pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Pure Heart

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-17

Verse 10: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Photo credit: Adrien Olichon

In Psalm 51 the psalmist begins by asking for God’s mercy to wash away their sins. The psalmist admits that “my sin is ever before me”. The author recognizes that his sin is against God and God alone. God has a right to judge him. We can all relate to what the writer of this Psalm is expressing and feeling. We’ve all been there.

The commonly accepted context for this Psalm is the aftermath of David’s affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. There was certainly a need for God’s grace and forgiveness at this point in David’s life. Although most of our sins are not this egregious, all sin separates us from God and damages our relationship with God and others. God’s mercy and forgiveness are universal needs.

In verse seven David begins to ask for God’s help in restoring the relationship that David broke. He cannot do this on his own. Here he asks God to “cleanse me with hyssop” and then, in verse nine, to “blot out all my iniquity”. These ideas, these phrases, resonate with the sacrament of holy communion. Once forgiven, once cleansed, David can ask God to “create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”. In New Testament terms, the old is gone and the new has come. The old sinful self is washed away, replaced by a new self fully turned toward God. As a new creation in God, David desires to feel again the joy of salvation and to have a willing spirit within – one totally obedient to God.

This Psalm also resonates with our Ash Wednesday practices. Many Christians will seek to be restored and to dedicate themselves to a more holy and devout walk with the Lord as we begin our Lenten journey. The imposition of ashes reminds us of our finite nature and draws us to reflect upon our journey with Christ. It calls us to critically evaluate the condition of our souls. It draws us towards living with a more pure heart.

Our reading for today ends with these words: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”. As we prepare to enter Lent may we find a new path to walk with Jesus, a path guided by just such a heart. With a pure heart we will be pleasing in his sight. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me to that place of contrition, to the place of confession and repentance; show me the path to a closer walk, reveal the things I need to leave along the side of the path. Create in me a pure heart with a desire to be yours alone. Break my heart for what breaks yours, O God. Amen.


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Worthy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 1-8

Verse 8: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”.

Paul’s letters to the churches and to individuals usually served two main purposes: to build up the community of faith and to teach good Christian living. Paul spent the last few years of his life as an apostle, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he went. Paul’s missionary efforts in these years was not always easy, as evidenced in verse two: “with the help of God we dared to tell you the gospel”. On his visits, Paul spoke with authority. He was one “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel”. Because of this, Paul had helped many to follow Jesus and he founded many churches throughout the known world. He dearly loved Jesus Christ and those who were his brothers and sisters in Christ.

The depth of Paul’s love is revealed in verse eight: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. Paul himself valued the relationship between believers. He often lifted up the community of faith in his many writings. Fellowship and mutual love were common themes for Paul. In his letters he often shares how he longs to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ – this too is evidence of his love for the family of God. Paul valued each individual because he believed they were a part of the body of Christ. For him, this was a connection stronger than blood and deeper than any other social or political connection. This connection was founded solely upon his love for Jesus Christ – the driving force in his life.

It was this driving force that led Paul to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all he met. Paul witnessed to about everyone he met. The story goes that he even shared his faith with the Roman soldiers who had him under arrest. Paul saw even these, those who many would consider enemies of God, as children of God worthy of the same love he gave freely to his brothers and sisters in Christ. May we too seek to model this same universal love as we strive to live out our faith day by day, person by person.

Prayer: Lord of all, help me to see others as Paul did – each as your beloved. Help me to see each as you see them. Then may I love them as you do. May it be so. Amen.


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Love Revealed

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 20: “They all ate and were satisfied”.

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 reveals God’s love in and through Jesus Christ. God’s love is expressed in many ways. That tends to just be how God’s love is.

First and in spite of sensing his own need to grieve, Jesus sees a group of people with needs and he has compassion for them. It is a great example of the selfless love that God has for us. In love, Jesus always places the needs of others ahead of his own needs. He gets out of the boat and engages the crowd.

Second, Jesus’ compassion leads him to heal many in the crowd. This is why the crowds came. Sometimes when I am interrupted or when my plans are derailed, the last thing I want to do is to fully meet the need of the other. Not Jesus. There is no hesitation and he heals everyone there that afternoon. Jesus’ healing touch shared God’s love with many.

