pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Strange Things

Reading: Luke 24: 41-48

Verses 47 and 48: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations… You are witnesses of these things”.

In our passage today the disciples encounter the risen Lord. Even after He shows them His hands and feet they still do not believe. He eats a piece of food in their presence. Surely a ghost would not eat. This very human gesture must have calmed the disciples, because then Jesus begins to teach them. It still amazes me that these closest of Jesus’ friends so struggle to connect what He told them when He was alive to what is happening now. Being scared and frightened does strange things to the mind.

Although none of us lived with Jesus for three years, seeing Him teach and heal and set the example of how to love, we do have many more ways to connect with Jesus than those first disciples had. We have our Bibles. When we wonder about something or have a question, we can turn to the Word and re-read a passage or look something up. We have millions of books and articles at our fingertips, hundreds of which address even the smallest question we could have. We gather weekly for worship where scripture and songs remind us of Jesus and our faith. In worship we also pray and hear the Word proclaimed. Many of us also go to a small group or study group where we go deeper in our faith development or understanding. Yet with all of this even the smallest storm in life can make us ask, “Jesus who”? Being scared and frightened does strange things to the mind.

Jesus meets the disciples in today’s passage right where they are at. He once again reminds them of all that had been written of Him in the scriptures. He showed them how He was the fulfillment of the Law and prophets. He summarized the last few days and then said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations… You are witnesses of these things”. Jesus gave the disciples new purpose and direction. They were to bear witness.

Jesus seeks to meet us right where we are at. When we are scared and frightened, Jesus calls to us, He calms our hearts and minds. When we are confused and quite cannot remember, He whispers in our ear. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, Jesus remains very much alive. Our purpose and direction remains the same as it was with the disciples: we are witnesses. May we go forth each day, telling the story of repentance and forgiveness of sins.

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Resolute

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse Seven: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

Isaiah begins our passage today acknowledging the word that sustains him and shares how each morning his ear is awakened to listen. For those who regularly invest time in reading their Bibles, they can relate well to what Isaiah is saying here. Whether it is early in the morning or over the noon hour or just before bedtime, daily reading of our Bibles leads to knowing God’s Word. In turn, the Word will sustain us over and over. As a result, Isaiah writes, “The sovereign Lord has opened my ears”. Time in our Bibles leads to our ears being opened more and more to God’s voice in our lives.

Time with God builds our connection with God, just as it would with any relationship. Isaiah goes on to write of not being rebellious. This too is our goal. But the reality is that we will sin. However, the more time we spend with God in prayer, worship, and reading our Bibles, the less we will sin. For example, there are things I did and said ten years ago that I now see as sin and strive to do no more. As we mature in our faith the narrow road becomes narrower as we better and better understand what it means to walk closely with our God.

As one grows in the faith so too does our trust in the Lord. In verse seven Isaiah writes, “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”. Isaiah trusts that as he walks in faith, God has his back. This does not mean that life will be perfect. In fact, in verse six, he writes of the abuse and violence that he has experienced because of his faith. At times we too will experience abuse or rejection or maybe even violence because of our faith. Yet even then we do know that God remains with us, helping us through. And maybe we can even get to the place the apostles got to, rejoicing that we could suffer for Christ.

Verse seven goes on to say, “I have set my face like flint and I know I will not be put to shame”. This verse will be echoed in the New Testament as Jesus turns toward Jerusalem for the last time as Palm Sunday approaches. As followers of Jesus, may we also be resolute in our faith, walking a firm and steadfast path, wherever God may lead us this day and each day. Amen.


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Deep Personal Relationship

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-11

Verse One: “I am the Lord your God”.

The Ten Commandments are all about relationship. Initial glances may lead us to think they are about behavior. They are only to the degree that our behaviors influence our relationships. Today’s passage covers the first four commandments. These four deal with our relationship with God. They also reveal much about who God is and what God desires from us.

Our passage opens with a reminder: “I am the Lord your God”. This is a fact. It conveys authority. The first commandment flows out of this place: no other gods before God. God is to be the one thing we worship, the one we look to for all we need, the one who provides and guides. This exclusivity leads into the second commandment: no idols. Initially we think of little statues carved from wood or stone. But this commandment is so much bigger than that. In this way it ties back into the first. We can have many other gods in our lives. God knew this would be a struggle. Our biggest idol is often self. Most of our other idols in some way elevate our own wants and desires above God’s will for our life. In addition to self, our other gods can be power, possessions, control, pride, time, … and these can quickly become idols – things we worship or pursue or place ahead of our one true God.

The third commandment prohibits the misuse of God’s name. With this commandment we typically think of cursing. It is this but it is more. It can be using God’s name to try and help ourselves. It can be selfish prayers. Misuse can also be failure to use. Sometimes we fail to turn to God when we should. Sometimes we do not come to God in prayer, calling on His Almighty name. In this light, the third leads to the fourth.

The fourth commandment is to keep the Sabbath holy. God calls us to mirror what He did in creating the world. God knows our need for rest and to have a day set aside to worship God. All of this is good and well, but this commandment ultimately asks if we trust God. Can we stop the drive to succeed, the need to work, the want for “me time”, and such to simply rest and trust in God? Can we rest in Him, trusting that God has our back?

