pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Readings: Psalm 126 and Isaiah 61: 1-4 and 8-11

Key verses: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. (Psalm 126:5) and “The Spirit of the Lord is on me… to preach… bind up… release… proclaim…” (Isaiah 61:1)

In our Advent study this week we are looking at humility – at having the mind of Christ spoken of in Philippians 2.  One of the men in our Tuesday morning study said humility is thinking less of yourself so that you could think more of others.  Humility is an active practice.  These profound thoughts fit well with the humble servant hood that Jesus modeled and calls us to follow.  Our world is certainly in need of more humble servants.

Both the bigger world out there and many people’s lives are filled with hardship and suffering and trials.  There is plenty of oppression and abuse of power, lots of violence and other senseless actions, many struggling with addictions and unhealthy relationships, and a host of other issues.  Individuals we know face some of these issues as do whole groups in our communities.  There are lots of people in lots of places who would love to live into this verse: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

As humble servants of Jesus Christ, we are called to help those in need to do just that.  It is what Jesus did and what He calls us to do.  For all who follow Jesus, we live into the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”  When we read on, we find the “why” – to preach the good news to the poor, to heal the broken, to bring freedom to the captives, to release prisoners from all that binds them, and to proclaim God’s blessings on all.  These are big words and big ideas.  But guess what?  We serve a big God.  We serve a God who wants to work in and through us – just like He did with Jesus – to see all these things to come to be.

Sometimes we don’t see God big enough.  Sometimes we fail to dream and other times we fail to trust.  Sometimes we doubt.  Into all of this God speaks through the apostle Paul: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  May we serve a big God, trusting that all things are possible when we call on the One who can do all things.  Amen and amen.

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Great Things

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse Five: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

Psalm 126 is an interesting mix of past,present, and future.  It recalls the joy of returning home to Zion, yet it seeks for God to restore their fortunes.  It speaks of the great things that God has done for them and it speaks of sowing seed in tears.  This there and here and not yet is much like Advent.  We celebrate the joy of the birth, yet we seek to see the Messiah return.  We sing of the star, the angels, and the other wonders of God and we have moments of sadness and loneliness as we think of loved ones who have passed.

In the Psalm there is longing and there is thanksgiving.  There is the waiting and there is the expectation of God’s presence.  There is weeping and there is joy.  In this way, the Psalm is much like life and our faith.  Both are about holding onto the blessings of God because they strengthen us as we walk through the trials.  Both are about how “those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” because we experience joy even in the sorrows of life, as God is with us in our times of need.  Like the psalmist, we acknowledge that God is near even as we cry out for God to be closer.

And just as the psalmist does, we too have a call to proclaim what the Lord has done for us.  The psalmist declares, “The Lord has done great hings for them”.  Let is also proclaim the good news about what Jesus Christ has done in our lives.  May we help others to know good news in their lives so that they can “reap with songs of joy”, joining us in rejoicing in what great things God has done and trusting into the great things God will do.


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Joy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-18 – “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.

The Christmas season is a time when joy and love seem to abound in extra measure.  At our churches, the Children’s Christmas Program brings smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts long after the program itself has ended.  The Christmas songs on the radio or our play stations and the specials on television also add to the joy of the season.  Extra time with family and friends is an added bonus that brings us even more joy.

On the past two Sundays in many churches we have lit the candles of hope and peace and have been reminded of how, in Christ, God brings these things to the world.  This Sunday we will light the candle of joy and will be reminded of how Christ also brings us joy during the Advent season.  Joy is an emotion that naturally surrounds a birth as well.  So it is fitting that we await the birth of Jesus with much joy.

Yet very quickly after December 25, for many the Christmas season will end.  We turn from time with family and celebrations with great food and merriment to times of being alone and figuring out how we can lose what we gained and pay for what we gave.  Christmas is too often moved on from and picked up long before the season is actually over.  And if we are not careful, the joy that filled us and lifted our spirits can also slip away.

To be joyful in Christ is a trait that Christians should have all year round.  Christ does not go away with the trees and bows and songs.  But our heightened sense of joy can go.  To keep our sense of joy requires some intentional effort on our part.  We must choose to cultivate a sense of joy in our hearts all year long.  Whether we make it a portion of our daily prayer time or whether we keep a little “thank” journal that we write in each day or whether we post a few things that we are thankful for each day on social media, we must thank God each day for His presence, love, and activity in our lives.  As we practice being joyful, we will find that joy becomes a natural part of our daily lives.  It is then that we begin to live into these words:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.  May it be so.  Amen.


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Opportunities

Reading: Mark 1: 1-8

Verse Three: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him”.

At a school that I taught at for a long time, one year the theme was to performs RAKs – random acts of kindness.  The staff had t-shirts made up, we sought opportunities to do nice things for each other, and we tried to ‘catch’ students performing RAKs.  It spurred us all on to be on the lookout for opportunities to do random nice things for our students and for each other.  It was a good year at old DMS because whenever someone went out of their way to do something nice for you, it caused you to be mindful of finding something to do for someone else.  In this sense, it was contagious.

