pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faithful Love, Great Redemption

Reading: Psalm 130: 3-8

Verse 7: “Wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As we began yesterday in Psalm 130, we looked at God’s response to our supplications. We do like God to respond quickly! Today the Psalm shifts by first pondering what it would be like if God “kept track of sins”. I know that heaven will be glorious and amazing and far beyond all of my imagination. But is it big enough to house that much record keeping? It is a short ponder. In verse four we are reminded, “forgiveness is with you”. God doesn’t keep track of our sins.

What then prevents us (and others) from taking our prayers for forgiveness to God? What causes us to hold onto our sin and the shame that often accompanies it? Sometimes, honestly, we are enjoying our sin and aren’t quite ready to give it up. It’s hard to sincerely ask for forgiveness when we’re planning to continue sinning and when we’re not repentant. Sometimes even when we are ready to die to self and to allow that sin to pass, still we are unable to bring it to God. We feel too unworthy or we feel God too holy to enter his presence. We think God cannot forgive the great sin we’ve committed. And then some of us have a hard time admitting when we’re wrong, so humility is also required.

Whatever is holding us back, whatever is keeping us from God’s salvation is within us. God never withholds or keeps his love from us. In those moments, may we remember these words and emotions of the psalmist: “My whole being hopes… waits for God’s promise”. Sometimes we need to remember that God’s love is unconditional, his promises are unending. These truths will draw us back towards right relationship with God. Remembering this we offer our repentance and receive pardon. This is ever true because “faithful love is with the Lord… great redemption is with our God”. Thanks be to God for his great grace and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, I know you do not keep track of my sins and I am so thankful. The imperfect being that I am recognizes my need for your grace and love, for your mercy and forgiveness. Thank you for creating me to be in relationship with you and for ever drawing me back into that relationship. Your love is amazing! Amen.


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Emptied

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-9

Verse 7: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”.

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Paul begins chapter two in his letter to the church in Philippi with an invitation to “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” with Jesus Christ. Paul encourages the church to “look not only to your own interests” and invites them to this: “in humility consider others better than yourselves”. These are the ideas and invitations that proceed our reading for today. In today’s passage Paul calls on us to have the attitude of Christ.

Speaking of the incarnation Paul begins by reminding us that Jesus gave up his divinity, his “equality with God”. Jesus made the choice to be like us: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”. Instead of coming as the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, almighty God that he was and is, Jesus emptied himself of all this and came in human form. Jesus humbled himself to walk as one of us.

The act of emptying oneself is something we are called to, especially during Lent. The ongoing invitation in the season of Lent is to look within, to find that which limits our obedience to God, and to die to these things. Jesus gave up much to be like us. We are asked to do the same for him: give up our human rights, wants, desires… to be like Christ.

So on this last Friday in March, as we stand on the edge of Holy Week, we ask ourselves: What do I need to empty from my life to be more like Jesus Christ? What do I need to die to so that I can serve him better? How will I let these parts of me go?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to that within me that keeps me from walking closer to you. Give me the courage to look within, whether deeply or in the shallow end. Elevate the voice of the Holy Spirit to speak truth into my soul. Make me more like Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Willing to Die?

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 24: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

Our passage begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are probably in town for the Passover and are curious about this man. Perhaps they were in the crowd that waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”! Maybe they’ve just heard a few stories – snipets of his teachings or whispers of miracles. These Greeks know enough to want to know more.

Jesus begins by announcing that his time has come. Soon he will be glorified. Jesus wants them to know that not only he will soon die but that all who follow will also pay a price as well. In verse 24 Jesus says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”. Jesus is paralleling his physical death with the emotional, cultural, spiritual… deaths that all followers of Christ are called to. During the season of Lent the question that Jesus might ask of us today is this: What kernels of wheat do we need to allow to fall to the ground? Is it being greedy with my money? Is it being selfish with my time? Is it judging those who are different than me? What is your kernel of wheat that you need to let go of so that you and those you meet can experience true life?

