pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Invites Us Deeper

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

Verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”.

One cannot hardly help reading these verses and being drawn into the sadness of the situation. God has been just in exiling the people because of their sins. Yet the barrenness and emptiness of Jerusalem evoke feelings of sadness and mourning in us thousands of years later. In our hearts we can easily empathize when we read, “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”. Perhaps tears roll down our cheeks.

In our own lives we too will experience hardship, loss, death, change, separation, and maybe even exile. Sometimes these experiences come upon us not because of anything we have done or not done. We simply find ourselves present in the valley. These experiences can be hard and painful. They vary too. There is grief and sadness, for example, when a 92-year-old faithful saint passes on. Yet our reading from Lamentations feels more like the unexpected loss of a young child. In such instances we weep like the woman who cries bitter tears, not quite understanding the reality that she finds herself in.

At other times we have a hand in the calamity that brings us to the valley. There were many who went into exile and some left behind that were guilty of the sins that precipitated God’s action. When we have been guilty and experience hardship or worse because of our choices or actions, we must acknowledge the role we played before offering repentance and seeking reconciliation. This can be a process. Denial and blame shifting can prolong the exile. For Israel, the exile lasted a long time. There was much work to do. We too can remain there for a period of time if we refuse to admit our role or to acknowledge our imperfections.

Whether we are “innocent victims” or if we had a role in the hardship or failure or “exile”, these experiences offer us the opportunity for transformation and growth. In the valleys we are reminded both of our inability to solve all things and of God’s omnipotent ability to do anything. From the valley, God invites us into deeper relationship as we walk the shadows. God’s hand reaches out in love, seeking to heal and transform us into something new. In faith may we reach out to God, our rock and redeemer, our rescuer and restorer, our healer and our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, the valley is an uncomfortable place to be. The feeling of isolation and grief are hard to bear. Help me to walk with you, to lean upon you. I know you do not want me to bear them alone. Bend my face to yours, hold my hand tightly. Guide me through to once again walk fully in your light and love. Amen.

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Clear Priorities

Reading: Luke 14: 25, 26 and 33

Verse 26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father… mother… wife… children… brother… sister… even his own life… he cannot be my disciple”.

Two of three of today’s verses are really tough verses. Jesus says to the crowd and to us, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father… mother… wife… children… brother… sister… even his own life… he cannot be my disciple”. That is hard to read twice in such a short time. He then concludes our passage from Luke 14 by telling us that we must “give up everything” if we want to be his disciple. Jesus is using hyperbole today to make his point. He is addressing a large crowd. Those following Jesus has grown quickly and they all do not clearly understand the cost of following Jesus. Today’s verses are a bit of a reality check.

Jesus uses the word ‘hate’ today as a term to define our priorities in life. If asked what our priorities are, almost all of us would respond: God, family, work (or school). But a look into our week and our choices and decisions might not actually reflect that order. Jesus chooses his words today to drive home the point that faith must be our clear #1 priority. It must be so clear that we appear to hate our family, friends, and even our own self when compared to how much we love God. Jesus wants us to understand that there must be a striking contrast between the devotion we live and show to God and all other relationships and priorities in life. Jesus had strong relationships with his mother Mary, with the disciples, and with friends like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. ‘Hate’ would not describe any of these relationships. But his devotion to God never wanted – it was clearly Jesus’ top priority.

In verse 33 Jesus addresses the sacred cow of the secular world. Culture identifies and defines worth by what we have and by who we are in the power structures of the world. Again, Jesus is calling us to put all this worldly stuff a distant priority when compared to our faith. When we turn away and pursue the things of the world more than loving and serving God, we have lost focus on what really matters. Our priorities have been reordered.

Jesus says “Follow me” to us. That means living the priorities that Jesus lived. That means clearly committing to our faith as the most important thing in our lives and then living that commitment out. Yes, it is a hard commitment. Jesus is the only way. May he be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, at times walking a life of faith can be so simple and straight forward. At other times it can be a great struggle as the flesh inside me rises up and as the voices and things of the world call out. O God, help me to walk closely with you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Amen.


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Good Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 5: 3-7

Verse 4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”?

