pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Sufficient for Us All

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 21: You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.

Today’s parable is challenging.  It has been prompted by Peter asking Jesus what the disciples will receive for following Jesus.  After all, they left everything behind to follow.  Peter’s question is prompted by the response Jesus gave to the rich young man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.  If we recall, the young man went away sad because Jesus asked of him more than he could give at the time.  Peter is told by Jesus that they will be by His side in eternity.  In fact, Jesus says that all who leave things or people behind will inherit eternal life.  Jesus ends this response with, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”.  From here, Jesus tells today’s parable.

In short, workers are hired throughout the day to come to the vineyard to help with the harvest.  The owner of the vineyard promises each of them the same thing: a fair wage.  They work and line up at the end of the day to receive their pay.  Some had worked all day, some just an hour.  The last are paid first and all receive the same pay: a denarius.  Those who worked the longest are upset, saying to the owner: “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day”.  The landowner responds with this: “Or are you envious because I am generous”?

In life, Christians come to faith at different stages in life, each joining in in the building of the kingdom.  The Lord of the harvest promises the same reward to each of them: eternal life.  They go to work and then line up for the reward at the end of their lives.  Some labor for all if their lives, some for just a short time.  The lifers and the new converts receive the same pay.  Those who have been faithful all of their lives can be tempted to say, “Lord, you have made that person who just accepted you equal to us who have served you all of our lives”?  The Lord of the harvest will respond with words of grace and love and invitation.

Yes, God loves us all.  He loves the saints and the sinners.  He loves the saved and the lost.  Heaven rejoices each time a lost soul becomes a part of the family.  His grace is sufficient for us all, whenever and however we come to faith.  The promise is the same: love God and claim eternal life.  Thanks be to God!

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Worthy Conduct

Reading: Philippians 1: 27-30

Verse 27: Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

In today’s passage, Paul encourages the church in Philippi to talk the talk and to walk the walk that Paul himself has talked and walked.  This is, of course, to follow Jesus – the original model.  Paul’s opening line today is both challenging and inspiring: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.  What a charge Paul gives to the Philippians and to all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

Over the next few verses, Paul unpacks what it looks like to live this life worthy of Christ.  The first step is to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man”.  Paul wants them to be unified under Christ and to hold fast to Jesus’ teaching and example.  He knows they are stronger together than as individuals so Paul encourages unity.  Next Paul tells them not to be frightened by those who oppose them.  In this world trouble will come.  In fact, Paul is writing them from prison.  He is under arrest for spreading the gospel.  Just as Paul’s trusts in and rests in God, he is encouraging the Philippians to do the same.

Lastly Paul says that it has been “granted” to them not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer for the gospel.  He says they do so “on behalf of Christ”.  Any and all suffering done on behalf of Jesus is a glorious witness to their faith in Christ.  It reflects the promise that He and we will overcome the world.  Just as Jesus willingly suffered on the cross for us, Paul gladly suffers for the sake of the gospel.  He encourages the Philippians and us to do the same.

These few verses pack a lot.  They are a great reminder of what worthy conduct looks like as we respond to our call to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To summarize: stand firm, do not fear, be a suffering servant.  All were modeled by Jesus.  May we go and do likewise.


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Overflow

Reading: Philippians 1: 21-26

Verses 21 and 23: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain… I am torn between the two!

Paul writes today from a Roman prison cell.  Death looms in the air.  The executioners could come at any moment.  Yet even in this place Paul is full of hope.  He has come to a place in his life where his faith is absolutely secure.  He is assured that if this day were his last that he would depart and be with Jesus – “which is far better”.  This is what Paul means when he says, “to die is gain”.

But Paul also feels this pull to living.  He feels a pull to live so that he can continue in his ministry.  He knows that if he “stays in the body” that he will continue to have fruitful labor.  His work will continue to be about bringing people to Christ and about helping people to grow in their faith.  This is what he means by “to live is Christ”.  He also acknowledges another “better” – it is better for the church in Philippi if he continues to live so that he can continue on with them on their faith journey.

Although Paul is “torn between the two”, there are some lessons in his circumstance and attitude for us.  First, his focus is on others.  It would be far better to be with Jesus in heaven.  Many people today feel this way.  But like Paul they know God has more in store for them.  Paul loves Jesus and the church more than himself so he joyfully remains.  Second, he finds joy in the suffering.  Paul is living into the idea of being worthy to suffer for Christ.  He has stood firm in the faith and gladly faces the consequences for doing so.  And lastly, Paul is reflecting Christ.  His desire and will to serve others regardless of the cost to self models Christ’s example to others.  Just as Paul has chosen to closely follow Christ, his example here beckons us to do the same.  In all we do and say each day, may we strive to allow our “joy in Jesus Christ” to overflow into the lives of all we meet.  May it be so.


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Trust and Live It

Reading: Exodus 16: 2-15

Verse Eight: You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.

Complaining is something we can slip into pretty easily.  When the grass looks a little greener over there, when we did not quite get our way, when we have to wait for something, when we feel we have been treated unfairly, …  There are many reasons we can find to complain.  And sometimes we too may blame God or question God at a minimum.

The Israelites are out in the desert and they are starving.  The quick food they took with them when they hastily exited Egypt is gone and the desert does not provide much to eat.  The people come and complain to Moses and Aaron – if only we’d “died by the Lord’s hand back in Egypt”.  Die in the Passover plagues rather than be free?  But we are hungry!  Oh to be back in Egypt where “we sat around pots if meat and ate all we wanted”.  Oh for the good old days!  The Israelites ‘long’ for death or at least slavery again.  We too can be pretty immature and a bit whiny in our complaints.

