pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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A Relationship with God

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-4 and 7-9

Verses 3 and 9: “You shall have no other gods before me… Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”.

In today’s and tomorrow’s readings we hear Moses speak, giving the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. They have been wandering in the wilderness and are ready to hear from God. As they draw nearer to the Promised Land, God begins to give them some rules to live by. Being dependant upon God not only for your meat, bread, and water but also for which direction to go has kept the people focused on God. Once they enter the Promised Land, settle down, and begin living, it will be easier to forget or neglect God. This is our pattern too. When life is good, we often forget our need for God. When we allow busyness a foothold, we neglect God. Times in the wilderness remind us of our need for God.

The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God. In general these four are about honoring our relationship with God. The first reminds us that God is God. Therefore, we shall have no other gods. Thus, God prohibits idols – things that take the place of God. Next is another prohibition: do not take God’s name in vain. The fourth calls upon us to keep the Sabbath holy, mirroring God’s actions in the creation narrative. For Jews and Christians, there is only one God. The creator and sustainer of the universe and all life is clearly the only God. There is one supreme being. God desires to be #1 in our lives. When our focus is on God, when he is leading us through life, when we recognize God as the giver of our water, food, resources, money… then God is #1 in our lives.

Our relationship with God falters or suffers when we allow idols or other “gods” (small ‘g’) to ascend to #1. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it would be the labor of their hands and the allure of the cultures around them that would draw their focus away from God. When we get too caught up in work and wealth and in the world around us, we too lose focus. That is why keeping the Sabbath holy is so important. It reminds us of God. It breaks the pattern of work, work, work. It draws us away from the world. When we intentionally lay aside our labors and we turn all of our focus to keeping the holy day holy, we reconnect with God. In doing so we find rest and renewal for our souls and for our bodies. Each and every week, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bless and keep me, lead and guide me. May each day of work be fruitful. May each Sabbath be holy. Teach me balance in my life. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Precepts and Laws

Reading: Psalm 105: 26 and 45

Verses 26 and 45: “He sent Moses his servant, and Aaron… that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws”.

Moses is known as one of Israel’s greatest leaders, as the giver of the Law. Moses led Israel out of a long period of slavery in Egypt and brought them to the brink of the Promised Land. The nation wandered the desert for forty years, slowly learning how to live in right relationship with God and with one another. The 10 Commandments are a foundational part of the Law. Through sins and other forms of disobedience the people learned how to “keep his precepts and observe his laws”. Moses and Aaron guided this process.

The process of learning the rules, norms, guidelines, expectations… continues to be a part of our world today. Whether a family or a church, whether school or work, this process is a part of our lives. It begins at home. As children we learn how to be a positive part of a family. Rules and boundaries and expectations shape and form us. School is the next place we learn to be a part of a community. Again, the “laws” that govern schools guides and forms us. As a whole, we function best and feel safest when there are clear sets of rules, expectations… God sending Moses and Aaron remains the primary model for learning the rules – the “precepts and laws”. Leaders model what we need to learn. Parents, teachers, bosses, ministers, and so forth continue this model to this day.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we do adhere to or seek to follow some “precepts and laws”. Jesus, the one who came to fulfill the Law, taught about how to live in community mostly be modeling it. When questioned about the Law, Jesus named two commands as the foundation of it all. The first commandment that Jesus named was to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Jesus lived this out during his life, showing us what it looks like to love God with all our being. The second was to love our neighbors. Again, Jesus provided the example, loving all people – Pharisees, tax collectors, outcasts, sinners…

These two commandments remain foundational to Christianity. Even the 10 Commandments fit within this framework. The first four are about loving God, the last six about loving our neighbors. As we consider the ways that the law and precepts of God shape and form us, lead and guide us, may we rejoice in God’s love and may we seek to live that love out in the world. Our good, good father brings us into communion with himself and into community with one another through his love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of all, your love draws us in. Your love defines who we are – beloved children. As we grow and mature in faith, your loves refines us, transforming us more and more into the image of your son. Doing so we to become your love lived out in the world. Use each believer today to build your kingdom of love here on earth. Amen.


