pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

God Invites Us Deeper

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

Verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”.

One cannot hardly help reading these verses and being drawn into the sadness of the situation. God has been just in exiling the people because of their sins. Yet the barrenness and emptiness of Jerusalem evoke feelings of sadness and mourning in us thousands of years later. In our hearts we can easily empathize when we read, “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”. Perhaps tears roll down our cheeks.

In our own lives we too will experience hardship, loss, death, change, separation, and maybe even exile. Sometimes these experiences come upon us not because of anything we have done or not done. We simply find ourselves present in the valley. These experiences can be hard and painful. They vary too. There is grief and sadness, for example, when a 92-year-old faithful saint passes on. Yet our reading from Lamentations feels more like the unexpected loss of a young child. In such instances we weep like the woman who cries bitter tears, not quite understanding the reality that she finds herself in.

At other times we have a hand in the calamity that brings us to the valley. There were many who went into exile and some left behind that were guilty of the sins that precipitated God’s action. When we have been guilty and experience hardship or worse because of our choices or actions, we must acknowledge the role we played before offering repentance and seeking reconciliation. This can be a process. Denial and blame shifting can prolong the exile. For Israel, the exile lasted a long time. There was much work to do. We too can remain there for a period of time if we refuse to admit our role or to acknowledge our imperfections.

Whether we are “innocent victims” or if we had a role in the hardship or failure or “exile”, these experiences offer us the opportunity for transformation and growth. In the valleys we are reminded both of our inability to solve all things and of God’s omnipotent ability to do anything. From the valley, God invites us into deeper relationship as we walk the shadows. God’s hand reaches out in love, seeking to heal and transform us into something new. In faith may we reach out to God, our rock and redeemer, our rescuer and restorer, our healer and our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, the valley is an uncomfortable place to be. The feeling of isolation and grief are hard to bear. Help me to walk with you, to lean upon you. I know you do not want me to bear them alone. Bend my face to yours, hold my hand tightly. Guide me through to once again walk fully in your light and love. Amen.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Witness

Reading: Acts 5: 27-32

Verse 32: “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him”.

Jesus’ followers, friends, and disciples went through a horrible experience. They watched Jesus die on a cross. The whole community that would become the early church went through loss and grief and mourning together. They were a close-knit bunch. Their mourning was turned to dancing quickly as the risen Jesus appeared to them and assured them that He had defeated the power of sin and death. Because He lived, they too would live. Jesus commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will empower them, embolden them, encourage them, strength them, and fill them with power from on high. It will be the living presence of God and Jesus in them. The appearances of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit bring healing and restoration to their grief and they restore hope and life to their faith.

These men and women take up the call to preach the good news to the world. They begin in their known world, in the city of Jerusalem. Just as Jesus did, they encounter some resistance and opposition from the Jewish religious leaders. Today’s passage is not even the first case of persecution or arrest. In fact, they were just released from jail. They were put in jail just the day before for teaching about Jesus and for healing in His name. In the night and angel came and set them free. They do not celebrate their release and slink off to someplace safe. They return to the temple and resume preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. When Peter and the apostles say to the religious leaders, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him”, they are not just talking the talk. They are walking the walk, knowing that they will continue to face persecution, arrest, and possibly death.

We too know the stories of Jesus’ life and teaching. We know the resurrection story. We too have the Holy Spirit alive in us. We have personally experienced healing and restoration and forgiveness. May we too be a witness of Jesus Christ for the continuing transformation of the world. May it be so today and every day.

Prayer: God, may I witness bravely for you today. Maybi seize every opportunity to bring your light and love into my world today. Send me out into the world with Holy Spirit power to transform the world. Amen.


4 Comments

Always Near

Reading: Job 42: 10-17

Verse 12: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first”.

Job’s trial has transformed him. He looks at life much differently than before. Job values life itself, all the small things, and everything in between. As his suffering began, Job acknowledged that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. It was matter of fact, simply how things were. But now Job has gratitude for all that the Lord does in his life. He is now personally connected to God.

We see the change in Job first as he prays for his friends. We recall that the three friends were not supportive or encouraging during the trial. Yet Job prays for them. For what? Probably to experience what he has experienced. The friends know God’s laws and rules, but they do not know God. Their interactions with Job show a lack of God’s love, compassion, and mercy. The second way we see Job transformed is in his interactions with his daughters.

Job gives each daughter a name that reflects God’s beauty in the world. Their names recall God’s grace and the blessings that He pours out on mankind. Job reflects this by also giving his daughters a share of the inheritance. In doing so, Job is making them equal to his sons. He is also giving them power and independence. Job’s daughters do not have to rely on others.

Job’s story is familiar to us. We have experienced pain and suffering in our lives. We have emerged closer to God. Yes, at times we too can doubt God and/or be angry at God. Often, like Job, we realize that we cannot nor ever will understand some of the ways of God. And like Job, we also experience God’s abiding presence, especially in the trials. Always, God is near. Thanks be to God.

God, you are the Creator of all things. Your power and might are far beyond my understanding. Your ways are far above my ways. Yet you are ever present, your love and care always surrounding me. You are ever present, both in the joys and in the sorrows. Thank you God for always being there. Amen.


1 Comment

Good News

Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 6-17

Verse 17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”!

To have faith and to live a Christian Life in our modern, post-Christian world can be challenging. Paul reminds us in our passage today that because of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence we have a confidence about our relationship with God. In our day to day life we “live by faith” and we “make it our goal to please God”. Paul explains in verse fourteen that it is Christ’s love that compels us to share that “He died for all”. This understanding leads the believer to “no longer live for themselves but for Him”. When we choose to no longer live for self we choose to surrender our will, our desires, our selfishness, to God. This act of surrender leads a follower of Christ to truly follow Him, wanting to take the love we know and make it known to all.

