pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living Under Christ

Reading: Galatians 3:23-25

Verse 23: “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed.”

As we join Paul in Galatians 3 he is guiding people to transition from living under the Law to living under Christ. This is a transition almost all believers make (or should make). This is a very hard transition – harder the longer one lives under the Law. Paul knows this from his own experience. He described himself as a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” The Pharisees were known to keep the Law and to look down harshly on those who failed to keep all of the Law. These folks remain in many of our churches. Yet this All-Star Pharisee was changed and can look back on those days and can write, “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed.” Prisoners… Locked up… No one could ever keep all 600+ laws all the time. One was always guilty of something.

In the next verses Paul writes of how one is freed from prison. Freedom comes through faith in Christ. Through faith in Christ as Lord and Savior we are justified – made right before God. Forgiven in and through the blood of Jesus, we are no longer held captive to our sin or to its associates, guilt and shame. In Christ we are forgiven. No longer under the Law, we fall under Christ’s leadership and example, allowing Jesus to be our “supervisor”, our lead and guide.

As immature Christians we can struggle with this transition. I can remember the struggles I had. Starting to grow out of my parent’s faith and into a faith I could claim for myself, I saw faith as a list of do’s and don’ts. A faith that checks off this box and avoids checking off that box – that is not uncommon. It is present in our churches today. Long time, every Sunday attenders sit in their place for an hour and walk out the door unchanged, unchallenged, uninspired. They came in intending to check that box off the to-do list. Walked through the door and checked off that box.

A mature faith is so much more. A mature faith lives the way of Jesus Christ, not the way of the Law. A mature faith seeks to be changed, transformed more and more into the image of Christ day by day. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, strip away my people-pleasing nature and replace it with a Jesus-pleasing desire. Lead me to a place of full surrender to your will and your ways, O God. May you truly be my audience of one. Amen.


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Darkness

Readings: John 18:25-28 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Verse 5: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.”

In the story line of Holy Week, by Friday morning Jesus has been arrested in the garden, has been found guilty by the religious leaders, and is brought to Pilate in the early morning. During the late night hours Jesus remained at Caiaphas’ house. Tradition has it that these hours were spent in a dungeon. It was a time alone, spent in a dark place. Perhaps this is what we read of in Isaiah 53:3 – “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” During this time, Peter will deny even knowing Jesus. Three times.

In spite of the rejection, the denial, the persecution, Jesus still chooses the cross. Isaiah 53:4 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” The weight of the cross itself isn’t the only thing Jesus carried to Golgatha. As the early morning progresses, Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion. His body will be nailed to the cross in the third hour – about 9 am. In Isaiah 53:5 we read, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” The nails pierced his skin, the weight of the sin of the world lay heavy upon the innocent one. Verse 10 reminds us, “the Lord makes his life a guilt offering.” Verse 12: “he bore the sins of many.”

At noon darkness falls over the land. As our iniquities sit upon Jesus, all of creation mourns. Pouring out his life for us, Jesus breathes his last at about 3 pm. The body will hastily be placed in Joseph’s tomb – the Sabbath begins at sunset. All feels lost. All is wrapped in sorrow and grief. The incarnate one is dead.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for walking this difficult path for me and for all of humanity. You are familiar with our iniquities and suffering. Yet you chose love. Thank you. Amen.


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Living Beyond

Reading: Joshua 5:9-12

Verse 9: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”

The Israelites journey out of Egypt began at the sea, where God parted the water for the people of God and then swallowed up the source of their fear (Pharaoh’s army). Just before today’s passage the Israelites once again crossed over on dry land as God parted the Jordan River. Once across, the adult males are circumcised. This physical act is a sign of belonging, of belonging to God and to one another.

In our opening verse God says, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Forty years removed from slavery in Egypt… forty years of being led by, provided for, cared for in the wilderness… and the shame and disgrace of slavery still remains? Yes it does. The same can be true for us. The grief of a difficult loss never totally goes away. The sting of rejection or the pain of other tragic events is always just below the surface. In some cases, these things can come to define us. For the Israelites, they could only enter into the joy and blessing of the Promised Land if they put the reproach of Egypt behind them. The same is true for us.

