pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Empty… Fill

Readings: Psalm 106: 1-6 and Philippians 4: 7-9

Keys verses: We have sinned… we have done wrong and acted wickedly (Psalm 106:6).  Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things (Philippians 4:8).

Pairing today’s readings together yields a wonderful truth for our lives.  The Psalm leads us to seek a repentant heart, to admit our sins to God, to begin again to walk in step with His ways.  We are all sinful creatures, living in a world that is full of temptations and that glorifies many sins.  Satan is always at work in our lives, trying to pry his way into our hearts and minds, working on our bodily passions as well as our human frailties and weaknesses.  It is no wonder we occasionally sin.  However, it cannot stop there.  We cannot live with or in our sin.  Each day we must come before God to be honest with God and ourselves, to name our sins, to repent and seek His forgiveness for this time and God’s strength for the next time.  To do all this is essential because it makes space for God in our lives as it clears away all the gets in the way of our relationship with Him.

Paul speaks of what can fill this space created by confessing our sins.  Into that space created by releasing our sins and inviting God into our lives, Paul suggests we think about the things of God.  He writes, “Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things”.  When we train our minds to focus on these things, then we begin to see the world, ourselves, and others as God sees them.  This will help us to walk as Jesus walked – loving God and loving neighbor.  Walking this way will not only strengthen us in our battle with Satan, it will also lead us to have a thankful and grateful heart within us.  Once we are emptied, then He can fill us up.

When we honestly confess our sins and empty ourselves of these burdens, then we are opening ourselves up for God’s participation in our lives.  This is my prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right Spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  May it be so today.  

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Imperfectly in Perfect

Reading: Psalm 19

Verses 7 and 12: The Law of the Lord is perfect… forgive my hidden faults.

Our Psalm for today begins by recognizing how the natural world shines forth God.  When one looks to the sky at night, one gains a sense of the vastness and power of God.  As the sun moves across the sky, we can sense God’s perfect plan at work.  The earth was placed at exactly the right distance from the sun – much closer or further and we could not have life on our planet.  The sun is described as a bridegroom bringing light and heat to all.  This is much like the Son who brings light and love to all.

In verse seven, the psalmist begins comparing God’s beautiful and perfect creation to God’s Law.  He writes, “the Law of the Lord is perfect”, trustworthy, right, and radiant.  The psslmists says the Law revives the soul, makes wise the simple, gives joy to the heart and light to the eyes.  These ordinances of God are “sure” and “righteous” and are “sweeter than honey”.  Reading all these descriptives the Law is much like the perfection and beauty of nature.  It is a wonderful thing to keep and a great place to be.  Verse eleven summarizes this: “By them is your servant warned, in keeping them there is great reward”.  All who walk daily with the Lord know this is true.

Even though we live in the beauty and wonder of God’s creation and even though we know the law and have Jesus’ example, there are times when we choose to walk outside of God’s law and love.  There are times we sin.  In verse twelve we read, “forgive my hidden faults”.  The next verse seeks protection from “willful sins”.  Within the perfection of creation and beside God’s perfect law reside us humans.  Just as the psalmist does, so too must we recognize our absolute need for God’s grace and forgiveness.  Out of His perfect love God brought us Jesus Christ, so that through His perfect love we could be redeemed.  Each day may we choose to stand upon our Rock, seeking God as we dwell imperfectly in His perfect love.


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A Right Relationship

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse Two: I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery.

Today’s passage is perhaps one of the most familiar in all of the Old Testament.  They are but ten of the hundreds of laws or commandments found in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.  Yet we know these ten fairly well.  They are on countless Sunday School room walls and most Christians can name a majority of the ten.  They are mostly a list of “shall not” laws with a couple “do” laws in there too.  They are partly about our relationship with God (1-4) and partly about our relationship with each other (5-10).

