pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Glory and Power

Reading: Revelation 1: 4-8

Verses 5-6: “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be glory and power for ever and ever”.

Today and tomorrow we spend a brief time in the book of Revelation. The vision of the unfolding of the end of this present time is given to John by an angel. It is a story that plays out over a long period of time. Revelation contains a lot of frightful imagery and violence. Ultimately, though, Revelation is the story of God’s love and of how God will bring about the new creation. Revelation will end with the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of a new heaven and earth. Like humanity did in the original garden, we will once again walk, talk, and dwell with God.

John understands Jesus’ central role in restoring the world. Our passage today is the greeting and doxology of the letter. John begins with the eternal nature of Jesus – who was and is and is to come – and then identifies Jesus’ roles. He is “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth”. Each of these roles focuses on the central theme of Revelation: God’s love. As Jesus lived out His life on earth, He was a faithful and obedient witness to God’s love. He lived it out every day. At the end of His earthly life, Jesus was raised from the dead – the tomb was empty. His death was out of love for us and His resurrection demonstrates God’s eternal love for us. Because He lives we will also live. One day Jesus will return to rule over all the earth. He will rule over all the kings and over all of creation. Every knee will bow. His rule will not be one of power and might through force, but one of love.

John closes the greeting with worship and praise for his Lord Jesus. In verses 5 and 6 he writes, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be glory and power for ever and ever”. There is a connection between Jesus, His blood, and our sins. Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to die for us while we were yet sinners. Jesus shed His blood in love. On the cross Jesus took upon His perfect self the sins of the world. He then died as the atonement or payment for our sins. With His life Jesus was the sacrifice for our sins. That is love. Because the price is paid, we are freed from the guilt and shame and debt of paying for our sins. Through His blood we are redeemed and made new again. It is a foretaste of eternity.

May our reaction and response to this gift be the same as John’s – to proclaim to Him be the glory and power for ever and ever. All praise be to Jesus Christ, our Lord and King!

Prayer: God, thank you for your love. Thank you for a love that gave your only Son for me, a sinner saved by grace. May all I do and say bring you honor and glory today. Amen.

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Engagement

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 16: “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief”.

Hannah is in a tough spot. She is barren in a culture that places high value on producing children. This is the main purpose of marriage. Her husband clearly prefers Hannah, his first wife, but that relationship remains intact largely because his second wife has produced the all-important offspring. Without any children of her own, Hannah is vulnerable. She would be all alone if Elkanah died or if he decided that Hannah was displeasing as a wife. Hannah’s shame over being barren would have also extended to the community. She would have been looked down upon and usually found herself outside of the circles of women who would gather periodically.

Year after year Hannah has endured Peninnah’s provocations and the cultural shame of being childless. Her situation is no fault of her own. Nearing the point of breaking, she finds herself in the temple. She pours out her heart to God. Instead of seeing a woman deep in pain and in need of comforting, Eli the priest assumes she is drunk. Eli makes a quick assumption. How often we do the same.

We see a person who appears to be homeless and we jump to conclusions about their work ethic or their problems with drugs or alcohol. We see a young mom struggling with her kids in line at the grocery store and we assume things about her parenting skills… These are just two examples of the countless ways that we judge, infer, misread, oversimplify, stereotype… people. As was the case with Eli, often we are wrong. We do not know the person or their real situation or the many circumstances leading up to that moment. But unlike Eli, we usually do not take the time to talk with them, to get to know them, to hear their story. At least Eli did that for Hannah.

When we, like Eli, jump to conclusions, when we quickly label, when we make assumptions, may we pull ourselves up short, take a breath, and connect with that person we have sinned against. May we choose to risk engagement, trusting in the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Jehovah, give me eyes to see as you see. Move me past first impressions and on to honest conversations. Soften my heart to love others as you love them. In doing so, allow me to see you in them and they to see you in me. Amen.


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Deep Need

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”.

Yes, Elkanah loved Hannah more than anything in the world. Yes, Elkanah treated Hannah much better than his other wife. But shame of shames – Hannah could bear him no children. The second wife, Peninnah, had lots of children. Peninnah frequently reminded Hannah of this fact. This only added to Hannah’s already deep sadness and bitterness. Each year when the family would go up to the temple to worship, Hannah would bring her situation before God.

