pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Pure and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 51: 10-12

Verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

We return to Psalm 51 today. The Psalm comes from the messiness that has just occurred in David’s life. This is something we all experience. We cannot totally avoid sin – we are human.

Sometimes I think I could be less sinful if I lived an isolated life. If I were a monk or hermit maybe I’d sin less. But then I realize that my humanity would creep in. I’d get jealous of that monk who was recognized. I’d be angry that this other monk didn’t do his fair share in the garden. I’d long to be the one asked to lead this or that. Even in that monastic lifestyle I’d still struggle with sin. There too I’d have times when I failed to act, when I chose not to offer kindness, when I’d keep my gifts and talents to myself. I’d not escape these sins either.

David’s prayer for God to “create in me a pure heart… a steadfast spirit within me” needs to be my prayer too. Being pure and steadfast are always things I struggle with. Our section of Psalm 51 closes with these words: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”. This verse follows David’s plea to not be “cast” away. Yes, our sin is ever before us. But so is God. Out of our repentance God will ever be right there to redeem and restore us. Yes, Lord, give us a willing spirit; sustain us all in this journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, so often I fail and yet your mercy remains. So often I harm our relationship or my relationships with others, yet your grace always abounds. Your love is so great. Thank you for loving me beyond myself. Amen.


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Righteous

Reading: 1st John 3: 4-7

Verse 5: “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin”.

Photo credit: Emily Crawford

John begins our passage for today reminding us that sin breaks the law and that sin is lawlessness. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, a life of faith entailed following the Law. Breaking a law required confession and the offering of a sacrifice to God. The Jewish faith had become very legalistic at this point. Keeping the law had in many ways superceded the practice of living in a relationship with God.

Jesus came in the flesh not to abolish the law but to reveal God’s love in and through the law. Almost everything Jesus taught and lived out came from the Old Testament. The ways of God were lived out in Jesus’ life through the lens of God’s love. There was no legalism in the ways and teachings of Jesus. The acts of confession and repentance and forgiveness had become boxes that check, parts of the law to keep, motions to go through. This had already been evident by the time of the last prophets, 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Through Amos, God tells the people he won’t even look at their “offerings of well-fed animals” (5:22) any longer. God desires justice and righteousness instead, for peace to “roll down like a river”. This is the broken system that the sacrifice of Jesus replaced.

In our passage today we read, “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin”. Jesus came to be the sacrifice, to pay the price once for all, to open the curtain that separates. As Jesus gave up his life, the temple curtain separating the people from God’s presence was torn in two. Through Jesus, God became accessible, more present. God’s love had been fully revealed. No longer was it necessary to go to the priest with an animal to sacrifice. Jesus gave direct access to God’s mercy and grace and forgiveness – not through a burnt offering but through a humble and repentant heart.

With Jesus Christ in our heart we are no longer slaves to sin. In John’s words, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning”. The Holy Spirit works within us, helping us to walk a more holy and devout life. Sin is not absent from our lives; in and with the Holy Spirit we recognize it and repent. Through the power and presence of the Spirit, Jesus within us, may we ever seek to be righteous “as he is righteous”.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gifts of your love: Jesus Christ my example and the Holy Spirit my guide. Thank you for loving me beyond my sin and then back into right relationship with you. Amen.


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Eternity Awaits

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13

Verses 10 and 11: “I have seen the burden God has laid on man. He has made everything beautiful in its time”.

Ecclesiastes 3 is a familiar passage. Most of the passage is about the seasons in life, laid out in a series of contrasts. A time to plant… to uproot. A time to weep… to laugh. A time to keep… to throw away. Verses ten and eleven sum up the passage well: “I have seen the burden God has laid on man. He has made everything beautiful in its time”. Life has both burdens and beauty, sorrows and joys. All people, believers and non-believers alike, live within these realities – birth and death, mourning and dancing, love and hate, war and peace…

This year has been different, unlike any other in our lifetimes. These pandemic times have affected all people – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, men and women, believers and non-believers. Illness and loss and grief have been born by all kinds of people and families. Yet not all is the same. Within the hearts of those with a saving faith there is a different peace, a different hope, a different strength. The rest of verse eleven reads, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of man”. For those who believe in Jesus Christ, we know that the burdens and beauty, the sorrows and joys are but temporary. None of these things that Solomon writes about in Ecclesiastes 3 are the end of the story. Eternity awaits us all. For those who believe, our eternity rests in God’s hands. Thank be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, life is filled with many experiences – some joyful, some full of pain. Seasons come and go; this one that we are in the midst of will one day be a memory too. You are the constant. You remain love and hope and strength. All honor and glory are yours. Amen.


