pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Through the Cross

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 14: “For he himself is our peace, who has… destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”.

Photo credit: Nathan McDine

As we turn to Ephesians this week Paul takes on a huge issue: walls that divide. Instead of division he invites those in the churches in and around Ephasus to find peace in Jesus Christ. Through the peace of Christ, walls can come down. There are two walls being addressed in today’s scripture. One is obvious – the wall between Jew and Gentile.

As Paul states in verse two, circumcision was the physical sign that separated Jew from Gentile. The act of circumcision was begun in Moses’ time and gave a physical sign that one was a Jew. It was a barrier of belonging. Underpinning this act was the Law. The Jewish Christians still lived under and followed the Law. They wanted the Gentile Christians to do the same. In essence, they wanted the Gentiles to first become Jews and then to become Christians. Paul counters this, saying, “For he himself is our peace, who has… destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”. He goes on to remind the Jewish believers that Jesus “abolished in his flesh the law”. Through his death Jesus destroyed the commands and regulations, uniting both Jew and Gentile through the cross.

Today our walls might not be between Jew and Gentile, but we still have plenty of walls. Just a few are rich-poor, Black-white, Democrat-Republican, American-immigrant. The peace of Christ desires to destroy all of these barriers and the hostility behind them too. Through the cross, Jesus desires to bring all people to himself. Jesus would bring down the barriers. So should we.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, fill me with your passion to draw all people to you. Strengthen me to bring down walls that divide and separate. May I begin in my own heart. Amen.


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News Spread Quickly

Reading: Mark 1: 21-28

Verse 28: “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Our gospel reading for today and tomorrow centers on Jesus’ authority. After arriving in Capernaum, Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. As Jesus begins teaching, the people are “amazed” because he was “one who had authority”. Jesus spoke and taught in a way that clearly set him apart from the local scribes and teachers of the law that usually taught in the local synagogue. Jesus had a knowledge that was inherent, not learned or taught. Jesus, therefore, possessed a God-given, divine authority.

During his time in the synagogue a man possessed by an evil spirit cries out, recognizing Jesus as “the Holy One of God”. The spirit acknowledges the divine power in Jesus – “are you going to destroy us”? In response Jesus quiets the man and tells the evil spirit to come out of him. With a shriek the man is freed from his demon and is made well. This action adds a layer of amazement for those in the synagogue that day. As one might expect, “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Although not possessed, we each have moments when an evil spirit rises up within us, tempting us to sin. In those moments we also bump up against the Holy One – the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In that moment, competing voices speak into our decision. Good and evil vie for control, for the outcome of that moment. The deceiver whispers lies, the Spirit speaks truth. In that moment, do we give Jesus authority in our lives? In the decision, do we allow the Holy One to have power over self?

These moments happen over and over on our journey of faith, many times every day. Each outcome determines how others see us and how they see our faith. As we walk out our days may we do so in a manner that causes “news about him” to spread quickly.

Prayer: Lord God, in each word and in each action, guide me to be attuned to the living presence of Jesus Christ within me. Tune my heart to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Bend my will to your will. Amen.


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Intercessors

Reading: Exodus 32: 7-14

Verses 9-10: “They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them”.

Yesterday we read about the making of and worshipping of the golden calf. Today we hear God’s response and the rest of the story. As God looks down upon the revelry, he sends Moses back down the mountain. God notes that the people have “become corrupt” and that they were “quick to turn away” from all that he has commanded. There is an anger that is beginning to build. The emotions in his voice and the decibel level must have changed as God continues, saying, “They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them”. The first part of this statement certainly remains true, at least concerning me. I am stubborn and willful. Maybe you too? And, sometimes, we might not cause God’s anger to burn, but we at least quicken his pulse or cause that vein to pop out on occasion. At this point in Israel’s wilderness journey, God is ready to “destroy” the whole lot, to start over with just Moses.

As I consider how the people got God to this point, I am cognizant of many times when I have probably done the same. I have worshipped idols. No, I have not literally danced around a man-made image in the wilderness. I have done worse. I have definitely allowed the things of the world to take the place of God at times in my life. I have pursued wealth and titles, recognition and wins on the court – all to the neglect of my relationship with God. We all have our lists. God’s anger must burn against us at times. God must feel like destroying us at times. But the punishment does not come raining down from heaven. We too have an intercessor, an advocate, one who speaks for us. Just as Moses stands between God and the execution of his anger and wrath, Jesus stands between God and us. Jesus speaks words of empathy and compassion, of love and understanding. Some of the time, Jesus probably has to remind God, “I already paid the price”.

In the end, God relents and the journey towards the Promised Land continues. Grace wins. Grace continues to win in our lives as well. Thanks be to God for our intercessor, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, I, like those living in the wilderness, am so grateful for your mercy and grace. Each time I deserve punishment, your love lived out stands in my defense. His sacrifice allows me to be made new again. Over and over. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Now Choose Life

Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

Verses 19-20: “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”.

