pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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No God Like Our God

Reading: Psalm 77:1-2 and 11-20

Verse 13: “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?”

Psalm 77 walks an interesting but familiar road. The psalmist begins by lifting a cry to God. In distress, the writer sought the Lord. When we are in this place, we too seek God. The psalmist stays at it, stretching out “untiring hands” while refusing to be comforted by anything or anyone but God. The author knows the one source of true and lasting comfort.

Jumping to verse 11 the deeds and works of the Lord are remembered. In that place of distress, it is so important to bring to mind all that God has done. Some of God’s actions can be found in the Bible. These are great reminders of how God acts and of God’s character. Some are found in our own experiences. We or someone we know has been touched by an act of God. In both cases, remembering strengthens our faith. It does so because God is steadfast, true, and unchanging. We can trust that God will act as God has acted before. We can count on God’s love, peace, compassion, comfort, mercy, grace, provision, guidance, protection…

These truths about God are expressed so wonderfully in verse 13. Here we read, “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?” How true this is! Above all, God is holy. Because of this, God is just and fair, good and kind and loving. There is no god like our God! How true! This is a great reminder. It is a reminder we need often. Truth be told, sometimes we forget these truths and we turn to the lesser gods of this world. The next time we’re tempted to do just that, may we recall this simple truth: there is no god like our God! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you alone are worthy of our focus, of our devotion, of our worship. There is none like you. Gently guide me back when I wander, when I falter. Ever draw me back to you, O God. Amen.


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Friends and Fairness

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 13: “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius'”?

When the landowner hires the first group, early in the morning, they agree on a denarius for their pay. With each subsequent group the landowner says, “I will pay you whatever is right”. It was an agriculturally based economy and a denarius was the accepted wage for a days labor. The ones hired at noon, for example, would expect a half denarius for their efforts. To have good workers in your vineyard, fair pay was essential. To be able to provide for your family, a fair wage was essential. This remains how the world works.

At the end of the day the foreman is directed to pay the ones who only worked one hour first and to work his way to the ones who worked twelve hours. The story would have a totally different feel, a different impact, if told the other way around. If paid first, the twelve hours crew would go home with their denarius, happy to have earned a whole days wage. Those hired later would be happy about receiving more than they deserved, especially the three and one hour crews. But this is not a story about happiness. It is a parable about God’s grace and love towards us and about God’s sense of fairness and contentment. The parable is aimed at the religious, at those who think it unfair that a lifelong sinner could be suddenly saved and forgiven. The religious disliked how easily and freely Jesus welcomed sinners into the family of God. He was so generous with his time and love. The religious wanted the sinners to live right first – meeting all the requirements, following all the rules, jumping through all the right hoops – before entering the family of God. They wanted the sinners to get all cleaned up before joining the family. Jesus was too much of a “take you as you are” kind of guy for their particular taste.

In verse thirteen the landowner responds to the angry twelfth hour folks by saying, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius”? There are two things to note here. First, the owner calls the employee “friend”. That would be like God calling you and me ‘friend’. Wait, God does. God does not rule from on high, looking down on us, condemning us if we fail to be perfect. No, God invites us to walk and talk with him, to be his companion, to be our friend – warts and sins and all. Second, the landowner reminds the workers that he is not being unfair. I need to be reminded of this over and over when my inner Pharisee rises up and tried to look down on the humble tax collector over in the corner. God promised us grace (among many other things). God’s grace is not a finite quantity. When another receives God’s grace, there isn’t suddenly less for me. Yet sometimes I begrudge others receiving grace. Because of God’s endless love for all of humanity, there is always more than enough grace for us all. Instead of worrying about what others received, we should be thankful that we are blessed by God’s grace. I always receive way more than I deserve. Today may we each give thanks for God’s abundant grace and for our personal relationship with God, giver of grace.

Prayer: Lord God, this journey is not about happiness or getting my “fair” share relative to others. There’s no earning my way into relationship with you. So turn me from the world’s sense of happiness and from the earthly desire to compare. Help me to simply trust in my relationship with you. You desire to be my all in all. Guide me to live like I believe that and trust into that all of the time. May I rest today in your love and grace. Amen.