Today we see the outcome of all the love and care that was poured into the vineyard. The yielding of bad fruit draws a passionate response from the gardener. The gardener wistfully says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”? When one considers all of God’s love and care and patience and guidance poured into Israel, one can begin to understand God’s pain and heartache and even a little anger. All parents experience this process, but usually on a much smaller scale. We raise our children as best we can and they still make poor decisions and bad choices now and then in spite of our best efforts.

God’s response to the vineyard Israel is to tear down the hedge and wall and to allow thorns to infest the ground. God even withholds the rain. God is stepping back from the relationship. God is not abandoning Israel, but is allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices. The injustice and bloodshed will not have good outcomes; the unanswered cries of distress will go on. All of this pains God deeply. Stepping back is a loving and merciful response. It is the response of a God who loves the people deeply.

I imagine that as God looks down on the world today, there is much that is painful to see. I imagine that God frequently asks the same “what more can I do” question. And then God sees the good fruit, the kind and loving followers of Jesus, working to bring light and love out into the world. God sees believers seeking to love God and to love neighbor. Yes, there are images of God sharing God’s love and care and compassion and mercy and justice with a world in need. Won’t you be one of them today?

Prayer: Loving God, lead me to love like Jesus today. Help me to be compassion and mercy and grace lived out. May it be so for me today and every day. Amen.


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The Choice

Reading: Luke 10: 38-42

Verse 42b: “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her”.

Mary chooses the better part and Jesus will not be taken from her. Mary chooses to be present to and with Jesus. Mary chooses life over the world. Once she has chosen Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she has claimed her connection to the eternal one. By her actions, Mary declares that Jesus is the Lord of her life. She will follow Jesus.

All Christians come to the same decision point. We first come to know our personal need for Jesus, for a Savior. Then, at some point, we make the choice to surrender our life to follow Jesus. We make the conscious choice to die to self and to the desires of this world so that we can humbly follow Jesus’ example. We make the choice daily to spend time with Jesus and to worship God alone.

Martha has not quite made the choice to follow. She knows about Jesus and she has heard about the miracles. In time she will profess that Jesus as the Messiah, as Lord (John 11). Martha will join Mary to sit before the throne. But for now the tasks at hand – all the work that must be done for her guests – this consumes her. She feels so much pressure to meet the world’s expectations that her stress finally boils over in verse 40, where she asks the guest to intervene with Mary. She has become so distracted that she asks Jesus to pry her sister away from the better choice. Jesus will not do it. He simply points out Martha’s excessive worrying and the distraction that it has become. Jesus also reminds her of the fact that only one thing is needed. He reminds us too.

Our story ends without knowing the outcome. Does Martha go back to cooking, to offer the hospitality that she can at the moment? Does she stop and sit at Jesus’ feet, offering the best form of hospitality – being present to the guest? All of us wrestle with this choice. Even as a Christian and as a pastor I struggle to always slow down, to always lay aside the to-do list, to take the opportunity to be fully present to the other. I want to be more like Mary and less like Martha. May the Holy Spirit lead and guide me and you to slow down and to connect with Jesus so that his light and love shines in and through us.

Prayer: Lord, lead and guide me each day to recognize and take those extra opportunities you provide to stop and engage the other, encountering Christ along the way. Help me to see and experience the holy in all people. Amen.


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Time for Him

Reading: Luke 10: 38-42

Verse 41: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things”.

Today’s story focuses in on two sisters and their choice of how to invest their time. Martha is like most of us in the world. Mary falls into a smaller grouping.

I can relate to Martha. Perhaps you can too. Our culture measures our worth in many ways. One way is by how much we get done. A productive worker is highly valued. A person living an active and busy lifestyle is portrayed as the ideal. Having a lot of things on my to-do list brings a feeling of importance. Getting them done brings a feeling of accomplishment. These two things can lead to working a lot of hours. I can also relate at times to another part of Martha. She feels that all of her work is not being recognized. If it was, Jesus would’ve sent Mary to help. I can fall into that trap too. It is a signal that I need to take a break.

