pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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 Keeping the law had in many ways superceded the practice of living in a relationship with God.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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Walking God’s Way

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verses 12-13: “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”.

In today’s reading David begins by reminding us of the beauty of God’s laws. In verses seven through ten David praises God for his laws, statutes, precepts, commands, and ordinances. Taken as a whole and commonly known as the Law, these ways of God lead and guide the faithful. David rejoices in the law, naming it as perfect, trustworthy, pure, right, radiant, and sure. To illustrate how much he values the law, David notes that it is more precious than “much pure gold”. Reading Psalms like this draw us into studying and learning about God’s ways. For David, and for followers today, the law both “warns” and also yields “great reward”. Understanding and living God’s ways is the path to true life now and one day in eternity.

Walking God’s path is not always easy. In verses twelve and thirteen David writes, “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”. At times we all suddenly think things in our hearts that we should not. These hidden sins feel private but are known by God. Even though committed in secret, we must confess them to God. We are also tempted on a regular basis. Satan is ever on the prowl, ever seeking to lead us to step off the path, ever enticing us to satisfy self. These are the sins that we have a choice in. The seed is planted and sometimes we allow it to grow and take root. When we allow this to continue to fruition, we commit a willful sin. These too must be confessed to the Lord.

Just as God’s ways are beautiful and life-giving, so too is his mercy and grace. Unlike the law, we are at times imperfect, impure, unjust, unrighteous. God forgives. God cleanses. God restores. As David prays, so too may we pray: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight”.

Prayer: God of mercy and love, guide me this day to walk in your ways, doing what is right and what is pleasing to you. Thank you for the love that always brings me back when I stumble. Amen.


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Grounded in Love

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse 2: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”.

Today’s passage centers on Moses sharing the commands that God gave him on Mount Sinai. These commands would form the backbone and would be the beginning of the Law – the commands, statutes, and rules that would govern the life of the Israelites. Moses first shares the introduction: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”. While we have not come out of slavery in the same sense that the Israelites just did, our relationship with Jesus does free us from many things.

The Ten Commandments begin to define the relationship between God and his people as well as the relationships between the people. The first four commands define our relationship with God and the last six define the relationships that we are to live in with one another. All ten are great guides for how to live with God and with each other. Yet they are just a start. The list would grow to 600+ laws and rules by the time Jesus Christ walked the earth. These laws shaped who and what the Israelites were, giving them an identity and a way to live in harmony.

Today we live in a world that also has a code of law that governs how our society rules itself, functions, and it also defines how we are to live with one another. Our civil law, in general, governs our political and societal practices and norms. While some civil laws interact or are influenced by moral or religious concerns, the way we live our day to day lives is still governed largely by our faith. As Christians we seek to live peaceably under the laws of our nation, state, and local community. We engage in the political process too – voting, working to add or amend laws to better society, and, sometimes, by serving. Yet the core of who and what we are still resides in our faith. As we live out our daily lives it is the “rule of life” that we have developed from our faith that truly guides us. For many believers this rule of life is modeled after Jesus’ life. Jesus modeled what living in right relationship with God and with others looked like when lived to the full. For Jesus, a right relationship was always grounded in love. Each of the Ten Commandments was grounded in love.

As you consider your rule of life – the way you act, the way you interact with and treat others, the way your faith is lived out, the way you love God throughout your day… – is it all grounded in love? In the spirit of Lent, consider this question deeply. What in your rule of life needs to change or die to better reflect Christ to the world? What needs to grow to better witness to the faith you profess?

Prayer: Lord, my mind is drawn to search and examine the habits and practices and things in me that define how I live each day. Help me to truly see as you would see, dying to that within that works to separate me from you or others. May the Spirit also work within me to grow those things that help me to better love you and others. Amen.


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Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 13-25

Verse 25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

What does God expect or require of you? What did Jesus expect of his disciples and of those that would follow him? If we were to make a list to answer these questions, would the list be a collection of things to do or would it detail how to live our lives? Paul is answering these questions for the church in Rome in today’s passage.

The church in Rome was falling into the trap that Paul has been caught in for most of his life. Faith was a form of legalism – of checking boxes and staying within the lines defined by the Law. Faith was not a way of life. To help them understand this Paul goes back to Abraham, the father of Israel, the patriarch of all patriarchs in the Jewish faith. In our passage today Paul points out that God credited Abraham as righteous because of his faith in God. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his trust and obedience to God’s direction. The Law was not even in existence yet. Entering into this right relationship with God through faith alone made Abraham and his descendants heirs of God’s promises. For Paul, all who believe in Jesus fall into that line of descendants. Belief is what gets one in that line, not following any set of rules or lists that we can make up.

