pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


1 Comment

The Price Is Paid

Reading: Hebrews 10: 11-18

Verse 14: “By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”.

Rituals and traditions are important. We like being creatures of habit. More than once I have driven to work and, as I pulled into the parking lot, wondered, ‘How did I get here’? I could not recall passing that building or stopping at that traffic light. It felt Twilight Zone-ish. Have you ever begun, “Our Father who art in heaven…” and suddenly found yourself at “Amen”, wondering how you got there?

Day after day after day the priests offered sacrifices for the same sins. Day after day after day, same atonements for the same log of sins. It did not seem as if the behaviors or the attitudes were changing. Maybe the sins changed for some as the believers became more devout, but the sin remained. The blood of the cow or sheep or dove did not erase the guilt or the shame or the sin. Day after day the sacrifices continued. Do you suppose people showed up week after week after week with a lamb, wondering how they got there?

And then came Jesus. God in the flesh changed everything. Jesus offered Himself as the perfect final sacrifice. “By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”. Jesus died for each of us, we who are sinners, once for all. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished”. He died once for all. Jesus’ blood atones for our sin and washes it away, making us perfect as we are ever made more holy. Through the power and constant presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus walks with us, sanctifying us, making us more and more like Christ. Yes, we will sin again. But His mercies make us new again each time we repent, each time transforming us, making us more like Jesus. This is not a ritual. It is personal. Each and every time.

Our passage reminds us that God will “remember no more” our sins. They are washed away in the blood. Because our sins are forgiven and forgotten through Jesus Christ, we can freely and boldly approach God without hesitation. We are free to come to God all the time because we can be made holy at any and at all times. Jesus has opened the door and He stands in the doorway beckoning us to come in. Forever. Verse 18 reads, “Where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin”. The price has been paid. Thank you Jesus.

Prayer: Praise be to the Father and to the Son! Thank you God for loving me enough to send your Son for me. Thank you Jesus, for your perfect witness, for your sacrifice for a sinner like me. Thank you for the cross. Amen.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Simple Relationships

Reading: Mark 7: 1-8

Verse 6: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.

Today’s passage deals with who we are as opposed to who we want to appear to be. This passage applies to us as individuals and to our churches as well.

The Pharisees and religious leaders notice Jesus’ disciples doing something that they think shouldn’t be done. They are eating with unclean hands. The disciples did not wash their hands before eating. Yes, there is a practical side to this. But the religious folk aren’t concerned with this aspect. They are concerned with the spiritual implications of eating with unclean hands. By simply being in the world, one can possibly touch something that itself is unclean. If you then eat without ceremonially washing, then the sin or impurity enters you. So they ask, “Jesus, why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders”?

Jesus does not really answer their question. He turns the subject back on them. Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13, saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. The religious folks know what to say. They also ought to know why they are saying it. They have lost their connection with the source of the Law. Over the years the Torah or law has grown to the point of being cumbersome. Many of the traditions or rules are things that man has added over time. The intent was to help people follow the law, but it has become a long list of things to do or to check off the list. It has moved far away from worshipping God. Jesus reflects, “You have let go of the commandments of God and are holding onto the traditions of men”.

We too can fall into following man-made traditions or rules and can allow these to drag us far from God. If we go to church on Sunday morning but it becomes a burden or hardship, is it really worshipful to God? If we go up and eat the bread and drink the juice but do not confess and repent of our sins, is it really holy communion? If we say we are a welcoming church but do not engage the stranger who enters our midst, are we really loving all people? If we read our Bibles each day but do not apply the Word to our lives, is it really a meaningful discipline? Yes, this is just the beginning of a long list of questions.

O Lord, give us faith and not religion. Give us relationships and not lists of rules. May our faith be about simple relationships – loving you and loving neighbor. And may all we say and do and think flow from these two central commands. May it be so. Amen.


2 Comments

Undignified

Reading: 2 Samuel 6: 12b-19

Verse Fourteen: “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might”.

Today’s passage gives us two sides of worship. On the one hand we see some rituals being practiced. On the other hand we see unabashed and heart-led worship. Both “styles” or forms still have a vital place in our worship of God.

