pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Reign of Christ

Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6

Verse 5: “I will raise up a righteous branch, a king who will rule wisely and do what is right and just in the land.”

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

As we begin this week that culminates on “Christ the King” Sunday, we begin with our only Old Testament reading. Jeremiah begins this passage with a brief word of warning. He proclaims, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” In the next two verses we see that this will not go unpunished. Because God is faithful, though, God will regather the sheep.

Beginning in verses 3-4 God speaks of restoration. God will “gather the remnant of my flock” and will “place shepherds over them who will tend them.” God will begin to rebuild the flock, to restore the people of God. The culmination of this process comes in verse 5. Here we read, “I will raise up a righteous branch, a king who will rule wisely and do what is right and just in the land.” This branch will be Jesus. He will bring justice and righteousness and salvation. He will be the King of Kings and will be “the Lord our righteousness.” All this has come to be. Today all believers seek to live under the reign of Christ the King.

The question for us as we begin this week of “Christ the King,” leading into the season of Advent, is this: How do we reflect the reign of Christ upon the throne of our heart? This is a challenging question. Because we are sheep, we wander. So we need the Good Shepherd to rule in our lives. Living in our heart, Christ calls us to reflect his love, his mercy, his compassion, his justice, and his righteousness to the world. Living as children of salvation, may we faithfully reflect the reign of Christ in our hearts this week.

Prayer: Lord, shepherd me this week, each day, as I strive to reflect you as the king of my heart. When you give me the opportunity may I reflect you well to a world in need. May the light of Christ in my heart shine into the darkness, sharing the path of salvation with all. Amen.


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Living a Kingdom Life

Reading: Luke 6:24-26

Verse 24: “Woe to you…”

Photo credit: Paz Arando

Finishing up in this week’s passage from Luke 6, we turn to the “woe” section of these Beatitudes. Each of these phrases begin with the statement, “Woe to you who are…” As was the case yesterday, there is deeper meaning in these words of Jesus. It is not necessarily “bad” to possess wealth or material goods. It is not necessarily a bad thing to laugh or to be spoken well of by others. But these become bad or detrimental to our faith when they become our focus in life, when they become the place we put our trust.

When we become focused on what others think and say about us, we tend to lose sight of other’s worth and value. We become very self-centered. The same is true when we chase and chase after wealth or possessions. We soon fail to see others needs. When we focus on laughing and enjoying life now, we become disconnected from the hurting world all around us. In the long term, these things never bring lasting contentment, joy, or peace. “More” and “better” are always calling.

Jesus warns us against focusing in on these earthly pleasures so that our gaze turns away from them and towards living out a kingdom life now. May we choose to use the gifts and blessings that God gives us to share God’s love and hope with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see my blessings and gifts not as something to just enjoy or even hoard, but as things to give away and to share. Allow these things to be used for the building of your kingdom in this time and place. Amen.


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More Than Enough

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

Verse 8: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”.

Photo credit: KMA

In our passage from 2nd Samuel we see God at work in David’s life. God sends Nathan the prophet to tell David a story. Although David has just committed some pretty horrendous sins, there is still a part of David that quickly recognizes injustice… I think we are all a bit like this. Outside of ourselves we quickly see when things are wrong.

Nathan tells David the story of a rich and powerful man who takes what he wants from a poor and insignificant man. David is outraged at the injustice. He rails against the actions of the rich man. He wants justice done. And then Nathan drops the bombshell: “You are the man”. Nathan goes on to remind David of how God has blessed and blessed and blessed David. At times we need this reminder too. When we get a bit of a woe-is-me attitude over some trivial thing, we too need to remember how blessed we are.