Finally Martha cannot take it any longer and she goes to Jesus. She basically tells him to tell Mary to help her. Jesus responds with, “Martha, Martha”. I can see him shaking his head side to side as he slowly says her name. Maybe he even reached out and took hold of her hands as he looked into her eyes. Jesus continues, saying, “You are worried and upset about many things”. The worries of her to-do list have distracted her from what is really important. Mary has chosen to slow down, to carve out time, to take the opportunity to be present with Jesus.

In his own way, Jesus is encouraging Martha to slow down, to pause for a few minutes. He affirms that Mary has chosen the better way. Jesus will not ask her to give up her quiet time with him for the busyness and worries of the world.

Mary’s choice seems like such an excellent choice. It is a choice that fills our souls and nourishes our spirits. It is a choice that is never regretted, no matter how long the to-do list might seem. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, began each day with an hour of prayer. When asked what he does when his schedule gets very busy, his response was, “I pray for two hours”. He, like Mary, knew the value of investing in Jesus. Deep down, we too know the value. May we each make the choice to slow down, to carve out time, to connect to Jesus regularly and daily.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for this morning’s time with you. It is a wonderful way to begin my day. I cannot even fathom what starting it another way would look or feel like. Thank you for your time. Amen.


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Choice

Reading: John 14: 25-27

Verse 27: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.

Fear and doubt can be something that invades our hearts and minds. We can experience these emotions for perfectly good and logical reasons, in situations where it is natural: when a large growling dog rapidly runs at us, when we loose control of our car on an icy road… We can also experience these emotions for reasons that are not grounded in reality. We can become fearful in a situation where we are very safe and protected. We can doubt when we have the physical tools and abilities to be successful.

As Jesus looked into the days soon to come for Himself and for the disciples, He knew they would face fear and doubt. Jesus would soon be handed over to the authorities. They would try, whip, beat, and crucify Him. They would strike the shepherd and the sheep would scatter. If we were in their shoes, we would act exactly the same way. Jesus again reminds them that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach them and to help them remember all that Jesus said and did. The Holy Spirit will be their first help in times of fear and doubt. He then leaves them His peace. It is the peace of God that also offers help to us to counter fear and doubt. The sense that we are not alone and the sense that God’s peace carries us often keeps fear and doubt at bay. Because of these things, Jesus concludes by encouraging the disciples, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. In this statement Jesus is implying that we have a choice.

When doubt and fear begin to rise in our hearts and minds, we can let them have the day. Or… we can choose to let God have the day. We can turn to God in prayer, confident that the Holy Spirit is already interceding for us. We can stand on God’s promises and allow His peace to wash over us. It is a choice we make. If we don’t we will struggle with fear and doubt in unhealthy ways. May we choose the all-powerful God who can and will do all things for those who love Him. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when my heart and mind begin to feel fear and doubt, may you be my first choice always. When I waver, send in your Holy Spirit to remind me of your love and care for me. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Exercise

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”.

At the beginning of Acts 8 Philip goes to Samaria and proclaims Jesus Christ. His words and the miraculous signs lead many to accept the word of God and to believe in Jesus. When people profess faith in Jesus, Philip baptizes them. Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the apostles hear about this and realize that the people have not received the Holy Spirit. This is where today’s passage picks up.

Peter and John are sent to Samaria. They pray over the new believers, asking the Spirit to come. “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It is the Spirit that will fill the new believers with the courage and power and understanding to live out their faith as witnesses to Jesus Christ. Without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, belief in Christ is more like head knowledge than lifestyle. There is a big difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. The Holy Spirit bumps Jesus fully into our life and into our everyday choices, words, actions…

Even with the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, these new believers in Samaria will have choices to make. We too experience this. When they feel the nudge or when they hear the whisper – will they respond? At first that voice is quiet and the nudge light. When it is exercised though, it becomes louder and stronger. In this way we too are called to exercise the faith we have – to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to allow the Spirit to lead and guide us. The more we do, the more we will. This day and every day, when the Holy Spirit calls or nudges, may we step forward in faith, trusting in God’s lead. May it be so.

Prayer: God, help me to cast aside fear and doubt and to step boldly where your Spirit leads. Build up my trust more and more and more. Amen.