pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Abundance

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 17: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”.

Today’s passage is one of abundance. It begins with an abundance of grief. Hearing that John the Baptist has been murdered by Herod, Jesus is overwhelmed with an abundance of grief. He withdraws by boat to a solitary place, seeking to grieve and pray. But an abundant crowd comes out from all the nearby towns and follows Jesus to the place that he comes ashore. Instead of sticking to the plans and mourning the death of his cousin, Jesus pours out abundant compassion and healing mercies. As Jesus works his way through the crowd of at least 10,000 the day turns to evening. The disciples, aware of the hour and the remoteness of this place, ask Jesus to send the crowds away to find food in the nearby villages.

In a demonstration of abundant love Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowd “something to eat”. They have a meager offering to give: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”. They see scarcity. Jesus sees abundance. In abundant love, Jesus shares the reality with the disciples. All they think they have to offer is a child’s meal. Jesus has already worked through the huge crowd, giving them what they came for: healing. And now, in abundant love for the people, he is about to go beyond even what they came for. Jesus gathers the meager meal, instructs the crowd to be seated, blesses the food, and then gives the food to the disciples. With their own hands they will be the ones to give the crowd “something to eat”. In his abundant love, the food never runs out. The baskets seem to always be full. All eat their fill. All are satisfied. The leftovers amount to twelve basketfuls of broken pieces. A basket for each disciple to carry as a reminder?

In today’s story Jesus teaches that even something small and seemingly insignificant – a child’s meal – can provide abundantly when given to God. Today – a small act of kindness, the loving presence to a hurting friend, a generous spirit towards one in need – how will God use one of us to be love and compassion to another in the world? May we each offer what we can to God’s purposes in the world, revealing his ever abundant love.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me forth with eyes and hearts wide open. Guide me as you need me to go. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Pursuit of Christ

Reading: Matthew 13: 44-51

Verse 47: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish”.

The first part of our reading for today illustrates the value of our faith. Faith is compared to a treasure hidden in a field and to a pearl of great worth. Both are recognized as of great value once they are found. In both cases the finder is willing to sell all they possess in order to gain what was found. If we discovered faith just today, would we willing to do the same? Would I be willing to give up all I have to have faith in Jesus Christ? It is a hard question to honestly wrestle with.

This question leads well into the second half of our reading. It begins with this verse: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish”. The fish in the net are then sorted: good and bad. Jesus explains that “at the end of the age” the angels will do this separating. He reminds us that the wicked will go into the “fiery furnace” and there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. This is the reality we will all face – good or bad? Returning to the question about how I value faith, it makes me wonder if I really do what the fishermen do in Jesus’ story. Do I actively sort through my heart and soul, working to remove all that hinders my pursuit of Jesus? Most of the time I do. Most of the time. Most days I spend time in reflection, confessing my sins and repenting of them. Yet I will still slip back into sin when I am judgmental or critical or controlling or prideful. In those moments I am not sure which way the angels would sort me. But thanks be to God for his abundant mercy and deep grace. The Holy Spirit continues to work in me – leading, guiding, correcting, convicting – all to help me to walk more like Jesus, the perfector of our faith. Each day may the Spirit work in us, drawing us closer and closer to the throne of grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen my walk of faith today. Help me to treat my faith as a thing of great worth. Allow the Holy Spirit to work within me, ever drawing me closer to being the follower you created me to be. Amen.


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Pleasing

Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

Verse 9: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you”.

Paul continues in today’s passage to flesh out how life with Christ is different than life without Christ. Choosing to invite and live with Jesus in our hearts, we are freed from the law and the confines of this world. In the opening verses of chapter eight Paul also reminds us that Jesus paid the price for our sin. These two things allow us to become new creations in and through and with Christ. Once made new we live with a new mind – the mind of the Spirit. This mind is “life and peace”. Our primary focus turns from self towards pleasing God.

