pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Looking Up

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verse 7: “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us”.

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

As the Israelites near the end of their journey in the wilderness they are tired, impatient, and irritable. Three weeks into Lent and perhaps a few of us grow tired of the themes of reflection and introspection. In the bigger picture, today the source of our weariness and impatience and irritability is the pandemic. As the Israelites grumble against God and Moses, they are expressing these emotions. They long to go back to what was. Tired of their current situation, they let go of their frustration via complaint. This is the fifth complaint story during their wilderness journey. God has had enough. God sends venemous snakes among the Israelites and many die. Consequences.

Like Jesus’ subversive actions in the temple, this response of God makes us feel a little uncomfortable. Our reality, though, is that we have been here too. We have had the tables turned over a time or two or… We have been bitten by our poorly spoken words or via our sinful actions. We too have experienced how the pain drives us to confession and repentance, to turning back toward God. As we look up to the Lord, just like the Israelites did, we find reconciliation and restoration and forgiveness. God is faithful and moves quickly to bring us back into right relationship.

Lent is a wilderness experience, a season of introspection and reflection. In that spirit, let us consider times when our actions have harmed or caused pain for others. Perhaps we are in the midst of such a time. What words spoken have caused harm? What actions have damaged relationships? What words left unspoken or actions left undone have allowed harm or pain to continue? To wrestle with these questions first requires a humble and contrite spirit. On Ash Wednesday we were reminded that this is the posture of Lent – a humble and contrite spirit. It is what leads to a new heart within us and to the place of healing that God so graciously offers.

The Israelites looked up to the reminder that God is in control, to the serpent fashioned by Moses. Today, we lift our eyes to our source of healing and hope, to the one who offers mercy and grace, restoration and wholeness – Jesus Christ. On this Lenten journey, may the God of love continue to sustain you and to give life, even in the wilderness.

Prayer: Lord of life, you are so gracious and merciful and kind. Your love is overwhelming, your patience without end. Just as you continued to walk with the Israelites, walk with me day by day. Reveal to me the ways that I have caused and do cause harm so that I can repent and become more like your son, the Christ. Amen.


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Dominion

Reading: Psalm 22: 23-31

Verse 28: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

The words that we read in today’s Psalm seem far from the realities of our world. The world feels like it is full of suffering. Many of their cries seem to go unanswered. The poor do not appear to be satisfied. All the earth has not turned toward the Lord. In the midst of these continuing realities, verse 28 calls us to a higher truth, to an eternal reality: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

The hope that we find in our faith reminds us that this world and its trials are temporary. God is truly in charge and one day the Lord will be the only king or ruler. All people past and present will “kneel before him”. This is a future scene that one day will come. As we live out our day to day lives, do we simply wait for Christ to return or to call us home? Do we just go through the motions of life and live with the suffering and the cries and the plight of the poor? Should we be okay with all the lost souls?

As Christians in the modern world reading these words written long ago by King David, our role is to connect to that “future generation” and to be the ones who “proclaim his righteousness” and who share the hope we have with a world in need. Rather than seeing ourselves as David and the Jews did and do – as a chosen people set aside for God – may we see ourselves as Jesus saw and lived out his ministry: as one sent into the world to minister to needs, to care for the marginalized, to alleviate suffering. May we, by our words and actions, proclaim that the kingdom of God has drawn near, manifesting this reality in the world. May all that we do and say reveal the dominion and rule of Christ here and now. In and through us, may Christ reign.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to the cries of the suffering and to the needs around me. Lead and guide me to make your love known in this world. Amen.


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The Presence of God

Reading: Mark 1: 4-8

Verse 4: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

As we delve into Mark’s gospel we get right into the years of Jesus’ ministry. The first gospel written jumps right in with John the Baptist. Quoting from the Old Testament, John’s authority is established. John is the prophet spoken of long ago and is the one sent to “prepare the way” for the Lord. John was very different in his approach. In verse four we read, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. He set up out in the wilderness, a place representing the condition of people’s souls at this point. He dressed and ate differently than any other religious leader. His open air, honest, straight forward style was different and was a foreshadowing of the ministry of Jesus.

