pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Blameless, Walking

Reading: Genesis 7: 1-7 and 15-16

Verse 1: “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless”.

Photo credit: Sarah Berriman

Our passage for today and tomorrow begins with these words: “When Abram was 99…” Sarai, his wife, is almost as old. The rest of our passage is about the promise of God’s action in their lives and about what God will require of them. In the rest of verse one God says, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless”. El Shaddai, God almighty, tells them to be faithful and to be blameless. This was God’s desire for Abram’s and for Sarai’s life. It is God’s desire for you and for me too.

What does it mean to “walk before God”? It is the intentional effort to live all of ones life transparently before God. At times we can pretend that God can’t or won’t see what we are doing or want to do. This becomes a pass to give in the the temptation. To walk before God would prevent such decisions and actions. Knowing that God is almighty means that all is laid bare before him anyway, but making the commitment to walk in his presence says we are ready and desire to live in an honest and intimate relationship with God all of the time.

The second command is to be “blameless”. The execution of this command is like the first – it is the target, the goal, our desire, our hope. But just as it is impossible to always walk before God, so too is it impossible to always be blameless. The intent is the same though. We strive to get up each day and to walk with God every moment, being blameless in his sight. This effort and desire also tells God, ‘yes, I want to be in relationship with you; yes, I want to be like Jesus’.

Up to this point in their lives Abram and Sarai were not perfect or blameless – far from it. Nor would they be blameless or walk with God all the time going forward. God already knew this about them yet still made the promise, still offered the covenant. Why? Because God loves his children and created us to be in relationship with him. Nothing is more pleasing to God than when we love him and seek to live in relationship with him. This day and every day may we seek to walk with God, blameless before him.

Prayer: Lord, today may I walk each moment with you. May my steps be on the path you place before me today. Continue to create in me a pure heart and a willing spirit. Amen.


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Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse 9: “He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever”.

Photo credit: Oscar Ivan Esquivel Artega

In the second half of Psalm 111 the focus shifts from the great works of God to the everlasting nature of God’s love. In verse seven the psalmist declares that God’s precepts or ways are trustworthy and are steadfast “for ever and ever”. Then in verse nine the writer speaks of the redemption that God provided as “he ordained his covenant forever”. Forever is always the nature of God’s covenants. They are not like a contract – that which we prefer. Contracts can be broken, renegotiated, bought out… when we no longer want to live under that arrangement. Not so with a covenant. God’s covenant states that he will be our God, our love, our hope forever. No matter what.

Marriage would be the closest thing we have to a covenant relationship. As one takes their marriage vows, one gets a sense of the forever, no matter what, unconditional love that God offers and gives in his covenant with us. As one says, “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…” they are really saying “forever” in terms of this earthly relationship. Marriage is an earthly relationship that models our eternal relationship with God. In fact, husband-wife and groom-bride language describes the relationship between Jesus and church, between follower and redeemer. Jesus chose this language intentionally. It both elevated our human marriages and it placed our covenant relationship with God in terms that we could grasp and understand.

Humans prefer contracts over covenants. They better suit our selfish hearts and our changing wants and desires. God prefers covenants. God is unchanging, steadfast, and true. God has chosen us forever. God created us for that purpose. Even though I may waver, even though I may stumble, even though I may fail, God remains eternally our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, I am so grateful for your “no matter what” love – for the love that is always there for me. Thank you for redeeming me again and again, working in me to shape me and to transform me more and more into your image. 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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Lord of Love

Reading: Matthew 21: 23-27

Verse 23: “The chief priests and elders came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things’? they asked”.

In today’s passage Jesus is in the temple, the home court of the religious leaders. He is teaching. Not just anyone can enter the temple courts and begin preaching. Not quite ready to simply run him out, the leaders ask Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things”? Jesus is not what they envisioned for the Messiah, so they have a hard time seeing him for who he is.

People still do this today. Jesus is not exactly who they want him to be or he doesn’t function as they’d like him to, so they refuse to believe in him. Some expect Jesus to “do” certain things or to make life good. They cannot equate trials and sufferings to the Lord of love, so they abandon him too early in the process. When Jesus doesn’t immediately swoop in and fix things, they think him powerless. This was part of the religious leaders problem. They envisioned a conquering, Roman defeating Messiah. Jesus was a humble, surrendering Savior.

The religious leaders wanted Jesus to fit into their world. They also knew that he wasn’t just a man or some prophet. They acknowledge his power, admitting that he is “doing these things”. No one else can heal and make people whole again. But they want the Messiah to be one of them and Jesus is not. We too can want Jesus to be like us instead of us being like Jesus. This cannot be. Our love is limited, our surrender only partial. Jesus is the perfect example of God’s love – willing to humble himself fully, willing to give all of himself in surrender. He is the Messiah that came to save us all. He served through love. May we too seek to be like this Jesus, the model of love.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the Lord of love. May his love fill me and overflow into the lives of all I meet. In that love, shape me into a humble servant of all. Amen.


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Sincere, Devoted, Selfless

Reading: Romans 12: 9-21

Verse 10: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves”.

