pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Led by Compassion

Reading: Luke 10: 29-37

Verse 36: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers”?

Traditions and stereotypes are great influencers. They are a part of life. Growing up we inherit and learn about the world and people around us from our parents and families. Systems and institutions also influence us as we begin to go to school… These influencers can be good and they can be bad. We can learn to be compassionate and generous, to be honest, to work hard, to be a person of faith. We can learn to be selfish, to take advantage of others, to be prejudiced and biased.

In this familiar parable, the priest and Levite both pass by on the other side of the road. Depending on the influencers that we grew up with, their action can be seen poorly or as acceptable. These two men are also products of the families, groups, and institutions that they grew up in. Most certainly they too felt compassion for the man. Who wouldn’t? But the stronger force was the years and years of training and teaching that said to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean. It would break a law. Life for them was all about their position and living within the guidelines of the law.

I too have been guilty of passing by someone I could have helped. The “law” of ‘don’t be late for work’ has led me to pass by on more than one occasion. The “law” of ‘you have something more important to do, someone else will stop’ has also led me to pass by. Stereotypes and being judgmental have also led me to pass by at times. This parable is so hard because we’ve all walked many times in the shoes of the priest and Levite.

We do not know much about the Samaritan. We do not know if he was rich or poor. We do not know if he was a Godly man or if he worshipped idols. What we do know is that he allowed the compassion that all of us would have felt to become what drove his decisions and actions. He invested both time and money in caring for the one in need. We do not know much about the Samaritan, but we do know that if we were in Jesus’ story, we sure hope we’d stop too. It is a matter of choice. The lawyer knew who the neighbor was. So do we. Jesus encourages the lawyer to “go and do likewise”. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord, you call me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. Fill me with compassion for those in need. Lead me to stop and care for those I meet today. Amen.


Leave a comment

Here I Am!

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

As our passage opens, Isaiah finds himself in God’s presence. God is seated on the throne and seraphs are above God. These 6-winged creatures are calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory”. To add emphasis to this powerful scene, the building shakes and smoke fills the space. I cannot imagine all of what Isaiah felt in those moments – awe, terror, pure joy, amazement? It is a scene of absolute power and might.

There, in that moment, Isaiah realizes how out of place he is. He finds himself in the presence of God and all of heaven. He realizes how unworthy he is to be there. Isaiah utters this confession: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. But instead of condemning him or removing him instantly, God sends a seraph to Isaiah with a burning coal in the tongs. With the coal, the seraph touches Isaiah’s unclean lips and takes away his guilt and atones for his sin. God redeems Isaiah. God prepares Isaiah for what comes next: hearing God’s call.

At times we experience God’s presence. Sometimes it is in the church – sometimes on a Sunday morning in worship, sometimes on a Tuesday afternoon in the stillness. Sometimes it is in the hospital – maybe with parents who have just brought a new life into the world, maybe with a family as they say goodbye and send a loved one on to their new life with God. We can and do experience God in many ways and in many settings. In some if these moments, we too can feel a little of what Isaiah felt – overwhelmed and in awe at the holy privilege that we are part of. I always feel blessed and am humbled by the experience. Once in a while, I can relate to Isaiah’s feeling of being unworthy to be in God’s holy presence that has settled on that place or situation. Yet God remains present to me as well.

No seraph comes with a hot coal, but the Holy Spirit surely leads and guides, assuring me of what I am a part of. Whether the prompting is to offer a scripture or a prayer or just to be present or maybe to give a hug, as the Spirit leads, I say in my heart as Isaiah said with his lips, “Here I am. Send me!”

When we accept our place in God’s presence and we allow God to work in and through us, the power of the Holy Spirit takes charge. When we find ourselves with an opportunity to be sent, to be in partnership with the Holy Spirit, may we trust fully in God’s call, joyously saying, “Here I am. Send me!”

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart, encourage my mind and spirit today so that I may faithfully respond to each call you give. Amen.


Leave a comment

A Clean Heart

Reading: Mark 7: 14-16 & 21-23

Verses 15-16: “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”.