David uses rituals to worship God in several ways. After six steps are taken, David stops the procession. The priests and Levites sit down the ark and a sacrifice is offered as a thanks to God. The calf and bull are a way of thanking God for blessing them with the ark and its return to Jerusalem. The procession also ends with the proper sacrifices. David’s choice of attire is also ritualistic. The linen ephod is a religious garment. David chose to take off his royal robes and to don a garment worn in service to the Lord. In this choice he is telling all that he too will serve and honor God. The ceremony ends with blessings. David blesses the people in God’s name and also blesses them with gifts of food. Although our rituals might be different, we too have our worship traditions and practices. Our sacraments, liturgies, creeds, and other traditions help us to worship God.

David and the people also spontaneously worship God from the heart. “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might”. He worships with reckless abandon before God. He worships with all his might. In our churches we might clap during a praise song. We might raise our hands toward heaven. In some churches we still dance before the Lord. As David dances with all his might, the people celebrate and worship with shouts and trumpets and other forms of music. There is joy in their worship. We too use music in our worship and maybe even lift up an unscripted shout or “Amen” once in a while too.

This passage always reminds me of a song. It is called “Undignified” and the verse simply reads, “I will dance, I will sing, to be mad for my King. Nothing Lord is hindering this passion in my soul”. This song is a good reminder that we should not allow anything to inhibit our worship of God. The chorus shouts, “And I will become even more undignified than this. Some may say it’s foolishness, but I’ll become even more undignified than this. Lay my pride by my side, and I’ll become even more undignified than this”. Today, Lord, may we lay aside our pride and unashamedly live out our gospel faith, worshipping you fully in all we do and say today. Amen.


3 Comments

Would you…?

Reading: Mark 3: 1-6

Verse Four: “Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill'”?

Today’s passage has three perspectives. Let’s begin with the man. The man with the shriveled hand is most likely a beggar – relying on the charity of others to eat, to have clothing, etc. To go out to find Jesus might take days. This would cost him and he would likely not eat those days. But now, right here in the temple, he has found the healer, Jesus. Jew or not, he wants healing more than to observe the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is important to the Pharisees. They “watched him closely” to see if Jesus would somehow sin, breaking a Sabbath or temple law. They see Jesus as a challenge to their authority and to their place in life. The Pharisees are also the keepers of about all that the Jews have left as the people of God. The Romans have allowed temple worship to continue. As a people living under an occupying army, religious practices and traditions are about all you have left to hold your people together. It is all that keeps them a community. These two factors combine to give the Pharisees “stubborn hearts”.

Jesus is the third yet central character in our passage. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and He sees the man. You just know that Jesus is filled with compassion for the man. So He asks him to stand up. Everyone look at this man. Then Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill”? Even though this is the Sabbath – the day to honor God with worship and to do no work – what do we do with this man? For the man and Jesus there is only one correct answer. To the Pharisees, though, neither answer is acceptable. Answer one way and they are saying the Sabbath has no value. Answer the other way and they are saying the man has no value. It is a no-win situation for the Pharisees, so they remain silent.

Would you buy that cake for your child’s birthday with your last $20 or would you pay for the groceries for that single mom in front of you in line without enough? Would you be on time for that super important meeting or would you stop and help that elderly lady change her flat tire? We often stand in the Pharisees shoes – how do we decide between two goods? As Jesus did, may we choose the better good, always valuing relationship over to institution.


1 Comment

A New Thing

Reading: John 2: 13-22

Verse Fifteen: “He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area.”

Today’s passage is one of those instances where we see Jesus is mad. He creates a big ruckus in the temple by driving out all the merchants who sold animals for sacrifices and the money changers who exchanged coins so that people could pay the temple tax.

Although there was certainly corruption in these two systems, they did help facilitate worship for many of the pilgrims who came to the three yearly festivals. For some pilgrims it was impractical and for others it was just easier to buy a dove or sheep or cow once they arrived at the temple to offer the sacrifice. Many of these pilgrims were from foreign countries and their own coins with earthly images could not be used to pay the temple tax.

