pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Readings: Psalm 126 and Isaiah 61: 1-4 and 8-11

Key verses: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. (Psalm 126:5) and “The Spirit of the Lord is on me… to preach… bind up… release… proclaim…” (Isaiah 61:1)

In our Advent study this week we are looking at humility – at having the mind of Christ spoken of in Philippians 2.  One of the men in our Tuesday morning study said humility is thinking less of yourself so that you could think more of others.  Humility is an active practice.  These profound thoughts fit well with the humble servant hood that Jesus modeled and calls us to follow.  Our world is certainly in need of more humble servants.

Both the bigger world out there and many people’s lives are filled with hardship and suffering and trials.  There is plenty of oppression and abuse of power, lots of violence and other senseless actions, many struggling with addictions and unhealthy relationships, and a host of other issues.  Individuals we know face some of these issues as do whole groups in our communities.  There are lots of people in lots of places who would love to live into this verse: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

As humble servants of Jesus Christ, we are called to help those in need to do just that.  It is what Jesus did and what He calls us to do.  For all who follow Jesus, we live into the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”  When we read on, we find the “why” – to preach the good news to the poor, to heal the broken, to bring freedom to the captives, to release prisoners from all that binds them, and to proclaim God’s blessings on all.  These are big words and big ideas.  But guess what?  We serve a big God.  We serve a God who wants to work in and through us – just like He did with Jesus – to see all these things to come to be.

Sometimes we don’t see God big enough.  Sometimes we fail to dream and other times we fail to trust.  Sometimes we doubt.  Into all of this God speaks through the apostle Paul: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  May we serve a big God, trusting that all things are possible when we call on the One who can do all things.  Amen and amen.

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Testify to the Light

Reading: John 1: 1-8 and 19-21

Verse Eight: “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light”.

Today’s passage is about what is and what is not.  John begins by establishing just who Jesus is.  John draws on Genesis imagery to remind us that Jesus was there in the beginning and that He was with God.  He reminds us that all things were created through Jesus.  And, lastly, John reminds us that Jesus is the light that shines into the darkness.  This is an ongoing reality that many in the world struggle with today.

John’s Gospel then turns to John the Baptist and who he is.  John the Baptist is first a man sent by God.  He came as a witness to the coming of Jesus in the flesh.  Our passage defines John’s role this way: “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light”.  John the Baptist is not the light; he is the witness to call people to the Light or to Jesus.

Sometimes is is easier to describe or understand who we are not.  This is usually a much longer list than the one that attempts to define who we are.  As the priests and Levites that have been sent by the Pharisees begin to question who John the Baptist is, he begins with the most important who He is not: he is not the Christ (or the Messiah).  They press on.  No, he is not Elijah.  No, he is not the Prophet.  Despite telling them who he is, John the Baptist is still pressed for more detail.  He is the witness to the light that is coming into the world.

Who John the Baptist is should sound familiar to us because this is the role that we are called to play.  The Light himself spelled this out for us in the Great Commission: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  We too are called to testify to the light that has come into the world and that continues to shine into the darkness.  We are not John the Baptist and we are not Elijah ad we are not some other great prophet.  We are simply followers of Christ called to share the good news of what Jesus has done in our lives so that the Light can shine into other people’s darkness, helping them to begin to walk in the Light.


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Great Things

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse Five: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

Psalm 126 is an interesting mix of past,present, and future.  It recalls the joy of returning home to Zion, yet it seeks for God to restore their fortunes.  It speaks of the great things that God has done for them and it speaks of sowing seed in tears.  This there and here and not yet is much like Advent.  We celebrate the joy of the birth, yet we seek to see the Messiah return.  We sing of the star, the angels, and the other wonders of God and we have moments of sadness and loneliness as we think of loved ones who have passed.

In the Psalm there is longing and there is thanksgiving.  There is the waiting and there is the expectation of God’s presence.  There is weeping and there is joy.  In this way, the Psalm is much like life and our faith.  Both are about holding onto the blessings of God because they strengthen us as we walk through the trials.  Both are about how “those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” because we experience joy even in the sorrows of life, as God is with us in our times of need.  Like the psalmist, we acknowledge that God is near even as we cry out for God to be closer.

And just as the psalmist does, we too have a call to proclaim what the Lord has done for us.  The psalmist declares, “The Lord has done great hings for them”.  Let is also proclaim the good news about what Jesus Christ has done in our lives.  May we help others to know good news in their lives so that they can “reap with songs of joy”, joining us in rejoicing in what great things God has done and trusting into the great things God will do.


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Joy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-18 – “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.

The Christmas season is a time when joy and love seem to abound in extra measure.  At our churches, the Children’s Christmas Program brings smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts long after the program itself has ended.  The Christmas songs on the radio or our play stations and the specials on television also add to the joy of the season.  Extra time with family and friends is an added bonus that brings us even more joy.

On the past two Sundays in many churches we have lit the candles of hope and peace and have been reminded of how, in Christ, God brings these things to the world.  This Sunday we will light the candle of joy and will be reminded of how Christ also brings us joy during the Advent season.  Joy is an emotion that naturally surrounds a birth as well.  So it is fitting that we await the birth of Jesus with much joy.

Yet very quickly after December 25, for many the Christmas season will end.  We turn from time with family and celebrations with great food and merriment to times of being alone and figuring out how we can lose what we gained and pay for what we gave.  Christmas is too often moved on from and picked up long before the season is actually over.  And if we are not careful, the joy that filled us and lifted our spirits can also slip away.