Paul defines belief in Jesus as the only action necessary to be “credited” as righteous – being right with God. He wants to be clear that righteousness does not come from following the Law or any other set of rules, but from faith in Jesus Christ. In verse 25 Paul reminds those in the church in Rome and all who follow Jesus why belief in him is essential: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. In dying for our sins, Jesus removed the weight of the Law – that sacrifice for this sin, this sacrifice for that sin… – and he paid the price through his blood. A final sin sacrifice was offered by one for all. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are made righteous before God. In being raised from the dead, Jesus defeated death, opening the way for us to receive eternal life. Both are gifts, given to us without price, without any requirement except believing that Jesus did this for each of us. These is no law or rules that we can follow to receive or earn these gifts. They come through faith alone. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, I am so grateful for these gifts of love – born to the cross and into the grave for me. You stood in my place and took the punishment for me. And you did not stop there. You walked out of the grave, breaking those chains too. Thank you for the gifts of love that make it possible to experience joyful and abundant life now and to enter eternal life one day through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.


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God’s Gifts

Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20

Verse 12: “Extol the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion”.

Today’s Psalm reading is all about praising God for the gifts that he gives to his children. In the year we’ve had collectively, it is necessary to stop and to thank God for his gifts to us, even in 2020.

The first gift that we are to extol and praise God is for how he strengthens us and for how he gives us peace. God’s watch over us does not mean life will be free of pain or worry. We can face the sufferings and struggles of life with God’s presence, though. With God we have a companion for the journey, one to lean on at times, one to carry us in times when we cannot walk on our own.

The second gift to us that we are to extol and praise God for is our sustenance – the “finest wheat” and a whole variety of other foods and drinks. The third gift is the earth and ecosystem that God designed. The seasons along with their accompanying snow, hail, and rains… are all part of God sustaining us.

The last gift is his word. In the Jewish mindset this is the written word, the Torah. The law of Moses guides all of life. The holy scriptures are how they know God. This all is true for Christians as well. But we also have Jesus, the fuller revelation of God to humanity. Just as the Jews were God’s chosen people – blessed like “no other nation” – Christians are also blessed and set apart from the world. We are “in the world but not of it”. Our true home is in heaven with the Lord.

As we turn the page from 2020 and step forward into 2021, may we take a moment to extol and praise God for his presence, for his provision, and for his Son whom he shares with us every day. Praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord, I thank and praise you for your presence in my life – in the highs, in the lows, and in everything in between. You are always there. I thank you for the many ways that you provide and care for me and my family. You are so loving and generous. And I thank you most of all for the gift of your living word, Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Freed

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verses 4-5: “When the time had fully come, God sent his son… to redeem those under the law”.

What a passage we have today! In just four verses, Paul packs some great theological truths. In summary: at just the right time God sent Jesus to redeem us from the law and then sent the Spirit to lead us to live as children of God, destinying us for eternal life. It is quite the summary of the good news.

As we draw nearer to Christmas Eve it is a good reminder that Jesus came at just the right time. When God’s time to send the son arrived, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While the example that Jesus set concerning how to live out God’s love is important, the main purpose of Jesus’ time on earth was to redeem us, to make heaven our destiny. This is both a present and a future realityy. Let me say that again: heaven is both a present and a future reality. While we await eternity in the Lord’s presence we live to build his kingdom here on earth.

Paul’s emphasis in the letter to the Galatians is the freeing power of Jesus Christ in this life. In Christ we are made into new creations, freed from “the law”. The church in Galatia was struggling with the application of the Jewish law, the Torah. The Christians who had been Jews believed the new Christians should first follow the laws of Judaism. For example, they wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised and to follow the dietary and purification laws. The new believers just wanted to follow Jesus. This was causing division and strife in the church. Paul wants to end this reliance on the old laws of the Jewish faith. For Paul, being created new in Christ Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, believers no longer fall under the old laws.

Even though we do not live under the Jewish law and even though we are Spirit-filled new creations in Christ, we still live with division and strife. We still need redeemed. Although Christ died to free us from the laws of sin and death, we all still wrestle with sin in our lives and many of us are anxious and fear death.

Our journey of faith is one of redemption after redemption. Even though I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and even though I am led by the Spirit, my old self is alive and well within me. My pride and ego, my judgmental attitude, my driven personality all can rise up and lead me to sin. My old self can ignore the Holy Spirit quite easily at times. Yet, thanks be to God, I am “no longer a slave”. Redemption, forgiveness, grace, and mercy are always ready to make me new again. I am a child of God. I am loved. I am an heir to eternal life in Christ. You are too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for your love that is always greater than any and all of my sin. Continue to lead and guide me and to better atune me to the voice and the way of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Once New Again

Reading: Judges 4: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”

Today’s passage is from the book of Judges. This book covers the time period when there was no king in Israel. One after another a judge rules or leads Israel. In today’s reading Deborah the prophetess is acting as the judge or ruler of Israel. In our opening verses we read, “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”. In today’s passage it is Canaan who rules over Israel. The … can be followed by many different names – Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans… The process of “doing evil” is familiar: the people sin, there is a period of oppression, this leads to crying out to God, and then God restores Israel. This is an often repeated process for Israel.

