pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 13-25

Verse 25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

What does God expect or require of you? What did Jesus expect of his disciples and of those that would follow him? If we were to make a list to answer these questions, would the list be a collection of things to do or would it detail how to live our lives? Paul is answering these questions for the church in Rome in today’s passage.

The church in Rome was falling into the trap that Paul has been caught in for most of his life. Faith was a form of legalism – of checking boxes and staying within the lines defined by the Law. Faith was not a way of life. To help them understand this Paul goes back to Abraham, the father of Israel, the patriarch of all patriarchs in the Jewish faith. In our passage today Paul points out that God credited Abraham as righteous because of his faith in God. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his trust and obedience to God’s direction. The Law was not even in existence yet. Entering into this right relationship with God through faith alone made Abraham and his descendants heirs of God’s promises. For Paul, all who believe in Jesus fall into that line of descendants. Belief is what gets one in that line, not following any set of rules or lists that we can make up.

Paul defines belief in Jesus as the only action necessary to be “credited” as righteous – being right with God. He wants to be clear that righteousness does not come from following the Law or any other set of rules, but from faith in Jesus Christ. In verse 25 Paul reminds those in the church in Rome and all who follow Jesus why belief in him is essential: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. In dying for our sins, Jesus removed the weight of the Law – that sacrifice for this sin, this sacrifice for that sin… – and he paid the price through his blood. A final sin sacrifice was offered by one for all. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are made righteous before God. In being raised from the dead, Jesus defeated death, opening the way for us to receive eternal life. Both are gifts, given to us without price, without any requirement except believing that Jesus did this for each of us. These is no law or rules that we can follow to receive or earn these gifts. They come through faith alone. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, I am so grateful for these gifts of love – born to the cross and into the grave for me. You stood in my place and took the punishment for me. And you did not stop there. You walked out of the grave, breaking those chains too. Thank you for the gifts of love that make it possible to experience joyful and abundant life now and to enter eternal life one day through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 9: 8-17

Verse 9: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”.

Photo credit: Iker Urteaga

Noah is the central character in our passage but he is far from alone. Noah and family have been on the ark with every other living animal, bird, reptile, insect… for almost a whole year. Imagine being confined to a fairly small space for that long! In reality, though, the current pandemic has felt like that for many. For Noah and crew, the waters finally receed and God calls them out of the ark with the imperative to “be fruitful and increase in number”. The earth must be populated again. New life must return. As they exit the ark, God says, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”. Never again will the whole earth be destroyed by water. A rainbow will remind God and humanity of the covenant.

If the pandemic has not felt like being locked in an ark for you, we all have had other trials and experiences where we wondered if we’d make it through, where we questioned if we’d survive the storm, where we’ve longed to finally catch our breath… As I’m sure Noah and family did from time to time, we have asked why God would allow this terrible thing to happen. This is a questioning born from grief or pain. After these emotions have passed we realize again that death and disease and illness and natural disasters are all part of life. None of these things are God punishing us or the world. At times maybe you, like me, briefly wondered this about COVID. It can sometimes feel that way. At the time of this writing, 2.43 million have died worldwide, with almost half a million of those deaths in the US. This disease has reminded us that we are powerless in many ways and that we can’t totally control everything. In the midst of the loss and grief we have also been reminded again and again of the hope, joy, strength, peace, assurance… that we find in our faith and in our covenant God.

Just as it did for Noah and family, the world as we once knew it has changed forever. We are in a place we never imagined we’d be. Just as the people of Noah’s day said ‘the rain will stop soon’, so too do we think this cannot last forever. We approach a year living in a pandemic. All of us have lost someone or have been impacted by this powerful disease. Yet Noah’s truths remain for us: God is more powerful than any earthly thing and that God is our covenant God. We too need to remember that God is more powerful than anything, even death. God promises to be our God in this life and in the life to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are all-powerful and everlasting. You are in total control and you are limitless. Yet you know my name and even the limited number of hairs on my head. You love me. You call me child. Thank you for wanting to be in a personal relationship with even me. Amen.


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Loving God…

Reading: 1st Corinthians 6: 12-20

Verse 15: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself”?