This particular year the provoking by Peninnah and the deep sadness over her barren state seemed especially painful. Instead of simply praying once more, we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”. Hannah felt like she was at the end of her rope. It was not an ordinary prayer that she offered up to God. The Spirit was moving in her as she poured out her soul. This was a deep, gut-wrenching prayer. It was as ripe with emotion as it could get.

We too have uttered this type of prayer. We too have been at the end of our rope and have cried out to God. We too have been at the bottom of our pit and have begged for God to reach down and pull us out. We too have felt so desperate that the prayer just poured out from the core of our souls. Our circumstances or the cause of our situation may have been different, but we have all prayed like this before.

What does Hannah’s prayer reveal? What do our prayers of deep emotion reveal? First, they reveal our utter dependence on God. Sometimes we are weak, unable to alter the situation. But God can. Second, they reveal a trust in God not only to hear but to respond. He alone can rescue. He alone can save. God is faithful to Hannah. Samuel is born. God will be faithful to us as well. May we pour out our souls in those times of deep need, trusting in God to do what we cannot.

Prayer: God, thank you for the reminder today of your deep, deep love for us, your children. Like Hannah, may I always seek you in my deepest times of need, trusting in you and in your plan for my life. Amen.


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Majesty, Humility

Reading: Job 38: 1-7

Verse 1: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge”?

Job has been through a lot. All of his possessions and almost all of his family are gone. He has suffered terribly physically as well. His wife and three friends have been discouraging and even critical. Job has a lot of questions for God. He has remained faithful, but after all that he has been through, he has some questions. Today, in our passage, God speaks to Job as God Almighty, from a place of power and majesty.

Today’s seven verses are just a taste of God’s response to Job. God’s response fills all of chapters 38, 39, 40, and 41. Job’s response is a mere six verses at the beginning of chapter 42. God’s opening words set the tone for the four chapters of response: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge”? In essence, God is asking Job: who are you to speak?

We can probably think of many times in our lives when we thought we had all the answers, when we knew it all. We were an expert in all fields – just ask us. At some point, whether it was at 17 or 26 or 40, we come to that place where we realize that we do not know it all. It is always a humbling experience but it sometimes can be embarrassing or shameful as well. We gain a new understanding of our own limitations and we come to see the world differently after this moment. We better grasp our place in the world and we emerge with more empathy and more compassion for others. Our faith deepens. Such is the case with Job.

We can be asked the same question that Job was asked: “Were you there when I laid the earth’s foundation”? Through a series of similar questions, God establishes His supreme power, majesty, and greatness. In recognizing God’s place, like Job, we too are humbled by our smallness, by our powerlessness, by our dependence on God. Yes, we are humbled. But let us also praise and adore God for who He is and for what He has done and for what He continues to do in our lives. Hallelujah and amen!

God, help me to ever know my place in your world – a humble servant seeking to do your will. Speak into my heart, speak into my life. May your plan be worked out in my life each day. Amen.


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Immense Love

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 20: “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man”.

Sometimes we get ourselves into a situation we regret. We say or do something without giving it much thought. Then in an instant we know we are in a pickle. Jesus’ miracles prompt some chatting at a little party that Herod is hosting. Comparisons with Jesus eventually get around to John the Baptist. This sparks a memory in Herod of a pickle he got himself into.

Herod had an interesting relationship with John. On the one hand, John was enjoyable to listen to and to talk with. On the other hand, John kept pointing out Herod’s sin concerning his brother’s wife, Herodias. It was a love-hate relationship. It was a bit more love, as we read in verse 20: “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man”. Overall, Herod preferred to keep John around.

Well, we all know how parties can get. Add to that the fact that Herod liked to impress his guests. His wife’s daughter danced and was just awesome. In a moment he forever regrets, Herod promises her almost anything – up to half the kingdom. His boastful offers leads to John losing his life. Herodias had long nursed that grudge against John. Now Herod nurses his guilt.