“I am the Lord your God”. He is indeed. He desires an exclusive, intimate relationship with each of us. May all we do and say and think this day reflect our deep personal relationship with God.


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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.


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gods

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 3-4

Verse Four: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers”.

Paul writes, “the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing”. ‘You can’t see until you see’ is a saying that is applicable as well for those who just don’t ‘get’ Jesus. There are many reasons that the gospel remains veiled to people today. And it’s not that people don’t worship today. It’s just that most people’s gods are not the one, true God. People pursue and worship many things. For some it is position or title or status. For some it is wealth or possessions. For some it is beauty or popularity. Driving much of this is the cultural lie that self is all that matters. Almost anything is permissable if it makes oneself feel good or gets you closer to your idol.

Paul writes, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers”. It is a timeless line. For the most part, the gods are still the same. By and large, people are blinded from the good news of Jesus Christ by the same old idols. Yes, there are new versions and wider variety now, but the fact remains: many pursue and worship other gods. “They cannot see the light of the gospel”. Well then, how do unbelievers come to see the light?

Today most people see you the light through the lives of Christians. Most people are positively affected by Christians long before they step inside the walls of a church. Most new believers first experience Jesus Christ through the witness of the faithful. Sometimes it is through the love and care we offer to others in need. Sometimes it is through the grace and peace with which we live our lives. Sometimes it is by being there when no one else is. There are many ways in which we can share the light and love of Jesus Christ with others. This is usually the first brush with Jesus for most unbelievers.

As Christians, we must also be wary and self-aware. Other gods call out to us as well. We too can stumble over ego and pride and selfishness. We too can be prone to gluttony and addiction and want. Our list of gods is no shorter than the world’s list. So, Father God, strengthen us as we live as witnesses to Jesus’ light and love. Pick us up when we stumble. Help us to hear and follow the Holy Spirit each day. Use us for your glory, O Lord. Amen.


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Worship Fully

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse Seven: “The works of His hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy”.

The psalmist feels all-in to me. He does not just love God a little. He loves God with all that he is. The psalmist declares that he will “extol the Lord with all my heart”. The love is complete and fills him up. He then praises the works and deeds of the Lord: great, glorious, majestic. These are all-in words too. The psalmist then remembers how God is gracious and compassionate, always providing for the people’s needs. Psalm 111 paints a picture of God being totally worthy of our praise and adoration. Verse seven is a nice summarizing verse: “The works of His hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy”. God is indeed worthy of all of our praise and adoration!

Today many of us will have the opportunity to praise and worship the Lord our God. May we enter our sanctuaries and meeting spaces with hearts turned fully to a God who desires to pour into us today, filling us with His love and compassion. May we focus on connecting on a deep and intimate level. Let us not come halfway but fully ready for God to meet us and change us today. Do not allow your worship to just be part of the routine, to just be something you did today. Jump all in and seek God with all your heart. Allow God to fully claim you today as you feel His loving presence wash over you today. Amen.


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Connection

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 to 62:3

Verse Three: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah has both personal and corporate aspects of righteousness.  It begins on the personal level with Isaiah praising God for his “garments of salvation” and his “robe of righteousness”.  God has blessed Isaiah with these things because Isaiah has been faithful to God’s word and because he has been true in his calling to be the voice of God for the nation of Israel.  Isaiah also sees signs that God is at work in the lives of the people.  In verse eleven Isaiah speaks of God preparing the people Israel, like a farmer prepares the soil for a new crop, so that “righteousness and praise will spring up” leading Israel to be restored or to be born anew.

In our passage, the transition from chapter 61 to 62 is where the melding of personal and corporate righteousness begins to take place.  Isaiah writes of Zion – the people of God.  He also writes of Jerusalem – the city of God.  The people are in exile.  As a people of God they seem to have lost some of their connection to God, to being God’s chosen people.  Being in exile can make one question who you are.  After these many years in exile, they long to return to their home land and to Jerusalem, the center of their nation.  Isaiah is speaking of a restoration of both Zion and Jerusalem as he writes, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”.  What words of hope!

In our lives and in our churches today we can experience times like Zion and the nation of Israel are feeling.  There can be times or even seasons when we seem to have lost our way or feel like we are in exile.  God desires to speak into these times or seasons as well.  God still desires to see His people clothed in salvation and righteousness.  If we delve into the scriptures, we will find a connection between living a holy life and being invested in the disciplines of our faith – reading and meditating on the Word, spending regular time in prayer and worship, serving those in need.  It is when we participate in these habits of the faith that we are preparing our soil for righteousness and praise to sprout up.  It is through these disciplines that we come to lead a holy life.  Then God will indeed clothe us in a robe of righteousness that will lead to salvation.

When we get away from being who and what God calls us to be – whether personally or as a community of faith – we lose our connection to God.  Just as He did with Zion and Jerusalem, God remains faithful and continues to call us back to faith and back into relationship with Him.  God promises to be near to us when we draw near to Him.  May we always seek to be faithful to our call to live as God desires, investing our time and hearts in the things of God.  Through the faithful practice of our faith habits, our connection to God will remain strong.  May it be so for you and for me!