pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Kingdom of Love

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 9: “We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of the temple”.

Today we return to Psalm 48. For the psalmist, for the Israelites, God and nation were almost one. Kings were truly anointed by God and the scriptures were to guide all of life, from the highest king to the lowest peasant. This Psalm celebrates God’s presence with the people and with the nation of Israel. They were God’s “chosen people” and Zion was viewed as God’s dwelling place. Reading verse nine from this perspective, we can see and understand the connection between God and the Israelites. It was an intimate relationship, a personal and communal connection.

On this day when we celebrate our nation’s birth and the ideals that it was founded on, may we first celebrate our Christian roots. May we celebrate our high views of justice, equality, democracy, and fairness. May we rejoice that we are able to freely worship the Lord our God without fear and without threat of oppression. Thanks be to God.

Yet we cannot stop with celebration. As people of faith, we know that all people and all nations are held in God’s grace and are within his judgment. Our greatest purpose as believers and as communities of faith is to fulfill and to help realize Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God here on earth. That kingdom is one that truly practices and upholds justice, equality, and fairness as it values and cares well for all of creation. It is a kingdom ultimately built upon love, not on power or might or human strength. As citizens of heaven first, may we celebrate the freedom we find in Christ as we seek to build the kingdom of love here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. In you I find my identity and my worth. In you is my hope and my salvation. Use me to help build a kingdom here on earth that always reflects your love and grace. Amen.


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Your Plenty

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 7-15

Verse 14: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

In chapter eight Paul begins by sharing about the example set by the churches in Macedonia. Even though they are in a time of trial they gave “as much as they were able”. And they gave with joy. With this example in mind, Paul turns to the commitment made by the Corinthian church. Paul first lifts up the ways that the church excels: faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, love. Then he challenges them to also excel in giving. In verse ten Paul reminds them that they were the first to desire to give to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s challenge now is to “finish the work” – to make good on their original desire.

The idea of giving to a church or to an organization like the Red Cross or to a local mission or shelter is still common among many Christians. Yet our culture, as did the culture around the Corinthian church, teaches about rugged individualism and about striving for success. From an early age we are taught to achieve and to excel and to accumulate. So for some, Paul’s appeal towards “equality” among the churches runs counter to our cultural norms. The reality is that many see “ours” as “mine” and not “ours” as given by God to be stewarded by all of us.

Paul appeals to the church to “share the load”, to help a fellow church in its time of need. In verse fourteen he puts it this way: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”. Give when you can and trust that others will care for you in your times of need. Paul’s appeal in this case is financial. One can also give of one’s time or talents or presence or service. In whatever ways we can, may we each care well for one another, being generous first with our love and then with whatever else we have to offer.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the giver of all good things. You have blessed me abundantly. Open my heart to the ways I can bless others. 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”.

Photo credit: freestocks

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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Hear the Cries

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-15

Verse 17: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the wilderness. They are given a small amount of food and water. Soon these run out. Hagar must have been struggling with this fate – we all would. Why would life have to end like this? What do you think being rejected and cast out felt like? People all over our nation are wrestling with the idea of being outcast, rejected, marginalized. Some are like Hagar, on the inside looking out. Others are on the outside and many are trying to understand and are trying to be a part of the solution.

Hagar prepares to die, along with her son. Both weep tears. Ishmael’s are probably of sadness and loneliness and confusion. Hagar feels these emotions, but more: anger, hurt, unworthiness, isolation, hopelessness. But as they cry, God hears them. God says to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”. Those words – “do not be afraid”. These words are echoed throughout the story of faith. They say, God is near, God is with us. Today is not the end. Hagar and her son will not only survive, he will become a great nation too. God is saying that they matter, that their lives are important to God. God hears the cry of the outcast and the rejected. They are of sacred worth to God. God is their God too.

God continues to hear the cry of those that some see as less worthy, as less than. Jesus certainly heard their cries too. He invited us to hear the cries of the needy, the marginalized. And he told us to respond, to meet needs, to love them just as he first loved us. There is a great need in our nation right now for social justice and equality. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, hear the cries of the outcast and oppressed. And may we, like God, choose to walk with them.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen me for the day ahead. Gird me up to love all people well, to model that love after Jesus’ love. Lead me to act justly and to love mercy as I strive to walk humbly with you. Amen.


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In God’s Image

Reading: Genesis 1:26 – 2:4a

Verse 28: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”.

Our passage today begins with God creating humanity in “our image, in our likeness”. This description says we are to be like God in how we look and act, in how we think and feel. God is loving and kind, merciful and forgiving, compassionate and slow to anger, creative and life giving. While this is just a partial list of God’s qualities it begins to inform how we should understand the rest of our passage for today.

