pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Always There

Reading: Romans 7: 15-25

Verse 21: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”.

Paul’s writing for today is a passage that we can all relate to. Created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within each of us – yet we struggle with sin. The human part of us is ever drawn to the desires, pleasures, and other trappings of this world. Inside each of us is both good and evil. A friend once described these as two twin wolves, each fighting for control. His advice was to feed the good wolf because the one you feed is the one that grows.

If this idea were true to the point of starving the evil to death, then eventually we would not sin. Anyone who has sought to walk faithfully with Christ for a number of years knows this is not really possible. As we mature both in age and in faith, yes, some of the sins change or lessen but the evil within never totally disappears. Lust, for example, does not quite have the grip on us at 70 or 80 that it had on us at 20 or 30. But others sins, like fear and worry and control, they seem to gain power as we mature. Even though our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Christ, Satan is ever at work in our lives. Good and evil will wage a battle for our hearts and souls until the day we die.

Paul explains his own inner, constant battle in today’s passage. In verse 21 he shares this truth that we all live daily: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”. As inherently good and loving creations of God, we do want to do good in the world, we do want to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we do want to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Yet evil is always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for that sliver of fear, that crack of doubt, that fleeting thought of jealousy or anger or envy or pride. Satan is just waiting to take advantage of our weakness.

Paul admits that he is a “wretched man”. We too all feel that way when we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As one reads Paul’s words today, there is an undercurrent of hopelessness in Paul’s battle. We too are hopeless in our own battle with sin. We alone cannot defeat or overcome sin. On our own we cannot rid ourselves of the sun or of the guilt and shame that makes us feel wretched and unworthy. Yet into our hopeless and powerless situation steps Jesus Christ. Jesus has the power. He defeated both sin and death. In and through him we find forgiveness and grace, mercy and power. We too can join Paul in rejoicing in God’s gift of Christ. Through Jesus our Lord we can be made new again over and over. Sin never has the last word. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Dear Lord, Paul’s words echo as truth in my life. It seems that an evil thought or an unkind word slips out more often than it should. Gird me up with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Fill me with a firm foundation of faith for the daily battle ahead each day. Walk with me Lord Jesus. Amen.


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Remember

Reading: Psalm 86: 1-10 and 16-17

Verse 5: “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you”.

In our Psalm for this week, David cries out to God and he praises God for all God has done. The emotions and feelings in the Psalm cover a wide spectrum of our faith and of our lives. In the opening lines, for example, David asks for protection and mercy and to experience joy. In the next stanza we read, “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you”. There is a trust and a confidence that God will answer. That trust and confidence are built upon the history of God and the chosen people. This thought is reflected in verses eight through ten. Then, in our closing verses for today, we hear a request for strength and then a plea to save a son. It closes with an almost desperate plea for a sign that God is still there. Where did the trust and confidence of the earlier verses go?

As one considers the reality of our faith – strong one moment and shaking the next, full of assurance one day and then nothing but doubt and worry the next… – the range of the Psalm is really representative of our own journeys of faith. Yet within the Psalm there is also an undercurrent that we must recognize. Throughout, God is steadfast and his love is always there for his children. On our “good” days we know these things to be true. May we also remember these truths as we cry out and plead with God. His mercies are new every morning and his love never fails. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: O Lord, how these days feel so much like the Psalm. As we prepare to go forth, one moment there is deep, deep sadness. Tears flow. The next there is a sense of excitement and anticipation of what you will do in our next place of ministry. I can hardly sleep. Guide us through, allow us to feel and connect with and to these wide ranges of emotion. Be with us, O God. Amen.


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Into Our Hearts

Reading: Romans 5: 1-5

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Chapter 5 begins by reminding us of some truths of our faith: peace through justification, access to Jesus Christ through grace, and rejoicing in the glory of God. Walking in faith certainly fills this life with peace, grace, and joy. A life of faith, however, does not shield us from the hard or difficult side of life. Because we are humans, made of flesh and bone, we will experience times of illness and even death, times of trial and pain. Paul acknowledges that as Christians we will suffer. But he also points out that we do not suffer as the worldly suffer.

Just as your relationship with your spouse or family or a friend is strengthened when you go through something hard together, so too is our relationship with God strengthened when we walk through a trial with God. When we turn to God, when we lean into God, when we rely on God – we find that God is always right there. In verse five we read about the closeness of God. Here Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. The presence and strength and comfort and peace of God is right there within us as the Holy Spirit is “as close as our next breath”.