At times the pickle we get ourselves into involves our relationship with God. We do or say something and we regret it as soon as the Holy Spirit conviction settles in. We know it was a sin. Sometimes the guilt or shame keeps us from confessing it right away. Sometimes we enjoyed it enough to tell ourselves we can hide it from God. Or worse yet, the sin latches on and we tell ourselves ‘just one more time’ as we maybe offer a hollow confession, knowing we will return to that sin. In these cases, our sin creates a guilty conscience that causes a season of separation from God.

Thanks be to God that God is not a God of guilt or a Good that holds onto grudges. Whether we confess and repent right away or after a long season of sin, God’s response is the same: welcome back. Whether the sin was a small unkind thought or something we deem ‘bigger’ that causes us more guilt or shame, God’s response is the same: welcome back. We do not ever need to carry guilt or shame. As soon as we confess and repent, our sin is gone. It is remembered no more by God. It is gone. Thanks be to God for this immense love. A love for even sinners like you and me. Thanks be to God.


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Resolute

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse Seven: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

Isaiah begins our passage today acknowledging the word that sustains him and shares how each morning his ear is awakened to listen. For those who regularly invest time in reading their Bibles, they can relate well to what Isaiah is saying here. Whether it is early in the morning or over the noon hour or just before bedtime, daily reading of our Bibles leads to knowing God’s Word. In turn, the Word will sustain us over and over. As a result, Isaiah writes, “The sovereign Lord has opened my ears”. Time in our Bibles leads to our ears being opened more and more to God’s voice in our lives.

Time with God builds our connection with God, just as it would with any relationship. Isaiah goes on to write of not being rebellious. This too is our goal. But the reality is that we will sin. However, the more time we spend with God in prayer, worship, and reading our Bibles, the less we will sin. For example, there are things I did and said ten years ago that I now see as sin and strive to do no more. As we mature in our faith the narrow road becomes narrower as we better and better understand what it means to walk closely with our God.

As one grows in the faith so too does our trust in the Lord. In verse seven Isaiah writes, “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”. Isaiah trusts that as he walks in faith, God has his back. This does not mean that life will be perfect. In fact, in verse six, he writes of the abuse and violence that he has experienced because of his faith. At times we too will experience abuse or rejection or maybe even violence because of our faith. Yet even then we do know that God remains with us, helping us through. And maybe we can even get to the place the apostles got to, rejoicing that we could suffer for Christ.

Verse seven goes on to say, “I have set my face like flint and I know I will not be put to shame”. This verse will be echoed in the New Testament as Jesus turns toward Jerusalem for the last time as Palm Sunday approaches. As followers of Jesus, may we also be resolute in our faith, walking a firm and steadfast path, wherever God may lead us this day and each day. Amen.


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Preach

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.

Paul is writing of Jesus’ crucifixion. As Christians we see Jesus’ obedience and submission to the cross as the supreme sign of love. Jesus walked the path to the cross out of love for God and for us. He suffered and died so that we can experience the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. This is the lens through which Christians see the crucifixion.

The Jews and Gentiles of Jesus’ day, however, see the crucifixion much differently. The Romans used crucifixions as deterrents. The torture and pain and humiliation were intentional reminders that told all who witnessed a crucifixion that they did not want to do whatever that person did. The cross came to represent guilt, shame, weakness, and death. It is in this context that verse 23 makes perfect sense: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. Of course the idea of the Messiah going to the cross is a stumbling block and is foolishness.

Our sad reality is that it remains so for people today. Some think that there had to be another way – a better or more humane way to achieve the same end. Some stumble over how a loving father could allow their son to suffer this way. Some do not see or cannot take in the incomprehensible and awesome love that is revealed in this act. The depth of love is too much. For some, this is the stumbling block. Others get the love but wonder how they could ever be worthy of a relationship with a God who loves this much and is this good.

What is the proper response to all of this for a Christian? It is the same as it was for Paul: we preach Christ crucified. Through our witness and through how we live out God’s love, we preach the transformative and all-encompassing love of God in Jesus Christ. We preach that Christ died once for all and we are clear that all means all. We preach about how Jesus has and continues to transform us over and over. We preach about those mercies that come new every morning and about how they never stop coming because His love is never-ending too. As we preach the good news, we help others past their stumbling blocks and we dispell the foolishness so that they too can enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior. May it be so. Amen.