The section for today is titled “Love” in my Bible. If I had to choose just one word to describe or define God or Jesus, love would be the word. Love guides all that the divine does and says. In today’s passage, Paul encourages us to live the same way.

“Love” is a word that has many applications and even more degrees at the human level. Love, like most words, can be tossed around and can be easily manipulated. It can be twisted for our own purposes. These types of uses fall under the “hate what is evil” part of verse nine. Paul begins today by slicing through all of this by writing “love must be sincere”. Other translations use pure or genuine. It is a calling to love as God and as Jesus love. As Paul urges us to “cling to what is good”, I am reminded of the WWJD slogan. Well, Jesus would love.

In verse ten Paul writes, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves”. The first part of this verse mainly covers agape or brotherly love but the same ideas are essential with all forms of love. Being devoted means commitment and investment in the relationship. It means always honoring and respecting the other person. This approach naturally leads into the second part of this verse. Genuine or sincere love makes the intentional and purposeful choice to place the other person’s needs and wants ahead of our own. This is a call to selfless love. Often it is a sacrificial love. Here too we are reminded of the love that Jesus Christ modeled throughout his ministry and especially on the cross. There he put the needs of the entire world before his own wants as he conceded “not my will but your will be done” to God in the garden.

As we consider what sincere, devoted, selfless love looks like today, may we be thankful for Christ and for others who have loved and who love us this way. And may we strive to love in this model ourselves. May it be so with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, to have such a love is admittedly not always easy. The easier path is selfish and inwardly focused. Open my heart to love as you love. Help me to deny self and to even die to those parts of myself. Mold me and shape me to love as you first loved me. Amen.


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Our Shepherd(s)

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

Psalm 23 is probably the best known Psalm. Simply reading verse one triggers our memories and, for some, we can recite the remaining words. It is like saying, “Our Father who art…”. Like the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23 is a powerful reminder of God’s love and care for us. David uses a metaphor that was very familiar to his audience: God as shepherd and us as sheep. As this metaphor is used throughout the Bible, we too are familiar with it.

The opening three verses pour out God’s love and care. The shepherd provided all that was needed for the sheep. They had no sense of want. That too can be our experience when we trust fully in God. Living in trust we become content with our lives and with our daily portion. A good shepherd worked hard to find water and green pastures each day for his or her sheep. They also found a safe place for the sheep each night, enabling them to find rest and renewal for the day ahead. Our loving and caring God does all of this for us too when we trust in his love and care. When we wander off like a sheep, when we start seeing a greener pasture over yonder, when we think maybe we should be the shepherd – then we begin to experience feelings of unease and stress and anxiety. These feelings remind us to return to our proper place, to our right place, in our relationship with God.

That is what the second half of verse three is all about. When we allow God to lead, when we bow and let God be in control, then we are guided to walk the “path of righteousness for his name’s sake”. When we walk as God intends us to walk, we glorify God. Adding a New Testament lens to this classic Old Testament writing, we follow Jesus as his disciples, walking out our faith as we follow in the footsteps of our good shepherd. Doing so we bring glory to his name. In all we do and say and think today, may we bring him the glory.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for always leading and guiding me. Your ways are fulfilling and peaceful, restorative and righteous. Lead me each day to walk faithfully with you. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Verse 10: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan’! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'”.

After forty days of prayer and fasting Jesus is tempted by Satan. The tempting begins with the most immediate need: food. Not having eaten for a long time, Satan goes after the apparent weakness. We too face these attacks in our lives. For those living with hardships it can be easy to question God about how he is providing for food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. For those a little better off the new car or new home can be the provision that Satan dangles in front of the eyes. For some they may ask God why they only have a net worth of $3,000,000. Few are immune to the lures of want and greed. Contentment can be an elusive target.

Failing at the first attempt, Satan turns to testing Jesus’ relationship with God. Satan places Jesus in a position to throw himself off the tower. Let’s see if God will rescue you, Jesus. To turn away this temptation Jesus reminds Satan that we are not to test God. But oh how we can test God. Maybe it is with the crazy physical things we do. It could be reckless living or excessive consumption. It could be willful disobedience to see if God really loves us. At times this can also manifest itself in times of trial or grief. We ask or wonder why we are going through something; we wonder why it goes on and on. These thoughts are testing God or questioning God’s love for us, his plans for our lives.

When this does not work either, Satan offers Jesus the supreme enticement: power. Some crave all-out, total power over all aspects of life. Some just like to be in control of their own lives and decisions. Most of us fall somewhere in between. The lengths we will go to to attain or maintain our desired level of power can vary, but too often we can rationalize away whatever we seem necessary to reach that goal. Along the way we can bow down to any number of idols or false gods. In each case we are ultimately choosing to put self and our will ahead of God and his will. Jesus knew the only correct order: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.

The Christian journey is not easy. Satan is ever at work. To stay the course requires obedience, faith, and trust in God alone. May God ever be our companion on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you and your Spirit were with Jesus as he faced temptations, so too be with me. I am weak and Satan seems to know the chinks in my armor. Stand guard in those places, Lord. Be my shield and defender as I work to die to those sins. Build up my hope and faith in you alone. Amen.