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Mediator

Reading: Hebrews 12: 18-24

Verses 23-24: “You have come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”.

Verses 18-21 remind us of many people’s image of the God of the Old Testament. God was seen as frightening and distant, as angry and vengeful. Even Moses, the one who talked with God and glowed after being in God’s presence, at times trembled with fear. The covenant established in the desert with Moses and the Israelites became a hard and fast set of rules to follow. To a large degree, the rules were followed out of fear and out of the desire to avoid upsetting God.

The vision shifts in verse 22. The writer of Hebrews reminds the people of the new covenant that we have “come to Mount Zion, to the new Jerusalem, to the city of the living God”. Many angels sing praises of joy to God. The righteous have been made perfect. There, the faithful have “come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”. Through the gifts of his body and blood, Jesus Christ himself replaced the old covenant that required sacrifices to atone for sin and to find forgiveness. Jesus was and is and ever will be the atoning sacrifice for sins. And he is the mediator. Jesus stands between us and God. Jesus stands in our defense, in our place even. Jesus walked the earth. He knows our trials and our struggles. He knows our pains and hurts. In the person and Spirit of Jesus, God has become a very personal and loving God. We now follow out of love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for being willing to do so much for me. You took on flesh, becoming weak and poor. You walked the earth, giving us an example of God’s love. Then you gave your life for our sake. You gave so much. Help me to give to others this day and every day. Amen.


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Heart, Mind, and Soul

Reading: Romans 10: 8b-13

Verse 9: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”.

Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome longing to visit Rome. It is a trip that he will eventually make. But for this present letter, he is writing to help them understand the core of the faith and how to live as a community of believers in a pagan world. As chapter ten opens Paul is explaining that one cannot live a Christian life simply by obeying the Law. The law is only a knowledge of what is right or wrong. Following the rules is good, but this alone does not make one righteous. In verse 8 Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 30. He reminds the Romans that the word of God is in their hearts and in their mouths. In this chapter Moses is encouraging the people to “choose life” – to love God and to walk in His ways. For Moses it is the same as for Paul: live out your faith in love. Allow God to dwell in your heart, in your mind, and in your soul. Yes, follow the law, but even more than that, let God’s love flow from all you do and say and think. Allow God’s love to be the core of who you are.

Paul then goes on to the next step in verse 9. In our hearts we believe. Then our voice joins in, professing faith in Christ. In this verse Paul shares the essence of the gospel, writing, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”. To confess this with our mouth, we must believe it in our heart. We cannot know that Jesus is Lord, we must believe that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the Lord in our lives because we believe that He is the Lord over sin and death.

Jesus defeated the two greatest weapons that the world has when He went to the cross and when He walked out of the grave. Sin has no power over us because Jesus has already paid the price for atonement. Yes, we do sin but because the price has been paid, because the sacrifice was given. When we confess and repent, Jesus says, ‘You are forgiven’. We move forward as a new creation in Christ, holy and pure, leaving behind any guilt or shame. Jesus also defeated the power of death. There is no fear or unknown or thinking this is the end. Jesus said because He lives, we too shall live. If we put our faith in Jesus as Lord, then He is the way to eternal life. We are saved when we profess, “Jesus is Lord”!

This day and each day, may Christ dwell in our heart and in our mouth and in our soul. May all we see, think, do, say, and feel reflect the love of Christ that is in us. In doing so, we proclaim Jesus is Lord with all of our heart, mind, and soul. May it be so.

Prayer: God of all of creation, be my all in all. This day and every day fill me with your love so that my life is that love lived out. Fill me so much that this is all there is in me. May I be fully yours. Amen.


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For Us

Reading: Mark 9: 38-41

Verse 40: “For whoever is not against us is for us”.

Who is in? Who is out? What do I have to do to be a part of this group or organization? What are the rules?

These are the questions we ask. We prefer rule and order. We like to be around people who are like us, people who have similar interests and hobbies, people who see the world as we see the world. It is even the way of the natural world. Lions hang out with lions, chickadees with chickadees.