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The Foundation

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse 1: “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”.

As our passage opens today, we learn that Moses is once again up on the mountain speaking with God. This is not the first or last time that Moses speaks to God. Conversations have already happened many times and this is his third or fourth trip up the mountain. Moses’ conversations with God are sprinkled throughout their forty years in the wilderness. But this trip takes longer than usual. The people grow restless and they gather around Aaron, who is second in charge. They say to him, “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”. Scholars believe the Israelites have been in the wilderness about three months at this point. The many gods of Egypt are still fresh in their minds. Aaron fashions a golden calf and the people worship as the Egyptians had. The Israelites rise early and offer sacrifices and then proceed to eating and drinking and they party it up.

My initial reading of the passage stirred up feelings of judgment inside of me. How could they so quickly lose their focus on God? Then I remembered that snow day back in college. The weather was so bad that school was cancelled. We walked to the liquor store first thing that morning so we could “celebrate” not having to go to class. Classes the next day weren’t the best. Another reaction I felt was disgust with how easily they abandoned Moses, the one who has led them so faithfully. That triggered another thought, also from college. Sometimes the professor was late for class. In about one minute we were discussing how long we needed to wait. We’d give five minutes if we didn’t like the class and a whole ten minutes if we really like the professor or the class. Moses was “always” correcting them and giving “tons” of rules to follow. Maybe those who chafed at these things were the first voices to stir the pot, rallying the people to abandon this fellow Moses.

These are but two examples of times when I have quickly fallen into poor decisions or have abandoned leaders who had my best interests at heart. I believe we all have these experiences. Like sheep we are easily led astray. Like the Israelites, we can quickly turn to our own “golden calves” – to things or people that we think will make us happy or that we think will do what we want them to do. We too can quickly abandon the Lord our God when it seems to be taking too long for that answer to prayer or when the outcome isn’t to our liking. We quickly turn to our selfish desires and to the things of the world. As we are honest and acknowledge these truths today, may this story serve as both a reminder and as a warning. May it serve to always help us to keep God as our foundation, as our guide and as our way of life. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, when I begin to look to other things, when my heart starts to wander, send the Holy Spirit’s voice to call me back to your ways. When my will begins to rise up, gently nudge me away from placing self on the throne of my heart. Help me day by day to find peace and joy and contentment in following you. Amen.


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Opening the Commandments

Reading: Exodus 20: 12-20

Verse 13: “You shall not…”

Today we continue with the Ten Commandments. We read the last six today. These govern our relationships with others. The commandment to honor our father and mother is like a connector. The fourth commandment, to keep the Sabbath holy, calls us to honor God, our creator and heavenly parent. The fifth call us to do the same for our earthly parents. Just as honoring the Sabbath will bless our faith and life, so too will honoring our parents bless us and lead to a good, long life.

The last five commandments all begin with the familiar phrase, “you shall not”. These five come in the form of prohibitions. God, through Moses, tells the people not to murder, commit adultery, steal, give false testimony, or covet. For most folks, keeping the first of these five is relatively easy compared to the last couple. Yet even this one can be a thought that crosses our mind in a flash of extreme anger or in a moment of deep hurt. In fact, when one looks at the heart level, at the private thoughts we all have, each of these “you shall not” commandments have and/or will be challenges for us. When one opens up each one just a bit, this truth hits home. For example, Jesus taught that when we look lustfully at another we have committed adultery in our hearts. If one takes more than one should or if one unfairly uses their employees or if one buys from a company known to do so, haven’t we stolen? Gossip, white lies, half truths – all forms of false testimony. And who hasn’t looked at a neighbor’s new car or boat or… and wished longingly that it could be ours? Coveting! On these levels, all of the interpersonal commandments can be hard to keep, just as are the four dealing with our relationship with God.