Verse eight is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for David and for you and me. It is also an invitation to contentment. This trait can be hard to live into in our culture that pontificates often about more, bigger, and better. Through Nathan God says to David and to us: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”. God desires good and blessing for his children. God’s care and provision for us reveals his love for us. God might not give us the winning lottery ticket but God does want to fulfill the true desires of our heart. May we learn to trust into God. For with God, we have more than enough.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to see the greener grass or the shinier thing, remind me of my place in the center of your love. Remind me of the depth of your love for me. You are my all in all. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Fit for Service??

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”.

Photo credit: Michal Matlon

Today and tomorrow we read of God’s call on Isaiah’s life. In the opening chapters of the book of Isaiah the case is laid out for why the Israelites desperately need a prophet to speak God’s word to them. They are the “people of unclean lips” that Isaiah lives among.

As the story of his call opens in chapter six Isaiah finds himself face to face with God Almighty. The Lord is on the throne and “the train of his robe fills the temple”. The Lord is a very big presence in Isaiah’s vision. All around the Lord are seraphs, amazing creatures with six wings. Covering their faces and their feet in reverance to the Lord, they sing of God’s holiness and glory. Their worship is so powerful that the heavens shake and smoke fills the temple. Isaiah’s response is honest and raw. He is both humbled and afraid to be in God’s presence.

In verse five we hear Isaiah’s response: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”. If I were to come face to face with God, I don’t think my reaction would be much different. When the imperfect encounters the perfect, when the limited encounters the limitless, it is natural to want to shrink back, to want to become invisible. The contrast is just so great. And yet God chose to bring Isaiah into his presence. God saw Isaiah not as imperfect or limited or as sinful but as one worthy of service in the kingdom of God.

Like Isaiah, you and I are people of unclean lips. You and I live among a people of unclean lips, in a nation that has drifted from the Lord. God does not look at us and see failure or sin or imperfection. He looks at you and me and sees another fit for service in building the kingdom of God. Draw into his presence, how will we respond?

Prayer: Lord God, I marvel that you can use even me. Long a man of unclean lips and one that still stumbles now and then, you still chose me. You drew me into your presence, you began to work in me. Thankfully you saw more within me than I did and you’ve been drawing that out. Please continue to work in me and to use me as you will. Amen.


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Refined and Reshaped

Reading: Exodus 16: 2-8

Verse 3: “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”.

As the nation of Israel travels in the desert it is a time of testing and refining and reshaping. The journey began with a great freeing miracle in the Passover. The possibility of new life lay ahead as they exited Egypt. They were no longer slaves living in a foreign land. Shortly after leaving God again intervened on their behalf, providing a way through the sea. They were spared a return to slavery. But the experience of these powerful miracles soon gave way to the reality of their situation. The first grumbling for water was satisfied but it came with the first warning to “listen carefully to the voice of the Lord”.

About 45 days after leaving Egypt, the nation has now run low on food. Water and food are essential to life. The people begin to once again grumble against Moses and Aaron. Remembering the good old days – the days when they sat around pots of food as SLAVES – they say to them, “If only we had died at the hand of the Lord in Egypt”. Continuing on, the Israelites say, “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”. They are once again testing God. When they feared dying when trapped against the sea, they complained and God provided the way. When they complained about the bitter water, again God provided the way. God will respond. God’s intent was not to bring his nation out of slavery just to die in the desert. But there are provisions this time. It will be necessary to begin listening to that voice of the Lord. As Moses speaks God’s commands, they must begin to listen. God is beginning to refine and shape their obedience. They are being readied for what lies ahead.

Our journeys with God include similar elements. There are times in our lives when needs are not being met. After one too many nights of Ramen noodles, it can be easy to slip into grumbling or complaining or having a “woe is me” attitude. We also have experiences where God provides a way – literally sending food our way or opening a door at other times. Like the parting of the sea and like water from the rock, as God reigns down food from heaven, it will reassure the people, it will refine their faith, it will begin to shape them into obedient people. Even so, the Israelites will again doubt, will again turn to fear instead of trust. We too are a work in progress. Our faith journey has its share of times when we need refined and reshaped too. We all need reminded from time to time that God is faithful and that God loves us dearly. Each time we are drawn a little closer, we are more assured of his love, and we emerge walking a bit closer, more obediently. May our loving and faithful God continue the good work that he has begun in each of us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your continual work in my life. There was that time in the hospital when you were tangibly present. And there was that time when you opened a door when I couldn’t see a way. And, and, and… Through my doubt and worry, through my questioning and even anger, you provided the way. Thank you, God. Amen.