As a society we have come to see humility and death as the enemies – physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. We do all we can to stave off death. This is the right and godly thing to do with a child or young parent or many others. Yet for each of us there comes a time when our physical death is a welcome friend. As a society we look down on humility. Instead we are taught to be strong, to be independent, to work for success in life. We’re taught that once we accumulate these things, all will be good. Until we do. Then we learn that meaning and purpose and love and contentment and peace and joy and hope cannot be earned or bought. Living as a person of the world, these eternal gifts are elusive.

We must be willing to die to pride, fear, arrogance, anxiety, selfishness, doubt, greed, lust, envy, racism, jealousy, judging, anger, prejudice, worry, elitism, injustice… as we seek to follow Jesus. As Jesus says in verse 25, we must “hate his [or her] life in this world”. Only then will we be willing and able to die to self and to begin to walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ, following him daily and one day into eternal life. May you and I be willing to do the hard work of this call to die to self. May the Lord bless our journeys.

Prayer: Loving God, your Spirit leads and guides me daily, holding up to me those kernels that still need to die. I’ve plucked off leaves now and then. Help me to get to the roots. For those things that still separate me from you and from others, grant me the strength to die to these barriers and sins. Thank you God. Amen.


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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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Questionable

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”.

Photo credit: Taylor Smith

Paul is writing in today’s passage to a church that needs some words of wisdom concerning the idea of a crucified Messiah. These last two words just don’t make sense, they just do not fit together in many people’s minds. For Paul this is the overall message of the cross: Jesus died for you and for me. To those who believe that Jesus loved us enough to die for us, the cross offers the power of salvation and of eternal life. But if you cannot wrap your head around that gift and what it means and gives to the believer, then placing one’s trust and life in Jesus’ hands makes no sense.

In verse 23 Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”. The Jews, for the most part, saw Jesus as a good teacher, as one that inspired many people to a better life, as one who even did some amazing things (miracles). But Jesus was not the Messiah that they envisioned. A real Messiah would never allow himself to be crucified. A real king would not eat with sinners, heal on the Sabbath, regularly engage the outcasts and unclean… All of these things were stumbling blocks to most of the Jews. The Gentiles (read ‘Romans’ or ‘pagans’ here) worshiped many gods and saw the cross as the place of punishment for the worst criminals. To cast one’s life in with the lot of a mere human, one that died with such shame and so powerless – foolishness!

As Christians living in today’s world, sometimes we should be stumbling blocks to some, foolishness to others. For our Lenten series this year, we are calling this “living highly questionable lives”. Last week I read a story about a high school basketball player. During a game he noticed that a player on the other team was wearing shoes that were not suitable for basketball. After the game he took off his shoes and have them to this other player. To some this appeared as foolish. To others it may have been a stumbling block. But to those also touched by Jesus Christ that night, it was the love of God being lived out in a real way.

As we encounter those who see our faith as foolish or as a stumbling block to their preferred way of life, may the Spirit give us the words or actions that preaches the cross in a way that reveals the courage and strength of our faith in the Messiah.

Prayer: Loving God, use me today to reveal my faith in ways that draw others into conversation. Let me love so completely that the other is willing to look past what at first seems foolish or to step over what may initially feel like a stumbling block. May the power of the cross draw them in. May it be so. 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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Living Fully in Christ

Reading: Philippians 1: 21-30

Verse 27: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.

As our passage opens today, Paul writes of his inner struggle. He weighs going on to heaven against remaining on earth in service to the Lord. Paul opens with: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Living he continues to share the good news of Jesus Christ. But to die is “gain” – he longs to be in glory. At points in life, particularly later in life, we experience this pull. Paul knows that heaven will be “better by far”. Yet he knows that now, at least, “fruitful labor” lies ahead. God still has work for him to do. While some of us lose this perspective, it still remains true for all believers. God can always use us for his purposes and glory.

Paul does not know if he will see the people of the church in Philippi again. Life is tenuous for Paul. The Jews and, at times, the Romans persecute him. He knows that at any point he could die for his faith. The same is true for all followers of Jesus. This reality is what leads him to say, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” in verse 27. Paul knows that the life of a believer is not always easy. Not only is there persecution and suffering, but there are also the desires of the flesh and the lures of the world. Almost 2,000 years later we live within the same realities.

