pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


1 Comment

Work in Progress

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Our passage for today begins with Jesus telling his disciples that he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed by the religious leaders. All is not to be lost, though. After three days he will rise again. These words must have been hard for the disciples to hear. But they are not totally shocking either. Jesus was often at odds with the religious leaders. Peter is the one to try and correct Jesus. He tries to tell Jesus that these things will never happen. He has to stay with them, he has to keep ministering to the people. It makes perfect sense that Peter is among those who will soon see Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

Jesus turns to Peter and says perhaps the harshest words to ever come from his lips: “Get behind me, Satan”! I imagine Peter fell back a step or two. This was the disciple who walked on water, who will pledge to die with Jesus, who will draw his sword to defend Jesus. Satan? This is also the disciple who chased the little children away, who will fall asleep in the garden, who will deny even knowing Jesus three times in the courtyard. Oh how I see myself in Peter. Do you?

In verse 33 Jesus lays this charge on Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”. It is so easy to become focused on what I think matters, on what I want to do (or not do), on what I feel like in that moment, on what I think is right. Jesus is speaking to me too. Yes, too often I am not thinking first of the things of God. I am thankful that just as Jesus did with Peter, he does with me. The Holy Spirit convicts me, yes, but then leads me deeper into relationship, deeper into my commitment to following Jesus, as I seek to ever walk in the light. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress. We are all growing closer to our Lord and Savior. Jesus never gives up on us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever at work in me. You are a loving but refining teacher. I so need both. Thank you for your patience and love, for your commitment and steadfastness. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Faithful Road

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verses 21 and 22: “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”.

In his closing Paul reminds the Thessalonians of some basics of the faith. In short order he gives them three: live with joy, pray always, and be thankful in all things. As we each consider this short list, we quickly recognize one or two, maybe three, as challenging. Living joyfully, for example, is pretty easy when things are good. But on a really bad day or during a season of loss, living with joy can be a real effort. Similarly, in difficult times it can be hard to give thanks. After we’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about someone or something, it can be trying to keep praying to a God who doesn’t seem to care enough to answer. Faith is not always easy. It was not meant to be easy. Jesus described the road as “narrow”. These are just some of the reasons we have company on the road.

In verse nineteen Paul warns us against putting out the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has always been represented as fire since that first Pentecost Sunday when “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came upon the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:3). The Holy Spirit is our main divine companion for our journey of faith. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ lives inside of us, leading and guiding, teaching and correcting. We also walk the road with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They help and encourage us, challenge and uplift us, teach and mentor us. And we do the same for others.

In verses 21 and 22 Paul tells us to “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”. We are to allow the Spirit to do its work, yes, but we too must be an active participant on our own journey of faith. We are called to test things and situations and people against the truths of God. When unsure on our own, we turn to prayer and to good Christian counsel. We must hold onto the good – keeping those things and practices and people that help us stay close to Jesus and on the path of following him, well, close to us. Paul also admonishes us to avoid evil – don’t go to those places, events, web sites… that cause temptation, don’t hang out with those folks who cause you to sin…

As he closes Paul prays that God would “sanctify” or make us holy and righteous, blameless on the day we stand before the risen Lord. It is the hope for us all. Our passage for today closes with these great words of encouragement: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”. God is faithful. He will sanctify the faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for these great reminders today. In the Spirit, walk with me day by day, being present until I meet you face to face. Amen.


Leave a comment

Joyful Response

Reading: Deuteronomy 8: 7-18

Verses 10 and 14: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord… or… your heart heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord”.

As the people are nearing the end of their time and training in the wilderness, Moses speaks these words of wisdom. Today we are fast forwarding from last week’s story of the golden calf to the point where they are ready to enter the Promised Land. In this passage I hear a Moses who is emotional and compassionate as he prepares to say goodbye to these people. In today’s passage, Moses reminds first of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac,… The Israelites are about to enter the land “flowing with milk and honey”. Just as God has provided for almost forty years, God will lead them into a land that will provide for all their needs.

Starting in verse ten, Moses implores the people not to forget all that God has done or to neglect to recognize what God will continue to do. In these verses we read, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord”. First we note the assurance that Moses has that God will continue to be with the people. God will be their God. Then he begs them not to forget the many, many ways that God has blessed and will bless them. Moses encourages them to always be thankful lest “your heart heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord”. It is so easy to assume responsibility for our success, for our accomplishments,… Moses warns against this tendency which we too are prone to. Taking time each and every day to be thankful for our families, our jobs, our friends, our homes, our communities of faith… is the best antidote to pride and arrogance. So, this day, may we each pause before going on to thank the Lord our God for his presence and blessings in our lives. Happy praying!