This same feeling seems to persist around this time of the year.  During the Advent season, love just seems to be a bit more in the air.  We hold the door open more readily, we buy and extra item or two at the grocery store for the food bank table at church, we smile and say ‘hello’ a little more warmly.  In many churches, we seek to go a bit further, doing something special during the Christmas season.  Some churches assemble Christmas Shoeboxes, some host a free Christmas dinner for the community, some collect a Christmas Eve offering for a cause in the community or in the world.  While all of these are just wonderful, they are just a part of what we are called to at the time of Christmas.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are also called to shine the light personally.  Just as John baptized in the wilderness, so too are we to call others to Jesus Christ through our words and actions.  Through the ways we demonstrate love, kindness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness… we are seeking to “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him”.  It is by being Jesus’ hands, feet, and heart that we invite others to come to know Him.  One of my devotionals put it this way this morning: “When we love, He will come”.  It is a great thought.  Each day, from now through Christmas, may we individually seek opportunities to give another person a random act of kindness, allowing Jesus to shine His light and love into another’s heart.  May it be so.


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A Voice

Reading: Mark 1: 1-6

Verse Two: “I will send my messenger ahead of you… to prepare the way”.

Mark quotes Isaiah to open up his “gospel about Jesus Christ, Son of God”.  This quote from Isaiah 40 is the the Israelites what John 3:16 is to Christians.  It is a very well-known verse to Mark’s audience.  Through hundreds of years of various oppression, exiles, and other trials, the Israelites have clung to the promise of a Messiah.  To the Israelites, the prophets have always been bearers of God’s word.  So when John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, proclaiming that the Messiah is near, people flock out to see and hear him.  John is a one-man faith revival, much like Elijah and the other great prophets who came before him.  Why do people – “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” – come out to see John?  Because he speaks words of hope and restoration.

In times of suffering and oppression, when one rises up to speak words of hope and restoration, they tend to draw a crowd, people tend to listen.  In more recent times this has happened with Gandhi in India, with Mandela in South Africa, and with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States.  These men spoke words of hope and restoration.  They gave the oppressed a voice that brought hope.  In our nation, Martin Luther King, Jr., brought a voice of hope coupled with compassion, peace, and, above all else, faith.  He sought to bring hope and to bring equality to a people who faced injustices and segregation.  His words of hope, strengthened by faith in God, brought great change to our nation.

Mark writes of one who will bring even greater change than this.  Mark writes of Jesus Christ, the One who will bring hope and love and compassion and peace to all peoples of all nations.  But w are getting a but ahead of ourselves.  Today we have John, the voice who called folks to repentance, preparing them for the One who is to come.  Today, many are out there in the “wilderness”, longing for hope and restoration.  Can we raise up our voices as followers of Jesus Christ, calling people to make straight their paths, to prepare their hearts for the One who is coming?  May we be loud and clear as we invite others to come and know this Jesus, the Savior and Messiah, the hope and restorer of the world.


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Coming Soon

Reading: Mark 13: 24-31

Verse 28: “You know that it is near, right at the door”.

At first glance, today’s text seems odd for Advent, the season where we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  The sun being darkened, the stars falling, and the heavens quaking don’t quite have that Christmas vibe.  But if we dig a little deeper, the reading makes sense.  There are signs all around that the world is more ready than ever for what this passage speaks of.  Each year we can look back and think the world is more ready than ever for Jesus to return and make all things new.

If we dig down into the core of why Jesus came, we find our answer in the fullness of God’s love: for God so loved the world…  Because God looked down and saw His children living in darkness and sin, He sent Jesus.  We remember too that Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it.  God looked down upon a world dead in its sin and did something about it.  Today many people still live in darkness and the only true, lasting light remains Jesus.  As we await the return that today’s passage speaks of, we do so following our call to bring the light and love of Jesus to all people and to all nations.  This call is a great reason for us to celebrate the birth and life that brought hope and love to a world in great need.

We wait, though, in a tension.  Verse 28 speaks of this tension: “You know that it is near, right at the door”.  Just as the fig tree shows signs and calls people to anticipate summer, so too are we to live with the sense that Jesus is coming soon.  Soon is a good place to be.  When we live with a sense of Jesus coming soon, we live with a faith that is active and alive.  We live with a faith that matters today in the present.  We live with a faith that seeks to share the hope and love of Jesus with all we meet.  We live with a faith that is full of promise and expectation.  As we live out a “coming soon” faith, may we live so that others may sense that Jesus is right at the door of their hearts too, seeking to come in.


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Gifts, Love, Strength

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 3-9

Verse Five: “For in Him you have been enriched in every way”.

Paul is writing to a church he loves.  He writes to them to strengthen and encourage them as they live amongst a society that loves power, position, and money.  This sounds like the setting for many of our churches today.  The church in Corinth is apparently being a little judgmental and is having some disagreements within.  The church is also failing to treat all of its members equally as the wealthier members are being given better treatment than the poorer members.  This also might be a thing or two that we struggle with in our churches today.

Into the current reality, Paul speaks some Gospel truths.  He begins by thanking God for the grace that they have been given.  It is a grace that has fallen on one and all.  Paul then goes on to write, “For in Him you have been enriched in every way”.  Here Paul is speaking of both the spiritual gifts that each member has been given as well as of the strength that they can find in Jesus Christ.  In reminding them of grace, Paul is reminding them that God gives grace to all people equally.  Just as God gives grace freely to all people, God also loves all people equally as His beloved children – not loving this special person more and “that” person less.  In reminding them that each has a spiritual gift, he is reminding them that all have value as each gift is needed for the building up of the body of Christ.  Paul also knows that at times the walk of faith will be hard.  So he also reminds them that God is faithful and will keep them to the end.

Just as this passage was a great reminder of the truths of God for the church in Corinth, so too is it a great reminder for us, the church today.  This passage calls us to use the gifts that we have been given, to love others just as Jesus loved all, to lean not into our own strength but to lean into God’s strength instead, and to rest upon the eternal faithfulness of God.  In and through all of these things may we find our path today, loving both God and neighbor, as we are each called to do.