As followers of Jesus Christ we have a freedom that guides our living. Through Jesus Christ we are freed from the things of this world. Earthly pleasures still entice us, yes, but we find our joy and peace, our very identity, in and with Jesus. Yes, we will sin and one day face death, but in Christ we are freed from the shame and guilt of our sin and we are freed from worry or fear or anxiety over death. We see the things of the world as temporary and we see our life in Christ as eternal. But the freedom that we find in Christ is not permission to do anything and everything, knowing that Jesus forgives our sins. Faith calls us first to holy living and to humble service. Some in Corinth had this backwards. They were confused. Some were sinning openly and knowingly under the claim that “everything is permissible” because of the grace and mercy and forgiveness offered by Jesus.

Today’s passage centers on the sexual immortality present in some of the church members’ lives. Promiscuity and the use of prostitutes were the earthly pleasures that some were indulging in. Others in the church did not think these behaviors were in line with holy living. Instead of simply telling those who were sinning to stop, though, Paul helps them to think through this scenario so that they can think like this for themselves when other issues or questions arise. Paul uses “do you not know…” three times to frame their thinking. He reminds them that their bodies are “members of Christ himself”, that sexual union makes the two people “one flesh”, and that the body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit”. Ultimately Paul is reminding them that they are connected to Christ and that what they do with our bodies should honor him. To enter into sexual unions outside of marriage, to overindulge in food and drink, to lord one’s status or wealth over others, to do other unhealthy things with our bodies – all dishonor our bodies and therefore dishonor God. All of these issues were things that the Corinthian church would wrestle with and through using Paul’s framework. In the end, each issue would come down to loving God, loving neighbor, and loving self. Doing these well, the church brought honor and glory to God. May it be so with each of us as well.

Prayer: Lord God, in so many ways faith is about love. Does this thought or word or action show my love of God? Does it reveal my love of neighbor? Does is reflect a holy and righteous love of self? Guide me in your ways of love. Amen.


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True Light

Reading: John 1: 1-14

Verse 9: “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world”.

John’s gospel introduces us to Jesus in a way that is very different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. There is a holiness, a divinity, a wonder to John’s words. “In the beginning was the Word…” rings with an eternal truth. Jesus’ divine nature is revealed in a powerful way. John wants us to understand the significance of the creator of all things stepping into that creation. The most perfect being that there ever was, the most powerful force in all of existence laid all that aside and became one of us.

Jesus did not come to spend a few years or even a long life just to see what life here was like. He came to reveal God’s plan for what life should be like. In verse nine we read, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world”. The way, the truth, and the life came to show us the way to love our neighbors, to reveal the depth of God’s love for us, and to demonstrate a life lived in total surrender to God. We read how this is possible in verse twelve: “To those who believe he gave the right to become children of God”. This gift came through his sacrificial death. Through death and resurrection Jesus defeated the power of sin, paying the price to redeem us from our sin. Only through the forgiveness that Christ offers can we be made new again, holy and perfect in his presence. Only then can we stand as a child of God.

Thank you, true light, for coming into the world. Thank you, holy Word, for being a part of my life.

Prayer: Dear God, a simple “thank you” today. Amen.


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Unto Us, To Us

Reading: Isaiah 9: 2-7

Verses 6-7: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will reign with righteousness and justice… forever”.

Early in the book of Isaiah the prophet writes to a people living in the darkness and suffering of exile. They are enduring the consequences of their corporate disobedience to God. At the start of chapter nine Isaiah writes, “there will be no more gloom” – the time in exile is coming to an end – and he writes, “in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles” – a region containing Nazareth, hometown of the Lord.

Our passage today begins with these Christmas words: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. The light of the world is coming. Almighty God, born in the flesh, will bring light and holiness into the world, driving away the darkness and evil. In verse four Isaiah again speaks Jesus words, saying, “you have shattered the yoke that burdens them”. The Prince of Peace will give all for humanity, forever breaking the bonds of sin and death, bringing true peace to all who believe.

In verses six and seven we read these words of Isaiah that draw our minds to the Messiah: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will reign with righteousness and justice… forever”. Born of the virgin Mary, conceived of the Holy Spirit, the child is for us, given to us – to save, redeem, and restore us and our world, to be our Wonderful Counselor, to die for us, to rise and dwell in us and with us forever. The Everlasting Father, born of the flesh, comes to be a part of our world and our lives… forever! His birth we celebrate today. Thanks be to God for the gift of Light, unto us, for us, forever.

Prayer: God of all the universe, in a humble way you came into our world. You walked among us seeking to do nothing but give of yourself in love. You left this world doing just that once again. And now and forevermore you rule with love and mercy, hope and peace, justice and joy. Thank you for being my Savior. Amen.


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Freed

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verses 4-5: “When the time had fully come, God sent his son… to redeem those under the law”.