After stating that the sinful mind cannot please God, Paul declares, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you”. Once we proclaim Jesus the Lord and Savior of our lives, the Holy Spirit becomes his indwelling presence. Jesus’ Spirit lives within us, helping us to control our nature and our actions. When Christ is in us, we begin to live the abundant and full life that God offers us through Christ. In Paul’s words, “your spirit is alive because of righteousness”. Jesus himself is righteousness. He was the perfect example of a life lived to please God. In all that Jesus did and said and prayed, his purpose was to please God. In times of worship and prayer, in times of engagement and ministry, in times of fellowship and healing – in all times – Jesus sought to please God by being a living example of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, joy, and peace. As we seek to follow Jesus Christ, as we seek to be little Christs in the world, may we ever seek to please God, bringing God the glory and honor in all we do.

Prayer: Living and loving God, may my life be an offering to you. May all of my words, thoughts, and actions raise up an aroma that is pleasing to you. May all these things shine the light on your holy name, drawing others to you. Amen.


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Losing One’s Life

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verses 38-39: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”.

Jesus’ words today are really about the cost of discipleship. Over the years, the cost has been varying degrees of suffering and sacrifice, depending on the era and location. In Jesus’ day, he and his disciples were oppressed by both the Jews and the Romans. Both saw Jesus and his small group of followers as a potential threat and as a people who were not worshiping the “correct” way. Beatings and imprisonment and death would become the norms for some time. Similar costs exist in places around the world today. But here in our nation and in most of the western world the cost of following Jesus is maybe a little rejection and perhaps some scorn or ridicule. At times our faith may cost us a job or some friends.

After explaining the costs to his disciples and followers, Jesus closes with these words: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. The cross is standing out from the world and giving instead of taking. It is to live in the world as Jesus lived in the world, offering all of himself before considering what he could get out of another. It was standing up for the ones without voice or power. This is the idea of dying to self, of losing one’s life for Christ’s sake. It is placing self after faith and family and others. It is being selfless.

In our modern culture, this is not an easy place to be. We are told that the way is narrow that leads to life abundant and eternal. The losing of self leads to community and connection, to deeper relationships with God and with one another. It is living for the building of the kingdom of God here and now. It is love itself lived out in all we do and say and think. May this be the sacrifice we each make day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, the opportunities are there. If I will but get outside of my comfort zone, outside of my walls. It is engaged with the world, giving freely of self, that life is really blessed and full of joy. May I humbly serve you this day. Amen.


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A Heart for the Weary

Reading: Psalm 68: 1-10 and 32-35

Verse 9: “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance”.

Reading the first few verses of Psalm 68, one gets a sense of God’s powers. God can scatter the enemies and can make the wicked perish before him. David has experienced these things happening and has a confidence that God remains capable. When these things have happened, the righteous have been made glad, they have rejoiced. In our own lives we experience this as well. We might not see the walls of Jericho fall or see the sea swallow up the whole Egyptian army, but we so see sins fall away as we seek to deny self and to live for God’s glory as a new creation. We experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives, giving us the same confidence in God’s love for us.

God’s love is, of course, not limited to us. In verse four there is a shift in God’s care, provision, protection. David begins with praises to God. As one reads verses four through six, there is a connection to Jesus, the shoot of David’s line. Jesus came to more fully reveal God to humanity and in doing so more fully revealed the special place in God’s heart for the orphans and widows, for the lonely and the prisoners. The list in the Psalm is just a partial list. To get a fuller list we turn to the gospels. God has a special love for the broken and the lost, for the marginalized and the powerless. Verse nine sums this up: “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance”. God pours out his love on the weary… From this love God also “provided for the poor” from “his bounty”.

As people created in God’s image we too should hold a special place in our heart for the weary, the poor, the broken… In verse 35 of our Psalm we read, “the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people”. This remains true today. When we seek to partner with God, when we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, we too can pour out abundant blessings on the outsiders, on those on the edges, on those who are imprisoned. May we seek to praise God not only with our voices, but with our hands and feet as well.