This is a process that we are also familiar with, especially on a personal level. In our battles with sin, in our attempts to be obedient and faithful, we often have our “how did I get here again?” moments. How did I let pride get in the way of doing right again? How did I allow anger to win again? How did I give in to ___ again? Our weak, imperfect human condition makes us prone to the same cycle or process that we see scattered throughout the Old Testament and continued into the New Testament. The ministry of Jesus did not fix us; it did not remove our human weakness and our tendency towards the things of this world. It did, however, change the process. The “time in the hands of…” is no longer required. The time in oppression, the time in exile, the loss of freedom is no longer needed. On the cross, Jesus made atonement for our sins. With his life Jesus served the consequence. Sometimes there is an earthly consequence that we must suffer through. Our sin can damage a relationship or can violate earthly laws. There are costs to these things. But through the gift of grace and the giving of mercy, we are made new again, our sin is washed away, we are restored back into right relationship with God. In the process we do learn, we do grow from our failures, we do gain strength in the battle again sin. More importantly we learn just as Israel learned: God never gives up. God keeps working in our lives, keeps restoring us, keeps calling us to deeper obedience and to a more faithful walk. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Dear God, thousands and thousands of times I have stumbled and fallen. Even though it is almost beyond counting, your grace is greater. Even though I struggle to forgive just a few slights, your mercy never ends. So great a love is hard to fathom. In utter humility I thank you for loving a sinner like me. You are truly love and grace and mercy lived out. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Holy, Just, Loving

Reading: Joshua 24: 14-25

Verse 18: “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”.

I closed yesterday’s writing with Joshua’s declaration that he and his house would serve the Lord. The words of this verse still echo in my mind as a song that was frequently sung at Promise Keepers events. It has been 12 or more years since I attended a PK event, but the song is still fresh in my mind. For me, this powerful song was like the unofficial official PK song. From Joshua’s personal declaration for God, he hears the people respond, “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”. Recognizing the mighty acts of God found in their exodus stories, the people commit to the Lord. But was it like that old PK song – thousands of men joined in because others were singing?

In response Joshua tells them, “You are not able to serve the Lord”. Huh? These words from Joshua must have been confusing. He goes on to explain his thinking: “He is a holy God… a jealous God”. This is one of those “are you sure?” moments. Joshua reminds them of who God is: holy and just. He reminds them that God will “bring disaster” on them if they forsake God and turn to idols. The people reiterate their pledge to serve the Lord – not once but twice more in our passage. The days ends with Joshua making a covenant and drawing up the law. Both are intended to help the people fulfill their pledge of faithfulness to God.

This pledge is made with the deepest sincerity possible. The people really, really intend to follow God faithfully. This scenario probably sounds familiar. It is my pledge every morning. Is it yours too? We are just like the people of Israel in this sense: we mean to do our best to faithfully follow the Lord each day. We really, really do. Some days we do follow the Lord faithfully – living out our faith well for almost the whole day. And some days we struggle. 2020 had a few more of those days for many of us. God is still holy and just. So why doesn’t he “bring disaster” on us? Why don’t lightning bolts rain down from heaven each time one of us sins?

Well, because of love. Love came and walked among us. And when Jesus returned to heaven, he left us grace and mercy and atonement for our sins. Day by day, sometimes even moment by moment, we live in his grace. Confession and repentance are always as close as our next breath. As we speak these words with a sincere heart, over and over, we are washed clean and made new again, over and over. Then we are ready to again declare our faithfulness and to renew our journey with our holy and just and loving God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for your love. It is a love that keeps calling me back into right relationship with you. No matter how many times I fail. Thank you for your grace. It is a gift that always says your love is greater than my sin. No matter how great my sin. Thank you for the atonement paid for me. Through Christ, disaster is averted because the price has already been paid. Talk about love. Guide me today, Lord, as I seek to serve you alone. 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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A Good Reminder

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

In Psalm 19 David declares the glory and power of God’s creating hand. In the first six verses he praises God for the beauty of the created world. In the next five verses David praises God for the beauty revealed through the laws of God. Creation reminds us of God’s majesty and power and control over all things. The law reminds us of how perfect and trustworthy and sure God is. As David writes, yes the law warns us, but “in keeping them there is great reward”. Even David, perhaps especially David, realizes the challenge of keeping the law. In verses twelve and thirteen David seeks forgiveness for his sins and for protection so that they don’t rule over him. He acknowledges that even though we sin, through God’s grace we are left blameless. The Psalm closes with words I speak every Sunday. These are familiar words. They are David’s plea to live rightly before God.

Psalm 19 reminds me of how life is better when lived with and in right relationship with God. Like David, none of us are perfect. And like David, we can get caught up in the things or ways of the world at times. When I have drifted a bit, I do not notice the “work of his hands” – the sunrise, the breeze gently dancing with the trees, the flowers along the journey to work… Yes, within me I still know the word of God, but I am not quite living with joy within his parameters. The usual culprit for me is busyness. At times too much on my plate robs me of the wonder and joy that life is filled with when walking closely with God. The words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart are not always pleasing to God when I am in this busy place. My relationship with others also tends to suffer as the busyness seizes priority.

On those days, Psalm 19 is a good one to turn to. It reminds me of God’s power and presence, of his love for me. If you are in a place of busyness or distraction, turn to Psalm 19 and spend some time praying through it. May God’s love and presence fill you in your time of need.

Prayer: Loving God, in your word we are reminded of the source of our joy and peace, of our strength and hope. Guide me back to your word, back into connection with you each time I wander. Thank you, God. Amen.