Paul walks us through the steps or progression of the deepening relationship that we experience as we continually walk with the Lord and Spirit. We first learn to persevere; this is built through Christ’s presence in previous trials. We next learn to maintain a Christly character; this is built both by walking with Christ in our trials and by reflecting on the ways that Jesus himself endured times of suffering. Lastly, we come to have a growing hope. This comes to pervade all of life, but is especially present in the trials. And Paul also reminds us that “hope does not disappoint”. If doubt or fear or anything else begins to creep in, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit whispers, “I am here”, reminding us once again of the Lord’s presence with us and within us. Thanks be to God for the closeness of Jesus Christ in our hearts. May you ever walk in his love, grace, and hope!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your constant presence in my life. I am so grateful for the ways that you surround me in the trials. Thank you for the Spirit that so often reminds me that I am not alone, that you are right there with me. All praise and glory and honor are yours, O God! Amen.


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Lead in Love

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 19: “When the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and said, ‘Peace be with you!'”

Following his death the disciples gathered together in their small community and were present to one another. The recent events left them feeling powerless and vulnerable. There was a sense of fear hanging over them. If this could happen to him, it could happen to any of them. If the Jews, the ones filled with power and fears of their own, could flex their muscles and cause this to happen to Jesus, the disciples were well within their reach.

Fear is certainly present in our society today. COVID has created many: fear of dying, fear of sickness, fear or losing a business, fear of financial failure, fear of isolation… Fear is also very present right now in some of our cities and in some of our social groups. Another senseless death has sent another ripple of fear through affected communities. The ripple had become a flood of emotion and response in some places. Even though there is no place for hate in God’s kingdom, it remains something that humanity is struggling with in this world.

As the disciples gathered on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, locked behind some closed doors, he came and said, “Peace be with you”! They were overjoyed. Speaking directly into their fear he said, “I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus encourages them to walk into the world tinged with hate and oppression as people filled with love and power. The Spirit would be the source of love and power and strength and hope. It was a presence the disciples would need as they set out to transform the world.

The Holy Spirit continues to lead with love. It is a love for all people, not just for some. It is a love that leads to compassion and understanding and empathy and unity. It is a love that is both culture blind and colorblind. Just yesterday I read a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “Protest is the voice of the powerless”. Yes, often it is. The root cause is powerlessness. Feeling powerless leads to feeling hopeless and helpless. In moving forward may the disciples of Jesus Christ continue to allow the Holy Spirit to lead in love. We with power must choose to be voices for those without. For the healing of our communities and of our world, may God’s love lead the way. May it start with each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, the Holy Spirit empowered the first disciples to transform their world. It began with them loving you above all else and then spread to loving one another. The community was based upon love and grace and mercy and compassion and justice. Their love changed the world. Make it happen again, Lord. Empower your disciples today to be change agents once again, leading the way across divides and through barriers. Let love be our guide, bringing healing and restoration. May it begin with me, O God. Amen.


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Suffering to Transform

Reading: Acts 7: 55-60

Verse 56: “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”.

Today’s text reminds us that we will suffer for our faith. There are varying degrees of suffering. The example we see today in the stoning of Stephen is far more violent and carries a finality that is far removed from most of our realities. On a daily basis we must deny self and seek to live as humble servants. At times we sacrifice and serve others in ways that have actual costs. At times decisions and actions to stand for justice or against oppression place us in the cross hairs of others, even of other Christians at times. Like Stephen, we must remain true to our faith and then graciously accept the outcome, especially in the face of suffering.

In Stephen’s example we can find strength and hope for our bouts with suffering. First, we must keep our focus on God. As the anger and malice levels rose, Stephen stood firm. His truth did not change. He declared his connection to Jesus Christ with assurance, saying, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”. He valued this connection and relationship above all else. Second, he gave himself over to God. He recognized who was really in control and, without fear or worry or anger, he committed his spirit to the Lord. Seeing heaven open he was grateful and ready fir his next step on the journey. Even when the next step is not into eternity we can declare that we take it with Jesus, knowing that we are not alone. Lastly, he extended grace. Stephen had no animosity or anger over what was happening. He knew he was suffering for Jesus and his faith in him. They were not stoning Stephen because he was Stephen. The suffering came because he was proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Stephen knew they were choosing not to accept the truth about Jesus. It was not personal so he prayed for those who were opposing the truth. We too can do this. We can and should pray for those who bring us suffering. In doing so we are transformed more into Christ’s image even as we are helping to transform the world around us. In doing so we will also see the glory of God as he works in and through us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, ever help me to stand for what is right and holy and just. Embolden me when these truths bring suffering. Remind me that it is for you. Use me today, however you will. Amen.