So it seems odd at first that Jesus would disrupt something that is helping people to practice their faith. Maybe it was because they were taking advantage of a captive audience. Maybe it was because they were inside the temple courts instead of outside of the sacred space. Maybe it was because the people were simply going through the motions instead of giving up an animal that really meant something to them. Ultimately, though, I think it was because they were continuing a system that must change. Jesus came to be the new system. He came to be the final, perfect sacrifice for all humanity. Jesus came so that people would have faith based on a relationship rather than on the rule-keeping, works-based system that had evolved.

Sometimes in our churches we also hold onto practices and traditions that are antiquated or are not serving their purpose anymore. When change is suggested it is met with resistance and questioning. Yet when we get stuck in some of our ruts, church feels stale, old, dead. It has ceased to be vibrant and life-giving. Yes, some traditions and practices still have great value and are great pieces of how we worship and grow closer to God. But not always. So may we trust into the Holy Spirit and seek the new thing God may be worked in our midst. Amen.


Leave a comment

Unity or Less?

Reading: Romans 14: 10-12

Verse 11: Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.

Paul continues his conversation about diversity in the body of Christ.  He emphasized that most of us are at differing spots in our faith journeys and that we come to the church with our own unique backgrounds and traditions.  Therefore unity must come in and through Christ.  Christ must be the one thing that unites the church.  Jesus is our “bottom line” so to speak – He is Lord of all.

Paul asks why we must judge or look down on our brother or sister in Christ who does not do exactly as we do.  When we choose to judge or condemn or belittle another’s faith or their practices of faith, we are putting ourselves in a place we should not go to.  For example, just because I prefer to read and study and pray in the early morning and another prefers the quiet of the evening does not make one of us “right” or “better” than the other.  If one church uses bread and another crackers, one communion is not better or more acceptable than the other.

The time or particular way we practice our faith are small details we use to accomplish the same goal – to grow closer to Christ as we seek to become more like Him.  This is the goal for all Christians – to become more like Christ.  But at times we fail, so Paul includes a warning, quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God”.  He will not only want to know what we did with the least and the lost, but also how we treated all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Did we practice unity and did we work to bring harmony to the whole body of Christ?  Or did we remain divided, allowing it to be less?


Leave a comment

#1 Tradition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 18: The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.

Every year for Christmas my family gathers after church on Christmas Eve and we open one present.  The present is always the same: new pajamas.  For Thanksgiving every year we always have green bean casserole and chocolate chess pie.  It feels like we have been doing these things forever.

Our churches also have traditions.  Most churches do.  In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing one of these traditions.  It began like many of our church traditions did and has become almost law by this point.  One day long ago someone started something and soon enough it became tradition.  For the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing, these traditions were very important.  Many of their traditions or laws were based on generations of interpretations of the Bible.  Much of it therefore had come not necessarily straight from God but from man’s interpretation of the Word.  A good, modern day example would be baptism.  In the Bible we do have some examples of baptisms and some understandings of what it means and why one is baptized.  But there is no place in the Bible where it defines exactly how and when a baptism should occur.  Yet this topic causes division and differences and barriers between us.  The same can be said of communion.  I think this makes Jesus sad.

In today’s passage Jesus is dealing with a rule that creates a barrier.  Many of the religious traditions or laws created barriers to people because they kept people away from God.  Ritualistic and detailed handwashing became the rule for the Pharisees.  Eat without perfectly pristine hands and you know what happens…  But Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'”.  He is saying that what is in a person’s heart is what makes them spiritually clean or unclean, not the condition of their hands.  If evil resides in our hearts, then we are unclean spiritually.  If good resides, then we are clean.  To Jesus, a person’s heart is what mattered.

Jesus’ most important question is: “Do you love me”?  For Jesus love was always the guide and the first consideration.  That’s why He ate with unclean sinners and why he healed on the Sabbath.  Love triumphed.  Faith is not about the tradition or the laws or the unwritten rules.  It is about letting love lead and serving and ministering to others in love.

What traditions or ‘rules’ create barriers in our churches?  How do we make love the #1 tradition or the rule?