pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 50: 3-6

Verse 3: “Our God will come and will not be silent”.

Photo credit: Bill Oxford

The reality of God is on full display in these verses from Psalm 50. While we prefer to avoid this truth about God, in fact he will one day judge us all. Whether we stand or kneel before him all by ourselves or whether we come to the throne of judgment following the rapture or the final days, we will all find ourselves in the place of judgment. The psalmist opens with “Our God will come and will not be silent”. The creator of this world and all that is in it has the right to determine our worthiness to enter his perfect eternity. God will not be silent on that day.

Continuing into verse four the psalmist declares that God will indeed “judge his people”. As the fire devours some, God will bring before him the “consecrated ones” – those who chose to enter the covenant to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Ultimately the comparison will be made with Jesus, the one who came and showed us what it means, what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that we are. We have no better example. While God does not expect us to be perfect, to never sin, to always get it just right, God does expect us to strive to be more like Christ, to resist sin, and to ever answer and follow the call of the Holy Spirit. To use a John Wesley term, we are ever “going on to perfection”. Day by day we are to seek to grow in our love of God and in our love of neighbor, coming closer and closer to the perfection that we find in Jesus Christ so that one day we may be perfected.

The day and hour remain unknown. One day the righteous one will come, God himself as judge. As we consider the condition of our soul and as we ponder our daily walk with Jesus, where will we be judged worthy? Where are we still falling short? Day by day may we honor the covenant more and more, ever bringing increasing glory to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

Prayer: Lord God, walking day by day with you is such a joy. Yet some days I fail to love you completely. Other days I fail to love my neighbor as Jesus would have loved them. Each day become more of me so that I may reflect more of you to the world. Grow in me so that I may grow in you. Amen.


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Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse 9: “He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever”.

Photo credit: Oscar Ivan Esquivel Artega

In the second half of Psalm 111 the focus shifts from the great works of God to the everlasting nature of God’s love. In verse seven the psalmist declares that God’s precepts or ways are trustworthy and are steadfast “for ever and ever”. Then in verse nine the writer speaks of the redemption that God provided as “he ordained his covenant forever”. Forever is always the nature of God’s covenants. They are not like a contract – that which we prefer. Contracts can be broken, renegotiated, bought out… when we no longer want to live under that arrangement. Not so with a covenant. God’s covenant states that he will be our God, our love, our hope forever. No matter what.

Marriage would be the closest thing we have to a covenant relationship. As one takes their marriage vows, one gets a sense of the forever, no matter what, unconditional love that God offers and gives in his covenant with us. As one says, “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…” they are really saying “forever” in terms of this earthly relationship. Marriage is an earthly relationship that models our eternal relationship with God. In fact, husband-wife and groom-bride language describes the relationship between Jesus and church, between follower and redeemer. Jesus chose this language intentionally. It both elevated our human marriages and it placed our covenant relationship with God in terms that we could grasp and understand.

Humans prefer contracts over covenants. They better suit our selfish hearts and our changing wants and desires. God prefers covenants. God is unchanging, steadfast, and true. God has chosen us forever. God created us for that purpose. Even though I may waver, even though I may stumble, even though I may fail, God remains eternally our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, I am so grateful for your “no matter what” love – for the love that is always there for me. Thank you for redeeming me again and again, working in me to shape me and to transform me more and more into your image. Amen.


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Seeing Jesus

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we again wrestle with this teaching. In the agriculturally based world of Jesus’ day, all would understand the need to separate out one flock or herd from another. There were times when you just did that. This practice continues today everywhere farming or ranching is done. For Jesus’ audience the idea of separating the sheep from the goats would not raise an eyebrow. The “why” is what makes his audience pause. It is what makes us take a pause. This makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squirm. It gives us an uneasy feeling in our soul. These things are part of following Jesus.

One of the points of this teaching is that we are to care for our brothers and sisters. In this sense it mirrors the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a familiar command to most every Christian. We do not always succeed, but we all understand that loving all of our neighbors is part of the gig. Today, though, Jesus goes deeper. In verse 45 he says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”. When we have failed to love those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely – the least – we have done so because we failed to see Jesus in them. How could Jesus Christ be in the addict? In the homeless? In the murderer? He is there because each of these is just like us – created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within us. Jesus may not be readily evident in such people. But, hey, once in a while, folks have a hard time seeing Jesus in you and in me. Yet Jesus is still there. We are all and ever will be a child of God. If we all saw Jesus in every single other person, we would be much better at feeding, clothing, and including the least of these. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, fill my heart so with love that it colors all I see. Give me eyes that see you in others first, and only then, to see the hunger or other needs. The hunger… are just things. The person is your son or daughter, Christ’s brother or sister, my brother or sister. Help me to live this truth out more fully. Amen.