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Lift High Your Voice

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 14-24

Verse 14: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”.

Psalm 118 is a song of praise. It is a great Psalm for the day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It begins with this powerful verse: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Yes, he is so good. Today we celebrate the Lord’s victory over both sin and death and we rejoice as we walk the path to eternal life that these victories open for all who declare Jesus the Lord of their lives.

The psalmist’s response to God’s goodness and love was to sing praises to God. Today in many churches the classic Easter songs will be played. Almost all of the singing will be done in individual homes (or maybe in cars at some places) as we celebrate Easter and worship “together” as we safely social distance. While I believe this practice is good and right and godly as it loves the most vulnerable among us, I must admit that I miss seeing my church family. It feels accentuated on a day like Easter. Yet I would trade a thousand days feeling like this to spare just one person from this illness. It is so because as my heart turns to the deeper reality of Easter, it is drawn to my personal relationship with Jesus. Easter, as is our relationship with Jesus, is a deeply personal and intimate connection. The simple fact is that Jesus would have died for just one sinner. He would have died for just you or me if we were the only sinner around. That is the depth of his love for you and for me and for the whole world. It is personal.

Verse fourteen spoke to me today as I read it. This verse reads, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”. As we worship the Lord our God on this holy Easter day, may we each claim the strength we find in God and may we lift our voices to praise the one who gives us our salvation and our hope. Christ is risen! Jesus is alive!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the gift of resurrection that you shared on that first Easter morning and that you continue to share with all who call on Jesus as Lord. Draw more in today, O God. Strengthen the throng. Amen.


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One Step at a Time

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 4-14

Verse 9: “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”.

The dry bones in the valley represent Israel and the current condition of their collective faith. As the prophet sent to Israel during part of their exile, Ezekiel would have been well aware of the peoples’ sins and their current reality. This part that connected to their past probably saddened him greatly. The dry bones scattered across the valley floor are a stark and vivid reminder of their disobedient past. I can look back at seasons in my faith journey and can see how God would portray those times as a valley of dry bones. Most of us probably could. For others, maybe it feels like they are in the valley right now.

God says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”. God does not plan to leave the Israelites in this valley forever. God has a better future planned for his people. God has chosen Ezekiel to bring this word to his people. Knowing that God will bring new life to the nation of Israel would give Ezekiel and those who heard his prophetic message some hope. Knowing the end of the current story brings one hope in the valley, but it can be hard to wait and to walk faithfully towards the future that God has planned. It is hard because we want the better future NOW. The added challenge for the exiles is that their faith is dry. How does one walk faithfully with dry or no faith?

The answer is not complex: one step at a time. Ezekiel knew this was a vision, but he still obediently played his part. In one way this is a practice run. In reality he will seek to breath spiritual life into the people living in exile. Today, when one is in the valley or when one is living exiled from God, the steps are still the same: trust in God’s love, act on what God is leading you to, and rely on God’s power and strength for the journey. Each day may we see as God sees, stepping forward in faith.

Prayer: Loving God, when the future seems uncertain, give me the faith to take that first step. Through the power of the Holy Spirit guides me in obedience. Step by step may I follow. Amen.


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Call of Faith

Reading: Genesis 2:15-17 through 3:1-7

Verse 6: “the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye… took some and ate it”.

As we prepare to enter into the season of Lent, we face a decision. Will this just be another six weeks that we go to church on Sundays or will it be a season, a time to really wrestle with our faith? Will these forty days be about preparing our soul to meet Jesus at the empty tomb on Easter morning? Will Lent be about becoming fully ready to die to self as Jesus did on the cross or will self remain on the throne of our hearts?

Ever since the first people walked the earth there has been a battle waged in our hearts. It is a battle between doing God’s will versus allowing our own will to make the decisions and choices. To me the garden scene is like the Last Supper scene. Someone was going to betray Jesus. It did not really matter who. In the garden someone was going to eat from the forbidden tree. In both cases, evil found a way to winnow in and create separation between a person and God. Isn’t that the same way sin works in our lives?