For a long time this passage has been used in ways that are less than loving and kind, less than merciful and forgiving… Did you notice that I used “humanity” in the opening sentence instead of “man”, as it reads in most Bibles? The norm for a long, long time in our world was to read “man” and then to make the leap to the idea that the male part of our species was created in God’s image and that women were not, therefore they were less. Ask most women today if they still feel the negative affects of this misunderstanding of God’s word today, in 2020, and they will affirm that equality is still not everywhere the same. This bias and its impact is slowly, very slowly, fading.

The earth itself has endured similar treatment due to the word “subdue”. Almost all who preach this text will use the words “care for” or “steward” nowadays. Not so long ago humanity looked at the earth as ours to take from as we pleased, often abusing nature for our gain and pleasure. Humanity in most parts of the world no longer strips forests bare or leaves large tracts of land looking like a war zone. As a whole humanity cares better for the created world than we did just 50 years ago. But many scars remain.

How would our world and our relationships with one another be different if we truly lived out our Creator’s image? What would our world look like without bias and prejudice, without racism and hatred? What would it look like if we treated the earth and all of its creatures as if they were our children?

Prayer: Loving God, today these questions ring differently than they would have just a couple of weeks or a few months ago. The call to live in your image is louder today than ever before. May I answer the call well today. May I be your love and kindness, your care and compassion… lived out today. May it be. Amen.


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Model JC

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verses 7 and 8: “Made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient to death”.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to have an attitude that is “the same as that of Jesus Christ”. As mere humans, this is not an easy charge that we receive from Paul. Because he was incarnate (God in the flesh), Jesus’ very nature was different than ours and was far superior to ours. Paul addresses how Jesus chose to handle this fact. He didn’t. Instead of claiming his equality with God, instead of using and exploiting the power within him because he was divine, he didn’t. Jesus did not “grasp” what he could have grasped. If he did, we could never strive to be like him. Jesus chose to walk as one of us so that we can try and live like him. What an example is he!

The two qualities that Paul recognizes in Jesus and calls his followers to emulate are just counter-cultural. The role that Paul encourages us to take on is just as counter-cultural. In verses seven and eight we hear all three. Here Paul describes how Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient to death”. Humility and obedience do not come to us naturally. Just the opposite does. From early on in our schooling we learn to look around to see who got the gold star on their coloring sheet. Early on we are taught to excel and to be on top – to earn two hold stars if others earned one. Humility runs counter to these learnings. Along the way we learn to be independent and to achieve our desires and to enjoy our pleasures. Obedience to God runs counter to these learnings.

Serving others also flies in the face of our general culture. The root of a servant’s heart is found in placing our own needs after the other’s needs. It is giving of self and one’s goods so that another can experience a better reality. This idea runs counter to the stepping on and climbing over attitude prevalent in today’s world. In a small way we see the worldly attitude revealed in the volume buying of some. In hording volumes of goods there is a feeling of security and power. Jesus instead advises us to care for the day and to let tomorrow’s worries remain in tomorrow.

We model Jesus Christ to the world when we become humble and obedient servants. In doing so, we exalt the name of Jesus. In doing so we bow our knee to the king of heaven and earth. Each day may we model well the Savior of the world.

Prayer: O great prince of peace, help me to model your love, your obedience, your humility today. May all I do and say and think bring you glory. Amen.


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Righteous and True

Reading: Psalm 145: 17-21

Verses 17-18: “The Lord is righteous… is near to all who call on him in truth”.

The reading from Psalm 145 reveals two things about our God. In the first four words we read, “The Lord is righteous”. This word is a broad word. To be righteous most simply means to be one who chooses to do what is right. This includes not only doing the morally “right” thing but also seeking justice, equality, and generosity. The psalmist reminds us that God loves us as his creation. Much of our sense of and compassion for being righteous comes from love. Our love of God and love of neighbor drives our desires for righteousness, justice, equality…

Being “right” and loving can sometimes create tension or can even feel like they are clashing. One example would be Jesus’ healings and other actions on the Sabbath. Whether healing a man’s deformed hand or picking grains as they walked along, Jesus’ choices brought him into conflict with the religious authorities. Jesus’ question about doing good or doing evil on the Sabbath got to the deeper truth: our call to love. Here is where we can tie into the second half of today’s reading.

In verse 18 we read that God is “near to all who call on him in truth”. We are each unique and beloved creations of God’s own hands – formed in the womb, loved since that day. Because of our connection to God we can trust fully in God and in God’s plans for our lives and our world. When we are willing to release our fears and doubts, the parts of us that question God’s love and care for us, then we can live the life that God intended us to live. From a place of trust and security we can begin to look out beyond ourselves and can begin to see the needs of others. Here we can begin to address their needs. Often we come back around to working for justice and equality, becoming generous to the poor and broken in spirit.

As we grow deeper in God’s love and in our trust in God, we grow closer to the heart of Jesus. Along this journey we share God’s righteousness, love, and truth with all we meet. May it be so today for us all.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I rejoice in your love for me. I exalt your name for being the creator and sustainer of my life. May your love and righteousness be my love and righteousness. Like Jesus, may I give it away to all I meet. Amen.