What a passage we have today! In just four verses, Paul packs some great theological truths. In summary: at just the right time God sent Jesus to redeem us from the law and then sent the Spirit to lead us to live as children of God, destinying us for eternal life. It is quite the summary of the good news.

As we draw nearer to Christmas Eve it is a good reminder that Jesus came at just the right time. When God’s time to send the son arrived, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While the example that Jesus set concerning how to live out God’s love is important, the main purpose of Jesus’ time on earth was to redeem us, to make heaven our destiny. This is both a present and a future realityy. Let me say that again: heaven is both a present and a future reality. While we await eternity in the Lord’s presence we live to build his kingdom here on earth.

Paul’s emphasis in the letter to the Galatians is the freeing power of Jesus Christ in this life. In Christ we are made into new creations, freed from “the law”. The church in Galatia was struggling with the application of the Jewish law, the Torah. The Christians who had been Jews believed the new Christians should first follow the laws of Judaism. For example, they wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised and to follow the dietary and purification laws. The new believers just wanted to follow Jesus. This was causing division and strife in the church. Paul wants to end this reliance on the old laws of the Jewish faith. For Paul, being created new in Christ Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, believers no longer fall under the old laws.

Even though we do not live under the Jewish law and even though we are Spirit-filled new creations in Christ, we still live with division and strife. We still need redeemed. Although Christ died to free us from the laws of sin and death, we all still wrestle with sin in our lives and many of us are anxious and fear death.

Our journey of faith is one of redemption after redemption. Even though I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and even though I am led by the Spirit, my old self is alive and well within me. My pride and ego, my judgmental attitude, my driven personality all can rise up and lead me to sin. My old self can ignore the Holy Spirit quite easily at times. Yet, thanks be to God, I am “no longer a slave”. Redemption, forgiveness, grace, and mercy are always ready to make me new again. I am a child of God. I am loved. I am an heir to eternal life in Christ. You are too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for your love that is always greater than any and all of my sin. Continue to lead and guide me and to better atune me to the voice and the way of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Praise the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 14: “He has raised up for his people a horn”.

As we begin the week leading into Christmas, we begin with a beautiful Psalm that calls all of creation to praise the Lord. The psalmist begins by inviting the heavens – angels and the rest of the heavenly host – to praise the Lord. From there he invites the sun, moon, and stars to join the chorus of praise. And then the writer adds the “waters above the skies” into the choir. All are invited to praise the Lord because “he commanded and they were created”.

Beginning in verse seven the psalmist turns to the things of the earth itself. First, he invites the creatures of “all ocean depths” and then calls the lightning, hail, snow, clouds, and wind to join in. Continuing on with the created world the psalmist invites the mountains and hills, the plants, animals, and birds to add their voices to the chorus of praise to the Lord. All of the choir is now assembled, save one. Beginning in verse eleven the psalmist calls for all of humanity to sing out their praises to the Lord. From kings and princes to young men and maidens to old men and children, the psalmist declares, “let them praise the name of the Lord”. All of humanity joins all of creation in praising the Lord “for his name alone is exalted”.

In verse fourteen we get to the culminating point. The world and universe created by the Lord has been assembled. Because all has been created by the Lord, all are connected to the Lord. This very connection calls forth our praise. Yet in the earthly, created sense all of this is temporary. Even the stars and mountains, those things that seem timeless to us, even these will fall from the sky and will fall into the sea. In verse fourteen the psalmist writes, “He has raised up for his people a horn”. The horn is the horn of salvation. The horn connects you and me and all of creation to the eternity of God. The horn of salvation is Jesus Christ the Lord and he alone offers salvation. Jesus offers us salvation from the chains of both sin and death. Freed from all that binds, we are made brothers and sisters in Christ, freed to raise our voices to the one who saves. Freed and created, we will one day raise our voices as we gather around the throne. One day we will offer our praise to the Lord face to face with glory itself. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, what a way to begin the week we celebrate the birth of your son, the horn of salvation! All praise to you, the Lord of all. May all I do and say today bring you the glory! Amen.


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Our Hope

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Verse 13: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope”.

Today and tomorrow’s passage begins with verse thirteen, quoted above. At the time of the writing, there is some concern about the believers who have died. At the time of the beginning of the church, the common understanding was that Jesus’ return was imminent. They thought he’d be back in very short order. As believers began to die before Jesus returned, there arose a concern over the status of their souls. Were they damned to purgatory or worse?

