pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faith Exercise

Reading: Luke 17: 5-6

Verse 5: “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith'”!

Faith is an interesting animal. At places in our faith journey, it can be easy to have a solid faith. When life is going well and we have time to nurture our faith through worship, prayer, study, and meditation. At other stops along the road our faith can be really hard to find and stand upon. When life gets busy or when we have been in the valley for a while, faith can be elusive.

In Luke 17 Jesus has just finished talking about the consequences of sin. He encourages the disciples to “watch yourselves” yet also adds a reminder about being generous in offering forgiveness to others. The disciples live in the world so they know how hard the evil one can fight to lead us into sin. They are also of the flesh. They know how ego and hurt feelings and other emotions can make it difficult to forgive someone who has wronged you. Realizing all of this, they say to Jesus, “Increase our faith”! The disciples are very aware of their need to receive holy power in the living out of their faith.

To me, faith is like a muscle. If we exercise it regularly and experience the benefits, then it becomes stronger. It can even grow to the point of being a reservoir for the days of trial. On the other hand, if we do not give regular attention to our faith, then it atrophies and becomes of less and less use in the trials and sufferings of life. Jesus reminds the apostles and us modern day disciples that faith – even a little – is very powerful. Jesus tells us that if we “have faith as small as a mustard seed” we can do amazing things. He tells us that a faith that small is powerful enough to “uproot and plant” a tree into the sea. Imagining what a faith like that could be like, we recommit today to the disciplines of the faith – worship, prayer, study, and meditation – and join the disciples in crying out, “Increase our faith”!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, having a faith that is growing and active and alive requires commitment and diligence. Grant me the strength and love of you that leads me to nurture and mature my relationship with you. In your grace, draw me ever closer to you. Amen.

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Recognition

Reading: Luke 14: 1 and 7-14

Verse 11: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

As Jesus arrives at a Pharisees’ house, he notices how the guests pick their seats. The order at the table was very important in Jesus’ day. The honored guest would sit at the center seat of the head table. The next most important persons would sit on the right and left of center and so on down the line. The furthest seat away from the honored guest would be the one with the least honor. Just like in the culture of our day, most folks want to be closest to the honored guest. Jesus observes people trying to ascertain where they rank amongst the other guests. Some people, of course, are filling in the important seats near the prime seat.

In the parable, Jesus warns against taking too “high” a seat, lest more important people arrive, forcing the host to move you to a lower seat. That would be humiliating and shameful. Jesus is speaking against arrogance and against judging. He is reminding his audience and his readers today that being humble is the correct course. If one is humble, choosing a lower seat, then the host might move you up some seats, exalting you in the process. We may not pick seats at tables anymore, but there is no shortage of ways that we can try to toot our own horn. Sometimes the ways are public, using different means to draw attention to ourselves and our accomplishments. For some of us, like me, it is usually a more private thing. I wonder why others don’t notice this or that and wish they did. Jesus would probably condemn this fake humility much more than he does the jostling over seats.

However and whenever we allow pride, arrogance, judging, and ego to control our lives and our thoughts, then we are not walking in Jesus’ footsteps. Each time we seek to bring honor for ourselves are instances when we do not bring honor to Jesus. In a similar way, when we seek to draw recognition ourselves, there is a piece of us that does not fully trust God. Humility links us to the belief that God is enough. Recognition does not need to come here and now. Simply living a life that is pleasing and honoring to God is more than enough. May we rest in that today.

Prayer: Lord, it can be tempting to want to be seen and known for doing great things. Yet serving you is all that matters. Remind me of this over and over again. Thank you, God. Amen.


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See and Engage

Reading: Luke 13: 10-13

Verse 12: “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity'”.

Perhaps you know someone like this woman. They are limited by some ailment – at least from most people’s perspectives. Like this woman, they mostly live on the fringes of society. She would have been unable to work and would have relied on family or the kindness of others. To some this is a burden, pushing her closer to the fringe. The common understanding is that she is crippled by a spirit – another reason to avoid her. To many on the periphery of her life, she would have long ago blended in. Those in the synagogue probably don’t notice her coming and going most days. Today there are people just like this woman.