To be joyful in Christ is a trait that Christians should have all year round.  Christ does not go away with the trees and bows and songs.  But our heightened sense of joy can go.  To keep our sense of joy requires some intentional effort on our part.  We must choose to cultivate a sense of joy in our hearts all year long.  Whether we make it a portion of our daily prayer time or whether we keep a little “thank” journal that we write in each day or whether we post a few things that we are thankful for each day on social media, we must thank God each day for His presence, love, and activity in our lives.  As we practice being joyful, we will find that joy becomes a natural part of our daily lives.  It is then that we begin to live into these words:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.  May it be so.  Amen.


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Opportunities

Reading: Mark 1: 1-8

Verse Three: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him”.

At a school that I taught at for a long time, one year the theme was to performs RAKs – random acts of kindness.  The staff had t-shirts made up, we sought opportunities to do nice things for each other, and we tried to ‘catch’ students performing RAKs.  It spurred us all on to be on the lookout for opportunities to do random nice things for our students and for each other.  It was a good year at old DMS because whenever someone went out of their way to do something nice for you, it caused you to be mindful of finding something to do for someone else.  In this sense, it was contagious.

This same feeling seems to persist around this time of the year.  During the Advent season, love just seems to be a bit more in the air.  We hold the door open more readily, we buy and extra item or two at the grocery store for the food bank table at church, we smile and say ‘hello’ a little more warmly.  In many churches, we seek to go a bit further, doing something special during the Christmas season.  Some churches assemble Christmas Shoeboxes, some host a free Christmas dinner for the community, some collect a Christmas Eve offering for a cause in the community or in the world.  While all of these are just wonderful, they are just a part of what we are called to at the time of Christmas.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are also called to shine the light personally.  Just as John baptized in the wilderness, so too are we to call others to Jesus Christ through our words and actions.  Through the ways we demonstrate love, kindness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness… we are seeking to “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him”.  It is by being Jesus’ hands, feet, and heart that we invite others to come to know Him.  One of my devotionals put it this way this morning: “When we love, He will come”.  It is a great thought.  Each day, from now through Christmas, may we individually seek opportunities to give another person a random act of kindness, allowing Jesus to shine His light and love into another’s heart.  May it be so.


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A Voice

Reading: Mark 1: 1-6

Verse Two: “I will send my messenger ahead of you… to prepare the way”.

Mark quotes Isaiah to open up his “gospel about Jesus Christ, Son of God”.  This quote from Isaiah 40 is the the Israelites what John 3:16 is to Christians.  It is a very well-known verse to Mark’s audience.  Through hundreds of years of various oppression, exiles, and other trials, the Israelites have clung to the promise of a Messiah.  To the Israelites, the prophets have always been bearers of God’s word.  So when John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, proclaiming that the Messiah is near, people flock out to see and hear him.  John is a one-man faith revival, much like Elijah and the other great prophets who came before him.  Why do people – “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” – come out to see John?  Because he speaks words of hope and restoration.

In times of suffering and oppression, when one rises up to speak words of hope and restoration, they tend to draw a crowd, people tend to listen.  In more recent times this has happened with Gandhi in India, with Mandela in South Africa, and with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States.  These men spoke words of hope and restoration.  They gave the oppressed a voice that brought hope.  In our nation, Martin Luther King, Jr., brought a voice of hope coupled with compassion, peace, and, above all else, faith.  He sought to bring hope and to bring equality to a people who faced injustices and segregation.  His words of hope, strengthened by faith in God, brought great change to our nation.

Mark writes of one who will bring even greater change than this.  Mark writes of Jesus Christ, the One who will bring hope and love and compassion and peace to all peoples of all nations.  But w are getting a but ahead of ourselves.  Today we have John, the voice who called folks to repentance, preparing them for the One who is to come.  Today, many are out there in the “wilderness”, longing for hope and restoration.  Can we raise up our voices as followers of Jesus Christ, calling people to make straight their paths, to prepare their hearts for the One who is coming?  May we be loud and clear as we invite others to come and know this Jesus, the Savior and Messiah, the hope and restorer of the world.


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Patience

Reading: 2 Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse Eleven: “What kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives.”

The followers of Jesus that lived in His lifetime thought that He would return very soon – in weeks or maybe in months.  But as the months turned into years and the years into decades, it became harder and harder to wait.  Not only did Jesus not return, but the Jews and other non-Christians were more than willing to remind them.  Over time the faithful began to wait with a patient and enduring hope.  Peter writes of this, saying, “He is patient… not wanting anyone to perish”.  Maybe God has not allowed Jesus to return just yet because there are still more souls to be saved.

I read a story in my devotional this morning about a woman who also held onto hope.  The militia had arrested her husband and son three years before, yet she continued to come every Monday, to the local police station, to hold a prayer vigil for her husband and son.  One day a guard mocked her and she replied with faith: “God’s justice will never fail.  It may come today or it may come in a 1,000 years, but it is coming”.  Her rock-solid faith allowed her to stand in the face of beatings and other persecutions to continue to pray for her family.  She stood on God’s promise to one day return and make all things new.

While all this is to say that God is patient, Peter also reminds us that the return will come like “a thief in the night”.  It will be quick and unexpected.  This idea makes me think of the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 attacks.  The Wall had seemed to stand forever – as long as anyone could remember.  Then one day, it was suddenly torn down.  The twin towers had always seemed to be in the skyline view, then one day they suddenly were not.  In light of this unknown time, Peter asks us, “”What kind of people ought you to be?”  Without pause he continues to answer the question, saying, “You ought to live holy and godly lives.”  He calls us to live as Jesus lived, holy and godly.

Yes, we will fall short at times.  Yes, we lose our grip on the promise now and then.  In our last verse, Peter adds a word of encouragement that we need to hold fast to: “Bear in mind that the Lord’s patience means salvation”.  It is a love that never ends and a mercy that washes over sin after sin.  Thanks be to God for your steadfast love and your patient mercy.