The fruit just hung there. It looked good and had some benefits. A piece was taken and eaten. Eyes that had been innocent now saw themselves and the world around them differently. Selfishness had been elevated over the relationship with God. Humanity’s will had been chosen over God’s will. This is a choice we wrestle with over and over every single day. Our sense of self is engrained in us from an early age. The call of faith to walk this life as a humble servant is constantly at odds with this sense of self.

The journey of Lent is about the lessening the self-will and the increasing of God’s will. It is about looking deep within our souls and seeing that which separates us from God and doing God’s will. What we each see will be vast and varied. Some things will die relatively easily and others will require great effort. May we each resolve to admit that we are fallen and broken and may we seek God’s love and mercy so that we can be made into new creations.

Prayer: Lord God, as I enter the season of repentance and introspection, give me the courage to look deep and grant me the strength to purge those things that separate me from you or that limit my walk with you. Take me and make me fully thine. Amen.


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Blessings

Reading: Psalm 112

Verse 1: “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands.”

Psalm 112 is a beautiful reminder of the great gain one finds from a faithful walk with the Lord. Verse one begins with “blessed is…” and the psalmist continues on by recounting all the ways that God can bless the faithful: children are blessed, good comes, and the heart is secure. A faithful walk can be one without fear, one without being shaken. Living faithfully can draw out ones generosity, graciousness, compassion, and sense of justice. Choosing to fear the Lord and to honor his ways leads to a blessed life.

Not all who live a faithful life will be wealthy or healthy or free from troubles. Blessings are not always monetary bounty. Many who live within a budget and do not have much beyond the basics feel very blessed and contented, living joyous lives. Blessings are not always living healthily until 94 years of age or more. The blessings come in being assured of God’s presence and love in and through the illness and disease and other physical trials of life. These things are part of life for almost everyone. God’s presence is the gift of blessing for the faithful amidst their trials and sufferings. Life will bring other times of trouble too – some self-inflicted, some by others doing. In the same way, the faithful can turn to God and can rely on God’s strength to get through these seasons as well.

As the Psalm draws to a close, we read, “his righteousness endures forever”. Living a faithful and righteous life here can bring many blessings, both here and in the kingdom to come. As we live out our faith in the here and now we also look forward to our heavenly home. May we walk each day faithfully, blessing others as we are blessed by God.

Prayer: Loving Father, life is truly better when lived in close relationship with you. Strengthen me in moments when I falter or am weak and lift me up. Encourage my daily walk through the power of your Holy Spirit. May all I do and say honor you. Amen.


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Rooted in Love

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 25: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”.

The Corinthian church is struggling to understand Jesus. The Jews in the church want Jesus to have power and might – think of the God of the Old Testament who parted seas and destroyed enemies. The Greek part of the church wants Jesus to have great wisdom – think of a group of philosophers sitting around arguing about which god is smarter. Paul and other apostles came and preached Christ crucified. Those of faith saw the power and wisdom of God in the cross. To them, on the cross Jesus chose humility and love. This was all foolishness to those looking for a God of power or intelligence. But to those who believed, the cross was the power to save.

The world continues to look at the cross and at the one who died on it as foolishness. Just as it seemed so to the secular culture of Corinth, so it is today. The cross meant weakness and death and defeat and failure to the eyes of the world and to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. For the one who came to save the world, the Messiah, dying on a cross seemed like a foolish choice. How could you save anything or anyone if you were dead? To one looking at the whole thing without faith, it makes little sense. Success in the world means accumulating power and possessions and better and better titles. This is not the way of the cross.

Paul’s message does not end at the cross. The story did not start there either. For three years before the cross Jesus taught a message of love. Key to that message was the idea of loving God and others more than oneself. This agape love was revealed by being a humble servant to all. Jesus lived out his love and service on the cross. There, in love, he bore and defeated the power of the sins of the world, performing a final act of service for all of humanity. Then the crucified body was laid in the grave. The story appeared to be finished. But in three days, God revealed true power as Jesus emerged from the grave, defeating the power of death.

On and through the cross Jesus would defeat the two things that all the power and possessions and titles in the world cannot defeat – sin and death. This is foolishness to the world but is the power to save for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. For those who do believe, we know and live this truth: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you revealed yourself through Jesus in ways that many do not understand. Even for the faithful, at times your ways are still higher than our ways. I sometimes fail to understand. But the cross and what it is rooted in – love – is easy to understand. It’s not always easy to walk it out, but love is easy to understand. So I pray that I may too be love in the world, revealing Jesus to others, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to do the deep and real work. May it be so, O Lord. Amen.