pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Humble Submission

Reading: James 4: 7-8a

Verse 8a: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”.

In our short one and a half verses, James gives us three pieces of advice. In James 4 he has just finished quoting Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. When we are proud and allow pride to guide our words and thoughts, then we have trouble with today’s advice.

Most Christians are rule followers. In general. Sometimes we follow the rules because of circumstances. For example, in my old truck I do not drive 80 miles per hour on the interstate. 80 is the rule. I could physically drive 80 and the truck can too, but the gas mileage plummets and I am cheap. Most of the time, though, I do follow the rules because it is simply the right thing to do.

Sometimes rules do not make sense or we know they are wrong. In the cases when the rule does not make sense, we struggle to follow it. But when the rules are wrong, as Christians, we must take a stand. Such was the case back in the 1960s, when rules excluded or denied or segregated based on race. These rules were broken by and protested against by people, bringing reform to a bad system. Although it is sometimes long and hard, what is right usually wins out in the end.

Today, James is advising us to follow a rule that is both good for us and is in alignment with our faith. James says to submit to God. Tying in the verse from Proverbs, we are to humbly submit to God. Yes, it is good and right to do so. No, we cannot argue or protest against this rule. Yet at times we struggle to follow it. The devil is always at work, trying to tempt us. It is precisely then that we must over God. When we obey God, we are resisting the devil. When we obey God, the devil flees. And then we receive the promise: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”. Come to God and He’ll come to you. Draw near and rest in His presence. Connect with God and live in His light and love. How could life be any better?

O Lord, my God, in humble submission I draw near to you. In awe, I come into your presence. It is a good place to be. Fill me up with your love and grace and mercy and compassion. Fill me to overflowing, so that you can flow out of me and into the lives of those I meet today. Amen.

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Unwavering Love

Reading: Mark 7: 24-30

Verse 29: “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter”.

Jesus has left Galilee and enters into a non-Jewish region. It appears to be an intentional choice as our passage tells us that He “did not want anyone to know it”. His little get-away is soon discovered and a woman from the regions appears, seeking healing for her daughter.

People today often seek ways to make things better. Sometimes they go someplace else where the chances or circumstances at least appear better. People from all over the world, for example, come to America for a better life. Sometimes people go to a place where the reputation is excellent. For example, lots of people go to the nearby Mayo Clinic for treatment of difficult or complex medical issues.

Even though Jesus is in a “foreign land”, apparently His reputation for being a healer is known there too. A local woman comes to Jesus because her daughter is possessed by demons. She is seeking healing. Jesus gives her a version of “I’m on vacation”. It is also indicative of His focus on the lost sheep of Israel. The situation reminds me of parents with sick children going to the doctor without an appointment, insistent on their child being seen anyway. If the situation is bad enough, they will sit there and wait for an “opening”. In essence, they are saying they will sit there until the child is seen by the doctor.

Jesus tries to dismiss her. The woman ignores the “dog” slight and says, ‘But, yes, Jesus even we may have a little of you. Even us dogs might catch a crumb or two that happens to slip off the table. Yes, Jesus, maybe we can have a little healing too”. She demonstrates that, yes, she will sit there all day, just waiting for a crumb or two to fall. Jesus is impressed – maybe with her faith, maybe with her persistence – but definitely with her love for her daughter.

Lord, in this woman I see unwavering love. In Jesus’ response, I see love given to love. May I too have unwavering love as my guide, following Jesus and His Spirit as I seek to be light and love in the world. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 8-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

The pilgrims are on their way to Jerusalem! There is joy in where they are headed. They are going to be close to the God they love. As today’s passage opens, the people are petitioning God to hear and listen with favor to their prayers. This joy on the journey, this sense of anticipation – is it what we have when we walk out the door as we head to church?

For the pilgrims, the joy is not just in the journey. Being there is God’s house is really the point. Verse ten illustrates the value placed on being in the sanctuary: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. There is delight found in the place of the Lord. There is a sense of peace and strength in God’s house. Do we reflect this attitude on Sunday mornings? If we feel blessed to be in worship, then yes we do!