Prayer: Loving Father, break my heart for what breaks yours. Fill me with your compassion for those often overlooked or pushed aside. Empower me to be your hands and feet today. Amen.


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Life to the Full

Reading: John 10: 1-10

Verse 10: “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full”.

Jesus claims to have come so that we who follow him can have “life to the full”. Other translations use the phrase “abundant life”. The ideal of living abundantly or fully is what Jesus was all about. Many pursue this today. But in today’s world, living abundantly brings to mind big homes with swimming pools, private jets, six figure cars, and lots of frills and bling – all surrounded by beautiful people. Some see these things as the goal or as something to dream about. Most of us just want a newer car or the latest model of our cell phone. None of this is what Jesus had in mind when he promised life to the full. Now, most of us have probably pursued our share of things or other forms of earthly success. And we have all found them lacking or wanting in the end.

To truly find life to the full, we have to step into Jesus’ upside-down world. I have experienced this most often when serving others. It has been a consistent experience on the dozen or so short-term mission trips that I have been on. At the start we collectively think we are about to change peoples’ lives. Yes, the new roof or repaired walls are nice. But the ones truly blessed, the ones really changed, are those doing the serving, not those being served. When you give yourself away solely to help another, you find that God changes you for the better. You become more caring, more loving, more empathetic, more inclined to give to others. It makes perfect sense in Jesus’ eyes.

Jesus came to be a humble servant, to empty himself for others. Jesus exemplified this idea in both his words and in his actions. How do you become truly great? How do you experience life to the full? You give yourself away; you become the servant to all. You kneel and wash the disciples’ stinky feet. It seems paradoxical. But when you loosen your grip on the things of this world – money and things and popularity and such – they seem to matter less and less. This allows space – space to be filled with love and friendship and joy and peace and contentment and Jesus. Here we find abundant and full life. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Father of light and love, fill me with these today. Lead me to places to serve and to be emptied for others. Whether in person or in some other form of connection, use me to fill others this day. Amen.


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What Love

Reading: Psalm 148: 1-6

Verse 5: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created”.

The opening stanza of Psalm 148 is where we begin today. It speaks of the heavens’ call to praise God the creator. The angels, sun, moon, stars, and sky are called to praise God because “he commanded and they were created”. The word was spoken, the decree given, and they all came into being. As we read of angels or look up into the starry sky, they indeed reveal God’s glory and power and might and draw out praise.

These verses remind me once again of the immense power of God. With a word, billions upon billions of stars were created. Not only that, God knows each by name (Psalm 147:4). This stirs up two thoughts in me. The first is my smallness. When I think of the stars and all else that God created, it is awesome. In comparison to that, I am small. And yet God formed me in the womb, knit me together with his own hands (Psalm 139:13). Even though I am small in the grand scope of creation, I am special to God. That is pretty amazing. And the same is all true for you.

The second thought it draws me to, especially at this time of year, is the thought that God – the creator of more than we can even begin to wrap our minds around – chose to take on flesh and walk among us. God incarnate did not hold onto his divinity but instead emptied himself, becoming like us so that through Jesus Christ we can find life abundant and life eternal. What love God has for you and me. What love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are higher than the heavens, deeper than the sea, and you are the creator of all things. And you dwell in my heart. Wow. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Awesome Deeds

Reading: Psalm 65: 5-13

Verse 5: “You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth”.

The psalmist reminds us of God’s power and might. God’s power formed the mountains. The hope we find in our God extends “to all the ends of the earth”. In power and might God calmed the seas and will calm the turmoil of the nations. One day there will be peace on earth. On that day too God will “call forth songs of joy”. We long for the day.

As we wait, God continues to “care for the land… you enrich it abundantly”. God reveals power and enriches our lives by caring for the crops. God’s love is shown in the rich abundance of provision. In rejoicing, “the people shout for joy and sing” – they thank God for the flocks and grains that cover the hills.

