pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hearts

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 5-10

Verse 10: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind”.

Our passage today closes with this reminder: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind”. God knows all that is in our heart and mind. There is nothing that we can hide from God. Jeremiah writes that the heart is “deceitful” and is “beyond cure”. He then asks the question: “Who can understand it”? The One who knit us together in our mother’s womb, the One who formed us – God can understand our hearts and minds. God’s power pierces through our bodies of flesh to see the condition of our spirit.

Speaking through Jeremiah, God sees trust as the essential characteristic of our heart. The person who trusts in man, in the flesh, is cursed. They have turned away from God and that is indeed a cursed place to be. It is a dry and parched place to dwell. By contrast, blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord. This person experiences joy and is nourished by the waters of life. This person experiences no fear or worry. The one who trusts in the Lord “never fails to bear fruit”. It is a loving and wonderful place to dwell.

If trust were a simple thing, life would be just great. But it is not. Our culture tells us that we should be independent and that success comes from hard work and from within us. Culture tells us that wealth and possessions and status are what matters. How and whom we go through to attain these things is secondary to attaining them. The many voices of the world run counter to the idea of trusting in God. Our heart tries to navigate these waters. Like Jeremiah, we too can ask, who can understand it?

God certainly understands our hearts. God knows us through and through. All that we are is transparent to God. It is for us as well when we are honest with ourselves. Inside our spirits we know the condition of our heart. God searches our hearts to know us, not to condemn us. God seeks to refine us. God searches not to find reasons to punish us but to send the Holy Spirit to convict us and to lead us towards repentance. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can become more than the world says we are. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can become who God says we are: holy. As we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, we draw closer to God. We come to know God more and more. This process reveals a God who loves us deeply. God’s love wants the best for us and our lives. This is a God we can trust. In this place of trust, we are truly blessed.

Prayer: Holy and gracious God, ever draw me to you. Give me ears sensitive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Give me a heart that soaks up more and more of you. May it be so. Amen.

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A Plan

Reading: Luke 5: 8-11

Verse 8: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man”.

Peter, James, and John experience a miracle. In the same lake that they caught absolutely nothing a couple of hours ago, they now catch a huge amount of fish. At the time of day when they don’t usually fish because you usually catch fish at night, they catch a huge amount of fish. In the same nets that they often catch some fish, they have a huge amount of fish. They are astonished.

Simon Peter will always be the one to speak or act out without thinking, without considering the affects or the consequences. It is Peter who voices what James and John must’ve been feeling too. Peter says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man”. In the presence of holiness, Peter sees himself as unworthy. Standing next to the light, Peter becomes aware of his own darkness. This is what the light does: it reveals what is hidden in the darkness. This is what continues to make people uncomfortable with living a life of faith. The light reveals what must die within us. To follow Jesus we must first look within and admit what must go. We first die to self and then to our sins. These thoughts scared Peter and led him to make his confession: “I am a sinful man”.

Jesus does not see this as a barrier. Yes, it is something that we must get past. Yes, it is something hard. Yes, it requires discipline and effort. But, when we walk with Jesus Christ, our sins are something we can overcome. Jesus had absolute confidence in the fact that He is the path to the Father; that He is the way, the truth, and the life; and, that one can be saved solely by faith in Him alone. Jesus says to Simon Peter, “don’t be afraid”. Jesus knows the life that He offers is the only true life. Yes, stepping out of the darkness and into the light is scary – it reveals our warts and blemishes and our sins. And just as Jesus invites Peter, so too does He invite all people.

Jesus continues, telling Peter, “from now on you will catch men”. Not only does Jesus tell Peter not to be afraid, He also tells Peter that He has a plan for him. And what a plan it is! Peter, James, and John leave all behind that day – all they owned – and followed Jesus.

Jesus has a plan for each of our lives as well. He has a purpose for each of us in His kingdom here on earth. What is Jesus asked me to leave behind so that I can come and follow Him more closely?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, reveal to me that which I must let go of or courageously step into to best follow you. Guide me Jesus. Thank you! Amen.


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Offering

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”.