Maybe the Ten Commandments are well-known because of their timing.  Maybe they are well-known because of the dramatic fashion in which they are given.  Maybe they are top-of-the-list because of their simplicity.  When Moses receives the Ten Commandments on top of the mountain, it is the first time that God has given laws to live by.  This is significant.  The scene below the mountain was powerful too.  God has just led them to victory, a violent storm rages on top of the mountain, and Moses speaks with God in the storm and lives.  And the Ten Commandments are pretty straight forward.  They are simple enough to be taught in Sunday School classes – even for the little ones.

But ultimately, I think the Ten Commandments are significant because of what they begin.  Verse two reads, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”.  For the initial Israelites, they were literally brought out of physical slavery in Egypt.  But quickly for them and for each generation since, right up and through us, the slavery we face is sin.  The Ten Commandments represent the beginning of a personal relationship with God.  This personal relationship is essential if we are to ultimately conquer sin and death.  The first four commandments, in particular, establish the relationship we must have with God.  These must be kept in order to stay in a right relationship with God.  These are summarized in Deuteronomy Six and again by Jesus – love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  The next six commandments cover how we are to live in a right relationship with each other.  These are summarized in Leviticus 19 and by Jesus – love your neighbor as self.  The Ten Commandments begin our right relationship with God and each other.  May we honor the Ten Commandments as we live out our love for God and for neighbor each day.


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Shouldn’t You

Reading: Matthew 18: 21-35

Verse 33: Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

Forgiveness.  It is something we all want when we have done wrong and want to restore the relationship.  It is something that at times we can try and manipulate.  It is something that can be hard to give sometimes.

Just after teaching about how to offer forgiveness in the midst of conflict in the church, Jesus is asked by Peter, “How many times…”?  We do not know if Peter is asking when he can stop forgiving or if he is seeking a goal far past his current practices or if he is setting Jesus up to say we need to always forgive.  In any event, the latter is the point Jesus makes.

Jesus goes on to share a story that illustrates why we must always offer forgiveness to others.  A servant owes the king an amount worth millions of dollars.  The king demands payment.  The servant cannot repay the debt and begs for mercy.  In compassion, the king forgives the debt.  In our minds the servant should be very grateful and thankful.  But as he leaves he runs into another servant who owes him a very small sum.  He harshly demands payment and his fellow servant also begs for mercy.  It is refused and the second servant ends up in jail.

I ask for mercy and forgiveness every day.  Daily I seek forgiveness from my wife and frequently from others in my life.  I often ask my King for forgiveness of my sins and my failures.  It is a practice that I walk through quite often.  Each time the Holy Spirit convicts me, I go asking one more time.  One Sunday a month I am reminded of what led to the open door to forgiveness that we find through Jesus.  Despite my vast experience with being forgiven over and over, sometimes I too struggle to give it.

The king in the story finds out the first servant withheld mercy and he calls him back in.  The king says to him, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you”?  Jesus asks me the same question.

Lord, give me the love and strength to be merciful and forgiving this day and every day.  Amen.


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Delve Deeper

Reading: Matthew 13: 24-30

Verse 24: The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.

Today’s parable immediately follows the parable of the sower with the four soils and the parable’s explanation.  Just as the audience is nodding in approval as they wrap their heads around this teaching, Jesus begins another parable with, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field”.  Yes, God is good so He would sow good seed.  Many would have thought back to the thorny soil in the last parable and connected the thorns with the evil one.  It is a logical connection.  But maybe not.  This is the nature of the parables.  They are intended to make us think, to lead us to delve deeper than the surface understandings, to challenge and push us forward, to pull us up short and to lead us to repentance.

Most folks who walked up as Jesus began the parable would understand the opening scene.  Evil has always existed in our world and evil men do evil things.  In almost all fields,weeds seem to be a constant presence.  And no, I did not plant weeds in my garden; but, yes, there are a lot of them.  So maybe the people there that day just dismissed the weeds as the ‘staff’ of everyday life.  For some, maybe Satan was the planter.  After all, he sows temptations into our lives all the time.