This surrender also changes our perspective. We see ourselves and those in the world differently. As Paul puts it, “we regard no one from an earthly point of view”. Ourselves and others are not condemned but are saved by Jesus, who died for all. It is in and through this act of Jesus that God reconciled us to Him. In this way our sin is not counted against us, redeeming us to be righteous and holy in His sight. This allows us to have fellowship with our Lord and to look longingly to the day when we are “home with the Lord”. This is the love and the message of hope that we share with the world.

We want all to experience what we have experienced. We want all to experience the transforming love of God. In Christ, we are made new. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”! In Christ we are made into new creations! We are not of this world any longer; we are simply living in it, trying to help others to come to know Jesus. This is news worth sharing. This is life-changing news. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. May the Lord compel each of us to share the good news of the love of God in Jesus Christ with all we meet this day and every day. Amen.


1 Comment

Saved

Reading: John 3: 16-17

Verse Seventeen: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him”.

Not to condemn but to save. Not to seal our fate but to show us the way, the truth, and the life. Not to stand far above us in judgment but to live within us as friend. Not to be unknown but to be fully known. “For God so loved the world…”. He took on flesh, lived among us, was crucified and rose so that His Spirit could continue to live on in each of us.

God’s purpose in Jesus is to make His love known more completely. As we journey through life, our faith changes and grows. We become more and more who God created us to be in Jesus Christ. In doing so, God takes all of us – who we are and what we have experienced – and molds and remolds us day by day, reshaping us into who He wants us to be. Through God’s great transforming power we are made into a new creation so that we can be change agents in other people’s lives. God created us to use us for the transformation of others and of the world.

How will that look today and tomorrow and the next day? How will God take each of us and use us to build the kingdom here on earth? How will God use us to share the good news of salvation and hope that is offered through a relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ? All of this is done through us and through our story. The change that God has wrought in us is the change that He can work in others. If we share our story with others, it opens the door for God to go to work in their lives as well.

Not to condemn but to save. Not to hate but to love. Not to separate but to draw together. May we be Jesus’ light and love in the world today and every day, helping others to be saved. Amen.


2 Comments

Narrow and Hard

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s passage is all about commitment, dedication, obedience, discipline, and, ultimately, transformation. This call to discipleship is hard. That is why Jesus said the way is narrow in Matthew 7. Faith is just like all other things of great value – it requires a great deal of effort to attain our goal.

Jesus begins today’s key verse with, “if anyone would come after me”. He is implying the first thing about faith is a choice. All people everywhere have a sense of God one way or another. Some sense a higher power, some sense God in the created world, some sense God in the “there must be more to life than this” feelings. Faith begins with the inner urge to live for and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Beginning a relationship is the first step.

Next Jesus turns to those big words I opened with, saying, “he must deny himself”. Denying self and our own wants and desires is the beginning of living out our faith. When asked, Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. When we truly do this, there is little room for self. In denying self, the transformation process also gets under way. The study and practice of our faith through prayer, worship, Bible study, … is what begins to transform our hearts and minds so that we begin to see and feel and think as Christ did.

Then Jesus turns to our calling. He next instructs us to “take up his cross”. As we are transformed more and more into His image, we come to discover that special blessing or talent or gift that God has given us to serve His will. Some teach, some preach, some feed, some clothe, some visit, some sing, some clean, some sew, some lead, some transport, some… The cross represents Jesus and our gift or talent is how we share Jesus with others. Our “cross” is what helps others to connect to Jesus.

Once we have been drawn into relationship, once we have been transformed to love God and others more than self, once we have found our niche in serving God, then and only then can we say we follow Jesus. May we all choose the hard and narrow way of Jesus today. It is through the Lord that we find the life truly worth living. Blessings on your journey.


1 Comment

Invitation

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.

Lent is a season of fasting and self-denial. It is the season when we are invited to look within and to surrender all that keeps us from being fully committed to God. In general, the things of the men, the things that culture values, keep us separated. In today’s passage, Peter is a good example of this. After Jesus tells the disciples that He will soon be rejected and killed, Peter pulls Him aside to protest such a thing happening. Jesus then rebukes Peter, saying to him, “Get behind me Satan”! The future rock of the church is being called Satan. But Jesus goes on. He knows that the human Peter missed the “after three days rise again” part of the story. Sadly Jesus says to him, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”. Peter wanted Jesus to stay with them. He wanted to hold onto the familiar and comfortable. Peter is not alone.

The season of Lent with all of its fasting and self-denial and surrender continues to run counter to our human desires and to our culture and its values. In a culture that preaches “just do it” and “do it if it makes you feel good” the idea of Lent is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is no wonder so many of us struggle with Lent. Ultimately, though, Lent is a season all about grace and holiness. As we look within, God invites us to be more like Jesus. As we look outside of ourselves, God invites live out His grace and love. In these ways, Lent is an invitation not a requirement. It is an invitation to be a better follower, to live out a more holy and faithful life. And, yes, if we accept the invitation, it will bring some discomfort – it is a harder journey.

As God invites us to search within and to step out, we do so with a promise: “I will never leave you”. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we do not search and we do not go alone. In those moments of unfamiliar, the Spirit will guide and lead. In those moments of discomfort, the Spirit speaks words of peace and strength. In those moments when we look within, when it is unsettling, the Spirit speaks words of encouragement and support. Our discomfort, our unease, are invitations into God’s grace and love. They are invitations to draw closer, to walk holier. They are opportunities that allow His grace and love to reshaped us, to transform us. When we choose to focus our minds on the things of God, we are blessed. May this be my choice and your choice throughout this Lenten season. Amen!