What allowed the Israelites to do so? What enabled them to begin living into God’s blessings and promises instead of in their past? The people of God celebrated the Passover – the defining act of God’s love for them. Celebrating God’s love and grace in their promised land allowed the people to begin living in that place. What allows us to begin living beyond our grief or pain or loss or…? It begins as we remember when we passed through the waters of our baptism, when we were marked and sealed with the Holy Spirit, our symbol of belonging. It continues as we are fed, cared for, loved on, redeemed by God. Each act, however small, builds our trust in God. Through faith we are each empowered to step forth into the world, assured of God’s presence, power, and grace. Doing so we can live as beloved children of God, equipped to include others into this amazing family of God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when I get drawn back to that thing – whether it was something I did or if it was something done to me – remind me that I belong to you. Flood my soul with thoughts of how you’ve lived me, cared for me, comforter me… again and again and again. Fill me so that I can step back out into the world, seeking to share your light and love with a world in need. Amen.


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Set Free to Serve

Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-14

Verse 14: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.”

Drilling down a little deeper into the passage that we began to work with yesterday, today we focus in on the new covenant. In the Old Testament sacrificial system the blood or ashes of sacrificed animals made the people ceremonially clean. Through these sacrifices the people were made outwardly clean and could return to communal life. The life of the animal paid the atoning price for their sin. But the guilt and the shame and the regret remained; the forgiveness was never complete. The sin remained a mark on them. Yes, it was ceremonially covered by the blood or ashes of the animal, but the blemish remained.

In verse fourteen we read about the difference made in the new covenant. Here we read, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” This unblemished, perfect sacrifice chose to die in our place, taking upon himself the sins of the world. Jesus’ blood, poured out in perfect sacrifice, washes away our sin and the guilt, shame, regret, doubt, fear… connected to our sin. Through the new covenant we are not only forgiven but we are made new. Our sins are no more according to God. Our sins are washed away; no blemish or mark or spot remains. We are made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. At least for a time we stand as the image of Christ himself.

The new covenant allows us to go forward to “serve the living God.” We are freed to go out as Christ in the world, offering his words of wholeness, healing, and restoration to others. This gift of mercy and grace and forgiveness and redemption is not ours to simply sit on or to cherish for ourselves. This great gift is ours to share, to proclaim to the world. Christ has set us free! May we share this good news today!!

Prayer: Loving and living God, consuming fire, cleanse the sun from my life. Draw me into your deep grace and fill me with it so that I can bring grace out into the world. As I have been reconciled, use me to reconcile others to you and to one another. Amen.


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Set Free!

Reading: John 8: 31-35

Verse 31: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

In this passage from John 8, Jesus is talking about the freedom we find in Christ. In our text today he is speaking to some Jews who has believed in him. Because of some hard teachings they have fallen away. In the opening verse he says to them, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”. To be a disciple one must follow the teachings and the example of the teacher or rabbi. In this case, it was Jesus.

The Jews were people of the Law. The words of Moses and future religious leaders guided all of life. By Jesus’ day the following of the Law – over 600 statutes – had become one of two things. For the select few who could adhere to the Law, it became a source of pride and exclusion. For all else it became a burden – something impossible to attain, something covered in guilt and shame. While Jesus did not come to abolish the Law (Matthew 5:17), he did come to reveal the heart of the Law: to love God and to love neighbor. These two commands were the heart of the Law. According to Jesus, all of the Law hung on these two (Matthew 22:40).

Trying to live under the Law, many were “slaves” to sin. They were always worried about breaking some law and they were ever being reminded to do and be better. This led to many being outside the family, outside the temple or synagogue, outside the community of faith. Jesus offered and still offers a better way. In and through the blood of Jesus we are set free. If we are in Christ sin no longer has the power to condemn. In faith we are forgiven and cleansed, restored back into family. The guilt and shame that kept one outside are no more. Jesus wants all people to understand this gift. Because of the blood of Jesus Christ we are set free. This is the truth that Jesus offers. It is our truth. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are the way and the truth and the life. Your love breaks every chain and ushers me into the family of God. In you is freedom; in you is hope. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Send Me!

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us'”?