But then comes the twist.  No, don’t pull the weeds.  Let them grow alongside the wheat.  Huh?  The audience with the nodding heads would have become still.  Quizzical faces would have developed.  I imagine a long pause here by Jesus – for full effect.  Today we read the last verse and our mind connects to the judgment that will come.  Weeds to hell, good crop to heaven. Got it!

But do we?  Was or is that Jesus’ meaning?  What else could it mean?  How else could it apply to our lives?  What if the parable is about how we mature in our faith, not removing the sin until our roots are strong enough not to fall right back into it?  Just one of many possible applications!  Think, delve deep, wrestle with the things of God, find meaning for yourself.  God’s blessings on the journey.


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Choice

Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

Verse Six: The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

Why do people choose to follow Jesus?  Why do some folks choose to worship God and live their lives by what is written in the Bible?  Why do some folks choose a path in life that is hard and narrow instead of walking a road that is wide and easy to meander down?  Why do some people make these choices in deciding to be a Christian?  Why do you?

Choosing to follow Jesus and to live according to His example is a choice.  In many ways, it is a choice that runs against the norm.  By nature we are wired to seek pleasure and to desire to feel good.  Our society ingrains in us the drive to succeed and accomplish and excel – all good things in and of themselves.  Our culture champions messages like ‘just do it’ and ‘of’ it makes you feel good…’  Put all together, the world says to live for self and to just enjoy life to the max.  For some, this is their choice and this is how they live their lives.  Paul writes of these folks: “The mind of the sinful man is death”.

When one chooses to walk the wide and easy way that leads to death, life is fun and exciting and entertaining most of the time.  But soon one realizes there is something missing.  One senses that there is more to life than what they are living.  There is a void.  Philosopher Blaise Pascal described this as the “God-shaped hole in all of us”.  We are created by God in His image.  Therefore, God has a place to fill in our lives.  When we make the choice to fill the hole with God, we are choosing to be whole and complete.  We are making the choice to be a Christian.  Paul also writes of this choice: “The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace”.

We make the choice to follow Christ.  It is through this choice that we find life eternal and peace beyond all human understanding.  Here we find that Jesus is our all in all, our everything.  Thank you Jesus.


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Life in the Spirit

Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

Verse Two: Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

Paul opens our passage today with a strong statement: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ”.  This is a central theme of the gospel message.  Jesus took on the sin of the world and triumphed over it as He rose from the grave and ascended to heaven.  Through the sacrifice of His body and blood we are forgiven and made righteous.  We no longer have to live with sin and guilt and shame.  Through Jesus’ loving act on the cross we are freed from all of this.  In grace we are made new and restored to righteousness.  Paul writes of this in verse two: “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”.  We are set free as well!

For most of the passage, Paul focuses on sin versus righteousness.  Paul argues that the sinful man focuses on the desires of the flesh and is self-centered and is hostile to God.  The sinful man leads a life that ends in death.  Paul contrasts this with the man who lives led by the Spirit.  The Spirit led man focuses on the desires of God and is Good-centered and tries to please God.  The Spirit led man lives a life of peace that leads to eternal life.  The key to which life one leads is determined by whether or not Jesus is in one’s life.  Paul argues that if Christ is in us, then we will lead a life that is led by the Spirit.

Paul is, of course, writing here of the big picture.  Either we are trying to live by the Spirit or we are trying to live by the flesh.  The deciding factor is professing Jesus as Lord of our life.  Once we make this decision it does not mean that we will never sin again.  It means that our focus is on living a righteous life that is pleasing to God.  Life in the Spirit means that the Holy Spirit will guide and lead and convict us, making our battle with sin more often victorious.  The good news is that when we do slip and sin, there is no condemnation because Christ had already defeated sin and death.  Instead of condemnation we are given mercy and grace and forgiveness.  Through Him eternal victory is in our grasp.  For this we say thanks be to God!