Nearing the end of his life Moses addresses the people one last time. As much as anyone, he has lived “life and prosperity, death and destruction” with the people of God. He has been their mediator and communicator with God. He has worked and worked to get the people to the edge of the Promised Land. In the previous chapter in Deuteronomy they have renewed the covenant and in our passage today Moses urges them to choose obedience to God.

Verse sixteen is the call to obedience: “walk in his ways… keep his commands, decrees, and laws”. Doing so leads to good life, an increase in numbers, and God’s blessings. In verse seventeen Moses details what happens when one turns away from God. Moses defines turning away as being drawn away from God and bowing down to others gods. The consequence is dire: “you will certainly be destroyed”. Given such a stark difference in outcomes, who in the world would choose the second? Well, the world chooses disobedience. The Israelites did in Moses’ day and we continue to do so today. I think that we have more gods than ever to bow down to today.

Moses then calls on heaven and earth as the witnesses to the choices the Israelites will make. The choice is simple: “life or death, blessings or curses”? It seems so simple. But Moses has been around these stubborn, stiff-necked people for forty years now. He has observed how difficult obedience is. Again, it is at least as difficult today. Yet Moses has hope, both in God and for the people. He compels them towards obedience, saying, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”. May this be our choice as well. May we love God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are life. In all else there is but death. Yet sometimes I choose other than you. My thoughts and words and sometimes even my actions can be of the world. I am weak. But you are strong. Bend me ever towards loving obedience. Fill me with your Spirit. Amen.


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Love All

Reading: Hebrews 2: 10-18

Verse 14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity”.

In the text today there is a clear and intentional connection between God and Jesus and all of humanity. From God’s perspective, all of humanity is connected to one another as every single one of us is a child of God. While we may not be related by blood, we are definitely connected in spirit. In verse fourteen we read, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity”. There are three purposes in today’s text for why Jesus Christ took on flesh and walked among us.

The first purpose comes in this same verse: “so that by his death he might destroy the power of death”. In doing so Jesus freed us from the power of death and also provided the way to enter eternal life when our physical life ends. The second is so that Jesus could be “made like his brothers [and sisters]” so that he might become a “merciful and faithful high priest”. Jesus can now stand between God and us and lean into mercy and love on our behalf. The third purpose is related. Because he walked the earth, in our shoes, so to speak, Jesus can better help us when we are tempted. Jesus himself suffered when tempted. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus can now better help us when we are tempted.

Jesus chose to come and share in our humanity. In the incarnation Jesus demonstrates the value of relationship. In his time of ministry Jesus shows us how to honor and respect all people. He loved, healed, taught, raised… all sorts of people. Some were like him but many were not. That did not matter to Jesus. He treated everyone like they were his actual brother or sister, mother or father. Though not related by blood, they were connected in spirit. In God’s eyes that is really all that matters. So as we encounter each and every person today, may we see and treat them as a brother or sister in Christ. In doing so we enter into relationship with all of humanity. May we love all others as Christ first loved us.

Prayer: God of all, draw me into relationship with all of your children. Help me to see as you see, with eyes of transparent love, full of grace. Guide me to love as you loved and love – unconditionally. Amen.


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Come… Come and Hear

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-5

Verse 1: “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”!

To the world, our passage today sounds just as strange as it did to Isaiah’s audience. In our culture, nothing is free – at least nothing of value is free. Our culture values power and status and possessions – things that can be counted and that can be compared to our neighbors and teammates and office mates. Hard work and talent are what brings success and the new car, house, boat, phone… Free? Why would you want anything that is free?

The Israelites hear Isaiah’s words from another viewpoint. They sit in a Jerusalem that has just been destroyed. The walls, the gates, the temple lie in ruins. The best of the people have been hauled off into exile and those left behind sit on a rubble heap. They have absolutely no material wealth. They are in dire straits. To these Isaiah comes and invites them to drink and eat. The people have no money to buy from him. To their surprise what he has to offer is free. Isaiah proclaims, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! Isaiah goes on to offer what they need most, saying, “Listen to me… eat what is good… your soul will delight in the richest of fare… hear me, that your soul may live”. Yes, the people need actual sustenance, but even moreso they need to feed on the word of God. In their time of trial and fear, Isaiah offers food and drink that bring hope, strength, and a future.

Sooner or later most folks chasing the things of the world realize that the chase is endless. The food and drink they pursue is nice and all – for a while. Then their shiny things become dull or the Jones buy a newer, bigger house or Suzie-Q gets a nice promotion at her job and the race is back on. Peace is never known. A sense of purpose is never quite found. There seems to be a hole that is never really filled. Counter to all of their understanding of what matters and of what is of worth, God too calls out and says, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! God offers what money or possessions or status cannot buy – no “money” in the world can. When we finally become willing, God says to each of us, “Give ear and come to me, hear me, that your soul may live”.

If we have given in to God, we have a story to tell because we have found true life and have experienced grace, mercy, and love. Thanks be to God! Go and tell your story. If our ears have been deaf, may we be willing to step off the treadmill, to humble ourselves, and to bow before the Lord. There and only there can we find peace, purpose, and fulfillment. Trust in the only one that offers food that lasts. May it be so.