As far back as the beginning, God has looked at humanity differently than we look at ourselves. God chose people like Abel, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Esther, David, Mary, Peter, Paul… not because they were the most beautiful or the strongest or the most intelligent. He chose them because of the stuff on the inside – the stuff that is hard for us to see. Sometimes we struggle with this idea. Sometimes we cannot look past the outside.

All groups have rules that govern the group, their behavior, who can be a part of the group… The ritual cleansing laws were just one of many law that kept the Jews separate from the peoples around them. Identity was important. As the chosen people, standards had to be kept. When the religious leaders saw Jesus’ disciples – who were all Jews – not following the rules, they questioned Jesus about it.

In our passage today, Jesus returns to God’s practice of being concerned with what is on the inside, not on the outside. Jesus responds to the leaders by saying, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”. This makes perfect sense. But it disrupts the status quo. But it makes sense. Eating with unclean hands does not make one more or less likely to sin. Drinking coffee instead of tea does not increase or decrease one’s ability to resist temptation. In verse 17, Jesus points out that whatever we eat or drink “doesn’t go into the heart but into the stomach”. Temptation and sin reside in the heart.

Jesus goes on to share quite a list of evils that can be found in the heart. When we allow our thoughts to turn to and to dwell on theft or murder or lust or envy or arrogance or pride or… then evil will surely come out, making us ‘unclean’. The battle to remain ‘clean’ is a fight in the heart. It is a battle that we must have help in if we are to remain in a right relationship with our Lord and Savior.

This day, O Lord, give me a clean heart and a right spirit. Purge all within that is impure. May the power of the Holy Spirit be quick to convict when evil thoughts begin to arise. And may I be responsive to the conviction, repenting quickly. May I honor you, O Lord, in all I do and say and think today. Amen.


3 Comments

Here I Am

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse Eight: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us’? And I said, ‘Here I am. Send me’!”

Isaiah is blessed by his vision of God on the throne. It is an awesome sight to behold. Yet he is also reminded of his own life and that it falls short of the glory of God. He knows he is unclean. As soon as he utters this confession, one of the seraphs takes a coal from the altar. It is brought to Isaiah and the coal is put to his lips. As this is done, the seraph says, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for”. Isaiah is made pure and holy once again in God’s sight.

For Christians today, we have a similar experience. In the house of the Lord, we sense God’s glory as His presence is with us in worship. As we approach the altar, we confess that we too are unclean, living with sin in our lives. Just as the coal is brought to Isaiah, the fruit of the vine and the bread is brought to us. When we take the elements that represent Christ’s atoning sacrifice upon our lips, our guilt is removed and our sins are no more. They have been atoned for by Jesus. Through the sacrament of communion we are each made holy and perfect in God’s sight.

Once Isaiah is made clean, he hears God asking, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us”? in response, Isaiah says, “Here I am. Send me’!”. Isaiah has been blessed and cleansed by God and now he is prepared to go out to serve the Lord as one sent by God. Today we receive the same call. This very day may we each respond as Isaiah did, saying, “Here I am. Send me!”


Leave a comment

Astonished

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 44: “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”.

All of us like order and rules. Having structure to our lives brings us a sense of comfort and peace. When we know what to do and what to expect, it removes the stress and the anxiety of the unknown. I think that is why it is hard for many of us to fully trust the Holy Spirit to lead our lives. You just never know how and where the Spirit might lead.

Peter was born and raised into the Jewish faith and worldview. He, like many of the apostles, we’re steeped in the Jewish faith with all of its laws and requirements. The Jews were the chosen people – the only chosen people. But in a vision God revealed to Peter that all people were clean because all people were created by God. Then, earlier in Acts 10 and just after this vision, the Spirit leads Peter to go to the house of a Gentile. With some reluctance, Peter goes. This is where we meet up with Peter today in our passage. As if to prove that God is still fully in charge we read, “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”. Right in the middle of his sermon, the Holy Spirit invades. Did not wait for him to finish. Did not wait for the altar call. Just bam! The Holy Spirit goes to work and enters people who are Gentiles. No circumcision, no profession of faith, no nothing. What about all the rules and requirements?

