pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Living Wisely

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-17

Verses 15… 17: “Live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity… understanding what the Lord’s will is”.

Today’s words about living wisely fit well with yesterday’s words from Psalm 111 concerning wisdom. Today’s focus is not so much on gaining God’s wisdom but on applying it to our lives. A summary of today’s passage reads, “Live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity… understanding what the Lord’s will is”. Paul’s basic admonition is to live wisely. To me, this begins with choosing well. Usually most decisions we make have a pause point where we consider our options. Second bowl of ice cream or not? Give her a second glance? Say the sarcastic comment? “Forget” to report that income? Help with that event next weekend? Life is full of moments when we come to that point. Paul’s advice is to choose well. That means choosing according to the good and pleasing will of God.

The second hurdle is making the most of every opportunity. What does it look like to “make the most”? It means going above and beyond. It means going a little deeper. It means not just giving the needy mom some formula and diapers, but also talking with her to see how we might help improve her situation, to see how our community of faith might surround and walk with her. It means saying “yes” to the whispers and nudges of the Holy Spirit.

When we choose wisely and according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, I think we are closing in on Paul’s third encouragement: understanding the will of God. When we choose to follow, we naturally gain understanding of God’s plan. Choosing not to sin or choosing to live life closely with another both connect us to God and deepen our understanding of how to best live out our faith. In doing so we also help others to understand who and what God is like and to see how faith could make a difference in their lives too.

Each day may we choose to live wisely in alignment with God’s will and purpose for each of us. May it be so to bring glory to God and to build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Evildoers and the Poor

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 6: “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”.

The second half of Psalm 14 speaks of evildoers. These are the folks who will do anything to become more powerful or wealthier. In order for anyone to gain more power or wealth, someone has to have less. What was true in David’s time remains true today.

Verse four speaks of evildoers as people who “devour” God’s people as “men eat bread”. In this verb there is an implication of greed and gluttony. It brings to mind the memory of placing a pizza before a group of teenagers who had been eating backpacking food for a week. The pizza was gone in the blink of an eye and I could see the look of “more?” in their eyes. But the evildoers that David writes of are not seeing “real food” for the first time in a week. They are folks who will eat and eat and eat – not because they are hungry but because they can. The lust for power and money is never satisfied. Getting some just wets the appetite for getting more.

Verse six reads, “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”. For those living in poverty, it is an enending battle to simply stay afloat, nevermind getting ahead. Decisions like buying gas to get to work or buying food for the kids competes with decisions to buy your medication or to pay the electric bill. It is a world of decisions foreign to most of us. These thoughts draw me back to a prayer walk we were on during a mission trip to Racine. A large pile of belongings was soaking up a heavy rain on the curbside. The pastor explained that someone else had been evicted. Among the belongings was a mattress – no box spring or rails or frame. The mattress was all this person could scrape and save for thus far. It was now ruined because they chose another necessity over rent. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to evict someone and, yes, poor decisions could have led to the eviction. The deeper issues that need to be addressed are why the person cannot earn a living wage or find affordable housing.

Where do we fit into this world of evildoers? As Christians, we are called to stand with and for the poor and marginalized. We are called to speak out against low wages and other practices that intentionally and unintentionally keep the poor poor. We are also called to help alleviate suffering wherever we find it by feeding, clothing, visiting, teaching, training… May we each discern both the changes that need to happen and the differences we can each make in our neighborhoods and communities today. May it be so. Amen.


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Uriah’s Path

Reading: 2 Samuel 11: 6-15

Verse 11: “As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing”!

In today’s passage there is quite a contrast in characters. David chose to stay home from war, to sleep with another man’s wife, to get her pregnant, and to try and cover it all up. Uriah has dutifully gone off to war, chooses not to lie with his wife, and honors the men out in battle. He walks a different path. What a contrast to David’s path.

David knows Uriah. He is one of David’s thirty mighty men – elite warriors who have spent much time with David. David sleeps with his friend’s wife. News of Bathsheba’s pregnancy hatches a new plan. Bring Uriah home under the guise of getting a report about the war and then send him home for the night. Surely he will lie with Bathsheba and all will think he’s the father. But Uriah sleeps outside the entrance to the palace. David asks why he didn’t go home. Hear the integrity in Uriah’s response: “As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing”! How could I? This response must have stung David a bit. No worries – plan B. That night David gets Uriah drunk and tries to send him home again. Again Uriah sleeps outside the palace. He does the right thing again. Plan C begins to unfold. It works as Uriah is killed in battle. After mourning, Bathsheba will become a wife to David and the child seems legitimate.

David implicated and affected many people in his sin. Some were impacted in small ways, but impacted nonetheless. Others were obviously affected more – Uriah, Bathsheba, Joab. When we sin, we too affect others. In our minds we also try to rationalize it or to minimize the ways it affects others. But sin never affects only us. At the very minimum it impacts us and our relationship with God. Indirectly there is always a list of others negatively affected. And then there are those we hurt directly.

Just as sin has ripple effects, so too does doing good. Let us not lose sight of Uriah. In our passage today, we can also learn from Uriah. Doing the right thing is always an option. When presented with the choice today, may we choose Uriah’s path – the path of righteousness. May it be so today.


