pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Focus Shift

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 42: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.”

Photo credit: Javardh

In today’s and tomorrow’s text from Matthew 24 Jesus is telling us to always be prepared for his return. It is hard to always be prepared for something – especially if we don’t know when or where or how that moment will come. A social studies test on Tuesday during second period? Sure – I’ll study Monday night and Tuesday morning. A physical fitness test for my next rank on December 11? Sure – I’ll start jogging and doing sit-ups this Monday. Jesus is coming back in January or in 23 years or in 5 more generations or… Harder to always be prepared.

Jesus warns us against one of my biggest struggles – being busy. Using the people of Noah’s day as an example, Jesus says they were all just going about life. All were too busy to really take pause at this man building a giant boat. How often I can get so busy that I miss signs and opportunities to serve others or to minister to another. Maybe you’re not like me, but I have lots of woulda, coulda, shoulda moments.

In verses 42 Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.” Jesus is calling us to always pay attention, to always be ready, to always notice, to always step into the opportunity. Put another way, he is calling us to be less self-focused, to be more selfless. My self-imposed busyness is just that – a choice. Maybe yours is too. Instead, may we shift focus to others, so that we can love, care for, comfort, encourage, uplift, strengthen… all that God brings before us each day.

Prayer: Lord God, peel my time and focus away from me and turn it outward, to those whom you bring into my life each day. Open my eyes and heart to these. Amen.


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Choose

Reading: Luke 10:38-42

Verse 40: “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”

Photo credit: Robert Bye

At the end of Luke 10 Jesus visits the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Martha, we read, opens her home to Jesus. Her home would become a favorite and regular place to stop on the way in and out of Jerusalem. They would become good friends.

As Jesus and his disciples relax and settle in, Mary joins them as Jesus begins to share with the group. We assume Lazarus was there too. Mary makes the choice to be in Jesus’ presence. Martha does not. In verse 40 we read that “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Sleeping quarters must be made ready, there is a meal to provide – so much to get ready! Martha feels responsible.

We too can feel responsible. There are always deadlines and things that need done. We too can feel really busy. After all, it is what our world expects. Busyness is highly prized in our culture. It’s a sign of success and productivity. So we fill our lives and our schedules, not leaving a free moment. We can easily become like Martha. I’d really like to go to church but I have so much to do. Sure, I’d love to serve on that team, but I don’t think I can free up that one hour a month. Sorry, all 168 hours each week are spoken for.

While things like work and sleep and time with family and friends are all important, even necessary, Mary chose the “better thing.” She was intentional about taking time to be in Jesus’ presence. Jesus acknowledges Martha’s busyness and reminds her that “only one thing is needed” – time with the Lord. Each day may we choose as Mary did.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to keep margin in my life. Guard my heart and mind against busyness. May you be my priority. Amen.


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Shine Upon Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s reading from Psalm 80 is a great plea for God’s presence and for God’s power to be manifest in our lives. It is a good plea for us to read, to consider, to pray over ourselves as we walk through Advent this year. Advent calls us to slow down, to become present to the Christ child in the manger, to focus our lives on the gift of Emmanuel, God with us. Christmas, on the other hand, calls for celebrations and parties, for rush, rush, rush. In the Psalm a phrase is repeated three different times. Against the worldly rush of Christmas, we pray this verse over ourselves today: “Restore us, O Lord God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”

In verses one and two we read the psalmist’s plea: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.” The writer recognizes Israel’s need for one who will be like a shepherd – one who will lead and guide the flock. He pleads for God to “come and save us.” In power and might Jesus will come and save the people. Just as the notions of Advent and Christmas are different, soo to was Jesus’ revelation of power and might. He demonstrated power in love of God and neighbor. He revealed might in his obedience to God’s will and ways. This is how the Good Shepherd reigns. It is into this kingdom that we are invited – both to receive and to give away.

As we enter the third week of Advent, it is the week of joy. All of us can struggle to keep our focus on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, during this season. For some of us loss or grief feels heavy. For some it is busyness and expectations that limit our joy. What is it that is inhibiting your joy? What can you name right now that you need God’s light to shine upon, leading you towards restoration and wholeness this Advent season?

Prayer: Lord God, each of us needs your light to shine a little brighter into our lives. Shepherd, reveal our need and guide us to humbly ask you to restore us and to renew our sense of joy. May your face shine upon us; be gracious to us, O Lord. Amen.


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Be Always Alert

Reading: Luke 21: 29-36

Verse 34: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down… and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”

In our second half of the Luke 21 passage Jesus first calls us to see the signs of new life all around us. In the natural world the leaves sprout as the weather warms, indicating new life on the way. In the world of faith, Jesus calls us to see the signs of new life all around us. When we are aware of Jesus’ presence in and around us, we live fully in the kingdom of God here on earth. This is one of the invitations of the Advent season.