Over the years I have helped lead a few high school mission trips. Without fail we meet people like this woman. Their ailment might be physical, like hers. But more often than not it is emotional. They might have a mental illness or a traumatic experience has impacted them. Once in a while the person is simply very different and this creates the barrier. There is also something that happens without fail. A youth or a group of youth will come back from a day of serving and will share that “that guy” or “that woman” is a really neat person or that they have a really cool life story. Almost all of the time they shift to calling them by name part way through the retelling and that almost always ends with some version of a “he/she is just like us” statement.

In order for all that to happen, at least two things must occur. First, the youth(s) must be willing to see the other. Second, they must be willing to engage the other. This is what Jesus did in our story. In verse twelve we read, “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity'”. He saw her come in. He chose to engage her. She was absolutely worthy of his time and attention. The barriers that others saw and the Sabbath day barrier did not stop Jesus. He ministered to her that day. Her life was forever changed. On mission trips or whenever we engage those like the woman, we do not heal them. But we do introduce them to the idea that Jesus can.

Today, who will you truly see and engage that others avoid or do not notice?

Prayer: Lord, continue to give me eyes to see the other and a heart to engage them. Lead and guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Praise the Lord

Reading: Psalm 148

Verses 1 and 7: “Praise the Lord from the heavens… Praise the Lord from the earth”.

All of creation was formed at the word of God. All that is came from God’s commands – rocks, hills, trees, sun, moon, stars, water, sky, animals, fish, birds, angels, humans. As the created of God, all heaven and earth are made to praise God. “Praise the Lord from the heavens… Praise the Lord from the earth”. All of creation praise the Lord!

Some of creation praises God naturally. The stars in their splendor naturally shine forth God’s praise. The gentle waterfall in the woods murmurs praise as it courses on. The grandeur of the mountain peaks exclaims praise. The roll of thunder and crack of lightning shout God’s praise. We too can fall into natural praise at times. When our child takes its first breath, praise bursts from our lips. When we encounter God’s saving hand in a time of need we sigh out God’s praise. When we gather in church and the music overtakes us, we offer spontaneous praise.

Unfortunately natural praise is not always our default. The busyness of the day, the lies of the world, the lures of greed, pride, ego, lust… all can focus us towards other gods. Then our praise of God is non-existent or very weak at best. The things we give our hearts to are what gains our focus and attention and efforts.

In verse 14 we are reminded, “He has raised up a horn for his people”. God sent Jesus Christ as the King. God’s intent was not just for Jesus to set us an example and then to return one day to make all things new, establishing a new heaven and earth. God’s intent was for Jesus to reign every day in our hearts. When we give our hearts to Jesus and allow Him to sit on the throne of our hearts, then our praise becomes what we naturally lift to God each day. Our focus and attention and efforts turn to loving God and loving others. In doing so, our voices join all of creation in praising God, the Lord of heaven and earth. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, make my focus Jesus. Bend all my focus and attention and efforts to your Son, my Savior. May all I do and say and think bring you praise and glory. Amen.


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Watch Out

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the law…”

Jesus is teaching a large crowd in the temple when He shares some observations about the religious leaders – the teachers of the law. This passage is one of several we find in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the appearance of these men and then contrasts it with what is actually inside of their hearts. In reality, this is an issue we all face.

The teachers love their positions and the cultural respect that comes with the title. The teachers of the law were the top of the social ladder. All young boys dreamed of becoming rabbis when they grew up. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for advanced study and from there only a portion would become a rabbi. One can work so hard to get ‘there’ that sometimes we forget why we were aiming at that goal.

Jesus observes that the teachers wear long robes to be noticed. They like people to see them and to call out to them. Today there are lots of people who dress a certain way to draw attention to themselves. The teachers like the important seats – again so that they will be noticed. Some today like to be front and center to be seen. The teachers “devour widow’s houses”, using their power and authority to take advantage of the elderly and the powerless. Today folks in power prey on the weak and defenseless, using their authority to manipulate and sometimes even to abuse.