Many people came out into the desert to hear John. His words brought a quick conviction and a renewed dedication. Many people stepped into the river to confess their sins and to commit to a more devout life. They did so because the presence of God was evident in John’s life. The Spirit if God upon John drew others to want to know God in a more personal, more intimate way. The presence of God could not be ignored.

Wouldn’t that be a great thing for others to say about you? To notice about you? I think so! As we each consider the living out of each day, may we seek to make God known through our words and actions and attitudes. May we be set apart from the world, pointing to the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: God of all, so fill me with your Holy Spirit that all will see you in me and in my life. May your presence abound in all I say and do and think, bringing you the glory and praise. Amen.


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We All Sleep

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 5: “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep”.

Today’s and tomorrow’s passage takes place at a wedding. The Jewish wedding of Jesus’ day was different than the weddings we attend today. The ceremony itself would be at the bride’s home. The wedding banquet would be at the bridegroom’s home. In our passage we find the bridesmaids awaiting the groom and his side of the wedding party. They are waiting to parade him into the wedding space with some celebration and excitement. But the bridegroom is delayed, so they wait into the night. We are not sure why he is delayed. One suggestion I read is that the groom and bride’s father could not agree on the bride’s price – another custom that we do not practice in many parts of the world today.

In our passage we learn that some of the bridesmaids are wise and some are foolish. Some were prepared for a lengthy wait and some were not. For some, this was probably not their first wedding. Some brought extra oil in jars and some did not. This fact will have a dramatic affect on both the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The hour gets late. In verse five we read, “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep”. All ten fell asleep. None stayed awake the whole time. All ten fell asleep.

In terms of our faith, we all fall asleep. Even the most devout Christian has moments or even seasons when they walk in the ways of the world, when they allow anger or pride or some other non-Christian emotion to control their words or actions. Whether just a few minutes or a couple of hourss or a few days or many years, we can all allow or push or choose to lay aside our faith for a time. Sometimes it is almost innocent, like the ten bridesmaids who literally fell asleep. Sometimes it is more planned, more fully considered, more thought through. Sin can be like that.

Then came the call that awakened all ten. Five trimmed their lamps, righted the ship, got back on the narrow path. Five could not. Yes, we’ve all been there – in both scenarios. The Holy Spirit whispers to us, gently nudges us, reminding us of our faith, that treasure in a jar of clay. We return to our walk of faith. But we’ve all also ignored the Holy Spirit conviction and kept on living in sin. We had slept too long and there was no oil to refill our lamps at that point. Today’s story begs two questions for me today. First, when temptation comes, is their sufficient faith to turn sin away? Second, when temptation leads to sin and faith slumbers, will there be enough oil to relight my walk of faith?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder and for the call to introspection today. Daily discipline is essential to continue on the walk of faith. Keep me diligent. Also needed is a humble spirit and a willing heart. Only then will I hear well the Holy Spirit. Strengthen my faith day by day, Lord, filling my jar with faith each day. Amen.


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Opportunity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 7: 29-31

Verse 31: “For this world in its present form is passing away”.

Paul believes Jesus Christ will return at any moment. This is the general view held by almost all Christians in the time immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul’s words in these verses may be a little confusing at first read. Paul’s focus is on God and the people’s relationship with God. There is some urgency to Paul’s words as he states, “the time is short”. Taken in this light, Paul is encouraging his readers not to be too concerned with the things of this world – their relationships, their status, their possessions – but with the coming of Jesus. Paul is not saying to abandon all of these earthly things but instead he is saying to not make them the priority. He wants his readers to first focus on God.

In general, the perspective on the proximity of Jesus’ return has changed. Although it could be today, for the most part we do not necessarily live like it could be. For many folks, Christians and non-Christians alike, the idea of getting to their faith one day – really getting serious – is much the same. Today would be okay but tommorow or, better yet, the next day would be better. Just so busy now.

In spite of this prevelant attitude, Paul’s words are as correct today as they were when he first spoke them: “For this world in its present form is passing away”. Jesus’ return is closer today than it was yesterday and each day that passes we all come one day closer to the day we meet Jesus. Herein lies the urgency for us as Christians. Too often our primary focus is not on God but on the things of this world. This is on a personal level. On the corporate level our mission is just as urgent. In our commission to make disciples we never know when our words or actions may be what finally brings a lost soul to Christ. We may just be planting more seeds, but one never knows. What I do know is this: all should have the opportunity to meet Jesus Christ before they stand before the judgment seat. Who will you introduce today?