Prayer: Each day, O God, help me to lay aside my fleshy, worldly desires to pursue you and your word. Be with me each day and make me more and more wholly yours. Amen.


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Enemy? Love them!

Reading: 2 Samuel 23: 6-7

Verse 6: “But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns…”.

King David had accumulated a few enemies. He ruled in a time and place where conflict with the tribes and kingdoms around you seemed constant. He also had some enemies within his kingdom and even within his own family at times. In a way, each of these were “evil” – trying to take land or goods or slaves or power from the one who God anointed to rule Israel.

King David’s take on what to do with evil men fits right in with the rest of the Old Testament. Evil is to be destroyed like thorns – cut down with the sword and/or burned in the fire. When we move to the New Testament we get a different approach. Yes, in the end, Jesus did recognize the fact that some will be condemned to the eternal fires and to torment. But for Jesus this seemed like a far-off event.

Jesus also had many people who opposed Him. But I don’t think Jesus would have called them “evil” or would’ve thought they should die by the sword or by fire. Jesus’ first reaction to those who opposed or attacked or threatened Him was to love them. He did not see them as evil to dispose of but as sinners in need of saving. They may have evil intents or may have even done evil, but they were not evil themselves. Some did not agree with Jesus’ teachings or with who He chose to hang out with. His response was to love these too. Jesus tried to show them the better way, the way that God called Him to love God and neighbor. It is not a wonder that Jesus instructed us to love our enemy, to pray for our enemy. It is what Jesus did. May we follow His example well.

Prayer: Lord, help me to do what can be hard – to love those who seek to harm or hurt me. Lead me to love them and to pray for them – not to change them but to change me. May it be so. Amen.


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The One with Plans

Reading: 1 Kings 2:10-12 & 3:3-5

Verse 3:5 – “At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night… and said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you'”.

In our passage today, God meets Solomon in a most unexpected place and in a surprising way. In the opening verses of our passage we learn that David has died after ruling for forty years. We recall that Solomon was the second child born to David and Bathsheba. At the time of David’s death, Solomon was the clear choice as heir to the throne. Solomon grew up during David’s reign and had learned much from his father. Once king, Solomon quickly consolidated power. (This bloody and ruthless process is detailed in the verses that our reading skips over.)

In Chapter 3, verse 3, we see what appears to be the two sides of Solomon’s faith. On the one hand, Solomon “showed his love for the Lord” by walking as his father had: keeping God’s statutes. But on the other hand, we are also told that Solomon “offered sacrifices and burnt offerings on the high places”. In doing so he was worshipping idols as he followed Canaanite practices. This apparent contradiction brings to mind the words spoken to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3. The angel tells them that they are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – and that they will be “spit out” by Jesus. In the Old Testament God is always displeased with all forms of idol worship. We expect to next read that God strikes down Solomon and finds a new king.

But the unexpected happens. God meets Solomon in this high place and, in the way only God can, says to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”. To me, this is a little like Jesus coming to Saul on the road to Damascus. This is a little like Jesus telling us to pray for our enemies. In our minds, these things do not initially make sense. But we are not the One seeing the bigger picture. We are not the One with THE plan. As with all things that God has fingerprints on, Solomon will ask well and God will bless him in abundance.

Yes, God could have righteously destroyed Solomon. But no, God had better plans for him. Yes, God could rightly look at my sins and be done with me. But God doesn’t. He says, ‘I have plans for you too’. He says the same about you. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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God’s Kingdom

Reading: Isaiah 11: 6-10

The vision Isaiah lays out is hard to wrap our minds around.  We can picture a wolf with a lamb or a lion eating straw.  But to imagine this and all the other images Isaiah presents as the daily reality for all of the animals of the world really stretches our minds.  When Isaiah writes, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my Holy mountain”, he means everyone and everything – man, animals, plants, nature…

We imagine heaven a number of ways.  Some see a beautiful city with streets paved with gold.  Some see us floating up in the sky, lounging on the clouds.  Some imagine a giant mansion with endless rooms in it.  But even more than what heaven will look like, we ‘know’ what it will be like.  We will constantly be in the light and live of God.  There will be no tears, no pain, no hurt, no hunger, no injustice, no oppression, no sin.

Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray… your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6: 9-10).  These familiar words from the Lord’s Prayer tie into the vision in Isaiah 11.  When Jesus taught the disciples this prayer, He included the idea of God’s kingdom coming here.  God’s will for the earth is peace, love, understanding, reconciliation, mercy.  God’s kingdom vision for the earth is the same as the vision for heaven.

So, what would our world look like if we put an end to all the harm and destroying?  What would life be like for all people if there was no violence, no abuse, no injustice, no oppression?  What would the world look like if there were no famine or drought or pestilence?  We, as God’s people, are kingdom builders.  What are you going to do today to help bring God’s kingdom to all the people you will encounter this day and to all the places you will be this day?