Perhaps you are in the agricultural field and you can thank God for the bounty of the fields and pastures. Or maybe you are in another line of work and you have a different “field of blessing” for which to thank God. Perchance your vocation is as a parent or grandparent to the blessings of God in your life. Whatever the case, may we reflect for a moment on God’s awesome deeds in our lives and then rejoice in song or prayer for all the Lord has done.

Prayer: God, thank you for the wonderful blessings in my life – for you choosing me, for my family, for the work of my hands. Praise the God from whom all blessings truly flow! Amen.


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God’s Rain

Reading: Joel 2: 23-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other”.

The nation of Israel has experienced a time of hardship. Their sinful ways brought a great army of locusts upon the land. The nation ignored God’s call to repentance and the invasion devastated the land. The condition of the land matched the people’s spirits. Yet God still loves the people and will not abandon them in their despair. To the nation’s despair, Joel brings a word of hope.

Our lives can be a microcosm of what is happening in the book of Joel. Our time of hardship may be like Israel’s – brought on by our willful disobedience to God. It could be brought on by the winds of life: an unexpected loss, an illness, or something someone else does. It could just be a season of dryness, where we have drifted away from the faith. Our spirits become parched and dry. God does not leave us here either. God brings words of hope and healing into our lives as well.

Joel speaks hope into the people’s lives by telling them that God will bring “abundant showers”. These rains will lead to full threshing floors and to new wine and oil overflowing the vats. God’s rain will bring plenty to the nation. In response, the people will “praise the name of the Lord”. God will draw them back into relationship. All will be good again. God says to the nation, “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other”. There will be no mistaking the fact that God is in the land. Israel will be restored and God’s blessings will be evident.

God rains down his word to us too when we are in that dry and parched place. It may come in the love and care showered upon you after a traumatic event. It may come in the friend who gently reaches out to reengage you in church or study or prayer. It may be the Holy Spirit gently stirring your soul, stoking the fires of faith once again. God desires to fill us too, bringing abundant love to bear upon our lives. Then we too will know, God is in our hearts and is the Lord our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, when I recall those dry seasons, those times of testing, you were always there. It may have taken time for me to see it or to realize it, but you were there. I praise you for the unending love that you rain down upon me. You are the one true God – my God and King. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Abundant Grace

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse Eight: Call the workers and pay them their wages.

In the parable today the going wage is a denarius.  It was the standard pay for a day’s labor.  For the vineyard workers, four of the five groups received generous pay.  They had worked three, six, nine, or eleven hours less then the first ones hired.  All four of these groups walk away happy with their pay.

The fifth group – those who agreed to a denarius and those who worked the longest – receive the same pay.  In a way this too is generous.  They began the day with nothing to do and were fortunate to be hired.  But what they agreed to does not sit so well with them.  As each group of workers receives their denarius, their unhappiness grows as they come to realize all are being paid the same.  In complaining to the owner, they voice their grumbling relative to the ones who worked only an hour.  They speak of the ones who best ‘prove’ their case.  Yet I think they did not think the groups who worked three, six, or nine hours deserved a denarius either.

God’s grace extends to all who labor for the kingdom of God.  There is no minimum time required before one can begin to draw on grace.  There is no cosmic scorecard somewhere in heaven that determines how much grace each person is allotted or tracks how much we have earned.  We are each given as much as we need.  We are each given the undeserved and unlimited gift of grace anytime we need it.

Our churches are filled with people from all five groups.  Some have just begun to draw on God’s grace.  Others have been living in His grace for 10, 30, or 40 years.  Still others have been living in God’s grace for as long as they can remember.  Many of these receive grace like most of the vineyard workers.  They receive more than they deserve and walk away grateful for the owner’s generosity.  May we each respond to God’s grace the same way, realizing we are receiving more than we deserve, walking away grateful for God’s abundant Grace in our lives.