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Undeserved? YES!

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 1: “The kingdom of God is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard”.

Today’s parable in Matthew is the second in a row where Jesus teaches about God’s upside-down kingdom. If we were the workers who were hired early in the morning, we too would be upset when we received the same pay as those who worked only one hour. Like these workers, it would not matter a whole lot to us that we agreed to our pay before we even started working or that it was a fair days wage. Similarly, those who worked nine hours would be pretty upset, those who worked six hours would be kind of upset… On the surface level we struggle with this story just as we can sometimes struggle with the story of the thief on the cross found in Luke 23.

Jesus’ actual behavior also reflects this upside-down feel. He did not spend most of his time in the temple. He did not recruit his followers from elite rabbi schools. Jesus himself was not even trained as a professional rabbi. The religious leaders were much like the full day workers in our parable. They cringed and recoiled when Jesus forgave the sins of adulterous women and greedy tax collectors and the lame and deaf and mute – those obviously carrying the lifelong burden of some unrepentant sin. Like the thief on the cross and the workers who only came at the last hour, people like these do not deserve such easy grace, such free flowing forgiveness.

Do we sometimes cringe and recoil at who God continues to invite into the kingdom of God? Do we ever walk into church on a Sunday morning and wonder, Who let them in? If so, we need to check the inner religious snob hiding inside of us too.

I do not know about you, but I am glad that God is the God of late in life professions of faith and death bed confessions of Jesus as Lord. That expression of generous and unconditional grace is the same exact grace that forgives my struggle with pride for the zillionth time. Yes, yes, we rejoice at that grace. Whether one comes at the first hour or at the last hour, may all hear about and come to experience that same extravagant and wonderful grace.

Prayer: Loving and generous God, it is so wonderful to live within your abundant and generous grace. Even though I may not deserve to experience it over and over, you continue to pour it over me time and time again. Thank you for your love of a sinner like me. Amen.


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Sacred Worth

Reading: Philemon 1-21

Verse 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ”.

Paul writes this letter to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. He is a slave that ran away from Philemon and served Paul during this time. We do not know when Onesimus became a Christian. We do know that slavery was common and was accepted during this time. Paul implies that Onesimus is a changed man and that Philemon should accept him back as such. Paul encourages him to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a “dear brother” in Christ. There is an implication that Onesimus would be more useful and would serve him better if Philemon treats him as an equal rather than as a slave.

Although slavery is not legal in most places today, the implication still has application for us today. In our day to day lives we see and encounter all sorts of people. Society and groups within society often have a social order established that says this person is better than that one and that person is lower than those people. It happens at school, at work, on our teams, in line at the store, driving down the street… None of us are exactly alike. We not only have physical attributes that make us each unique, we also have different intrinsic abilities that add another layer to our individualism. Society often places arbitrary value or worth on this attribute or that ability. Paul is saying that the only thing that matters in how we treat others is our inherent status as children of God. If that is our only measuring stick, then we will treat all equally. When we treat one person this way and that person another way, then we are straying from Jesus’ example. Jesus treated the prostitute the same way he treated the Pharisee. He treated the leper the same way he treated the closest disciples.

Paul’s plea is for Philemon to treat Onesimus as a fellow brother in Christ. Sometimes we will be the one serving or working or playing for another. Sometimes we will be on the other side of the equation. In either case Christ is our example. If all we do and say and think is modeled after Jesus’ example, then we will see all people’s sacred worth and we will treat all people equally and fairly. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to see you in all I meet today. In all I encounter may love be the guide and the driving force behind all I do and say and think. Amen.


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Generous Fruit?

