pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Repent

Reading: Luke 13: 1-9

Verse 3: “Unless you repent, you too all will perish”.

Today’s passage begins with two tragedies. In the first Pilate has killed some folks who were making sacrifices. Jesus asks if they were worse sinners than others because of this tragedy. No! He then recalls the 18 who died when a tower collapsed. He again asks if they were more guilty than others. Again the answer is “no”. In life there are terrible things that happen. But God does not single out the worst sinners or any sinners or those sinning at that moment to experience these bad things. Pilate’s cruel decision and the structural weakness of the tower are things that happened and unfortunately affected people. The folks affected were innocent victims, not sinners forced into those situations by God.

In response to both tragedies, Jesus says the same thing. Twice He says, “Unless you repent, you too all will perish”. He is not saying that Pilate is about to rage violently or that another tower is about to fall. He is not saying that some sinners will find themselves in those situations. Jesus is saying that we are all sinners. We are all sinners who need to repent of our sins and to be made right with God. If any one of us fails to repent, we will perish. Jesus is not talking about perishing immediately. If I sin today and do not confess by the end of the day, then it does not mean that I will die tonight. Jesus goes on to share a parable about this in verses 6-9, but that is for tomorrow.

Repentance is not just saying “sorry”. It also involves a change and an effort to not commit that sin again. For me to tell at a child of mine, then to repent, then to turn around and yell at them again is not true repentance. To truly repent means to turn away from the sin and to work to not go there again and to be align oneself with God. A hollow apology with no intent to be more holy is not what is required of us.

We are all sinners. We will all sin multiple times today. Most often my sins occur in my head. My thoughts can turn to judging or condemning or comparing all too quickly. The old stereotypes or prejudices or experiences can creep in to influence my interactions with or my compassion for others. When I stumble and fall into one of these sinful behaviors, fortunately the Holy Spirit is quick to convict me. At that very point I must humble myself and confess my sin to God. I must commit to try to not turn to that sin again. I must try and take on the heart and eyes of Jesus to see that person or that situation as Jesus does. I must see with eyes of love. With those eyes I do not become sinless, I just sin less. The closer we can be to Jesus, the further we are from sinning. May we all strive to be closer to Jesus today.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, strengthen me today. When temptation comes knocking, may your Holy Spirit intervene quickly. Guard my heart and mind today, O God. Amen.


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Hope in God

Reading: Psalm 42: 9-11

Doubt is a part of faith.  For some believers, faith is usually able to conquer doubt.  For all, however, at times doubt rises up and pushed our faith down.  We have all experienced times when doubt has gotten the best of us and we find it hard to call on our faith.  Part of us knows that God is always present and near us, yet we, like the psalmist, will have times when the bigger part of us feels as if God has forgotten about us.  This often occurs in times of personal struggle.

Doubt can also be cast upon us from the outside world.  When we hear of tragedies such as the recent mass shooting or the actions of ISIS or 9/11 type events, we naturally ask the “Why” question and wonder where God is in the midst of it all.  God is found nowhere in the evil of such horrific events, but He is near to some of the victims and then God is definitely near in the soon-to-follow outpouring of prayers and other forms of love and support.

Life will bring times or even seasons where we doubt.  Close relatives fear and anxiety also visit us from time to time.  Yet the presence of God can be a constant to us, even in times when doubt, fear, and anxiety are present.  Like the psalmist, may we too put our hope in God, knowing that we too shall soon praise God again.


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Salvation

Reading: Psalm 118: 14

Salvation, as it was often used in the Old Testament, has a slightly different connotation than how it is primarily used in the New Testament.  Whereas in general Christians see salvation as a personal and eternal matter, to the average Jew of the time salvation was more communal and concerned life in the present time and place.

In the Psalm there is a sense of tragedy and despair that God has rescued them from.  During this time the psalmist felt trapped, limited.  It was as if the world has closed in tight and it was hard to breathe.  It is a feeling we all can surely relate to.  For the psalmist, God’s act of salvation rescued them from despair and restored their hope in this life.  Part of this rescue is the liberation from that which constricted or oppressed them so that they can again have the abundant life that God intends for us all to live.  For the Hebrew community, salvation was something that could happen over and over and over again.

As Christians, we also see God’s presence and interaction with us as a regular, daily event.  We also view God as active and engaged in our daily lives.  We see God as present with us as individuals as well as with our faith communities and world.  God listens to our praise, our cries, our thanksgivings, and our pleas.  He responds to our needs and rescues us from trials so that we can live a life that is abundant and joyful, filled with His many blessings.

In both the Old Testament and in the New Testament, salvation has a saving character to it.  In the Old Testament it mostly had to do with God’s hand at work in their world, saving people from their struggles.  For us as New Testament people, we still see God at work doing this, but we also see salvation as the work that saves us from sin, death, and their consequences.  For both of these aspects of God’s salvation, I am thankful.  Praise be to God!


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Being Fruitful

Reading Luke 13: 1-9

The world is sometimes filled with tragedy and sorrow.  You do not have to watch the news too long to feel the urge to turn off the television.  In today’s passage the people come to Jesus with a story of death and tragedy and are seeking help to make sense of it.  Jesus instead bring sup another story of loss and sorrow.  He warns us that tragedy can strike us all and that we must therefore repent, lest we will perish.  Jesus is implying that death will come to us all; it is up to us how we choose to live our lives between now and then.  Will our lives lead us to perish to hell or to rise to eternal life?

Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the fig tree.  The owner comes for a third year and again finds no fruit on the tree.  He instructs the gardener to cut it down.  The gardener asks for one more year.  He will tend to it and water it and fertilize it in an effort to help the tree bear fruit.  In this parable we are the fig tree.  Year after year Jesus pours into us through the Word, in worship, in small groups, …  He yearns to see us bear fruit.  The Holy Spirit works on us also, pruning and fertilizing and guiding us along so that we are more able to bear fruit.

As we continue to grow in our faith, we will bear fruit as we mature, just as the tree will.  As we touch the lives of others, bearing fruit and shining the light and love of Jesus, we will bring hope and comfort amidst the darkness and tragedies of this world.  It is through our witness and love that others will come to know Jesus, the only source of strength, healing, and understanding in the midst of pain and sorrow.  As we are fruitful and faithful witnesses, we are living for and pointing others toward the one and only way to true, eternal life: Jesus Christ.

 


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Trust and See

A bloom appears in the desert.  Hope rises up our of the midst of despair.  New life stirs as the dust of a tragedy settles.  In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.

God never promised us that life would always be happy and easy.  He did promise us that life would be blessed.  He promised us that His mercies and grace would be new every morning.  He promised that His love would endure.  It is with these promises that we can walk through our times of despair, trial, and tragedy.

As we grow in our faith, God builds us up to be able to go through bad things and to still stay connected to Him.  Jesus is for us that living water that keeps us connected to God.  In our passage for today, Paul speaks of commending themselves in every way – even in the trials, beatings, imprisonments, and hunger.  In these types of things our faith will allow us to rely on God’s grace as well.  Paul ends this section of scripture with these words: “having nothing, yet possessing everything”.  At times we feel totally lost, yet still have our faith and that is everything.

In the good and bad times we rely on God.  He alone has the love, strength, and grace to see us through. These qualities of God are always present but we most need them in times of trial.  Trust in Him and cling to faith – there we will see that God is good.  He is good because His steadfast love endures forever!

Scripture reference: 2 Corinthians 5:20 to 6:10


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Will We?

After their capitol city Jerusalem was destroyed, many of the people of Israel spent a long period living in exile.  Finally the king of Persia begins to allow some to return to start rebuilding their holy city.  The Israelites had been helpful and useful to the king, so this was a way he could thank them.  Miraculously, the small group rebuilds all of the city wall in just 52 days.  They know from this amazing feat, accomplished in the midst of unfriendly peoples all around them, that God was at work in and around them.  So they gather to worship and to hear the Word of God read.

Each week lots of folks will gather on Sunday morning to hear the Word of God, to offer Him praise, and to celebrate God’s presence in their lives.  God is a steady and active part of the lives of regular church goers.  Sunday morning is the time when they are renewed and encouraged and built up so that they can face the world in the week ahead.  Their time each Sunday morning in church allows them to live each day with God’s presence.

For lots of other folks, this feeling of a need to connect with God is generated only through an exceptional blessing or through a trying circumstance or event.  For the first group, something really amazing happens and they can sense God’s hand or presence in that blessing.  They show up on a Sunday and offer theirs thanks to God.  For the second group, it is a tragedy or trial that brings them to the point of feeling they need to connect to God.  They come desperate and seeking, sensing that only God can make a difference for them.

Funny thing though, God is equally happy to have all three in the house.  Each and every one is seen as a beloved child of God.  To God, on that day, it does not matter if one is there every Sunday or if it has been a while or if it is the first time.  On that day, they are there in the house of God.  And God is happy.

The challenge in the church is, first, to be equally happy.  The second challenge is to regularly feed to every Sunday worshiper while also meeting the special occasion worshiper where they are at and ministering to them right there.  All people need to see the relevance of God in their lives and to feel that their time is well-invested to keep showing up at church.  Together, the body of Christ has the gifts and talents to accomplish all of this.  Together the church can be relevant, can be worthy of people’s time, and can meet and minister to each person right where they are at in life and on their journey of faith.  But our question is: will we?

Scripture reference: Nehemiah 8: 1-3


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Forsaken

If God forsook His own Son, it is possible that at times we too are forsaken?  If God turned His back on Jesus in one of His greatest times of need – there on the cross – won’t we too experience times when we feel God is not near?  These ‘dark nights of the soul’ are times all believers experience.

Personally, when we feel times of separation from God, it is an uneasy feeling.  God’s promise to always be there and never to leave us seems to be in question.  But it is His presence we miss.  Or the feeling that God is near.  I believe God is there – we just are struggling to feel His presence.  In these moments I think God is refining, molding, reshaping our faith so that we are more than we were before the experience.   It grows us and our faith to trust in and rely on God when we cannot sense His presence.  It requires blind or total faith.

At times groups of people feel forsaken.  We can certainly find many examples of this in the Old Testament and in the world today.  We certainly know how to pour out prayers of lament when we feel personally forsaken.  We must remember that God created and loves us all.  Each day may we seek to lift up those who feel forsaken by God – from the homeless and hopeless to the one who just lost a loved one to those who are victims of a tragedy near or far.  Cry out to God.  Be a voice for those who feel forsaken.  Draw God near to them so each may again feel His presence.

Scripture reference: Psalm 22: 1-8