pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Limitless Love

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 45: “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”.

Today’s passage is a great example of the growing circle of God’s love. Throughout the Bible we see that God’s love is much more expansive than was currently realized. At first it was just God and Adam and Eve. Then the immediate family grew. It was just Noah and family on an ark, then it grew. It was just Abram and family that headed out, following God’s promise. Eventually the people of God end up as slaves in Egypt. God redeems them and under Moses’ and then Joshua’s leadership the Israelites were God’s “chosen people”. For many years, one was a Jew or one was not. One was beloved by God or one was not. Even during most of Jesus’ ministry his focus was on his fellow Jews. There were hints of God’s love being bigger than that but the prevailing feeling was still one of exclusivity.

Peter was born and raised a Jew, steeped in this understanding of the Jews being THE chosen people. They were all that really mattered to God. And then God’s says, ‘Excuse me, Peter, but…’. In two visions that come in the first part of Acts 10 God shows Peter that his love is bigger. God begins by revising the traditional Jewish dietary restrictions – one of the big exclusivity definers. All that God created is clean. This is followed up by the Holy Spirit instructing Peter to go with three men to Cornelius’ home. Wait for it… Cornelius is a Roman centurion, a Gentile!

Turning to today’s passage, at Cornelius’ house Peter tells of the good news of Jesus Christ. During his teaching the same Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and all who are present. All that God created is clean, acceptable, valued and loved by God. Preparing to baptize these new believers, an astonished Peter declares, “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”. In God’s sight the whole world is the mission field. All people are beloved by God. All people are created by God to be in the family of God. All people.

When I think about Peter being astonished, initially I feel a bit superior. I think, ‘Of course God loves the Gentiles. How silly of Peter to try and limit God’s love’. And then the Holy Spirit convicts me too – slaps me upside the head. There are folks I’d be astonished to see in the family of God. There are times I try and limit God’s love. I too need to better understand the limitless and unconditional nature of God’s love. Like Peter, I am still a work in progress. May God continue to break my heart for what breaks his.

Prayer: Loving God, this day help me to love more fully, to love more openly, to love deeper and wider. Keep praying open the circle of my love too. Your love knows no bounds, no barriers. Make my love the same. Amen.


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Righteous

Reading: 1st John 3: 4-7

Verse 5: “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin”.

Photo credit: Emily Crawford

John begins our passage for today reminding us that sin breaks the law and that sin is lawlessness. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, a life of faith entailed following the Law. Breaking a law required confession and the offering of a sacrifice to God. The Jewish faith had become very legalistic at this point. Keeping the law had in many ways superceded the practice of living in a relationship with God.

Jesus came in the flesh not to abolish the law but to reveal God’s love in and through the law. Almost everything Jesus taught and lived out came from the Old Testament. The ways of God were lived out in Jesus’ life through the lens of God’s love. There was no legalism in the ways and teachings of Jesus. The acts of confession and repentance and forgiveness had become boxes that check, parts of the law to keep, motions to go through. This had already been evident by the time of the last prophets, 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Through Amos, God tells the people he won’t even look at their “offerings of well-fed animals” (5:22) any longer. God desires justice and righteousness instead, for peace to “roll down like a river”. This is the broken system that the sacrifice of Jesus replaced.

In our passage today we read, “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin”. Jesus came to be the sacrifice, to pay the price once for all, to open the curtain that separates. As Jesus gave up his life, the temple curtain separating the people from God’s presence was torn in two. Through Jesus, God became accessible, more present. God’s love had been fully revealed. No longer was it necessary to go to the priest with an animal to sacrifice. Jesus gave direct access to God’s mercy and grace and forgiveness – not through a burnt offering but through a humble and repentant heart.

With Jesus Christ in our heart we are no longer slaves to sin. In John’s words, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning”. The Holy Spirit works within us, helping us to walk a more holy and devout life. Sin is not absent from our lives; in and with the Holy Spirit we recognize it and repent. Through the power and presence of the Spirit, Jesus within us, may we ever seek to be righteous “as he is righteous”.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gifts of your love: Jesus Christ my example and the Holy Spirit my guide. Thank you for loving me beyond my sin and then back into right relationship with you. Amen.


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Partners of God

Reading: Psalm 99: 1-5

Verse 4: “The King is mighty, he loves justice”.

The psalmist’s love of and awe for God are obvious. In the opening verses the psalmist recognizes God’s reign over all the earth as well as God’s great and awesome power. God is exalted over all the nations of the earth because God is holy. It is a good and right thing to have a holy reverence for the Lord our God. Humility is then drawn forth from within us as we acknowledge the might and power of God as he reigns over the whole earth.