The third demonstration of God’s love comes as Jesus pushes the disciples to deeper faith. For faith to grow one must push the edges, one must step out in faith. Sometimes it is another that must do that for us. Here Jesus plays that role. Like a parent or coach or mentor who challenges us to do more than we think we are capable of, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd themselves. Then he leads them in accomplishing the task at hand. Love sometimes challenges us.

The fourth demonstration of God’s love comes in the depth of the provision. In verse twenty we read, “They all ate and were satisfied”. Jesus did not just take the edge off their hunger so that they could get home to eat. He fully satisfied their hunger.

The last demonstration of God’s love comes in who Jesus fed. He didn’t separate out those with faith so he could just feed them. He didn’t just feed the men – those whom society would deem worthy of being cared for. Jesus fed one and all – even those others treated as less than. Jesus’ love is universal, offered to one and all.

God’s love is selfless and compassionate. God’s love brings healing and sustenance. God’s love will challenge us at times and will meet our deepest needs at other times. God’s love is ever present and always willing to engage even the least of these. May we ever practice this love well in our lives.

Prayer: O God of love, help me to love like Jesus loved in this miracle story. May I give far more than I take. May my heart love all I encounter. May your love within my soul continue to grow and push my faith further. Lead me in love. Amen.


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In Mission?

Reading: Haggai 1:15b – 2:5

Verse 5: “This is what I covenanted with you… my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear”.

Haggai the prophet is sent to the people who have returned to Israel and are working to restore the city and the temple. The bulk of the exiles remain in Babylon. The work has been slow and has had plenty of obstacles and challenges. God sends Haggai to Zerubbabel the governor, to Joshua the high priest, and to the remnant – the people who have come back to Jerusalem. God’s purpose in sending Haggai is to encourage, to remind, to recommit them to the task at hand. The temple is not what it once was. Some there now can remember the beauty and splendor and glory of the old temple. What appears to be shaping up pales by comparison.

The situation into which Haggai speaks brings to my mind the current state of affairs in my denomination, the United Methodist Church. Many cannot or will not consider that maybe God is doing a new thing. An equal number believe God is in the process of doing just this thing. One group seeks to hold fast to the Biblical truths that have always been truth. Others believe God is speaking a new word into our time. Both sides have dug in and their agenda has become their focus. What has been sacrificed is the mission of the church: to make disciples for the transformation of the world.

For Zerubbabel and Joshua and the remnant, the voices of doubt and discouragement, the pressures applied by those not wanting to see things rebuilt, the weight of continuing to work for God in the midst of all the turmoil – it led them to a place of resignation and despair. I am sure there were still some that held onto God’s vision of rebuilding, but the majority had lost it. To the majority, God said, “Be strong… I am with you”. The Lord Almighty goes on in verse five to say, “This is what I covenanted with you… my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear”. Through Haggai, God’s message is to be strong, to take courage, and to know that God is present and in control.

The message remains true today. As Christians we are called to follow Jesus as we seek to grow in our faith in him and as we seek to be in mission to the world. Yes, some still visit the jail and others care for those in the care centers. But the majority has lost the focus on mission. The eyes and hearts are largely turned inward. The mission of the Christian church universal remains the same that it always has been: to make disciples for the transformation of the world. This was Jesus’ driving focus. May it be ours as well.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, when I too get sucked down by all that surrounds the church, pour your strength and courage upon me. Remind me over and over that you are in control. Lead me to step where you guide as I seek to live in mission to the church and to the community. Use me today O God. Amen.


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One in Christ

Reading: John 17: 20-26

Verse 20: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message”.

Today’s prayer from Jesus is a prayer for unity. It is a prayer not just for His current disciples and immediate followers but for all people who will hear the good news and come to faith. The opening verse reads, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message”. The prayer continues asking God to make all believers one. Jesus prayed for a church universal. He also prayed that they would be unified to God through Himself. Jesus is speaking of the essentials of the Christian faith. To call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the central idea of Christianity.