In our lives we can become so busy this time of year. Busyness is one of our main distractions. In verse 34 Jesus warns against this, saying, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down… and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” Be careful or January 1 will suddenly be here. Be careful or we will miss the “Christ” in Christmas. Jesus is spot on in what distracts us. He begins with “dissipation” – the wasteful consumption of material things. Just one more present… a Christmas a little bigger and better than last year… Jesus then moves on to “drunkenness”. This entails more than alcohol. Can’t we fit in just one more party? Can’t we fit just a few more guests around the table? Can you pass the mashed potatoes? He closes this list with “the anxieties of life”. We can worry about pleasing friends and family. We can stress about being enough, doing enough, giving enough. We can worry about paying the tab – both monetarily and physically – after the holidays end. All of these things can distract us from the signs of new life all around us during this Advent season.

This Advent season, may we “be always on the watch”, living fully in the light and love of Jesus Christ present all around us. To see them we must look for the signs of Christ during this season. Doing so may we live a life worthy of our calling, thus sharing the light and love with the world.

Prayer: Lord God, each day draw me to your light and love. Open my heart and eyes to signs of your love all around me. Light up this season with your presence. Amen.


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The Vine

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”.

Photo credit: Rohit Tandon

Jesus begins John 15 with a familiar analogy. Vineyards were common in Israel – a good topic to use to describe the connection between disciples and the divine. In the first verse Jesus establishes himself as the vine and God as the one who tends the vine. You and I are branches.

Over the years, on my walk of faith, I have found it very important for me to stay closely connected to Jesus. Has this been true for you? When I am faithful about my personal disciplines – early morning prayer, reading and study, reflection, journaling – then my daily life is better aligned with Jesus’ mission. In those seasons when I am just going through the motions, my connection weakens and my faith begins to get dry and stale. Challenges and difficulties arise during both seasons. Working through these with Jesus is much different than going it on my own. Has this been your experience too?

A grape vine, like all living organisms, is either growing or it is dying. Seeing the leaves and then the grapes appear and mature is easy. Noticing the vine growth is not so noticeable. Left unchecked a vine will grow and grow. If left on its own, the vine growth will decrease fruit production. This reminds me of something that I must guard against. In ministry it can be easy to say ‘yes’ to many things. I’m active and am a doer, so this is my natural tendency. I want to try new things, to offer more opportunities, to just keep adding. Because of this tendency, I am thankful for the gardener. At times God prunes me. The Holy Spirit reveals a busyness that can be let go. A fellow Christian questions my latest, greatest idea or impulse. A colleague in ministry helps me to return to the focus of my calling. Each of these persons reminds me of the truth of verse five: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”. To bear fruit you and I must remain closely connected to Jesus Christ, the source of our faith and love. May it ever be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Loving God, day by day, draw me to you. Fill me each mourning, nourishing me for the day ahead. Guard my heart and mind, leading me to walk the path you purpose for me. Connected to your son, may we bear much fruit. Amen.


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Who Matters Most?

Reading: Mark 1: 29-39

Verse 35: “Very early in the morning… Jesus got up… went off to a solitary place, where he prayed”.

Photo credit: Cathryn Lavery

We are still in chapter one of Mark’s gospel. Much has already happened – John the Baptist prepared the way and baptized Jesus, Jesus is tempted by Satan, the first disciples are called, and then Jesus teaches and drives out a demon. And chapter one is not even over! Each of these events could be a whole chapter. Mark moves along at a quick pace, providing just enough detail for us to follow his story of Jesus. Sometimes life feels like this, doesn’t it? There will be stretches where it feels like we move from one thing to the next to the next…

After all of the busyness of ministry, it is not surprising that we read these words in verse 35: “Very early in the morning… Jesus got up… went off to a solitary place, where he prayed”. Jesus got up when everyone else was sleeping and slipped off to a quiet place. It has been a late night healing many and driving out many demons. Sleeping in would have probably felt good. But Jesus had a deeper need, a spiritual need. Having given much over that last few days he needed to reconnect to God, to be filled up by time with God, to be in conversation with God. Prayer is not meant to be a monologue but an enriching and fulfilling conversation. Considering Jesus’ example, it begs the question: do we follow? Do we take time each day to find our solitary place to connect with the Lord our God? Do we dedicate the time and energy to read and meditate on his word, to consider how God’s word applies to our life? Do we spend some uninterrupted quiet time talking with God each day?

Busyness is one of our greatest challenges on our journey of faith. Saying “no” or “later” to God’s call in big and small ways is so often rooted in our busyness. Listening to a quick podcast or audio devotional while driving to work or school is how many try and wedge in some God time. Uttering a quick prayer walking from the car to the office, school,… suffices for our daily prayer time. Did Jesus just pray as he and the disciples traveled to the next village? It did not matter one bit that the disciples said, “Everyone is looking for you” when they found him. Jesus knew who and what mattered most. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day connect me to you. Day by day meet me in the quiet and dark. Day by day whisper your words of life into my heart and soul. Day by day fill me with more and more of 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.


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Trust

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 5: “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”.