In today’s passage, John asks Jesus about a man they do not know. This man was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. The disciples initial reaction was to tell the man to stop because he is not one of them. Who could walk into the church tomorrow morning and draw a similar reaction?

John is struggling with the opening questions that I posed today. This man is out, he is not part of their group, he is not following all the right rules. To John, one must be part of the group that follows Jesus 24-7. If you do not follow this rule, you better not be doing miracles in Jesus’ name. Jesus does not see it this way. Not even close. Jesus says to John and the disciples, “Whoever is not against us is for us”. Here we see Jesus once again being inclusive instead of exclusive.

If Jesus were the pastor left in our church tomorrow and “that” person or persons walked in, He would welcome them, introduce himself, help them to find a good seat, and would make sure they got coffee and cookies after church. He sees this man driving out demons as being for the kingdom. He wants His disciples to see people this way too. If you are not against us you are for us. For Jesus, all are welcome in the kingdom, all are invited. May we see all people this way too.

Lord, help me to be inclusive and welcoming and open to all people. When my heart or mind begins to erect barriers, smash them down. Give me eyes to see as Jesus saw and a heart to love as He loved. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verse 11: “By keeping them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward”.

Verses 7-10 tell of God’s laws, statutes, precepts, and commands. These guide believers in how to live our lives pleasing God. In turn, our lives are better as well. To me, this is the basis of our relationship with God. In reality, all of our relationships are built upon a set of rules or guidelines or understandings. Sometimes these are not written down but are implied or simply understood.

In our earthly relationships, the value of keeping the relationship on good terms has temporal worth. In my most important earthly relationship the phrase “happy wife, happy life” applies in many ways. When my relationships with my wife, kids, boss, congregation, clients, … are good, then all are happy and life is rewarding and blessed. In our heavenly relationship, it is much the same. The psalmist writes, “By keeping them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward”. God’s laws, statutes, precepts, and commands keep us out of trouble and out of toxic situations and are also the path to a rewarding and blessed relationship with God.

In the next few verses, there is an admission that to live in a relationship that is pleasing to God is one that requires help from God. For us, the Holy Spirit augments our efforts to know God by reminding us, by directing us, by convicting us when necessary. The Holy Spirit helps us maintain a good relationship with God.

When all of this is humming along, we can pray verse 14 with confidence. It is a verse that I quote just before preaching. I guess it is more of a request and a hope. As I reflect on it this morning, it occurs to me that it should be a part of my morning prayers every day too. May it be so.

Lord God, your ways are perfect and trustworthy. They bring me joy and life. Remind me if them often so that life is both blessed and is pleasing in your sight. My rock and my redeemer, thank you for your steadfast love, your unwavering understanding, and your endless grace. I love you God! Amen.


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A Clean Heart

Reading: Mark 7: 14-16 & 21-23

Verses 15-16: “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”.

As far back as the beginning, God has looked at humanity differently than we look at ourselves. God chose people like Abel, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Esther, David, Mary, Peter, Paul… not because they were the most beautiful or the strongest or the most intelligent. He chose them because of the stuff on the inside – the stuff that is hard for us to see. Sometimes we struggle with this idea. Sometimes we cannot look past the outside.

All groups have rules that govern the group, their behavior, who can be a part of the group… The ritual cleansing laws were just one of many law that kept the Jews separate from the peoples around them. Identity was important. As the chosen people, standards had to be kept. When the religious leaders saw Jesus’ disciples – who were all Jews – not following the rules, they questioned Jesus about it.

In our passage today, Jesus returns to God’s practice of being concerned with what is on the inside, not on the outside. Jesus responds to the leaders by saying, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”. This makes perfect sense. But it disrupts the status quo. But it makes sense. Eating with unclean hands does not make one more or less likely to sin. Drinking coffee instead of tea does not increase or decrease one’s ability to resist temptation. In verse 17, Jesus points out that whatever we eat or drink “doesn’t go into the heart but into the stomach”. Temptation and sin reside in the heart.