The idea that we are all children of God runs throughout the Bible. Our oneness is revealed in many ways in different communities. In some it is shown in churches that gather people from all walks of life to worship and share life together. In some it is revealed in the outreach efforts of some churches. They aim to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others. In some it is shown in the cooperative efforts of churches working together to have community events and ecumenical services sprinkled throughout the year. There are many ways that we can witness God building unity in the diverse body of Christ.

Jesus’ prayer also asks “that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me”. May it be so today.

Prayer: God of all people, this day may I reach across the gap to include others in the unified kingdom of God. Amen.


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Unity and Strength

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verses 7 and 8: For none of us lives to himself alone… We belong to the Lord.

Paul begins chapter fourteen by imploring Christians to not pass judgement on others because others do not worship and practice their faith just as they do.  Instead Paul urges Christians to model acceptance and to have understanding for their fellow believers.  For the Jews who had accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they entered their new faith with their old faith’s worship and dietary guidelines still intact.  They wanted the new believers to worship and eat as they did.  In effect they wanted to new followers to be Jewish Christians.  On the other side of the aisle, many of the new converts came with their own cultural background and practices.  Therefore they did not want to change some of these things, especially if they did not see how they were incompatible with what Jesus taught and did.

The same tendencies to judge and condemn others still exists today both within our churches and between churches.  The hot topic can be a wide variety of things.  Between people in a church it can be things like worship style or who is welcome or over what one does on a Friday night.  Between churches it can be over how one receives salvation or it can be over how we practice or understand baptism or communion.  Whatever the case, Paul’s advice is the same: do not judge but seek to accept and understand one another.  Paul says we must do this because ultimately, “none of us lives to himself alone… We belong to the Lord”.

Christ is the one who unites all Christians and all Christian churches.  There is one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit.  God created each and every one of us and loves us all dearly and equally.  Jesus taught live and grace to all people He met and went to the cross to give forgiveness of sins and a way to eternal life for all people.  The promise if the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives was a promise and gift to everyone.  May we each seek to love God and to love all of our neighbors as Christ loves us, bringing unity and strength to the whole body of Christ, to the church universal.


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Constant, Universal

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21

Verse 17: What is the matter, Hagar?  Do not be afraid.

Today we find the culmination of the story of Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael.  It is the story of ignoring God’s promise and taking matters into ones own hands.  It is the story of jealousy, anger, abuse, betrayal, abandonment, and rescue.  Sarah has asserted herself and Abraham sends Hagar and ‘the boy’ off into the desert.  Isaac is Sarah’s son and the answer to God’s promise.  He will be the rightful heir.  It will be how the story unfolds as we read on in Genesis.

Yet a part of Abraham is conflicted, troubled.  Ishmael is his son, his flesh and blood.  Sending him off into the desert probably will not end well.  God speaks to Abraham and gives him assurances that ‘the son of your maidservant’ will also one day be the head of a nation.  ‘The boy’ will not die in the desert.  He has a future.  This reassurance allows Abraham to send them off into the desert, out and away from them forever.

This, however, is not quite the end of the story for Hagar.  Recall that she had been rescued by God once before.  Hagar would name God “the God who sees me”.  That God sees her again.  Just as she resigns herself to dying of thirst just yards from her son as he dies of thirst, God once again intervenes.  God calls out to her, “What is the matter, Hagar?  Do not be afraid”.  She too hears God’s promise for Ishmael and then God opens her eyes to see the water well that He has provided.  The passage ends with God’s continued care and provision through childhood and even into marriage.

Our God of love cares for those who are not ‘chosen’.  Hagar and Ishmael were part of Abraham and Sarah’s impatience and lack of trust in God.  On our human level, we would maybe want to see them off too.  They would remind us of our sin.  I am grateful that God loves all people, not just those who love or worship Him.  God’s love is constant; it is universal.  It is a love that Jesus would call us to follow and live out.  So when the Holy Spirit leads us to love the other, may this story remind us that God loves all of humanity so that we can go and do likewise.


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One – Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13

Verse 13: We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The church today is made up of many different parts.  Paul uses the body as an analogy for the church.  Our bodies have many, many parts that all come together to form a cohesive and functioning body.  Within the body, each part is necessary and needed for the body to function at its best.  So it is with the body of Christ we call the church.