The Holy Spirit totally disrupted Peter’s understanding of the world, telling him there are no clean and unclean, no Jew and Gentile in God’s world. And then the Spirit tosses aside the “that’s just how we do things around here” traditions and comes to dwell in the hearts of these Gentiles. Peter and the believers who came with him are astonished.

When we really allow the Holy Spirit free reign in our lives, then we too will be astonished. May it be so today.


Leave a comment

Labels

Reading: Luke 7:36 to 8:3

Labels are a dangerous thing.  Labels are barriers that can inhibit ministry.  Simon the Pharisee labels people.  The woman is a ‘sinner’.  This means to keep away from her lest she make him unclean as well.  Jesus is a ‘teacher’.  He has some good things to share and maybe a few are even applicable to Simon’s life.  But teachers are human, just like him, so they require no allegiance, no commitment, no special status.  And this ‘teacher’ allows a ‘sinner’ to touch Him, so Jesus is almost a sinner too; certainly He is at least ‘unclean’.

We too like to label.  We like to label people because it allows us to put them in boxes and because it allows us to keep them at a distance.  And like the Pharisee, these labels sometimes allow us to dismiss people from our thoughts like he did with the woman.  She was invisible to him even though she stood crying in his own home, right there in front of him.  How often have we driven or walked past a homeless person with a sign asking for help?  How often have we ignored the unkempt woman sleeping in the back pew during church?  We notice them briefly, apply our label – lazy, drunk, outcast… – and move on.

Jesus said to Simon, “He who is forgiven little lives little”.  For the woman she is forgiven much as Jesus restores her to righteousness.  As a new creation she can now go on to love others as Jesus first loved her.  For Simon, he is unwilling to see past a label so he cannot even begin to offer forgiveness for the judgment of others that he had in his heart.  Therefore he will also live others little.

What allowed Jesus to look past ‘sinner’ and to see the brokenness inside the woman?  What can we do to look past lazy, drunk, outcast… to begin to know what is broken inside of others?  The key is in the reverse of Jesus’ statement to Simon.  May we, as followers of Christ and as witnesses to His love, also offer much love to those in need of healing so that they too can begin to experience His forgiveness and can then begin to find healing for the brokenness in their lives.  May we not stop at the label but step beyond the barriers that keep us from sharing Christ with the world in need.


Leave a comment

God Is Better

Our culture has become adept at bending the truth.  We are good at telling people what we think they want to hear and at ‘working’ statistics to support our viewpoint.  It is easy to say this is who we are and then to go act in a different manner.  Larger society has become very gray.

It was no different in Jesus’ day.  The Pharisees came out to see Jesus and wanted to challenge Jesus and the disciples because they were eating with ‘unclean’ hands.  They had not undergone the ceremonial cleansing of their hands before they ate.  The word ‘ceremonial’ is a tip-off.  In the opening line of His response, Jesus calls them hypocrites and quotes from Isaiah about their lip service and fascination with the rules.  We hear “smack, smack, smack” but the Pharisees were wondering who Jesus was talking about.

Jesus goes on to teach that it is not what we put into ourselves that makes us unclean but it what comes from our thoughts and words that make us unclean.  We sin and become unclean when we have evil thoughts, when we utter lies and unkind words, when we engage in immoral behavior, and when we allow envy, greed, jealousy, and malice into our hearts.  When we work to be holy and to live a righteous life and to keep evil far away, then we are right with God and we are ‘clean’.

People today are pretty good at wading through the smoke screens and half-truths served up so commonly today.  And we must make no mistake about it – God is pretty good at it too.  We cannot fool God.  When we come before Him with sin in our lives – and sinful we are – we must confess, repent, and seek His strength for the battle.  In His great love we find mercy and grace.  He refines us and gives us strength.  Allow Him in, lean on Him a little more, hear His voice, and go forth in Christ, seeking a closer walk with God.

Scripture reference: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, and 21-23