The psalmist also names the popular alternative. One can choose God or one can choose not to. Instead, one can live a wicked life. This is a life centered on self, filled with gluttony and greed and the pleasures of the flesh. The ego dominates and shows itself in pride and jealousy and anger. The psalmist would rather be one day with God than to spend a thousand days in the tents of the wicked. Yet those tents are crowded. The things of the world look good to those who do not know God. To the faithful, yes, they are temptations.

If we were to modernize the Psalm, what would we replace the tents of the wicked with? Today, for some, it is the cathedral of green pastures and little white balls. For others it is the sea of peaceful waters and sharp hooks. Still others prefer the sense of security and comfort found in the great comforter and soft pillow. Yes, these things do have their appeal. Yes, one sure can spend their days someplace other than in God’s courts. It is a choice.

The Psalm closes with this line: “O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you”. The world tells us to trust in ourselves, in our possessions, in our titles. But a thousand days of these things is not worth one day in the courts of the Lord. May we trust in the Lord. May we walk blameless today with our God. May we find the Almighty’s favor. Amen and amen.


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Something Far Better

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty”.

For the audience in today’s passage, there is a recent past and a distant past. Just the day before Jesus fed them. He took five loaves and two fish and fed thousands. And there were twelve baskets full of leftovers. He had satisfied their physical hunger in an amazing way. Remember their response? They wanted to force Jesus to be their earthly king.

In the handful of hours since the miracle, the people have connected their recent experience with an event from their people’s distant past. When the people were starving out in the desert, just a month and a half after leaving Egypt, they grumbled against Moses. God responded by saying, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you”. For the rest of their forty years in the desert, each person received food from God. So the crowd now returns to Jesus, looking for food for a second day.

Jesus’ response to the people coming for food was this: “Do not work for food that spoils”. In other words, don’t be so concerned with earthly sustenance. It is not that Jesus wants them to starve, it is that Jesus has something far better to offer. To receive this eternal food, Jesus tells them that they must “believe in the one God has sent”. The people respond to Jesus’ claim with a request for another miracle. Prove it Jesus.

Jesus again claims to be the bread that God has sent down from heaven. Their response is to ask for this bread that gives life to the world. Jesus says,”I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty”. Come to Jesus, believe in Jesus, and you will be satisfied with food for your souls and water for your spiritual thirst. In this way, Jesus offers something far better than daily meals. It is far better to receive eternal food that sustains us for eternity. Jesus continues to offer this far better option. The offer is still on the table. For those who have come to Jesus and accepted His Lordship, we rejoice and partake daily. For those yet to bow before the King, take the offer and find life. Believe in Jesus Christ and be filled. Believe in Jesus Christ and find true life.


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Rescue

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

Verse Five: “I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses”.

Our passage today opens with this “man” being given a vision and being brought up to the “third heaven”. The man experiences paradise and other inxpressible things. It is an experience that very few have. For those who walked with Jesus and long for His return, a visit to heaven would be the next best thing. For the Corinthians, to whom Paul writes, this would be an amazing person to talk to, to quiz, to gain insights into heaven from. Most experts believe that Paul was this man, so he probably could have gone on and on about his heavenly experience.

Paul is avoiding a temptation common to man. We have all been around people who enjoy telling of their great successes and their grand adventures. They love to go on and on about themselves. We have also been around people who always seem to have a better story. Someone shares about a lovely trip they just had and this person says something along the lines of, “Well, that was nice but let me tell you about MY trip to…”. At times maybe we are these people or certainly we are tempted to be these people. We do like to share our accomplishments or at least to have them recognized.

Paul instead says to his audience, “I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses”. Weakness is an odd thing to boast about. This is counter to our first thought about how to introduce ourself to someone. We tend to want to share the good stuff. None of us starts off a conversation with something like, “Nice to meet you. I am up to my eyes in debt and I struggle with alcohol”. While it may be true, we do not begin here.