Photo credit: John Thomas

As we continue today in our passage from Isaiah 6 we see the divine’s response to Isaiah’s concerns over his sins and over his unworthy status. One of the seraphs takes a coal from the fire on the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips with it. The creature speaks these words to him: “Your guilt is taken away and your sin stoned for”. Cleansed by fire, Isaiah is readied for service.

We too can struggle with our own uncleanliness, with our guilt and shame. In his abundant mercy and grace God has provided a way for us to experience what Isaiah experienced. Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus we can be made clean, we can have our guilt and shame removed. We too can hear, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin stoned for”. Through our relationship with Jesus, God’s love readies us for service too.

God then speaks in verse eight. The Lord asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us'”? This is a somewhat rhetorical question. There is not a whole group of prophets standing before God. There is just one. In the same way, when the Holy Spirit whispers in our heart or nudges our hands or feet towards action, there is but one being spoken to. While the Spirit may speak the same words to many, it is on an individual basis that we must respond. Isaiah’s response is: “Here am I. Send me’! When God calls or when the Holy Spirit guides, may we too respond, “Here am I. Send me’!

Prayer: Loving and gracious God, thank you for your abundant love that calls out to me. Thank you for your unending grace that readies me for service. Atune my ears to hear and my heart to respond when you call. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Live Agape Love

Reading: John 15: 9-11

Verse 9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”.

Today is the first of three days in this passage from John 15: 9-17. Each day centers on love – the defining characteristic of God and of Jesus’ life and ministry. As followers of Jesus Christ love should be our leading and defining characteristic as well. As we begin, let us clarify what this love is.

The word for love that Jesus uses in this passage is “agape”. This is not a romantic love or a brotherly love. Agape love is a sacrificial love – it is a love that places the needs and sometimes wants of the other ahead of our own. Agape love is unconditional love – a no-matter-what love. Other loves can be sacrificial or unconditional when elevated to this highest form of love. But agape love will remain sacrificial and unconditional by its nature.

In today’s three verses the focus is on remaining or abiding in God’s love and in Jesus’ love. Verse nine invites us: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”. Here we get a picture of the nature of this love as well as how to remain connected to this powerful and divine love. God loved Jesus and, in the same way, Jesus loves us. The breadth of this love was first demonstrated in the incarnation. Leaving all divinity and power behind, God humbled himself and took on flesh and dwelt among us. This necessary step allowed Jesus to model what God’s love looks like when lived out to the full. In this we see that love is an action, not a noun. The depth of God’s love is demonstrated in sending Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. This sacrifice replaced the old system. In the old system there was a price paid too, but the guilt and shame remained. The offering of a bird or lamb or cow met the price but the animal’s life could not bring forgiveness. Only the blood of the perfect one, Jesus Christ, shed in sacrificial and unconditional love, could wash away our sin and the guilt and shame as well. Only Jesus’ no-matter-what love can do that.

As followers we too are called to live agape love. The commands to love God and to love neighbor are rooted in this agape love. This day may we love God and others as Jesus first loved us.

Prayer: God of love, the breadth and depth of your love is amazing and powerful. It is both humbling and enabling. It is undeserved yet abundantly given. Use me to model and reflect this love to all I meet. Amen.


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Perfect Love and Fear

Reading: 1st John 4: 16-21

Verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Today we continue in love as John further develops the connection between God and love. In the opening verse for today John writes, “God is love”. It is a simple yet profound statement. It is the truest and best description of God. God = love! John goes on to write, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him”. Now, some may be thinking, ‘Love, love, love, … blah, blah, blah…’. Yes, faith is about more than saying we love God or that God is love. Yes, faith is more than believing God’s grace will forgive anything and everything because God loves us so much. These shallow or limited understandings of faith fall far short of the example set by Jesus.