When we look at the world of Christian churches out there, there are hundreds and hundreds of different denominations. As with all things, diversity is both good and bad.  In most ways, our faith diversity is good and healthy.  Diversity provided options and leaves room for personal thought and opinion and belief.  If every single church were exactly alike, then it would not appeal to nearly as many people as our many denominations do.  But diversity can also work against unity.  It can be too easy to get caught up in our differences.  And sometimes we do.

Verse 13 reads, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”.  The key words in this verse are: all, baptized, one Spirit, one body.  To me, “all” implies a high level of unity.  No matter what our denominational preference, we should all, first and foremost, be Christians – Christ-followers.  Christian first, denomination second.  We are all “baptized” into Christ’s one body.  We are not baptized into a particular denomination.  We are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, into the universal Christian church.  This work is done by the Holy Spirit alone.  It is “the Holy Spirit”, not the Episcopal Holy Spirit or the Baptist Holy Spirit or …  By the Holy Spirit.  There is just one Holy Spirit just as there is only one God and one Jesus.

Yes, the body of Christ is indeed diverse denominationally, yet we are unified as Christians.  May we rejoice as much in our unity as in our diversity.  May we all focus on Christ and our common call to build His kingdom here on earth.


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Universal Love

Reading: Romans 4: 1-5 & 13-17

Paul’s writing today is all about inclusion.  At the time of this writing, Paul was trying to show how universal God’s love is.  Some were hung up on being circumcised and living under the Law as the requirements to be in God’s family.  Paul states that it by faith alone that we receive the promise.  It is through the promise that we are saved.  His argument is based upon salvation by grace alone.  Paul developed this line of thinking from the realization that no one can follow the Law enough or do enough good works to earn or deserve salvation.  Paul knew that it was only by God’s grace that anyone can be saved.  Paul personally experienced this in his own redemption story and it was his life’s work to bring in any and all into God’s family.

This is also our call as individuals and as churches.  There are many people who feel as if they are outside of God’s love.  Some feel they have done too much wrong or have too great a sin, some feel they are too broken, some feel they could never be good enough…  The list is long, the barriers are many.  To all of these people, Paul’s message is that no one is too anything to step into the love of God. All are loved by God.  This is our message to carry forth as well.  The doors of our hearts and the doors of all of our churches need to reflect this idea of universal inclusion.  This means we see all as God sees them, as a child of God.  Yes, they may be less than perfect.  We all are.  News flash.  And yet God offers us all love and grace and forgiveness.  Who are we to draw lines and put up barriers?

May we all have the courage to live out our faith.  May we all be willing to see lost people simply as they are: just another broken child of God who needs to meet their Father.  May each person that crosses our path or walks through the doors of our places of worship encounter the pure and universal love of God in us, opening the way for them to experience God’s love and grace and forgiveness.  God is for all people.  May we help it to be so today.


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New

Reading: Acts 11: 1-10

This day, may we experience God in a new or unexpected way.  May God break into our ordinary and reveal Himself to us in a way that grows our faith.  May it be through an encounter with Him or through someone who crosses our path this day.

In today’s text, Peter encounters God in a new way that totally changed how He looked at a whole group of people.  It was a radical shift that was made in a relatively short time frame.  Today’s story has two lessons for us as we continue on our faith journey.

First, God is patient.  God did not reveal the vision of the sheet and animals once and then hope Peter understood.  He kept running the vision until Peter understood what God wanted him to know.  We too require God’s patience.  The person God wants us to minister to or to enter a caring relationship with may come to us repeatedly if necessary – maybe in person, maybe through the Spirit bringing them to our mind, maybe through a conversation with another person – until we realize God is at work.  Then we must respond.

Second, God seeks to increase our faith through our experiences.  Peter knew that God loved him and the Jewish people through his life experiences.  Culturally and religiously he had been taught exclusivity in God’s love for humanity.  Through the vision, Peter’s understanding of God’s love  grew greatly.  Peter came to know God’s love as universal and unconditional and unlimited.  He now knew how BIG God’s love is.  We too must come to know this.  Once we understand that God loves all people, then how we seek, look at, interact with, relate to, and love others is radically changed.  May we  see that person or those people today in a new way, through eyes and a heart that reflects the vast and unconditional, unlimited, universal love of God.