In our passage the power and glory of God present on the mountain causes the people to fear God. They fear dying. But Moses sees the fear as a good thing. In verse twenty he explains: “the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning”. This fear is not a fear of spiders or heights, for example, but a fear that brings awe and reverence. It is a healthy thing. Knowing the power and glory of our loving and omnipresent and omnipotent God, may we too have a healthy awe and deep reverence for the Lord our God. From that place of love, may we ever seek to walk faithfully all of our days.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your guidance and direction in my life. Your will and ways both hem me in and give me freedom. So great is your love! Bless me today with the presence of the Holy Spirit, leading me to walk your road today. Amen.


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Keep Watch

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 13: “Therefore keep watch.”

Jesus begins by saying, “the kingdom of heaven will be like…”  This is one of four parables that relates to heaven.  Heaven is of great concern to most Christians.  We want to feel like we are living in such a way that heaven is our final resting place.  So when Jesus speaks on heaven, our ears perk up a bit.

The parable of the ten virgins is about being ready when the bridegroom, or Jesus, comes.  The parable ends with, “Therefore keep watch.”  As we ponder the parable, we consider if we are indeed ready for Jesus’ return.  We also naturally consider which group of virgins we are like.  Are we like the five with plenty of oil?  Do we regularly invest in our faith, keeping closely connected to Jesus, with lots of oil in our faith lamps?  Or do we slack here and there, sort of staying connected, sometimes not having enough faith to see us through that next crisis or situation?

Another aspect of the “Therefore keep watch” directive has to do with the here and now.  The bridegroom does not just come on the last day.  Jesus comes to us every day in Spirit.  Perhaps these encounters with Jesus are of greater importance because of their cumulative effect.  But we can easily miss them.  Where did you encounter Jesus Christ yesterday?  How about on Sunday?

As we walk out our daily faith we must be watchful for those people, things, events, times where Jesus is present.  It could be in that article or devotional you read, in that prayer time you had, in that stranger on the bus, in your coworker across the cubicle from you, in the words shared by a friend.  Each time Jesus tries to draw near is a wonderful opportunity to connect and to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  In the parable framework, it is a way we put oil in our lamps.  In the end Jesus said to the unprepared, to the un-ready, “I don’t know you”.  May we be watchful and may we not pass Him by today or any day, lest we too hear these words one day.


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Each Day

Reading: Matthew 24: 36-44

Almost everything about “the end” is unknown.  Personally, we do not know in advance the date on which we will draw our last breath.  As a faith, we do not know the date that Jesus will return.  We do not know if this will be during our lifetime or if His return is thousands of years away.  We simply know that one day Jesus will return to make all things new.

In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of the unknown nature, saying only God knows the time.  Even this is unclear.  Does this mean God has a date marked on the heavenly calendar or does it mean that only God will know when the time is right for Jesus to return?  In either case, Jesus’ advice is the same: keep watch, stay ready.  For emphasis, the passage ends with, “because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him”.  One will be taken, one will be left.

If this passage is not a call to live each and every day as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, I do not know what it is.  Jesus came to earth to reveal what God is like.  Jesus came and walked and lived among humanity to show us what God’s love looks like lived out in the flesh.  Jesus came to show us what it looks like to daily love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and what it looks like to daily love neighbor as self.  And He said, “Go and do likewise… make disciples of all nations…”

As disciples of Christ, we yearn to be more and more like Him every day.  We study the Bible, we spend time in prayer, we participate in small groups and in classes, we worship regularly – all to get to know Jesus better.  All this to keep watch, to stay ready.  Each day is another day to know Jesus more and to share Jesus with more people.  Each day is one day closer to when we meet Jesus face to face.  Each day, may we continue to be God’s love lived out in the world.  Each day, may we shine the light, ever walking with Jesus.