Jesus goes on to share quite a list of evils that can be found in the heart. When we allow our thoughts to turn to and to dwell on theft or murder or lust or envy or arrogance or pride or… then evil will surely come out, making us ‘unclean’. The battle to remain ‘clean’ is a fight in the heart. It is a battle that we must have help in if we are to remain in a right relationship with our Lord and Savior.

This day, O Lord, give me a clean heart and a right spirit. Purge all within that is impure. May the power of the Holy Spirit be quick to convict when evil thoughts begin to arise. And may I be responsive to the conviction, repenting quickly. May I honor you, O Lord, in all I do and say and think today. Amen.


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Very Nice Folks

Reading: Mark 2: 23-28

Verse 27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.

The Pharisees lived by a lot of rules. The many, many rules had become their way of life and their religion. Following the rules had even obscured their common sense. They were rule followers instead of God followers. This concept is sometimes seen in our churches today.

Jesus’ disciples are walking along and they are hungry. They pick a few heads of grain to snack on. To us this does not seem to serious, but the Pharisees asks, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath”? You see, picking grain was work and work is illegal on the Sabbath. It does not matter if they were hungry. It wouldn’t even have mattered to the rule followers if the disciples were starving to death. It does not matter. They should have planned ahead – they know when the Sabbath is!

Jesus takes this in and responds thusly, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. He is saying to look beyond the rule so they can see the need. Look past being rule followers and become God followers. Have compassion. Show mercy. Extend love. But these are hard choices because this goes against the rules. Sometimes we see this in our churches too.

On Sunday mornings we are a pretty homogeneous bunch. On the last Sunday evening each month, we offer a free community meal. There is not a lot of homelessness in the community, but there is some poverty. Last night we had a struggling family come to the meal. Really nice folks – husband and wife and six young kids, plus Grandma in tow. Kids had big smiles on their faces and I had a nice chat with Mom and Dad. Very nice folks.

As I consider the Sabbath rules that caused so much tension in today’s passage, I wonder how things would go if this family showed up next Sunday morning at 9:00 for worship. Sometimes we can allow rules to get in the way of love and compassion and empathy. Sometimes we can be rule followers instead of Jesus followers. Sometimes it is hard. I hope these very nice folks come this Sunday morning. It is good for us to practice being Jesus followers. Sometimes what we practice becomes what we are. Very nice folks, hope to see you this Sunday morning!


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Holy Spirit, Lead Me

Reading: John 3: 1-15

Verse Five: “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of the water and the Spirit'”.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Coming to see Jesus is a dangerous move that involves risk for Nicodemus. The Pharisees are the religious leaders and often do not see eye to eye with Jesus. In John 2, Jesus has just cleared the temple, telling the leaders that they have made it into “a market”. Yet Nicodemus comes to Jesus. He has seen Jesus’ works, the miracles, and knows He is from God. Jesus gives Nicodemus an answer even though he does not ask a question. Jesus says, “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again'”.

Nicodemus is, of course, confused. You and I would be too. He has come to Jesus with some purpose – surely with some questions or a need. This may have eventually led back around to the topic Jesus brings up, but certainly not this directly. Jesus cuts to it straight away and begins to share about what is ultimately important: eternal life. But for now, Nicodemus is earthly and practical. It also demonstrates how far apart in the conversation these two are. Jesus goes on to explain, saying more fully, “born of the water and the Spirit”. Jesus then gives an analogy of how the wind blows “wherever it pleases”. He concludes with, “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”.

Nicodemus does not really understand this either. He comes from a place of religion where it is all about following the Law. Being faithful for him is accomplished by following the rules. They are clear and defined. This idea of being born of the Spirit and being led here and there, almost at random, is a foreign concept to Nicodemus. To consider it and to begin to live it out would have been a scary thought for Nicodemus. It is for us.

To sincerely pray, “God use me today…” is placing our faith and trust fully in God. To be open to and to be willing to be led by the Holy Spirit wherever it may lead takes surrender of self. This is what it means to be “born again” – it requires that we are willing to die to self and to be made into a new self that lives by faith, loving God and neighbor more than self.

Lord God, use me today. Use me for thy purposes and for your work in this world. Holy Spirit, lead and guide me today. Amen.