When we love God and the other as Jesus loved these we allow love to guide all we say and do. Following Jesus’ model, love always places our relationship with God and our relationships with one another ahead of our relationship with self. When we fail to love as Jesus loved we have elevated love of self above all else and we slip into lesser emotions – lust, envy, greed, jealousy, pride, judging… Our sin works to separate us from God and from one another, sometimes even from ourselves. Here the guilt and shame can work to bring up fear and doubt in our hearts and minds. We fear that God’s love is smaller than our sin; we doubt that God still loves us that much. In those moments we need the Holy Spirit to remind us of John’s words that we read in verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”. John acknowledges that our fear is rooted in being punished because of our sin. Here we reveal our humanity. John calls us beyond that; he calls us to “perfect love”. That is God’s love, not our love. God’s perfect love says the price has already been paid. God’s perfect love drives out the fear and guilt and shame, again reminding us that the cross says his love is greater than all of these emotions, greater than all of our imperfections.

This perfect love also calls us to more. As we live deeper into the perfect love of God, our love grows and is refined. God’s perfect love empowers us more and more to do as God commands: love one another. The deeper we grow into God’s love, the more we reflect that love towards others. Each and every day may we walk in God’s perfect love, bringing God the glory as we spread that love.

Prayer: Lord God, when my mind slips into things lesser than your love, remind me by the power of the Holy Spirit just how much you love me. Remind me again and again of your perfect love, of your no-matter-what love. Lead me to walk in that love. Amen.


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Proclaim the Name!

Reading: Acts 4: 5-10

Verse 7: “By what power or what name did you do this”?

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

Peter and John go out after Pentecost and preach about Jesus. They are empowered and emboldened by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. On the way into the temple one day, Peter heals a crippled beggar in Jesus’ name. The man leaps up and begins praising God. This draws a crowd to Peter and John. Peter tells the crowd all about Jesus and that this man has been healed in the name of Jesus. Peter and John are arrested. Yet many come to believe in Jesus. The church grows.

As our passage today begins the religious leaders gather and have Peter and John brought before them. There are familiar names here: Annas and Caiaphas, two key figures in orchestrating Jesus’ crucifixion. It was in those fearful moments that Peter’s faith crumbled. Today the religious leaders ask, “By what power or what name did you do this”? They do not deny that the man was healed. Too much evidence. But perhaps their authority and power would cause Peter and John to slink away, to recant, to offer some other reason than Jesus Christ. Peter, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, says, “Know this, you and the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth”. Peter boldly proclaims power in the name of Jesus. Filled with the Holy Spirit, this time Peter stands with and for Jesus.

Peter, when given another opportunity, allowed the Spirit to lead and guide him and his words. Fear no longer had any place in his faith. This shift inside of Peter gives me hope. Even though he had failed miserably, God continued to be at work in Peter. This is also true for you and for me. When we fail to stand for or with Jesus, when we have let an opportunity slip by, when guilt and shame begin to build up – God remains faithful. Through the same indwelling Spirit, we are given another opportunity to boldly live out our faith. In doing so we too will have the privilege of sharing why we love and live the way we do. When given this privilege, may we proclaim the name of Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, you are patient and faithful. You keep the opportunities coming to share my faith, whether by word or deed. Thank you for the grace that keeps walking beside me, even when I fail. Use me today to share your love with a world in need. Amen.


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Give Thanks, Sing Joy!

Reading: Psalm 107: 17-22

Verses 19-20: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth his word and healed them”.

In the opening verses of Psalm 107, which we read yesterday, we hear of the depth of God’s love and care. It is a love that is unconditional and unending. In today’s verses from this Psalm we see an expression of that love. In verse seventeen we read that some have turned away from God. This is a road we all have gone down and will continue to go down on occasion. We become foolish and rebellious and then we often suffer the consequences. The Israelites who had wandered finally cry out to God. They are in distress, near to death. Perhaps we do not wait quite that long, but we can get stuck in our sin – either too proud to admit we need help or to deep in our guilt and shame to approach our holy God.

Again, yes once again, God demonstrates his faithfulness. In verses nineteen and twenty we read, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth his word and healed them”. God healed them and rescued them from their place of distress and despair. The Israelites again received God’s unfailing love. When we cry out we too will be healed. We too will be rescued from whatever place we have wandered to. God’s love will save us. Like the psalmist and the Israelites, may we give thanks to the Lord our God and may we sing songs of joy for his unfailing love. May we rejoice in the Lord always!

Prayer: Lord God, when I wander you always call me back. Your Holy Spirit guides me to the place of repentance. There you cleanse and restore me. Thank you, God. Amen.