The book from the prophet Malachi closes the Old Testament. Like many other Old Testament prophets, Malachi’s words connect to Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Chapter 3 opens with God letting Malachi and all of Israel know that God will send “my messenger”. This messenger will “prepare the way before me”. Malachi is prophesying John the Baptist. As we work through the other readings this week, we will flesh out the story as we learn that John will indeed prepare the way for the coming of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Malachi goes on to write, “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come”. As John preaches repentance out in the wilderness, Jesus will come to be baptized. The Spirit of God will descend on Jesus, marking the beginning of His ministry. Jesus will be the “messenger of the covenant”. The new covenant will be written on the cross, where Jesus will die for our sins. This new covenant changes everything – both now and eternally. It frees us from the guilt and shame of our sins as the blood washes them away. It makes a way for us to be saved to eternal life as we are made new again. There is a lot in verse 1: repentance, forgiveness, salvation, life.

Then, in verse 2, there is a shift, a reality check. Malachi writes, “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”. No, Jesus is not all peace and love and flowers. One does not have to spend too much time in the Gospels to discover that there is a cost to discipleship and to find that the road is narrow. When Jesus tells us that we must die to self and take up our cross daily, we find a cost. When Jesus redefines our priorities by telling us that we must first love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and then we must next love our neighbors as Jesus first loved us, then we find the road is narrow and is hard to walk at times.

If we are really following Jesus, we find that the Refiner calls us to die to self over and over and over. Sin after sin falls away as Jesus refines us. Our life gradually becomes the “offering given in righteousness”. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: God, take me as I am today and refine me to be more like you. Strip my pride and selfishness and judging – all that leads me to think I am more, making you less. Reverse that O God – help me to die to self so that I may be less so that Jesus is more. Amen.


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On Our Side

Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Verses 24 and 25: “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”.

In the Jewish tradition and in some denominations today, the priest intercedes on behalf of the sinner. In the Jewish tradition, the priest would offer a sacrifice for the sin, bringing forgiveness and restoration to that person. Today, some denominations require confession of the sin to a priest who intercedes along with the prayers of repentance offered by the sinner. Together, these lead to a heart that is made right once again with God. All Christian denominations, each in their own way, understands that a “price” must be paid for forgiveness. Repentance and the ensuing forgiveness requires that we sacrifice or set aside something inside of ourselves. We must sacrifice part of our human nature to make more room for the divine nature to dwell in us.

In our passage today, we are reminded of how Jesus Christ was and is a sacrifice. In the opening verses we read, “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”. Ever since the day He died, Jesus has been our great high priest, constantly interceding or praying for us. Jesus is on our side, offering mercy and grace for our human condition. Jesus daily reminds God that He was and is the sacrifice for our sin. “He sacrificed once for all when He offered himself”.

Whether our faith leads us to believe that we need a human intermediary or if we believe that we can go straight to the divine source ourselves, the bottom line is the same. Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins and ever stands between God and us, acting as our great high priest. His Spirit leads us to repentance and He washes us clean of our sins. He who has been made “perfect forever” is on our side. Just as He is exalted above, may we exalt Him here on earth.

Thank you so much Jesus, for paying my price, for offering yourself for my sins. If I was the only sinner, you still would have given yourself. But I am not the only one. So I join the many today as I offer myself and my life to your service. All praise to the One most high! Amen.


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The Last First

Reading: Mark 10: 28-31

Verse 28: “We have left everything to follow you”.

The opening and closing lines of our passage really point out the counter-cultural nature of our faith. Peter declares, “We have left everything to follow you”. Culture today says more is better and bigger is better yet. Our society elevates the wealthy, the powerful, the supremely athletic, and the most beautiful. They have “it” and have climbed to the pinnacle of success. Culture tells us that these things are the goal for all people.

The call to discipleship is a call to the opposite. Instead of us wanting it all, the gospel asks for all of us. The call invites us to step into God’s upside-down way of thinking that places ourselves far from the focus, looking first to God and then to neighbor.