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

John the Baptist begins his teaching with a challenge, calling out the “vipers” and in the crowd. The general thought is that John is addressing the religious leaders who have come out to see him. They came not to repent and be baptized but to see just what John is up to and to ridicule him and his message. “Just who does he think he is?” would be their primary thought. John, who knows that he has been sent by God, is not intimidated or threatened. He directly addresses their arrogance and sense of privilege, warning that the ax is already at the root. Many have come to John, heard his message, and have repented and been baptized. The proof is in the pudding. John challenges the religious leaders to do the same, saying, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. In other words, it isn’t enough to just say you have faith; it must be visible in your life and in the lives of those you minister to.

Before we jump on the Pharisee and Sadducee condemnation bandwagon, we must first look within ourselves. Do our lives of faith bear kingdom fruit? Do our lives draw others into relationship with Jesus Christ? John gives some practical examples of what this looks like. For some, it is clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. For others it is not using your position of authority to take advantage of others, but to treat all fairly and equally and justly. For others it is being content with what you have, not getting into the race to have more and more. In doing so, it allows others to have some.

This season of the year is a time when many are generous. Is it just to keep our spouse and children and good friends happy and satisfied? Or is it to spread the love of Jesus Christ to just one more person and then to one more person after that? Do we seek ways to give gifts that do not come wrapped up in pretty paper? If we do, then we will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Giving God, guide me to those in need of hope as well as the basics of life – food, shelter, clothing. Help me to be a blessing in all the ways I can to all the people I can, shining your light and love into their lives. Amen.


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Here I Am

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verse Five: Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

Moses’ life has settled into a simple daily rhythm.  Life consists of eat, sleep, and take care of the sheep.  For Moses, the wilderness is a welcome refuge.  He grew up safe and protected and in need of nothing as the son of the daughter of Pharaoh.  Then he found out about his heritage, defended a fellow Israelite, and ended up fleeing Egypt in fear for his life.  Jethro had taken him in and life was slow and quiet and peaceful, just as Moses wanted it.

Moses is not alone in his preference for the simpler, more relaxed lifestyle.  Many people choose to do not something because it is just easier.  There is more ease and less commitment to sit on the couch after supper instead of going for the walk.  It is easier to sleep in and watch cartoons than it is to get the kids up and ready for church.  It is easier to ignore the problem when a child has stolen something than it is to knock on the door and engage your neighbor in the difficult conversation.  It is easier to change the channel than it is to watch the news footage and to feel the urge to send some money.  This list can go on and on, can’t it?

Moses encounters the God that he has largely been absent from in the burning bush.  Moses is drawn to this strange site.  Once there at the bush, God has his attention and He calls Moses’ name.  Moses senses who he hears and responds, “Here I am”.  He accepts God’s call to engage again.  God goes on to instruct Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”.  It is a gentle reminder that to be in the presence of God is to be in a holy place.  When Moses realizes just where he is at and just who he is with, fear overtakes him and he hides his face.

At times we too can wander into the presence of God.  Life is just rolling along as we tend our sheep (or sit on the couch or snooze or turn away…) and suddenly God intercedes in our lives.  An injustice or a tragedy or something else triggers compassion or righteous anger or empathy and we are called by God to engage, to get involved, to make a difference.  The unjust or unfair situation is our ‘burning bush’.  Then we too must decide.  As God calls “John” or “Susan” or “Henry” or “Jen” or …, do we too say, “Here I am”?  May it be so.


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The Low and Downtrodden

In our world there are many kinds of leaders – kings, presidents, premiers, dictators, and so on.  In most cases their primary focus is maintaining control or to stay in power.  They seek the favor of those who will re-elect them or who help the stay in power.  In these systems, there is no need to be concerned with the low and the downtrodden.

What a contrast to what God taught the Jews and to what Jesus taught the disciples and now teaches us.  The idea of ‘love your neighbor’ had no caveats or asterisks.  All people are to be loved and cared for – especially the low and downtrodden.  Yet these are the people who can only offer thanks in return for kindness and love.  Their vote is minimal at best.

Can we meld the two and have a viable leader?  Is it possible to govern well and to defend the oppressed, to stop injustice, and to care for the needy?  Is it possible to care for the low and downtrodden while being loving and fair to the high and mighty as well?  The key is the same: love your neighbor.

Scripture Reference: Psalm 72