pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Come into Grace

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse Five: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

In our passage today Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the Lord. He sees God seated in the throne, high and exalted. Around the throne are beautiful and powerful seraphs – six-winged angels. These angelic creatures are singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty”. In the Bible things are repeated three times to show importance and for emphasis. Much as it would probably be for you or I, Isaiah is taken aback by the scene and where he finds himself.

In this passage Isaiah reminds me of the tax collector we find in Luke 18. This man stands off in the corner of the temple and will not even look towards heaven. He beats his chest and confesses to God, begging, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”. He senses his unworthiness in God’s presence. Isaiah comes to a similar realization, saying, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. Standing in the presence of the holy, holy, holy God, Isaiah feels his sin.

We all feel this way at points in our lives. Sin wins the day and we feel unworthy of being in God’s presence. We think our sin too great to be forgiven, never mind even bringing it into God’s presence. We may even feel like we need to sit in this place of guilt and shame for a period of time. Even though a part of us knows that God loves us, we feel like we must remain a bit distant. Like the tax collector standing in the corner and like Isaiah declaring “Woe to me!”, we hover on the edge of our relationship with God – not quite good enough to stand before God.

Some find this barrier at the foot of the cross or at the communion table, the places of grace. They see the sacrifice of Hesus or the cup and bread on the table and they may even hear the words of grace and love, but cannot quite approach. Maybe this is in a place of worship, maybe this is in their minds. God says the same to one and all: “Come, come to me. Find grace and love”. If you feel stuck in your sin or in the guilt and shame of sins past, know that you are invited to come into God’s grace and love. Know that you are loved and welcome.

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Victory in the Daily Battle

Reading: Psalm 1

Verses One and Two: “Blessed is the man who… delights in the Law of the Lord and on His Law meditates day and night”.

The Psalm represents a daily battle for us all. On one ‘side’ are those who “walk in the ways of sinners” and who “sit in the seat of mockers”. The psalmist writes that these are like chaff that the wind blows away. They will soon be no more as the “way of the wicked will perish”.

This choice is contrasted with the choice of the righteous. We read, “Blessed is the man who… delights in the Law of the Lord and on His Law meditates day and night”. The psalmist compares faith to a tree “planted by the water, whose leaf does not wither”, a tree that “yields its fruit in season”. The Psalm speaks of the righteous being able to stand in the judgment in the end and of God’s protection in the time here on earth, a time of prospering for the righteous.

When one considers option A and option B, it hardly seems like a choice. Do you want the rusty old Pinto or the shiny new Corvette? Hardly seems like a choice. Yet it is a daily battle. It is a daily battle not to fall to sin and not to choose the ways of the world. Satan has ways of making that rusty old car look pretty good to our earthly eyes. Satan can also trick us into giving up the keys to the Corvette, enticing us with something “better”, but it it just rust underneath.

The key to victory in our daily battle lies in our key verse for today. When we choose the Word as our foundation and we think on it day and night, then the things of God remain in the forefront of our minds. If we keep God’s Word fresh in our mind, it is easier to call on it when Satan tries to come calling. When we choose to be rooted in Christ, then Satan stands no chance. May we walk steadfastly in the way of the Lord today, enjoying His protection and love. Amen.


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Reclaim

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-10

Verse Four: “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Shows on TV that take old houses in Detroit or rural Mississippi and turn them into beautiful homes really draw my attention. The home is rundown, is sometimes abandoned, and is left to fall apart. But then someone sees the potential in the old bones of the house and they dive in and bring it new life. What it was and what it becomes is amazing.

In a similar way, in today’s passage, Paul writes of us: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins”. We were falling apart on the inside, we were destined for destruction, we were objects of God’s wrath. This is the path we walk when left on our own. It is the natural order of the world: decay. But we are not of the world. Just as that home rehab expert the beauty that is possible, so too does God with us. Paul writes, “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God reclaims us, taking away all that is sinful, making us one with Christ.

In the same way that a house in Detroit or Laura is claimed, we too are claimed by God. God knows the potential in each of us, the potential that He created us with, and He desires to free us to begin living out that potential. God makes us beautiful from the inside out so that we can be good in the world. Paul writes in verse ten that we are “God’s workmanship” and that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. Through our rehab process we are made new again so that we can be His light and love in the world.

The claim that God lays upon us is eternal. Once we enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, then our ‘status’ is saved. Yes, we may stumble now and then, but we always remain a sinner saved by grace alone. So that we cannot boast, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith”. It is the free gift of God’s love that saves us. Thanks be to our God who reclaims us from our brokenness and our mess, restoring us to new life in Christ. Thank you God! Amen.


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Sufficient for Us All

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 21: You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.

Today’s parable is challenging.  It has been prompted by Peter asking Jesus what the disciples will receive for following Jesus.  After all, they left everything behind to follow.  Peter’s question is prompted by the response Jesus gave to the rich young man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.  If we recall, the young man went away sad because Jesus asked of him more than he could give at the time.  Peter is told by Jesus that they will be by His side in eternity.  In fact, Jesus says that all who leave things or people behind will inherit eternal life.  Jesus ends this response with, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”.  From here, Jesus tells today’s parable.

In short, workers are hired throughout the day to come to the vineyard to help with the harvest.  The owner of the vineyard promises each of them the same thing: a fair wage.  They work and line up at the end of the day to receive their pay.  Some had worked all day, some just an hour.  The last are paid first and all receive the same pay: a denarius.  Those who worked the longest are upset, saying to the owner: “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day”.  The landowner responds with this: “Or are you envious because I am generous”?