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Oh Those Thorns!

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Verse Nine: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”.

Paul opens chapter twelve with the revelation of heaven that he experienced. To keep him from being too conceited, he was “given a thorn in my flesh”. ‘Thorn’ implies that it was painful and hard to endure. The ‘thorn’ tormented Paul. And just like we would and do do in a heartbeat, Paul “pleaded with the Lord to take it away”. We do not like to endure pain or suffering or hardship. Neither did Paul.

God’s response is wonderful. In response to Paul’s pleading, God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. It is in moments of pain that we must turn to God to carry us through. It is in moments of weakness that we must rely on God for strength. It is in moments of heartache that we most need God’s grace and love. It has often been said that the view from the mountaintop is wonderful but we grow most in the valleys. Paul’s vision was his mountaintop and the thorn was his valley.

At times in our lives we will certainly suffer trials and hardships. I believe these occur two basic ways. One way, I believe the most common, is simply because life is naturally hard at times. We live in a world where people are imperfect, where disease and illness are part of the cycle of life, and where our free will does not always lead to good decisions. I also believe that we encounter a ‘thorn’ like Paul did at times. Sometimes the thorn comes to remind us that we have strayed from God. It is a poke back towards a right relationship with God. Sometimes the thorn is what it was for Paul – to remind us of our limited ability to control anything and of our absolute need for God. To me, this is Romans 8:28 lived out: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”.

Thorns in life are hard. God’s words illicited this response from Paul: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. May we also trust in, turn to, and rely on God at all times. It is there that Christ’s power shines in and from us. May we acknowledge our own weaknesses and, in doing so, may we reveal how strong we are in Christ. Amen.


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The “Why”

Reading: Mark 3: 20-30

Verse 20: “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him”.

The big crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach. Our passage tells us that it is, well, so crowded that Jesus cannot eat. There is no room! Mark writes, “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him”. They think that Jesus is not taking care of Himself and they go to have a family intervention. This has gone on long enough! Truth be told, at one time or another, we have found ourselves in this situation. That big project is due tomorrow and we forego sleep and maybe even food. Our mom or spouse or roommate warns us about how we are living. Or maybe we just sneak into the office on a day off to “catch up” – and we get the look we deserve. But sometimes, like Jesus did, we too get a look because of our faith.

Sometimes our choices of faith get us that look. I think that Jesus did not eat because it meant less teaching time. Look at all the people who are here to hear the Word. In a similar way, we encounter people without faith who do not understand us sacrificing something for our faith. They have questions like, “Why would you help pay her electric bill when you know the lights will get shut off next month too”? They wonder why we would spend a week of vacation going on a mission trip instead of going to some resort in the Caribbean. Some even wonder why in the world we would get up early on a Sunday to go sit on some hard pews when we could sleep in on the one day we could. Lots of people wonder why we do this or that for some guy named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago.

When the looks come, how do we react? How do we respond – whether it is family coming to ‘save’ us or whether it is a friend trying to talk some ‘sense’ into us or whether it is an acquaintance questioning the ‘crazy’ choices we are making? I think we begin with the story of how Jesus makes a difference in our life. When we share from the heart what Jesus has and is doing in our life, people begin to get a glimpse of faith and to sense what Jesus offers them as well. Yes, how we live our life tells our faith story. But our words are important too. They fill in the “how” with the “why”. Our words build understanding. So today, may we introduce people to Jesus with our actions and decisions and may we begin to welcome them into a personal relationship with our words. May it be so today.


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Very Nice Folks

Reading: Mark 2: 23-28

Verse 27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.

The Pharisees lived by a lot of rules. The many, many rules had become their way of life and their religion. Following the rules had even obscured their common sense. They were rule followers instead of God followers. This concept is sometimes seen in our churches today.

Jesus’ disciples are walking along and they are hungry. They pick a few heads of grain to snack on. To us this does not seem to serious, but the Pharisees asks, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath”? You see, picking grain was work and work is illegal on the Sabbath. It does not matter if they were hungry. It wouldn’t even have mattered to the rule followers if the disciples were starving to death. It does not matter. They should have planned ahead – they know when the Sabbath is!

Jesus takes this in and responds thusly, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. He is saying to look beyond the rule so they can see the need. Look past being rule followers and become God followers. Have compassion. Show mercy. Extend love. But these are hard choices because this goes against the rules. Sometimes we see this in our churches too.

On Sunday mornings we are a pretty homogeneous bunch. On the last Sunday evening each month, we offer a free community meal. There is not a lot of homelessness in the community, but there is some poverty. Last night we had a struggling family come to the meal. Really nice folks – husband and wife and six young kids, plus Grandma in tow. Kids had big smiles on their faces and I had a nice chat with Mom and Dad. Very nice folks.

As I consider the Sabbath rules that caused so much tension in today’s passage, I wonder how things would go if this family showed up next Sunday morning at 9:00 for worship. Sometimes we can allow rules to get in the way of love and compassion and empathy. Sometimes we can be rule followers instead of Jesus followers. Sometimes it is hard. I hope these very nice folks come this Sunday morning. It is good for us to practice being Jesus followers. Sometimes what we practice becomes what we are. Very nice folks, hope to see you this Sunday morning!