In the next two verses, however, we are reminded that God does not just reign with power and might. Yes, his voice can make the earth shake. But his gentle touch can also break the bonds of injustice and oppression. In verse four we read, “The King is mighty, he loves justice”. In our world today this is an odd combination. Often those powerful enough to rise into places of authority have done so on the backs of others and have lost their sense of justice and equity on their way to the top. They become insensitive or even callous to the plight of the poor and the marginalized and the powerless. Not so our God!

Our God loves justice and seeks to stand with the oppressed, the broken, the hurting, the downtrodden. God has always been a protector of these as well as of the widow, the orphan, and the imprisoned. Nowhere has this love been more evident than in the incarnation. Jesus, God in the flesh, fully lived out this love of justice and all who were oppressed or pushed to the edges of society. Providing the example of what God’s justice and love looked like when lived out to the full, Jesus then invited us to “come and follow me”. In our awe and love of God and as our response to our loving Savior’s invitation, may we too be lovers of justice and sharers of salvation from all that binds. May we become partners with God, working daily to bring wholeness and restoration and reconciliation to a world in need.

Prayer: Loving and awesome God and blessed son Jesus Christ, fill me with your love and passion for the least among us. Guide me to those places and people who need to know your healing love and your freeing grace. May I be an instrument of your peace and love this day and every day. Amen.


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Already There

Reading: Genesis 24: 42-49

Verses 47-48: “Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord”.

As our story continues today, we can see how God is orchestrating the servant’s mission to find a bride for Isaac. All unfolds just as he prayed that it would. The prayers and events that follow seem to be fully God ordained. In fact, it is so obvious that Rebekah’s family is willing to let her go with a total stranger to marry a man they have never met. It is all pretty extraordinary.

Now, imagine the events from Rebekah’s perspective. She goes to the well that she goes to every day. Only today there is a total stranger there. Being hospitable she not only gives him a drink but also offers to water his camels. After being asked who you are, this stranger adorns you with jewelry and starts worshiping God. If I were Rebekah, I would be screaming, “Time out”! Yes, this is all wonderful and amazing, but… I imagine she felt like Mary felt when the angel first visited to tell her about the virgin birth.

How do you react when God breaks into your daily routine? What goes it feel like when it seems like God wants to turn your whole world upside down or your whole life inside out? Sometimes it is relatively small – maybe a chance encounter with a stranger who becomes a good friend. Sometimes it is more jarring and challenging – like Rebekah’s encounter. These are the moments when God calls you to leave your lifelong career to enter full time ministry or when God calls you some other task that pushes you way outside your comfort zone. But so often, as it was with the words of the servant, God will speak through a person in our lives, offering assurance that God is in control. As we choose to step into that new space that God is creating, we will find that God is already there, waiting for us to take that first step, ready to continue journeying with us. When the opportunity arises, may we step forth in faith.

Prayer: Living God, where will you show up unexpectedly today? Where will I meet you or in whom will I see your face? Prepare me to walk in faith this day, O Lord. Amen.


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Already There

Reading: Genesis 24: 42-49

Verses 47-48: “Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord”.

As our story continues today, we can see how God is orchestrating the servant’s mission to find a bride for Isaac. All unfolds just as he prayed that it would. The prayers and events that follow seem to be fully God ordained. In fact, it is so obvious that Rebekah’s family is willing to let her go with a total stranger to marry a man they have never met. It is all pretty extraordinary.

Now, imagine the events from Rebekah’s perspective. She goes to the well that she goes to every day. Only today there is a total stranger there. Being hospitable she not only gives him a drink but also offers to water his camels. After being asked who you are, this stranger adorns you with jewelry and starts worshiping God. If I were Rebekah, I would be screaming, “Time out”! Yes, this is all wonderful and amazing, but… I imagine she felt like Mary felt when the angel first visited to tell her about the virgin birth.

How do you react when God breaks into your daily routine? What goes it feel like when it seems like God wants to turn your whole world upside down or your whole life inside out? Sometimes it is relatively small – maybe a chance encounter with a stranger who becomes a good friend. Sometimes it is more jarring and challenging – like Rebekah’s encounter. These are the moments when God calls you to leave your lifelong career to enter full time ministry or when God calls you some other task that pushes you way outside your comfort zone. But so often, as it was with the words of the servant, God will speak through a person in our lives, offering assurance that God is in control. As we choose to step into that new space that God is creating, we will find that God is already there, waiting for us to take that first step, ready to continue journeying with us. When the opportunity arises, may we step forth in faith.