In life, Christians come to faith at different stages in life, each joining in in the building of the kingdom.  The Lord of the harvest promises the same reward to each of them: eternal life.  They go to work and then line up for the reward at the end of their lives.  Some labor for all if their lives, some for just a short time.  The lifers and the new converts receive the same pay.  Those who have been faithful all of their lives can be tempted to say, “Lord, you have made that person who just accepted you equal to us who have served you all of our lives”?  The Lord of the harvest will respond with words of grace and love and invitation.

Yes, God loves us all.  He loves the saints and the sinners.  He loves the saved and the lost.  Heaven rejoices each time a lost soul becomes a part of the family.  His grace is sufficient for us all, whenever and however we come to faith.  The promise is the same: love God and claim eternal life.  Thanks be to God!


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He Died for Us

Reading: Romans 5: 6-8

Verse Six: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

To me, today’s three verses speak to the depth of God’s love for all of humanity.  The key words are ‘love’ and ‘all’.  It is an amazing, mighty, almost unfathomable love that would send His Son, knowing He would die a painful death.  And speaking of unfathomable – Jesus died for sinners, for you and me, plus all those who hate God and those who deny God and those who refuse to acknowledge God’s existence…  To die for the sinners we all are is one thing.  To die for the haters, the atheists, the non-believers… is a whole other level of ‘all’.

Verse six reads, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly”.  In His infinite wisdom, God initiated His plan to save us at ‘just the right time’.  God’s hand is often at work in the world.  Sometimes it happens in big ways, like this, and at other times God’s hand is at work in smaller ways, like the time that person said that thing to you at that time in your life.  There is another truth in this verse.  We are powerless.  Before the cross humanity was trapped in our sin and held captive by death.  But through the cross we find forgiveness and hope.  As Christ conquered sin and death, He opened the way for us too.  Through a personal relationship with Jesus we can claim salvation and eternal life.

In the next two verses, Paul returns to the idea of just who Christ died for.  He notes that maybe some would die for a good man.  I think some are even willing to die for a good cause.  But no one would be willing to die for an enemy or for a cause they do not believe in.  Jesus died for both.  “While we were sinners” – separated from God – He died for us.  That’s amazing, but it goes farther.  Jesus knew we would continue to sin.  He knew His death would not end sinning.  But He died anyway.  We, by our imperfect nature, are prone to sin.  And Jesus died for each and every one of us anyway.  Thanks be to God.


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The Flock

Reading: Luke 15: 1-7

Today’s passage begins with Jesus acting in a countercultural way.  He is associating and dining with those who would not be welcome at the Pharisees’ tables and who the Pharisees see as outcasts.  Who could you bring to the family dinner table or to sit beside you in your pew at church that would make others uneasy or would make them frown or tisk-tisk you?

Instead of arguing with the religious leaders, Jesus tells a story that all there could relate to.  Being a shepherd was a very common job.  Although it was a job at the bottom of the scale, all would be familiar with this occupation.  Each gathered there would understand that all the sheep in the flock were of worth and value.  So when one sheep goes missing, of course the shepherd goes and looks for it.  Naturally, the shepherd is happy when the sheep is found.  Although just a story, probably all there were happy for the shepherd too.

Now that Jesus has all in the audience to this common point of understanding, He adds an analogy.  He says that in the same way God rejoices when one lost sinner repents and is returned to the fold.  I think the Pharisees would agree with this concept as well.  If a fellow Pharisee sinned, God would rejoice when they made the requisite sacrifice, became ceremonially clean again, and returned to the group.  Their ‘flock’ is the circle of people who are just like them.

If you walked into church tomorrow with someone who had not attended in a while, the flock would rejoice and say, “Welcome back!” to the lost sheep.  While someone returning to church is a good thing, I think Jesus is making another point.  Jesus’ understanding of “flock” is much bigger than ours or the Pharisees’.  By ‘sinner’ Jesus means all people who sin, not just church members who sin.  Jesus’ vision of flock is ALL people.  Red and yellow, black and white, sinner and saved, believer and non-believer… all are precious in His sight.  Who is outside your circle that you need to bring in?


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Cast Love

Reading: Luke 12: 49-53

Love is patient, love is kind.  Love is not rude, love is not easily angered.  Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  These words from 1 Corinthians 13 seem so appropriate when we consider today’s passage.  Jesus’ words today seem harsh and challenging.  “I have come to bring fire to the earth” sounds ominous and destructive at first.  He states He came not to bring peace but to bring division.  The passage ends telling of the hardest division: the division of families.

I come not to be served but to be served.  Let me wash your feet.  Love thine enemies.  How can Jesus speak these words elsewhere in the Bible and then say He came to divide families?  While all Jesus did and said was based on love, He knew that not all would choose to follow Him.  Jesus knew that many would reject Him.  He also knew the choice to declare Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior was a personal and individual choice.  Because of all this, Jesus knew division would come as we each make our own decision concerning following Him.

The dividing line between follower and nonfollower is sharp.  As followers of Christ we are called to a radical life of love, self-sacrifice, and absolute dedication to our faith.  One cannot be half way dedicated to following Jesus – lukewarm is not following.  So Jesus knew this decision would cut across family lines, through friendships, and would come to define where we stand and who we are.

Over this reality we cast love.  The great commission calls us to go forth to make disciples of all peoples.  Our faith calls us to go forth in love, as Jesus went forth.  Just as He loved the outcast, the sinner, the anyone, so too are we to love all we meet.  In doing so we become the conduit through which Christ’s love reaches others.  It is a love that conquers all fear, doubt, hate, mistrust.  It is a love for all people.  Perhaps this is the fire Jesus wants to bring – His love spreading like wildfire across the communities in which we live.  Today may we cast out love.