So what does Paul mean by “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”? Part of the gospel life is what Paul alludes to in the opening verses. Faith in Jesus Christ empowers us with the promise of salvation, of eternal life. It will be “better by far”, to again quote Paul. Like Paul, our current life is lived in the here and now. There are gospel implications for that as well. These are mainly to be like Jesus Christ in our daily living. Doing so, we are generous not only with our time and resources but with our love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, kindness, and compassion as well. It means grieving with the hurting and sorrowful and it means rejoicing with the blessed and cared for. It means welcoming the stranger and fellowshipping with the believers. It is a call to live fully in Christ, all the while knowing that to die is gain.

When we choose to live fully in Christ, we too will have “fruitful labor”. In doing so, others will come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. May we each live fully in Christ, bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Loving God, consume me. Consume me with your love. Consume me so that all I say and do and think reflects your love. Guide me moment by moment, step by step, to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


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Each Day

Reading: Romans 6: 1b-11

Verse 8: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”.

Once we take on Christ, we die to self and are made into a new creation. There is a temporal and an eternal aspect to our new self. Yesterday we read about Christ’s defeating of sin and our call to walk in a new way. Sin is still something we struggle with from time to time, but it is no longer our way of life.

In verse eight we read these words: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”. The temporal application of this is in our day to day lives. It is living each day following Jesus and modeling the love for God and others and the obedience to God that both exemplified his life. It is living with hope and peace, with joy and contentment, with trust and assurance. A life lived in Christ reflects him to others. The eternal application is that one day we will live eternally with Jesus Christ – if we live day to day with him now. Professing and living with Jesus as Lord of your life on earth is intertwined with a life in eternal glory. Now, there is no set number of days one must live as a follower of Jesus Christ in order to enter heaven. In Luke 23 we see that the thief on the cross only followed for a few hours. But once we know Jesus – who he is and who he can be in our lives – it is then that following becomes becomes the requisite for both life here and for entrance into the life to come. May we each live fully with Christ today!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to walk closer with you. Guide my heart and mind to be in tune with yours. Draw me ever more obedient to your example, to your love and grace. Amen.


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Daily Made New

Reading: 1 Peter 3: 13-22

Verse 21: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… the pledge of a good conscience toward God”.

Peter touches a little bit on the idea of being saved through the water in today’s passage. In verse twenty he recalls Noah and family and how they were saved through the water. They were saved but all others perished as God, in a way, started over. In the next verse Peter speaks of baptism, using the story of Noah as a metaphor for baptism. In verse 21 he writes, “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… the pledge of a good conscience toward God”. Our journey of salvation begins as we “enter” the family of God. For many traditions this begins with infant baptism. For some water is also used in infant dedication. Both of these practices acknowledge that the child or person is a child of God and the process invites the Holy Spirit to be a part of that new life in Christ.

Baptism in the early church was also very symbolic. It was a part of the profession of faith. Adults and often their children would profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and then they would be baptized. Just as with Noah, the waters that they were immersed in were seen as cleansing – the waters would wash away the old self and one would emerge as a “new creation” in Christ. The Holy Spirit would be a part of the process – sometimes falling upon the person, leading them to be baptized, and sometimes it would fall upon them after being baptized, as it did with Jesus. As is the case with baptism today, the event marked the beginning of the faith journey. That is the “pledge” part of today’s key verse. It was not ever about just being made clean and then being done with it. The battle with sin does not end in this lifetime. The act of dying to self begun in baptism is one repeated over and over. Our journey of faith continues forever.

Peter connects baptism to salvation. Once we profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are “saved”. Our souls are saved for heaven. “Saved” becomes our status. Part of our salvation is justification and part of it is sanctification. Justification is simply being made right with God. Each time we come to God and confess and repent, we are being justified as we are forgiven and made new again. Sanctification is being made more like Jesus. As we wrestle with sin and continue to die to self over and over, we are becoming more and more like Jesus. These two processes are constant parts of our journey of faith. All of this is done in and through Christ. Thanks be to God that daily we are being made more like Jesus.

Prayer: Living God, just as you are alive, so too is my faith. In the living and the dying, my faith is always growing, being refined, shaping me into your son’s image. Thank you that I am a work in progress. Work in me today and every day. Amen.