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“L” is for…

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

In today’s passage Jesus sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet. His words and what I imagine his tone to be evoke visions of Ezekiel or Isaiah. Jesus is once again speaking of heaven and hell. Passages like this naturally bring to our mind the question: am I in or am I out? Reading this passage I’ve often fallen into these ways of thinking. In my rule-following mind it was and sometimes still is hard not to feel some condemnation when I read this passage.

Jesus is clear in the overall message today. There is a right or faithful way to live with one another. Therefore, there is also a wrong way. The right way is to care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. The wrong way is to ignore them, to not care for them. In verse forty we read, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. In verse 45 we read the result of failing to care for such as these: “you did not do for me”.

Reading this passage we can tend to think: Am I a sheep or am I a goat? The judge living inside of us can easily start to scroll through our lives, weighing the evidence for and against. The ‘in or out?’ question can become a balance scale of sorts. But then I stop and ask: does this align with the Jesus we see in the Gospels? Can you really see Jesus judging you this way when you one day stand before him? This is not the Jesus revealed to me in the New Testament or along my faith journey.

Then what is the point of the teaching? We cannot simply toss it or skip by it because it makes us uncomfortable or because it causes us to wrestle with our faith and how we live it out. In a way this was the underlying point of all of Jesus’ teachings. These words were spoken by the one that always calls us deeper into relationship, deeper into loving God and one another. So what if this teaching is about a way to live, about a rule of life? Jesus was one who sought to connect to the least, the lost, the last, the lonely. What drove him to do so was another “L”: love. Yes, the ideal is to always care for others, in whatever form that may be.

I struggle less with this parable than I used to. Now I see it as the model that Jesus set. I still fail at times. I don’t always feed the hungry… I do not always visit the lonely… But I do strive to love each to the best of my ability and capacity – to the best of my faith. When I fail, the Holy Spirit always goes to work within me, leading and prompting me to love deeper the next time God presents an opportunity. I am a work in progress. I’d guess you are too. May the shepherd continue to lead you and me.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for a heart that yearns to love more each day. Guide and lead my heart to be more and more like yours. Amen.


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Try It

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 18: “The man with one talent went off, dug a whole in the ground, and hid his master’s money”.

In the parable that we will read today and tomorrow, there are three servants. One is not like the other two. One is afraid. He is afraid of failing, of losing his master’s money, of stepping outside of his comfort zone. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus are like this servant. We are given a talent or gift or skill or dream by God and we stuff it down, we hide it away, we try and pretend it doesn’t exist. Our fear of the “what if” and the “what then” are greater than our trust in God.

Sometimes I wish our faith were more like Thomas Edison’s efforts with the light bulb. It is said that he failed a thousand times before arriving at what we know as the first light bulb. Imagine if we “failed” at being Christ’s light and love a thousand times before someone was moved to accept Christ in that moment. For Edison, each failure was a step closer to his goal. Imagine the impact on others that we would make along the way and consider the change that would be wrought in your faith. Actually, we are each just seed planters, scattering faith here and there, trusting that one day it will sprout and grow. It does not matter if we were the first to plant a seed of faith or if we were the 427th or even the thousandth.

Oh, the power of fear. What if that person rejects me or if they ridicule me? What if I lose that person as a friend? What if the pastor or the church rejects my idea for a good pantry? What if… And there are the “what then”s. The pastor and the church said “yes” and the food pantry has taken off – what then? The step into helping with youth has ignited a passion for serving God and the church – what then?