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In the Midst

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Verse 1: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”.

The overall theme of our passage from Jeremiah 23 is that one day the Lord will reign. In essence, we know the end of the story. Even though we know this, sometimes we endure hardship and suffering during the story. Jeremiah begins our passage by addressing the bad shepherds who are negatively affecting the flock of Israel. To these the Lord declares, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”. This word of warning comes with some explanation.

God is speaking to those who are leading Israel. The kings and priests are the primary leaders. These leaders have scattered parts of the flock. By not caring for and watching out for the most vulnerable of the sheep, they have driven them away. These have sought care and protection elsewhere. Unfortunately, they often find greater danger outside the flock. The hardening of hearts within the flock has led to destruction. Love and care and empathy for one another is a memory. When the leaders become inwardly focused, soon the people do too. God promises to bring evil on these bad shepherds.

This word from Jeremiah remains relevant today. On many days it seems that our leaders are more concerned with fighting each other than they are with leading and caring for the people. The cost of this is great. The more they fight, the more the sheep scatter and wander into isolated camps. The hurling of bombs from afar leaves no space in the middle. The two polarized ends see anyone not in their camp as the opposition. The arts of dialogue and compromise and win-win seem to be lost. But we must remember we are just in the midst of the story. Jeremiah also reminds us, “the days are coming”. Christ will reign. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, help us to see more than just ourselves, more than our own little camp. Open our hearts to the other, to sitting at the table even with those that we are not totally aligned with. Remind us over and over that there is but one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Go

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 9b-15

Verse 9b: “What are you doing here”?

Earlier this week I looked at verses 1 through 9a in this same chapter. To review quickly, Elijah angered the queen, fled in fear, and was cared for and guided by God to the cave on Mount Horeb. In the morning, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here”? This is a question that I think God asks often.

Fear and worry and doubt and job fatigue led Elijah to flee – to hide from the world. I can relate to some of these emotions and to Elijah’s response to them. Once in a great while monastic life seems like a great idea. His loving God leads Elijah to a safe place, to a cave atop a mountain, far away from his enemies and from the world. Until God asks this question, the cave is a comfortable place for Elijah.

When I retreat it is not usually to a cave or to any other physical place. When I do retreat it is usually into myself. In those moments when the world seems against me or when it seems to be closing in, I withdraw emotionally. In my mind I disconnect. I try and create felt distance and separation. But soon enough, God asks, “What are you doing here”?

Elijah has a response. He has been thinking about it. He knows the question is coming. This process is familiar to me too. Elijah tells God that he has been “very zealous for the Lord God Almighty” – I’ve been working really hard for you God. And these people – these Israelites – they have broken the covenant. Why would I want to be with those sinners? And then the ice cream atop the cake – “I am the only one left”. Woe is me. Have you been here? I certainly have.

The God says, in essence, ‘Come here. Come here Elijah’. Elijah goes to the entrance to the cave and the noise of the world passes by. The wind, the earthquake, the fire – those are the threats of Jezebel, the fears of the world, the self-pity. Then Elijah hears a gentle whisper. Ah, God has arrived. It is significant that God comes in the calm, in the quiet.

But once again Elijah tries the “I’ve been so busy…” excuses. God simply says, “Go…”. Return to the world, go where I am sending you. I will be with you. God knows we will stumble and falter too. God says the same thing to us: go, go where I lead. I will be with you. God continues to lead Elijah every step of the way. God will do the same for us. So, go.