While today’s passage speaks most directly to those of us who are pastors and priests, it applies to all people who have any degree of power or authority. When we allow the title or the recognition to be more important than loving and serving others, then we have lost sight of the #1 command to love God and neighbor. We must all remind ourselves over and over that this is our call. When temptation arises to use our power or authority for personal gain, we must repent of our sin immediately. In the battle with pride and ego and self, may we ever strive to remember that all we have and are is a gift and blessing from God Almighty. Ever and always, may all of our thoughts, words, and actions be pleasing in God’s sight.

Lord, each day may I seek to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with you, my Savior and King. Amen.


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Fellow Children of God

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verse 34: “You are not far from the kingdom of God”.

Today’s passage contains what I believe are the two quintessential requirements of our faith. Jesus is asked about the most important commandment and the two He gives summarize our faith practices. If all we do is love God completely and love our neighbors as ourselves, then we will be living out an excellent witness. Today, though, I want to focus on the relationship between Jesus and the man.

We know that today’s interaction occurs within a group of people, but it is as if they are the only two there. In my mind it is a personal conversation that others happen to overhear. It does not matter to Jesus or the man who else us there that day. This happens elsewhere in scripture too. Jesus focuses in on that person and they are all that matters. This is the type of relationship and personal interaction that we are called to have with one another.

People can treat each other poorly. We can have an “I’m the boss and do as I say” attitude that leaves others feeling of little value. We can have a “this is just the way it is (or has always been)” attitude, leaving others feeling powerless. We can interact with people in other ways that diminish, exclude, overlook, discount the other. This is not the way of Jesus; it is not loving God and neighbor.

Instead, Jesus focuses in on the man. I envision Jesus looking him right in the eye the whole time. Maybe He even steps a bit closer or places a hand on his shoulder. This should be the model for our personal interactions with each other. The focus and attention communicate value, worth, importance, acceptance. It says they matter to us, that our relationship is important. As they prepare to part ways, Jesus appreciates the man’s faith, saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. This statement also says “you are drawing close to God”. Jesus sees the heart of God in this man. May our words and actions convey the same to others today as we encounter each fellow child of God. May it be so.

Lord God, slow me down, focus me in. Help me to be one-on-one with each I encounter today. Help me to see you in them. Amen.


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What a Savior!

Reading: Mark 10: 17-22

Verse 20: “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy”.

In our passage we begin with the young man. He runs up to Jesus and falls on his knees before Him. The young man is eager to see Jesus. He has a question to ask. He runs to Jesus. The young man also looks up to Jesus or at least to His reputation. The young man falls on his knees – a sign of respect and a recognition of authority. And then the young man asks a spiritual, heartfelt question of Jesus. He desires eternal life and wants to know what he must do to gain it. Oh that we would approach Jesus each day like this young man approached Jesus!

Jesus and the young man’s conversation begins with keeping the Law. This was the goal for all devout Jews. Jesus and the disciples were in Judea so we can safely assume this young man was a devout Jew. He answers Jesus’ inquiry well, saying, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy”. He has followed the rules. From the interactions we see between Jesus and the Pharisees and other religious leaders, following the rules, keeping the Law, was all that mattered. We too like rules. Go to church on Sunday. Receive communion once a month. Sing the songs. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Pay attention during the sermon. Put a little something in the offering plate. See you next Sunday.

Like us, the young man follows the rules, he checks the boxes. But God is not his all in all. Maybe God has most of this young man’s heart, perhaps even 90 or 95% of it. And in spite of his lack of total commitment, verse 21 says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him”. What a Savior! This is the story played out on the cross. Jesus looked at mankind and our proclivity to sin and said, ‘I love you anyway’. Jesus endured the cross, taking all of our sins upon Himself, so that we could continue to run up to Him and kneel before Him. When we do, when we come to our Lord and Savior, and imperfect as we are, Jesus looks upon us and loves us. What a Savior. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Loving Savior, thank you do much for loving me as I am. There is nothing I can do and no one and no thing can separate me from your love. Thank you Lord! Amen.