We want a safe faith, an easy faith. We like a faith without challenge, without risk. I would dare to say that when this is our faith, we have a shallow faith, a hollow faith, a faith without much life or energy. When we step out and step up, when we accept the challenge or calling and risk for our faith, then it comes alive. Don’t believe me? Then try it. Follow the nudge you’ve been feeling, share that ministry idea that God has planted in your heart, say ‘yes’ to that role that you are feeling called to. Try it. Give of yourself and see where God takes you. Go ahead. Try it.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the ways and times when you have led me beyond myself and into your plans. As I continue to journey, may I risk for you, for the kingdom of God. Open my eyes and ears and heart to where you are leading. Encourage me to step up and step out in faith. Show me the way. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Living or Practicing?

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verse 36: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law”?

If one spends some time reading the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – one sees that the religious leaders and Jesus did not always see eye to eye. As the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others in the religious circles increases, these religious power holders begin to look for ways to discredit Jesus. As these attempts fail, they begin to plot to eliminate him. Today’s testing of Jesus begins with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law”?

Much like he did with last week’s question about paying taxes, Jesus gives two answers to this week’s question. Often we too ask pointed questions, ones worded just the right way to force the answer we want to hear. The religious leaders think they know the correct answer to their question. And, in fact, Jesus begins with their correct answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6, Jesus gives the #1 answer. From even the religious leaders perspective, keeping this commandment is essential to keeping all the rest. To possibly keep all 600+ commandments found in the law, one must love God with all of one’s being. To keep them all, of course, is impossible (except for Jesus). This aim or focus became the goal for the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees. It became so much their focus that Jesus had to add the second commandment to his answer.

Quoting from Leviticus 19, Jesus adds, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. This commandment takes the love of God and puts it into action, into motion, takes out into the world. Here we begin to see the source of the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders. They were all about knowing and following the laws. Jesus was all about knowing and applying or living out the law. Jesus chose not to live by the letter of the law but by the spirit of the law. He lived out his faith. The religious leaders practiced theirs. As we too face this decision, may we choose to allow the word of God to bring life and feet to our faith as we seek to model Jesus for others.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so much easier to just read and study and even to appreciate the life of Jesus rather than to strive to live it out. So much easier. It is safe and comfortable and warm here at my desk, just down the road at the church. Jesus’ road is hard, it is narrow. Guide my heart to that road. Amen.


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Greater

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 3: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand”?

The psalmist begins by crying out to God. Unfortunately, I did not often begin here. I often ended up there, but I did not often begin there. I ended up there when I had failed or come up short, when my efforts were not enough, when I couldn’t just put my head down and push through.

My tendencies towards independence and self-sufficiency, coupled with a sometimes elevated sense of self, usually led me in the opposite direction of turning first to God. The combination of too many failures and crashes eventually coupled with a growing and maturing faith in God that has worked within me to produce a follower more likely to begin with prayer than not. Hindsight reveals that God has always been at work on my broken vessel.

Along the way I learned that my failures were sins, just as my not coming to God in prayer was a sin. In both cases I was placing other gods before God. The psalmist writes, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand”? This idea comes true when one realizes that God’s love and mercy are far greater than any and all sin. This was shown on the cross. As the psalmist continues, “with you there is forgiveness”. Not once or twice or even ten times, but forever and always. What a wonderful God we serve! May we serve him well today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for humbling me and breaking me down. Thank you for helping me to see that alone I was lost and destined to fail. Please continue to walk daily with me, guiding me to be a servant to all. Amen.


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God’s First Love

Reading: Micah 6: 1-3

Verse 2: “The Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge”.

God is a god of relationship. All of the covenants, the agreements that give structure to the Bible, are all about living in right relationship with God. The fuel of relationship is love. We can see how love fuels a relationship when we look at marriage or parenting. In a marriage covenant we pledge to love no matter what – in sickness, in poverty… When we assume the role of parent we commit to loving our children unconditionally, no matter what they do or do not do. These models are human versions of the covenant love that God has for each of us, his children. But even these human models are lacking. The greatest marriage ever, for example, pales in comparison to God’s love for us.

In the opening verses of Micah 6 we can see that God is not happy. God calls on Israel to “plead your case”. He is calling them to task because they are failing miserably at their side of the covenant relationship. We have all had friendships and even relationships that have not lasted. Maybe it was because of them, maybe it was because of us, maybe it was both. One or both sides came to the conclusion that the relationship was not worth the effort to keep it sustainable. So the friendship or relationship ended. We have also all had or have friendships or relationships that we have invested in and developed and grown over time. They are so valued by us that we will even risk calling the other out when they are lacking in effort or commitment. In those cases we are saying that we love deeply enough to risk calling the other out.