Prayer: Lord God, you are so good to me. I am so grateful for those you surround me with – family and friends, mentors and teachers. I am thankful for this time and place in a wonderful community of faith set in the beauty of your creation. Thank you, God. May all of my life be a joyful response. Amen.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Willing

Reading: Psalm 122:1 – “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'”.

Each Sunday many of us live out these words. It is a wonderful and awesome thing when we gather to worship the Lord. There is a peace and a comfort, a majesty and a power, when we gather in the sanctuary to pray and sing and proclaim God’s word. As we are on the edge of Advent, there is an elevated sense of anticipation and even a bump in our level of hospitality. The Advent themes of peace, hope, love, and joy add to the depth of our worship and to the overall experience of the season.

As Thanksgiving looms tomorrow, many of us will be thankful for our church homes, for our church families, and for the many other ways that God blesses us. May we rejoice in these gifts from God! But may our rejoicing also remind us that there are many who go without these this time of year. There are a variety of reasons for this. None are absolute barriers. Our joy and celebration with God can work in two ways. It can elevate their absence in those who do not know or experience these things. Or it can draw them in. As disciples yet living under the great commission to go out into the world, teaching others about Jesus, may we be invitational this sacred time of the year. May we offer radical hospitality, especially to those without a church home and without a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through us, may our friends and neighbors who do not have these blessings feel our love and God’s love drawing them in. May we all be willing.

Prayer: God of all, through me offer words of invitation and welcome, words of hope and belonging. Make our church and the people in it a safe and blessed space and family. May your love flow out, being poured into others today. Amen.


1 Comment

Remember

Reading: Psalm 85: 1-2 and 8-9

Verse Nine: Surely His salvation is near for those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land”.

Today’s Psalm opens by remembering when God showed favor to His people when He restored Jacob and established the twelve tribes of Israel.  The second verse recalls how God has forgiven the people over and over.  Even this early in their collective history, the people have plenty of experience with the cycle of sin and God’s forgiveness.  The psalmist looks back over the history of the people’s relationship with God to remind them of God’s loving and active presence with them.  Sometimes, in a tough moment, all we can do is remember when God has been there for us in the past and cling to the hope and promise that God will be present again in a mighty and powerful way.

A few years ago, I was part of a high school mission trip to Seattle.  On our last ferry ride back across Puget Sound, as we were beginning the long trek home, God became present.  One of the ship’s crew had suddenly passed away and his only ‘family’ in the area was the crew of the ship.  The outward and inward bound ferries stopped beside each other in the middle of the Sound and the captain of our ship led a brief memorial service and tossed a wreath into the water.  As we stood in silence, a few of our youth chose to “listen to what God the Lord will say” and they began to sing “Amazing Grace”.  Everyone joined in and it was a very sacred moment.  It was a powerful experience of God’s presence in our lives and of His love for us all.  We returned to the top deck where we had been worshiping and shortly the captain appeared.  He shared that he believed that God had placed us on that exact ship that very day to remind him of God’s love and care for us all, his dear friend included.  As we departed the ship a while later, a still teary-eyed captain again thanked us for the reminder of God’s love and care for us all.

Just as recalling God’s activity with Jacob and God’s abundant grace throughout their history strengthened the Israelites, so do our ferry moments remind us of times when God has shown up and they strengthen our faith and encourage us in our moments of trial.When have you experienced God in a powerful and meaningful way?  Remember these times today and be grateful.


Leave a comment

Thanks and Gifts

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 19: He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people.

This morning is the last day of a middle school youth mission trip.  We have spent the past week in a large city.  We have learned about poverty and homelessness.  We served food to men and women in need.  We sorted and stocked food in a free pantry.  We worked in a gigantic warehouse sorting and packing food that goes to many agencies who feed people.  We spent two afternoons at a large thrift store sorting about anything you can imagine and preparing it for resale.  The profits all go to people with disabilities in the state.

Through all of these acts of service, we learned about the great need that exists in our world.  It exists in many of our communities and maybe even in our own neighborhoods.  Prior to this trip our youth were unaware of the poverty many face each day.  Yes, they new some lived with very little.  But learning that some parents must choose between paying for their child’s field trip at school and putting gas in the car so they can go to work was a new reality for our youth.

Jesus lived a life of compassion.  He spent time in and among the poor and needy of His day.  They needed Him most.  In our passage today, He begins by healing many.  Then He feeds many.  We read, “He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people”.  There are two important lessons in today’s passage.