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The Footstool and the Mountain

Reading: Psalm 99

Verse 5: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”.

Psalm 99 establishes that God reigns over all the earth and is to be worshipped by all the nations. Above all, God is holy. Because of this God loves justice and equity. God answers prayers. The Lord is pleased with Moses, Aaron, Samuel, and others who have walked faithfully. When one such as these calls on the Lord “he answers them”. All this leads the people to praise God. Verses five and nine speak of this and are almost identical. Verse five reads, “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”. Verse nine just substitutes “holy mountain” for “footstool”. The affect is the same.

The call to walk faithfully and to worship God is a call that we hear well. When we consider the presence of God in our lives and the contentment, peace, joy, hope… that God brings us, our responses are to keep walking and worshipping. Even though we know these practices to be true and right and worthy of our time, we can also struggle to always be obedient.

Being fully human we desire to walk our own way at times. We want what we want. Our selfishness seizes control and we claim to know better than God. As we begin down this road we find other idols to worship. They can be the common and obvious ones: possessions, status, or power. Or they can be the ones harder to see from the outside: pride, ego, jealousy, envy, gossip, anger… When we get off track come to the point where we find ourselves far from God.

When we are reawakened by the call or the nudge of the Holy Spirit, we can again seek to be faithful and obedient. In his great love and mercy, God welcomes us back. From this place of humility we bow and worship God at his footstool. God does not leave us there long. In that same great love and mercy God lifts us up. He restores us to fullness of life once again and we worship him as Moses did – on God’s holy mountain. Praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, you are rich in mercy and abundant in love. Your grace washes away my failures and your light guides me back to the path of faithful obedience once again. Thank you for always seeking me out by the power of your Holy Spirit. May my life be one of worship and praise, bringing others into your love and grace. Amen.


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Servant?

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Verse 1: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”.

Paul begins his letter to the Roman church by first identifying himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ”. Pause for a moment and consider what that word really means – servant. In Paul’s time a servant was totally subservient to the master. As such, their whole life was wrapped up in doing things for the master. They would go where told, would do whatever they were told to do. Their own will, desires, wants, thoughts, feelings were rarely considered. Paul sought to be a servant of Jesus Christ.

Today titles are important. Back in Paul’s day family names and birth places were important – Jesus of Nazareth, the sons of Zebedee… These adjectives described someone. Today we are first identified by our occupation. Meeting someone new, the first question is usually ‘What do you do’? When asked, I tell people that I am a Methodist pastor. Our own self-identity is very much wrapped up in what we do. So imagine, for a moment, the reactions and responses I would get if I answered as Paul did, telling others that I am a servant of Jesus Christ. You too can imagine the responses that this answer would draw.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are supposed to be servants of our Lord and King. Jesus himself came to be a humble servant and called us to follow his example. Because we do not first self-identity as a servant of Jesus Christ, there are two truths we must wrestle with. These truths are at the core of why we do not identify this way. Perhaps we are unwilling to really assume this role. We are reluctant to make all of our desires and all of our will subservient to Christ. We are OK with “most”. The second truth is the reality that would come with claiming such a title. To say we are a servant of Jesus implies quite a commitment. In the Advent series at our church we have been talking about what it would mean to be an “altogether Christian”. Such a person is a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul is making a high claim in his title of “servant”. Are we willing to do the same?

Prayer: God, the journey has been one of committing more and more to you and to doing your will. Even then, though, I know I am just “mostly” committed. Help me to move closer to “all in”, closer to loving and serving you with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. May it be so. Lord, may it be so. Amen.


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Even Then

Reading: Luke 17: 11-19

Verse 15: “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice”.

Ten are healed of their disease and are able to return to their families and to society. Ten are cured of the physical separation that they have endured. Only one finds a wholeness that extends beyond the physical. Only one connects back to the Lord Jesus, the One who healed his physical disease. He is the only one who really knows that his healing can lead to being made truly whole. Only one stops to acknowledge and worship the one who restored him to full life.

When we experience God’s hand at work in similar big ways, we likely take the time to pause and praise the Lord for what he has done. But what about the smaller things? Are we grateful and praising each day for the small blessings of yesterday? Do we truly thank God for all of the ways that our lives are blessed?

And how is our faith when the answer that we want does not come? Some of us live with an illness or infirmity for all of our lives or for the last portion of our life. Some of us live with a relationship that is broken. Some of us struggle with a grief that never goes away. Some of the time our loved ones do not get better. Each of these trials persist in spite of our prayers. What do we do when the leprosy remains?

Can we still live in our illness or brokenness within God’s love and care? Yes! We are promised the loving and caring presence of the Lord in the midst of our exile. He walks with us through the valley of the shadows. Like with Paul, that thorn in our side reminds us of our need for a strength that we do not have on our own. Even then – even in our illness and brokenness, we still find hope and life in the Lord Jesus Christ. May we fully trust in the Lord, finding new life and wholeness in him even on the toughest of days.

Prayer: Lord, you have walked with me through the valleys. You have even carried me at times. Help me to trust in your purposes and plans each time I experience a trial or am suffering. I know you are a good, good God. Thank you for always loving even me. Amen.