Prayer: Living God, where will you show up unexpectedly today? Where will I meet you or in whom will I see your face? Prepare me to walk in faith this day, O Lord. Amen.


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For All

Reading: Romans 8: 6-8

Verse 8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

As the second half of our Romans reading opens, we are reminded again of how God is in control. We read, “at just the right time”. Not a moment too soon, not a few days too late. Perhaps it was when humanity needed saving the most. Maybe it was when things lined up just right from God’s perspective. Possibly it was a tipping point that none of us can see from this side of the veil. But at just the right time, “Christ died for the ungodly”. That is me and that is you and that it all people everywhere. Christ died for all.

The act of sacrificial death born out on the cross begs the question: Why? Paul answers the question in verse eight: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Why? Because God loved you and me and all of humanity so much that he was willing to send his son to die a painful death. Why? Because the price had to be paid for the sins of the world – mine, yours, all of ours. Why? Because resurrection can happen only after death. It is quite the demonstration of love.

If Christ was willing to die for us while we were still sinners, what should our response be to those we encounter that need healing or redemption or restoration or new life? Should we be willing to go as far as Jesus went to minister to those he met? If not death, then how far should we be willing to go to end injustice in all forms, to break bonds and addictions, to cross unspoken barriers, to offer forgiveness and grace? Should we even have a line?

When Jesus encountered someone in need, he did not have them fill out a questionnaire to determine if they qualified or fit certain parameters. He did not evaluate them to see if they were worth his time and energies. No, Jesus came for all and he loved all. We see this reflected in his death – he died for all. And before his final departure, Jesus instructed his followers to go and do likewise. Today, may we seek to model that same love – no conditions, no qualifications, no strings attached. May we simply love and serve all we meet today.

Prayer: Loving God, open my heart to your love, that in receiving I may give. Bind my will to your will and my ways to your ways. Empower me to love and serve others well today. Amen.


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Spend Yourselves

Reading: Isaiah 58: 6-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”.

In today’s passage, God begins to help the Israelites and us to understand what kind of fast is pleasing to the Lord. It is not the type of fast that matters. What matters is how the fast affects the condition of the heart. The fast God chooses is one that draws the participant closer to God. This closeness leads to loosening the chains of injustice, to breaking the yokes of oppression, to feeding the hungry, to sheltering the wanderer, to clothing the naked. A heart aligned with God’s heart also deters us from “turning away from your own flesh and blood”. A heart attuned to God is a heart attuned to the needs of our neighbor and of the world.

Great things happen when this is how we love God. In verse eight we read, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our faith will become a light that shines out into the world, lighting the path to Jesus. The light will shine into the darkness, revealing sin and injustice and oppression and need. Not only will our own hearts be healed, but God’s healing power will move out into the world through us. Isaiah proclaims that our “righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard”. This makes it sound like we can do about anything in the name of the Lord. In fact, this is what Jesus also promises in John 14:12.

Again, speaking to the Israelites and to us, God promises to hear the faithful when they call and to answer when they cry out. When his people pray, God draws near. The passage closes with the same call – to “spend yourselves” on those in need of food, shelter, justice, peace… It is in caring for and loving one another that redemption and renewal occur. When we do so, God will strengthen our foundation and will repair our brokenness. Isaiah is casting a vision for a future filled with love and mercy and compassion. God invites us to be a part of that reality. May it be so as we work to build God’s kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, as I read these words of Isaiah the life and teachings of Jesus jump out of the words. His love and obedience led to a ministry of healing and hope and restoration. Lead me to give my all, spending myself, as I seek to walk in his footsteps today. Amen.


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The Embodiment

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

God is a God of perfect love. Through that perfect love we are forgiven and made new over and over again. We, humanity, are far from perfect. We struggle to always be faithful to God, breaking our relationship with God again and again. If we were involved in a relationship with a person that displayed these same dynamics, the relationship would end quickly. Thankfully, God is the God of perfect love.

In our reading from Jeremiah, God promises Israel that a new covenant is coming. A covenant is an absolute agreement. A covenant says I will keep my side of the agreement no matter what you do or do not do with your side. In the old covenant God said ‘I’ll love Israel whatever they do or do not do’. The nation of Israel pledged faithful obedience and love to God. At times the Israelites generally kept the covenant, but this was not their norm. Yet God still loved them and remained their God. A time came, however, when something new must come about. At the time of Jeremiah 31, the new birth was about 600 years away.