First, Jesus gave thanks for the gifts that God has given Him.  Second, the disciples used the gifts Jesus gave them to also be a part of this miracle.  In faith and trust, they were part of the feeding of the thousands.  Our group learned the first lesson well this week.  We are going home to nice houses with an excess of food, clothing…  We do not know true want.  We are truly thankful for the many, many gifts that God has given us.  We began to learn the second lesson this week as we saw how God can use each of us to make the world a better place by sharing His love as we serve others.  It is a great gift that we have to offer.  This day, what will we offer to meet another’s physical or emotional or spiritual need?  May we remember that gifts that God has given us, may we be truly thankful, and may we seek to share them each day for the building of God’s kingdom here on earth.


Leave a comment

Forever…

Reading: Psalm 30: 6-12

God rescued David and his grateful response is to praise God and give Him thanks forever.  Forever is a very long time.  It really far exceeds anything we can grasp.  When we say ‘forever’ we are making a pretty big commitment.  Although our concept of forever is limited, sometimes it is the word that best expresses what we feel at the time.  Perhaps the best example of this are the wedding vows that speak of forever.  For the couple standing there, so deeply in love, forever expresses it best.

Sometimes, though, we use forever in a promise to try and leverage God.  We pray, “If you will ___ God, I’ll ___ forever”.  We pray the ” If only…” prayers with a promise tied to forever.  But even in these instances, we use forever to try and sum up just how much we want the answer we want.  It is a word we use to try and demonstrate our great commitment to whatever we are praying for or about.

God also uses forever.  God promises to love us forever.  Underlying this promise and His other promises is an understanding on God’s part of how long this really is.  God promises to forgive our sins and mistakes forever.  In spite of His knowledge of who we are, His promise is still to forever, without any limits.  God promises to be with us forever.  He was and is and will always be.  Through the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, God  abides with us forever in this life.  Lastly, God promises us forever.  Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God promises us the gift of eternal life.  We begin this life here and now but it will continue on forever even when we leave these earthly tents.  For these promises, we offer our grateful praise forever.


Leave a comment

Blessings, Providence, and Giving

God brought the Hebrew people out of long years of slavery and oppression and into a land flowing with milk and honey.  It was a drastic change for the people.  They would clearly remember how God had directly intervened to free them, to protect them, and to deliver this new land into their hands.  So when they are asked to bring a portion of their first fruits to God each season, as a way to say thank you, they gratefully follow the instructions.

As we fast forward to today, we in modern cultures have lost the sense of gratitude for God’s direct provision.  All that most of us have is not based on the crops and animals that grow.  We do not see the dry seeds that spring to life or witness the miracle of birth out in the fields.  It can be harder to see God’s hand directly involved in many of the jobs and professions today.  Adding to this distancing are society’s messages about hard work and individuality, the paths to success.

In reality though, God is still an active part of everything.  If we really dig down deep, it was God who formed each of us in the womb and it has been His hand of guidance and providence that has led us, brought opportunities our way, opened doors for us, gifted us with the talents and skills to succeed, and so on.  If we daily acknowledge these things before God, we are much more willing to gratefully follow His instructions on giving.

When we give the first fruits of our labor, we are saying we trust God.  To give that part right at the beginning says we trust His blessings and providence to see us through to the end of the month.  It is a grateful and trusting act of obedience and faith.  It is admitting that all we have is truly His anyway.  May our offerings to God reflect our heartfelt appreciation for all of His blessings and providence in our lives.

Scripture reference: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11


Leave a comment

Patience That Never Ends

Moses come down the mountain with God’s Holy Law as found in the Ten Commandments.  His face is literally radiant from His time with the Almighty.  Trip number one was interrupted by the people encamped at the foot of the mountain when they decided to make and worship a golden idol.  They did so while they could see God’s glory just outside of camp.  It is amazing that His presence could be so close yet they turn to a false god.

In reality we are the same.  Right in the middle of worship, have you ever had an unkind thought about the family coming in late or the song that was selected or the pastor’s message?  In the Holy presence of God one can go directly from saying the Lord’s Prayer to questioning or judging the words used in the morning prayer.  Even while in worship, our lips can bring praise but out hearts are far from God.

The same is often true for other times in our lives.  After a moving morning devotional time, we can get in the car and curse a fellow driver.  After spending a few minutes in awe praising God for the beautiful sunrise, we can turn and yell at our child for getting up a few minutes late.  How quickly we can praise God one moment and absolutely drive Him nuts the next.

And what is God’s response to all this and what does it reveal about God?  He sends Moses down the mountain one more time with the stone tablets.  He forgives us for the zillionth time.  Over and over and over He says, “Close, but… let’s try this again”.  I am so thankful that God’s patience never runs out.  How great is the Father’s love for us!  Imperfect as we are, He loves us anyway.  Thanks be to God!

Scripture reference: Exodus 34: 29-32