During his life, Paul has experienced some amazing things. He could go on and on with his experiences and his success stories. Instead, he wants his audience to be present to what he does and says now, when he is with them. To begin to do this, he turns the focus to his weaknesses. Maybe there is a lesson here for us the next time we want to have a faith conversation with someone. Being vulnerable and honest and transparent in sharing how Jesus rescued this sinner is perhaps the best way to help another see how Jesus could rescue them too. We’ve all done wonderful things in life. But our story of faith is not about us or what we’ve done, it is about Jesus and what He has done in us. This is the real story that we have to share – our rescue story. May we share it well today.


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Well Known

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse One: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

There is a reason Psalm 23 is the most well-known Psalm of the 150 we find in the Old Testament. It is realistic in its look at our relationship with God. The writer is not being beseiged on all sides or being slandered by a host of evil doers. The psalmist is not lamenting multiple personal losses nor has he committed a string of sins. It is simple and straight forward. Reading or praying through the Psalm brings reassurance and comfort. It acknowledges our dependence and reliance on God. Like many passages in the Bible, it is the ideal. It is not always our reality.

Verse one begins the Psalm. It reads, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”. If we trust fully in God and His blessings in our lives, we will not want. This is the ideal. But the reality is that the voice of the world tells us we need more and newer and better. Therefore it is a battle to be content. God does desire to lead us “beside still waters” but that incessant voice of the world says to do more, to climb higher, to indulge in life. God calls us to times of Sabbath and rest as a part of our normal routine. It is there that we reconnect with God.

God wants us to walk “paths of righteousness” and most of the time I believe we do. Occasionally we stumble into sin but the Holy Spirit is quick to realign us to God’s will. Thank you Holy Spirit. In life, at times we will experience loss and trial – the valleys – but God always remains present, bringing us comfort. Knowing that God will be there in both the present trial and in each that comes allows us to have no fear.

Verses five and six are about God blessing us. Our cup usually is full and even runs down all around us at times. Maybe it is because we are content and trust in God that it seems like our cup overflows. Or maybe it just does. Indeed, goodness and love pour out from God so it feels as if they were always following us. His love and goodness are just always there. Because of God’s love and grace, we can dwell with Him forever. It is a beautiful place to be. Thanks be to God for His Word that blessed and encourages us. Amen.


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Rejoice in Blessings

Reading: Psalm 4

Verse Seven: “You have filled my heart with greater joy then when their grain and new wine abounds”.

Funny thing, but you can always find someone who has more or better or newer. If you just drove off the lot with the bright new shiny car of your dreams, someone somewhere is seconds later driving off another lot with the same car plus one more upgrade. Inevitably you will see them later in the day. You are delighted in your new salary until you pass the water cooler and hear someone else telling of their better raise. You are proud of your team’s victory until you hear of a team with a more impressive title. That trophy loses some of its shine. Such is the way of the world. When we chase after things that do not last or that rust and decay, then we will ever be seeking the latest and greatest next thing. In our passage, this is they with “grain and new wine” abounding. All is good until they see someone with more grain or newer wine.

Even as a follower of Jesus, at times we can fall into the longing for more or better trap. Even David writes to God, “How long will you turn my glory into shame”? He also notes that many are asking, “Who can show us any good”? At times we can feel sorry for ourselves or our lot in life. At times we can long for other things. We can even be critical of others and what they have as a way of alleviating our feelings of being less.

Into all if this David offers some wonderful words of hope and faith. He knows as we know: “The Lord will hear when I call”. God hears our prayers. He goes on to encourage us to “trust in the Lord”. For those who question or doubt, he offers a request to God: “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord”. Turn to God, put our hope in God alone. In doing so it is a turning away from the things of the world.

One last word that David offers is a wonderful practice for us today. In verse seven he acknowledges, “you have filled my heart with greater joy”. It is an acknowledgement of God’s blessings in his life. It is an awesome way to begin each day. Writing down and giving thanks for yesterday’s blessings is a great way to help us be joyfully content in this world and to remind ourselves of God’s great love for us. It is a practice I encourage you to do daily. In this time and place, may we recognize and rejoice in the many blessings that God gives us each and every day. Then we too will “lie down and sleep in peace”.