The new covenant will be different. In verse 32 God reveals that the new will not be like the old. In the new covenant God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. The new will not be based on just the words on stone tablets or on scroll after scroll of parchment. Instead, it will first be lived out amongst humanity. Then, looking at Jesus, one will see what obedience to God looks like. Through Jesus’ example people will know what the intent of all the laws are: to love God with all that one is and to love neighbor just as Jesus loved us. But we do not just have an example. Believers in Jesus Christ also receive a deposit, a gift: the Holy Spirit. The embodiment of God’s laws and ways and love comes to reside in each of us. In verse 33, again God says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. God does so with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Loving and forgiving God, I do not know where I would be without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I read and meditate on your word. I pray daily and worship regularly. But the whisper or the nudge is that first line of defense – leading, guiding, correcting, convicting. Thank you for this awesome gift! Amen.


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Faithful God

Reading: Acts 16: 25-34

Verse 34: “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”.

Paul and Silas find themselves in prison. They were falsely accused, beaten, and thrown into prison. They could have been angry at the magistrates or the people who falsely accused them. They could have been mad at God. Either of these would have been our reactions. But instead we find them praying and singing hymns. We do not know if they were joyful in their spirits, having suffered for Jesus’ name. We do not know if they were fervrently praying for God to intervene in their bleak situation. We do not know if they were seeking the next opportunity to witness for Jesus Christ. We do know that in spite of their circumstances their faith was still very strong and was what they looked to first in this time of need.

We probably will not be falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned today. We might face hardship or a difficult situation though. Maybe there are big stressors at work. Maybe an illness or disease has beset us or a loved one. Maybe we are dealing with a loss or a major change in life. There are many things that can befall us. These trials and tribulations can easily lead us to be angry or upset or to blame God. We often teeter on that line when we face distress. We can also tend to try everything but prayer and faith, turning to these options only when all else has failed. Today in our passage it is what Paul and Silas turn to first.

Paul and Silas are faithful to God and the calling that God has placed upon their lives. They see faith as primary and mission as secondary. All else does not matter too much. Because they are faithful, so too is God. A violent earthquake opens cell doors and unlocks chains that bind. The jailer fears the worst but Paul seizes the opportunity and offers a better solution. The jailer seeks what Paul and Silas have to offer, asking, “What must I do to be saved”? They preached Jesus Christ to him and “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”. God worked in another unexpected way, bringing one and his whole family to faith in Jesus Christ.

Who will we encounter today that will recognize the faith we have? Will we be prepared to share the joy and hope we have in Jesus Christ, encouraging another to believe and to be saved?

Prayer: Lord of salvation, give me a faith that overflows into all that I do and say and think today. May I turn first and only to you in all things – good and bad. Let my faith in you open doors and break chains today. May it be so. Amen.


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Engagement

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 16: “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief”.

Hannah is in a tough spot. She is barren in a culture that places high value on producing children. This is the main purpose of marriage. Her husband clearly prefers Hannah, his first wife, but that relationship remains intact largely because his second wife has produced the all-important offspring. Without any children of her own, Hannah is vulnerable. She would be all alone if Elkanah died or if he decided that Hannah was displeasing as a wife. Hannah’s shame over being barren would have also extended to the community. She would have been looked down upon and usually found herself outside of the circles of women who would gather periodically.

Year after year Hannah has endured Peninnah’s provocations and the cultural shame of being childless. Her situation is no fault of her own. Nearing the point of breaking, she finds herself in the temple. She pours out her heart to God. Instead of seeing a woman deep in pain and in need of comforting, Eli the priest assumes she is drunk. Eli makes a quick assumption. How often we do the same.

We see a person who appears to be homeless and we jump to conclusions about their work ethic or their problems with drugs or alcohol. We see a young mom struggling with her kids in line at the grocery store and we assume things about her parenting skills… These are just two examples of the countless ways that we judge, infer, misread, oversimplify, stereotype… people. As was the case with Eli, often we are wrong. We do not know the person or their real situation or the many circumstances leading up to that moment. But unlike Eli, we usually do not take the time to talk with them, to get to know them, to hear their story. At least Eli did that for Hannah.

When we, like Eli, jump to conclusions, when we quickly label, when we make assumptions, may we pull ourselves up short, take a breath, and connect with that person we have sinned against. May we choose to risk engagement, trusting in the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Jehovah, give me eyes to see as you see. Move me past first impressions and on to honest conversations. Soften my heart to love others as you love them. In doing so, allow me to see you in them and they to see you in me. Amen.