In verse two today we read, “The Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge”. Israel has not been keeping up their part of the covenant. God is calling them to task. It is a love that is unconditional so God calls on the mountains as witnesses to the case. They have been silent witnesses since the beginning of creation as the relationship between God and humanity has unfolded. The people Israel have been disobedient and God is calling them out. The relationship that is life-giving has become like a burden to the people. They have forgotten their first love. God has not forgotten. God never forgets us, his first love.

Prayer: Lord of all, as I think about this passage, I look within and I search for times when I have not loved you fully, for times when I have been disobedient. I find them too easily. And yet you love me, you call out to me. Against me too you could bring a charge. But you don’t. Help me to bring mercy and love to those who I could bring a charge. Make me more like you. Amen.


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As One Approved

Reading: 2nd Timothy 2: 8-15

Verse 13: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are in tune with the Holy Spirit. The still small voice and the gentle nudge are ever at work is us to draw us closer to Jesus and to lead us to share his love with a world in need. The Holy Spirit is like a skill or a muscle – the more we use it, the better developed in becomes. The reverse is also true. If we ignore or reject the Holy Spirit over and over the voice dims and grows harder and harder to hear.

Paul was one to hear the voice loud and clear. The letter to Timothy that we read today comes from prison. Hence his reference “God’s word is not chained”. Paul has been arrested many times, has been beaten often, and has even been stoned and shipwrecked. Yet his focus has always remained on his calling to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Nothing has deterred him. In verse ten we read “I endure everything for the sake of the elect”. It is all for those who “may obtain salvation that is in Jesus Christ”.

If you are reading this, you are seeking to grow closer to Christ. It is very likely that today we will all have opportunity to share Jesus’ love with another. In some cases it will be easy because it is a natural extension of who we are. It may be showing empathy to a friend or loved one. It may be offering words of encouragement or support to a co-worker. In situations like these, we hear the Holy Spirit very well. But we may also find ourselves in a situation that is hard. Maybe our opportunity involves someone that is very different than us or is someone we dislike. Maybe the opportunity means risking something or stepping into a difficult situation.
Some of the time we feel like what is being asked is too much and we fail to follow the lead and guide of the Spirit. Here we recall verse thirteen: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”. God does not ever give up on us. The Holy Spirit continues to be at work. As we strive to grow closer and closer to Jesus Christ, our ability and likelihood to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit grows with us. We too, like Paul and Timothy, are called to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved”. May it be so.

Prayer: Leading God, I fail less than I used to, but I still fail to always be your love in the world. Forgive my failures. Thank you for your unending love. May it ever work within me to make me more and more like your son. Amen.


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A Great Love

Reading: Hosea 1:10

Verse 10: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”.

The people of Israel and Judah have separated and Israel has departed from God. God has decided to mercilessly send them into exile. The sins of idolatry are so great that a consequence is required. The people are no longer God’s people and God is not their God. At times we too get to a place that feels like this. Because of our sin we have created separation from God.

In today’s passage we find hope. God reveals through Hosea that Israel will be restored. The separation will not be forever. God begins by telling them that they will be as vast as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted. This image and these words echo the covenant that God made with Abraham. It speaks of a day when Israel will be a vast nation.

God also connects back to the reference to Jezreel. What had once been a place and event that was displeasing to God will now be where the restoration begins: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”. Once again Israel will live in covenant relationship with God. The relationship will come full circle. Israel will once again be God’s children and God will be their God.

At the start of the book of Hosea Israel was so far from God’s ways that a harsh consequence was necessary. Even though the sin was this great, God did not give up on them or forever abandon them. God did not stop loving his children. The message for us is the same.

Although our sin might be great, God will never stop loving us. It is that great love that gives us hope. It is a love that never fails. Therefore, whatever we might do, whatever we might become, there is still a God who loves us. There is still a God who wants to bring us back into right relationship. For us, for you and for me, God even went so far as to amend the sacrificial system. It cost God his son on the cross. Now, through Jesus’ blood, we can personally be restored and redeemed. It is a great love that never fails. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your love for me is amazing. No matter what I do, no matter how far I run, no matter what, your love always calls out to me, ever seeks to restore me, ever yearns to make me righteous again. Thank you for your love. Amen.