When one resorts to complaining, one usually needs to look within oneself to find a cause.  Sometimes we forget all of the blessings we have in our life and focus on that one thing instead.  Sometimes we simply forget to be grateful and skip right to discontent.  We dwell on envy and jealousy and want.  And sometimes we forget to trust God.  We forget all the times God did and we don’t believe God will ever provide again and the grumbling begins.

In our passage today, the people grumble to Moses and Aaron, but they are just the middle men.  Moses says to the people: “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord”.  It is true for them just as it is true for each of us at times.  We too can flout a sense of entitlement and can put on a pout when we do not get our way or when we feel like we are being treated unfairly.  But this is not the witness we get elsewhere in the Bible when we look at the faithful.  We see Jesus always looking to give, not to receive.  We see Paul being content in all circumstances, even when in want.  We see God providing for His people over and over and over again.  When we really take the time to reflect on our own lives, we see the same constant provision.  May we trust in His Word and His love and may we live it out in our lives this day!


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Say It Well

Reading: Psalm 105: 37-45

Verse 45: …that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws.

This last section of Psalm 105 recounts the exodus from Egypt.  The Israelites left Egypt “laden with silver and gold” and headed out into the desert with a cloud for shade in the day and a pillar of fire for light at night.  God provided for their physical needs with quail and manna and He brought water from a rock.  God led them into a land that other nations had toiled over and developed and built up.  God blessed the chosen people on their exit from slavery in Egypt right up to their entrance into the Promised Land.

It is good for a people to tell their story.  This Psalm that would have been sung in worship reminds the people of what God has done for them out of His great love for them.  We too sing songs that remind us of our faith story.  Whether it is a classic like “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Amazing Grace” or if it is a more modern song like “Trading My Sorrows” or “Come As You Are”, we sing songs of praise to remember His love and His actions in our bigger faith story.  We may know, for example, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins but songs that remind us also remind us of His great love for us.

To be reminded encourages us and strengthens our faith.  It helps us to grow in and to deepen our relationship with God.  It is why we hug and kiss our spouse and children each morning and night, saying “I love you” each time.  They know it but it sure does us good to say it and to hear it.  It is the same when we sing praises to the Lord.  God may know we love Him and we may know God loves us, but it sure does us good to sing it.

There is also a second benefit.  After listing how God gave, God brought, God provided, … the psalmist writes, “…that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws”.  This is also why we must sing of His mighty acts and of His love for us.  It reminds us to say “I love you” back with how we live our lives.  May we say it well today.


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Tell

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6

Verse Two: Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts.

The opening verses to Psalm 105 encourage us to sing our praises to God for all that He has done for us in our lives.  It encourages us to make known to all the nations what God has done.  The psalmist reminds us that the great works of the Lord bring rejoicing and to look to the Lord always to find strength.  It is a wonderfully encouraging opening few lines to a great Psalm of praise.

Remembering and singing of God’s actions in our lives serves two main purposes.  The first is to strengthen and increase our own faith.  When we joyously praise God for all He does for us, then we are reminded of His great love for each of us.  This, in turn, deepens our love for Him.  If we make a regular habit of joyfully thanking God for those times when He was very present to us, they also more readily come to mind in our trials, bringing us a strength and a peace.

The second purpose is evangelism.  These stories of God in our lives that have strengthened and encouraged us and that have helped us mature in our faith are a huge part of our own personal God story.  In answering the Great Commission, Jesus’ call to each believer to share the good news, our God story is the center piece.  Yes, we need to tell of Jesus’ life and teachings and witness, of the gifts of grace and mercy and forgiveness and eternal life, and of the power Jesus had over sin and death.  But we must also tell the story of how God makes a real difference in our lives.  Each of our unique stories of God’s hand at work in our lives will help others to see how God can also bring them the hope, strength, peace, love, mercy, forgiveness, … that they so desperately need.

This day and every day, whether in voice or in deed, may we each, “Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts”, bringing God all the glory and honor.  Amen!


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Unity or Less?

Reading: Romans 14: 10-12

Verse 11: Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.

Paul continues his conversation about diversity in the body of Christ.  He emphasized that most of us are at differing spots in our faith journeys and that we come to the church with our own unique backgrounds and traditions.  Therefore unity must come in and through Christ.  Christ must be the one thing that unites the church.  Jesus is our “bottom line” so to speak – He is Lord of all.

Paul asks why we must judge or look down on our brother or sister in Christ who does not do exactly as we do.  When we choose to judge or condemn or belittle another’s faith or their practices of faith, we are putting ourselves in a place we should not go to.  For example, just because I prefer to read and study and pray in the early morning and another prefers the quiet of the evening does not make one of us “right” or “better” than the other.  If one church uses bread and another crackers, one communion is not better or more acceptable than the other.

The time or particular way we practice our faith are small details we use to accomplish the same goal – to grow closer to Christ as we seek to become more like Him.  This is the goal for all Christians – to become more like Christ.  But at times we fail, so Paul includes a warning, quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God”.  He will not only want to know what we did with the least and the lost, but also how we treated all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Did we practice unity and did we work to bring harmony to the whole body of Christ?  Or did we remain divided, allowing it to be less?