to love as Jesus first loved us: fully and completely. There is no greater love than the love we see modeled by Jesus. May our lives today be living acts of worship, overflowing with the grace and mercy of God, as we seek to love first. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.