When we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see what this truly looks like. Jesus stood on the side of the woman caught in adultery – convicting all there of their own sins first and then offering mercy and grace to the one who was last. Instead of avoiding the sinners, the tax collectors, the Samaritans, the children, the lepers, the blind… Jesus engaged them, knowing that God’s kingdom includes those that society devalues and overlooks. The same healing, redemption, and restoration that Jesus offered when He walked the earth is still offered today. It is offered through all who will place self after God and neighbor.

Jesus assures the disciples that the reward will come – not in the ways that the world evaluates success, but in the abundant life that God has planned in the coming age. As we let go of pursuing wealth and status and popularity, we will be able to be all in as we work to bring God’s upside-down kingdom to reality. Our passage closes with Jesus saying, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first”. This is a radical thing we are being called to – considering first the orphan and the widow, the broken and the hurting, the sinner and the lost. May we be willing to give our all for those who are seen as last, elevating them as God does, to first.

Lord, help me to surrender all to you, all for Jesus. Give me a servant’s heart to see the last first, sharing with them the love and hope of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Follow

Reading: Mark 8: 31-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

It must have been hard for Peter and the other disciples to hear what Jesus was saying. They have been following this man who is the Messiah. He has healed every disease and illness, He has taught with power and authority, He has established himself as God’s Son in their eyes. And now He is telling them that He will soon be killed. This leads Peter to challenge the plan that Jesus has just laid out. No, there must be another option Jesus.

It is hard for us to always hear what the Holy Spirit is saying. We are cruising through life and our faith seems just fine. We believe in Jesus, we read and study our Bible, we pray at least a couple times a day. Things are good. Then the Holy Spirit whispers to our heart, it tries to nudge our hands and feet into action. We recoil a bit at the thought of stepping out of our routine, out of our comfort zone. We think, no, Holy Spirit there must be another way, another person to meet this need.

Jesus called the disciples and the crowd to Himself. He calls us to hear these words too: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. If we are to follow Jesus, we must begin by denying self. That means that we subvert our pride and ego and selfishness and our wants and all else to Jesus. He must sit alone on the throne of our hearts. Then we must take up our own cross. This means that we put to death the desires of the flesh and that we are willing to pay the price for another. Just as Jesus did, we do not count the cost. When our souls are in this place, then we are ready to follow, to walk as Jesus walked, loving those who need loved. More than just reading or hearing these words, we need to live them out too.

Holy Spirit, blow into my heart today. Shoo out all of my selfish desires and ways. Rid me of all that prevents me from dying to self. Help me to pick up my cross and to hold it tightly as I seek to love and live like Jesus did. May I follow my Lord and Savior closely today. Amen.


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Hard Teaching

Reading: John 6: 56-60

Verse 60: “On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching, who can accept it'”?

The miracles and the healings attracted people to Jesus. The thought of being able to see or to walk brought many. The idea of being freed of a disease or illness or of the demons inside brought others. Jesus’ touch offered wholeness and welcome back into community. The latest miracle involved food and the crowd returns the next day looking for more bread. But this day Jesus offers a different kind of bread.

Jesus reminded them of the manna – the bread that God had sent down from heaven to feed His chosen people in the desert. It offered the people sustenance, but it was just food. Jesus tells them that He too was sent down from heaven by God to feed the people. Jesus parallels himself to the manna in the sense that it must be eaten to receive life. To “eat” Jesus is to take in His teachings, to follow His way of love, to absorb who and what Jesus is so that one receives spiritual life, eternal life.

Many in the crowd struggled with this. Today we read, “On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching, who can accept it'”? Many had just come for some more bread. Some probably just came in search of healing. But this? And this certainly is not the first or last hard teaching that Jesus will give. He speaks the truth and sometimes the truth is hard to hear.

Today some people are just like these in the crowd. They just come when there is a need. They cruise through life until a crisis arises and then Jesus is their best friend. Until the crisis passes. Others discover Jesus and dive into the relationship. But they come to a point where the teaching is hard. They love that thing more than they love Jesus and they walk away.

As followers we too know these struggles. Staying true in our walk with Jesus has its hard moments, when that “hard teaching” hits home and requires something inside to die to self. In those difficult moments may we remember the promise: “he who feeds on this bread will live forever”. May we ever feed on the Word made flesh, ever drawing strength for the journey. Amen.