Paul understands and addresses their concerns. Death still remains a great unknown for many people. There is a segment of the population, therefore, that fears death. For others, for the non-believers, death is finality. For these folks, after one breathes their last breath, it is the end. Even among some “Christians” there is sometimes a fear or a concern about one’s final destiny or about the final resting place of a loved one. Paul’s words speak to many today.

For those who believe that Jesus Christ died and rose from the grave, there is hope. For those who believe that Jesus defeated the grave, we believe that death does not have the final word in our lives either. Therefore, we live with hope. Paul writes, “those who have fallen asleep in him”, those believers who have died, will be brought by God to be with Jesus forever. For each believer that passes before Jesus Christ returns, this is the promise, this is our hope. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Christ our Lord!

Prayer: Dear God, for these words of assurance, for the reminder of our eternal home with you – thank you! We know that the timing of our death does not matter. What matters is the saving faith that we have in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. With these truths we live in hope and joy. Thank you for these gifts in this uncertain world, in these difficult times. With you, we both live and die well. There is a peace in our hearts and minds. You are our all in all! Amen.


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Love God, Love Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verses 37 and 39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself”.

The Pharisees loved the law. It was a tool to maintain their position and their appearance of goodness. With the law they could judge and shame and control others. The law could be used to define who had value and worth and standing. Jesus chose love. That is the key word in the two great commandments. Boiled down to their simplest form, Jesus said, “Love God, love neighbor”. The highest form of love welcomes the other, serves all, extends mercy and grace and forgiveness without cost, and is generous with all one has and is. And, in the end, it is not the law that saves us, it is love that saves.

Love saves us because it is greater than our sin. Love saves us because it is stronger than the power of death. Love washes us clean when we stumble and give in to the lures of the world and to the pleasures of the flesh. Love makes us new again over and over, allowing us to continue to be in right relationship with the Lord our God. The love that grows within also extends outward, leading us to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness not only to others but to ourselves as well. Love leads us to see others as valued, as worthy, as beloved children of God. Love leads us to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned and the lonely, to provide for the orphan and widow and stranger. Love calls us to die to self again and again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, the one who modeled what it is to fully love God and neighbor. Each day may we seek to share Christ’s love with others as we bring love into the world.

Prayer: Lord of love, deepen my relationship with you each day, empowering me to be love lived out. Capture my whole heart and open it to all I meet. In these encounters, may others see you. Amen.


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New

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Verse 5: “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said”.

The book of Deuteronomy closes with the death of Moses. Moses climbs Mount Nebo and God shows him the land that has been their aim for forty years. Moses has led the Israelites for a long time. He has guided and taught them, prayed for and interceded for them. In verse four God reminds Moses that this is the land promised to Abraham… This promise was first made about 700 years ago. This is God’s way of reminding Moses that the story is not Moses’ story, it is God’s story. Even so, death is hard, especially after a forty year relationship.

In verse five we read, “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said”. There is a certain factual feel to this verse. I suppose it reflects the reality that death is a fact for us all. Even though we do know this, loss is never an easy thing to experience. Whether our loss is connected to someone’s passing or if it is due to the loss of a job or home or phase in life or of a relationship, grief and pain and mourning come with the loss. In our passage, the people mourn for thirty days and then prepare to move on under a new leader. Thirty days feels like such an arbitrary number. Yes, there is a reason it is thirty days, but the reality is that grief does not always end after thirty days. For some, for those loosely connected to the loss, the grief may not last that long. For spouses and children and close friends, the grief never ends. Time does bring a measure of healing. At some point, if life for the living is to go on, then one must return to the ordinary of life. One returns to work or to caring for the children or to whatever tasks life contained before the loss. A new way must be made. So it is with the Israelites. Under Joshua, the people move forward, on towards the promise. A new era begins.

New. Our faith journey, like life, is filled with new eras, things, relationships, experiences. Grief is but one thing that affects our faith journey. We experience other hard things in life that lead to growth in our faith. Some experiences that lead to growth are good: new insights, new understandings, new depths in our relationship with Jesus Christ and with others. These new experiences, even those that involve loss, remind us that God is ever with us, that God loves us and cares for us, always. In trust we learn to step forward in faith. In those moments or seasons of loss, may we too cling to God’s promises and presence, knowing that we are never alone.

Prayer: Lord God, you are always with me. Even in each painful new thing that has come, I can look back and see your hand guiding, your love comforting. Each experience deepens my relationship with you. In the good and in the bad, you are ever my God. Thank you. Amen.