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The Father’s Love

Reading: Exodus 32: 7-10

Verse Nine: “I have seen these people”, said the Lord to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people”.

The people have allowed fear and doubt to win the day and they cast a golden calf to be their god.  Being fully made by human hands, the calf has no power.  But it is visible and present and the people want to believe it can save them.  So they offer sacrifices and worship it.

God looks down on His chosen people and suddenly the Israelites are “your” people whom “you” led out of Egypt.  God uses the third person to talk about His children – “they” are corrupt, stiff-necked.  He is like a parent, angry over what a child has done.  On occasion I have said, “Honey, your son has…” or “That daughter of yours…”

Reading this passage makes me wonder how close I have come to drawing God to the place of wanting to disown me.  One can easily look back over one’s life to identify points where or words or actions or choices maybe upset God, maybe made God feel like giving up on us.  I wonder if God ever thinks, “Not again…” because I too at times am “corrupt” and “stiff-necked”.

Even though we may get upset with our earthly children and “feel like” disowning them, we never do.  They will always be our son or daughter and we will always love them.  Our love for our children pales in comparison to God’s love for us.  God’s love for His children is so much more than we can even understand.  In the 103rd Psalm we are reminded that God removes our sin as far as the east is from the west – they are no more.  In Titus 3 we are told that our sins are washed away, giving us new birth, a fresh beginning.  This is how great the Father’s love is for us, His children.  It is a love that never fails, a love that never ends.  Thanks be to God for this love.


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Foundation

Reading: 1 Corinthians 3: 10-11

In the Old Testament, God was the foundation of the Israelites’ faith.  God drew near to them in the pillars of fire and cloud, in the fall of Jericho, in the fire that fell from heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice, and in other silimar events.  God also drew near through the voice of the prophets – sharing the Law and other instructions, plus blessings and warnings.  God spoke through Moses and Abraham and Samuel and Nathan and many other people.

As we move into the New Testament, the foundation becomes Jesus, God incarnate.  In Jesus, God draws nearer than ever before.  In Jesus, humanity could see and touch and talk to God.  In taking on the flesh, God chooses to accept human limitations and ultimately suffering and death – all to draw near to us so that we could draw nearer to Him.  In this, God demonstrates the depth of His love for us.  In this, we see a God who loves us so much that there is nothing He wouldn’t do to bring healing and hope to the world.

Paul came to know Jesus as the only way to salvation and, eventually, to eternal life.  While here in the flesh, God said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.  After Paul encountered the risen Christ, his life was radically altered.  For the rest of his life, Paul worked tirelessly to proclaim faith in Christ alone.  In today’s passage, Paul writes of the one foundation being Jesus Christ.  For Paul, and for us, there can be no other foundation.

When we claim Jesus as our foundation, we choose to stand upon the Rock.  Jesus becomes for us the source of all of our strength and peace and the filter for all of our decisions.  In Him alone we find contentment, hope, peace, comfort, mercy, forgiveness, healing, and love.  Out of this great love for us, God dwells in our hearts so that we can be bearers of all this, bringing Christ to a world in need.  Like Paul, we too may lay a foundation of Jesus Christ in other people’s lives through our words, actions, and deeds.  May we also strive to be expert builders, sharing our Lord and Savior with all we meet.


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Heart Faith

Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 17-18

Paul understood the role that Christ called him to: to preach the gospel.  It was a call he received directly from Jesus himself on the road to Damascus.  This would become Paul’s life work: preaching the gospel.  In proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, Paul spoke from the hesrt, not from the head.  Paul knew that fancy words, the wisdom of the world, even impassioned rhetoric, would never convince someone of faith.  He knew these approaches “emptied the power of the cross” because one cannot be argued into believing.  One cannot be led through a linear progression to arrive at faith.  Paul knew his witness and testimony must come from the heart and not the head.