David follows the typical pattern found in lament Psalms: pouring out his heart and his pain and then coming to the Lord in praise. I think that this pattern is typical of many of our deepest relationships. At times we need to express the hurt or frustration or anger that we are experiencing and then we can move on in that situation or relationship. On a smaller scale that is “venting” or “letting off steam”. On a bigger scale it can be finally having that really good cry. Both bring relief or cleanse our thoughts and emotions enough so that we can focus on what really matters. For persons of faith, that means focusing first on God and on our relationship with God.

In verse five David finally gets to this point. Here he writes, “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”. Head and heart being expressed, he can now turn to the more eternal, more powerful force: God. I too can get bogged down in the worldly stuff from time to time. It can be a difficult situation or it can just be from too much busyness. In those times the focus becomes more on me and my concerns. God seems to take more of a back seat. Then I end up where David is in the first few verses of Psalm 13 – feeling distant from God and wondering where God went. Soon enough God reminds me that it was me who created distance, me who allowed something else to take priority in my life or heart or mind. In a passage or something I read, in a song or in the words of a friend, I am reminded of that unfailing love and of the hope I have in his saving grace. It is then that a song or prayer of praise fills my heart.

Songs of lament are good reminders that life will be hard at times. We will struggle, especially when we shift our eyes and focus from the one who is worthy of our praise. Today’s Psalm reminds us to allow ourselves to feel and to express our emotions to God, trusting in his love and care. May we ever turn to God, the rock of our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, in the highs and lows, you are the same. Whether I am on the mountaintop or in the depth of the valley, you are steadfast and true. Remind me over and over to turn to you, to hold fast to you. You are my rock and only hope. Amen.


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Compassion

Readings: Psalm 29 and Psalm 72: 1-7 and 10-14

Psalm 72, verse 4: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”.

Beginning in Psalm 29 one feels the glory and strength and splendor of God. There is power and might in God’s voice. It is like thunder that breaks the cedars and strips the forest bare. God’s voice thunders over the waters and the whole earth. David closes by remembering that the God who resides far above us, the one enthroned forever, will also give strength and blessings of peace to his people.

Turning to Psalm 72 Solomon adds depth to God’s character. For Solomon, God is a God of justice and righteousness. The powerful and somewhat distant God of the heavens in Psalm 29 is also a God that cares personally for the afflicted. In Psalm 72, verse four, we read: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”. Those that many in society will look past or over, God sees and will intervene on their behalf. God incarnate, Jesus in the flesh, echoes this compassion for the outcast and downtrodden. Jesus often speaks of feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners… In Matthew 25 Jesus even defines such actions as part of the sorting process for admission into eternal life.

Even though God and later Jesus are compassionate and loving towards “the least of these”, in our world today this just does not seem like a high priority for most Christians. There seems to be plenty of time to go hunting or to a sporting event or ten, but when the call goes out to be in mission at the jail or to serve a meal to those in need, the line is noticably shorter.

Too often our busyness feels consuming and too easily becomes the excuse we give when the voice of the Holy Spirit comes calling. Think about all the passages in the Bible that speak of the times that Jesus was too busy to heal the blind man or to build faith in one who came at night or… Oh ya – there aren’t any. There shouldn’t be any in our lives either. May it be so.

Prayer: Compassionate God, your heart goes out to the needy and it is closely followed by your hands. The heart of Jesus always had time for the powerless and the outcast. Make my heart more like that too, O God. Pour your heart into mine. Amen.


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Ever Ready

Reading: Luke 12: 35-40

Verse 38: “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready”.

In Jesus’ words that we looked at yesterday, he instructed the disciples not to be afraid. He emphasized God’s pleasure in giving them the kingdom. Jesus also encourages his followers to find and store up treasures in heaven. In our passage today Jesus speaks of being ready both daily and for his return. For his contemporary audience, they first thought Jesus’ return was imminent. Holding onto the treasures of the earth was not a priority for them if Jesus would return soon. They gave to others in need generously because they expected Jesus to return very soon.

While we live knowing that, yes, Jesus could come back this afternoon, we do not live with much urgency about our faith. That future return seems a long way off. Being ready for that return does not feel pressing. We do not like to consider our own departure either. So we have grown complacent. In our passage today, Jesus addresses this tendency, saying, “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready”. For Jesus, being ready does not mean waiting or doing nothing. For Jesus, being ready means living an active faith. Like the men who immediately opened the door when their master returned, we too should be ready to jump into action for Jesus, our master. When an opportunity comes to minister to or to pray for or to serve another comes along we should be ready to live out our faith.

Jesus calls us to be ready for two things in today’s reading. In order to be ready, we must first be prepared. To be ready to live out our faith, we must be ready spiritually. God’s word must be fresh upon our lips and Christ’s servant heart must be guiding us. Busyness or laziness cannot consume our lives or we will miss the opportunity. We also must be ready ourselves to meet our Jesus. We must ever live in a right relationship with him – talking with him daily, confessing our sins regularly, studying his example… In all ways may we be ready for our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Dear God, help me to always be ready. Do not allow me to become complacent or lazy. Give me this day a servant’s heart, willing to serve all I meet. Amen.