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Fear the Lord

Reading: Psalm 111:10

Verse 10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.

To a degree we are all guided by fear. Fear helps us make many of our decisions. Sometimes fear is healthy. If I see a bear off in the distance when I am hiking, I will choose another path. If I fear high places, maybe I keep myself a little safer. If I fear failing my classes, I will make the choice to do my work and to study. In these cases, fear helps us avoid bad or harmful consequences. Fear can also do the opposite. Memories of my parents saying, “If your friend jumped off a bridge…”. Peer pressure is often driven by fears of rejection or being left out.

Verse ten reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. On the surface level, it seems odd to tie fearing God to gaining wisdom. The fear of God is not like a fear of spiders, where we avoid them at all costs. A fear of God is a healthy thing. Often in life we choose to face our fears because of our faith in God. For example, I can choose to do the right thing and possibly lose a friend or a client because I fear denying my faith when I cheat or lie or when I avoid speaking a difficult truth. I may choose to risk loving the other even though I fear being hurt or getting into a relationship that requires much energy and time. I do so because I fear what life would be like without love. Or I fear what will happen to that marginalized person if I remain silent more than I fear the consequences of speaking out against injustice or abuse. In each case, my fear of denying the nudges and whispers of God’s Spirit outweigh or override my personal fears.

The fear of God can help us correctly prioritize our lives. In our first fear is denying God, then our life will look robustly faithful. Our words and actions will be on the side of love and mercy and compassion and justice and forgiveness and the like. Understanding that God and the witness to our faith is our purpose in life is the beginning of wisdom. This day may we decide for God and His love. Amen.


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By What Authority

Reading: Matthew 21: 23-27

Verse 23: By what authority are you doing these things?

Over the course of his three years in ministry, Jesus has built up a reputation as a great teacher, as a healer, and as a man of both the people and of God.  He has loved and welcomed one and all – saints and sinners alike.  The priests and elders have observed all of this and seem to have come to a point of decision.  They asks Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things”?  In their minds they were hoping for an answer that would allow them to easily dismiss Jesus and His teachings.  What they got was an invitation to delve in deeper.  But that would mean change.

Today there is no shortage of need for clarification.  Turn on the television or scroll through your Facebook feed and there are lots of controversies and arguments and sad situations and tragedies out there.  In too many cases, though, it seems to me as if we like to get caught up in the argument or the controversy instead of delving down to the heart of the matter.  Why?  Because it is easier, it requires less of us.  But God expects more.

As Christians we cannot retreat from the issues of our time.  We must stand and be the voice of justice and love and community.  The issues surrounding the flag controversy have deep roots – both in social justice and equality and in the respectful and loving use of power and position.  The issues surrounding any other controversy – the LGBT community, the hate groups, the poverty of our reservation, you name it – also call for justice and equality and respect and love.  But these are not the only things required.  We must also wrestle with the same question: “By what authority are you doing these things”?

Our authority must come from and rest in God and His Word.  As Christians, we must be willing to engage the issues and controversies of our time at the deepest levels.  We cannot answer our call to bring the kingdom here to earth if we allow hate and injustice and prejudice… to exist in any form.  In engaging the world may we live into Paul’s words: “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love”.


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By What Authority

Reading: Matthew 21: 23-27

Verse 23: By what authority are you doing these things?

Over the course of his three years in ministry, Jesus has built up a reputation as a great teacher, as a healer, and as a man of both the people and of God.  He has loved and welcomed one and all – saints and sinners alike.  The priests and elders have observed all of this and seem to have come to a point of decision.  They asks Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things”?  In their minds they were hoping for an answer that would allow them to easily dismiss Jesus and His teachings.  What they got was an invitation to delve in deeper.  But that would mean change.

Today there is no shortage of need for clarification.  Turn on the television or scroll through your Facebook feed and there are lots of controversies and arguments and sad situations and tragedies out there.  In too many cases, though, it seems to me as if we like to get caught up in the argument or the controversy instead of delving down to the heart of the matter.  Why?  Because it is easier, it requires less of us.  But God expects more.

As Christians we cannot retreat from the issues of our time.  We must stand and be the voice of justice and love and community.  The issues surrounding the flag controversy have deep roots – both in social justice and equality and in the respectful and loving use of power and position.  The issues surrounding any other controversy – the LGBT community, the hate groups, the poverty of our reservation, you name it – also call for justice and equality and respect and love.  But these are not the only things required.  We must also wrestle with the same question: “By what authority are you doing these things”?

Our authority must come from and rest in God and His Word.  As Christians, we must be willing to engage the issues and controversies of our time at the deepest levels.  We cannot answer our call to bring the kingdom here to earth if we allow hate and injustice and prejudice… to exist in any form.  In engaging the world may we live into Paul’s words: “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love”.