This is because the cross defies logic and understanding from the human perspective.  Paul writes, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing”.  That a loving father would allow his son to die for the mistakes of others is illogical.  That Jesus came for the very purpose of going to the cross for our sins is hard to understand.  Why would someone do that?  If one approaches the cross and the message of the gospel trying to make sense of it all, then it does appear as foolishness.  Faith comes from the heart, not the head.

Jesus spoke to Paul and gave him directions to follow.  In Paul’s mind this encounter had to seem crazy, really impossible.  “Did that just happen?” would have been foremost in his mind.  But Jesus wasn’t working in Paul’s mind, He was working in his heart.  Ananias was sent to Paul and, in the name of Jesus, healed his blindness and Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Paul was baptized and soon began preaching in the synagogues.  Paul opened his heart to Jesus and the Holy Spirit came flooding in.  From then on, Paul was dedicated to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all he met.  The story was always from the heart, because that is where Jesus lived inside of Paul.

Our task is the same: “go and make disciples of all nations”.  Some of us will do that by telling others the good news of Jesus Christ and what He has done in our lives.  Some of us will show Jesus in our heart by how we live our life.  Some of us will let the love of Christ tell the story as it spills out of our hearts and into the lives of those affected by our actions.  There are many ways to proclaim the good news.  May we open our hearts today, allowing the gospel of Christ to radiate out in our words, actions, and deeds.


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Healing

Reading: Matthew 11: 2-6

Jesus’ response to John the Baptist’s question is interesting.  Jesus speaks of the restorations prophesied about in Isaiah 35: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are healed…  All of these things listed are physical limitations.  Make no mistake, throughout the world people are healed every day from physical afflictions, all in the name of Jesus.  The work Jesus began continues through His followers.  Jesus’ response is interesting because the true healing Jesus brought was for our inner healing.  Ultimately Jesus Christ came to free us from the powers of sin and death so that we could one day enter eternal life.

When John preached in the wilderness, h called for people to repent of their sins and to make straight paths for the coming of the Messiah.  John challenged people to be rid of the sin in their lives so that they were ready to welcome the Messiah.  Jesus’ response to John’s question is about change in the physical sense.  John predicted one who would come to bring healing in the spiritual sense.

Jesus speaks of a healing that I think most often must come first.  Before people can hear the good news of Jesus Christ, they must first have their basic needs met.  It may be one of the physical limitations that Jesus speaks of that is a barrier to their spiritual lives.  It may be a physical limitation such as food or shelter or clothing.  Jesus certainly addressed our call to meet these needs as well.  By bringing healing and restoration in the physical realms, we open the way to healing and restoration in the spiritual realms.  This day, through our words, prayers, and actions, may we each bring healing to our broken world, all in the powerful name of Jesus Christ.


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Love Lived Out

Reading: Matthew 24: 36-44

No one knows the day or the hour when Jesus will return.  There will be no mistaking it when He returns.  Our passage today speaks about one being taken and one being left behind.  The rapture will be the first unmistakable sign.  With all this in mind, Jesus urges us to always be ready.  If we are ever seeking to live a life worthy of Jesus’ example, we will always be ready for the moment He returns.

Salvation is something we do not lose once we declare that Jesus is Lord and Savior of our life.  Once we receive Jesus into our heart, we are saved.  This status does not change.  But for many people, they have not chosen to accept Jesus as Lord.  For some, it is an intentional choice.  They are still choosing self even though they fully understand what Jesus offers.  They are not willing to surrender.  For others, they do not know who Jesus is or how Jesus can work in their lives or maybe how to begin a relationship with Jesus.  In all of these scenarios, all are lost and need to enter a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

One of our primary roles as followers of Jesus is to share the good news with the world.  We do this in our daily lives.  It is both our words and our actions.  In our words are love, compassion, mercy, grace, understanding, forgiveness…  In our actions we are a servant to all, humbly doing for others.  Another role we play is prayer warrior.  Just as Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding for each of us, we too are called to pray for one another.  Sometimes our prayers are general – asking God to help our church reach out or helping us see opportunities that God places before us.  Some prayers are more specific – for a certain person or situation, for God to work in a loved one’s heart, for someone we know is sensing God’s hand at work in their life.

Each and every day may we be God’s love lived out – in our actions, in our words, in our prayers.  May we be love to the world.