Prayer: God, in those moments when I too doubt or fear or feel wrung out, come and push me back out into the world. Use me for what you will. Strengthen and encourage and fill me for the task at hand. Help me to ever step forth in faith. Amen.


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Blessing, Woe

Reading: Luke 6: 17-26

Verses 17-18: “A great number of people… had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases”.

In Jesus’ ministry, His teaching and healing were often connected. People were drawn to the healing that Jesus’ physical touch would bring. In today’s passage we read, “A great number of people… had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases”. For those there were in need of physical healing, we read that they only needed to touch Jesus to experience healing. I imagine the crowd was milling around and pressing in on Jesus.

As Jesus begins to speak He addresses both the blessings and woes that people experience. The words that Jesus speak also offer healing. Through the “blessed are you” statements, Jesus offers the hope of a promised better life. These words bring comfort, reassurance, and healing. He also offers several “woe to you” statements. These words bring warning, conviction, and, ultimately, they offer healing to those living in sin. If all present will allow Jesus’ words to touch them, they can experience spiritual healing.

The first three “blessed are” statements deal with those who are poor, hungry, and weeping. To these, Jesus attached a future hope and promise. The fourth speaks to those who are being persecuted because of their faith in Christ. Jesus reminds them that they walk with Him. For all people, life has trials and sufferings. To those that day living with these, Jesus offers eternal hope as He says, “rejoice in that day” because “great is your reward in heaven”. Keep the faith, keep your eyes on Christ, trust in what is to come.

Jesus also addresses those who are enjoying life now. He speaks to those who are rich, well fed and to those who are laughing and are thought well of by men. Jesus says woe to these because they are pursuing and enjoying the things of this earth, all of which are temporary. The when or will statements apply to the life of torment that will come as well.

We live with the same choice to make. Our priorities, our focus, our faith, our concern for others – these things will bring us blessings or woes. Do we hunger for the Word? Are we concerned for and engaged with the poor? Do we weep with those who are suffering or struggling? Do we speak up and live out our faith courageously and boldly? These are the things that will bring blessing. May these be the things we pursue and chase after. Then all the glory will be to God.

Prayer: Lord, help me to live first for you and then for others. In all I say and do, may love be my lead and my guide. Amen.


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Saints

Reading: Luke 6: 17-30

Today is All Saints Day, a day when we remember the saints of old and the saints of today.  We picture the saints of old as grand people, depicted in portraits.  We think of the apostles, the early church leaders, the famous writers, and of people like Luther and Calvin and John Wesley.  In more recent times we think of Mother Teresa.

In our passage today, Jesus speaks to his disciples in a direct and personal way.  He tells them of times when they are blessed and of times when woes befall them.  These two opposites run in parallel tracks in the first part of the passage.  One can almost think in terms of heavenly and earthly.  The blessings come with future gains.  The woes come with trial and suffering.  These verses imply the reward of following Jesus’ example and the cost of not doing so.  The passage then concludes with words of how to love, pray for, and treat our enemies well followed by how to be generous in our giving.

Jesus is spelling out that the life of a saint will be hard and costly.  It is one more way of telling us that to follow Jesus is difficult for the way is narrow.  It is reminding us that to follow is to walk a road that will challenge our human instincts to be powerful and popular and self-centered.  Instead, Jesus calls us to be with those who are poor, who hunger, who weep, and who are hated.  He calls us to suffer alongside them, just as He did.  By being present to those in need or in trial we offer them Jesus.  It is through this presence that they are blessed.

We do not like to think of followers of Jesus as saints.  That seems like lofty ground.  But in this passage, we see that loving those in need, working to relieve suffering, and offering all we can is a worthy calling.  It is our call as followers of Jesus Christ.  Just as we look back on the saints of old as examples for how they lived out their faith, we too are called to do the same.  We too are called to model Christian discipleship for those in our lives.  May we each shine Jesus’ light today.