pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In Control

Reading: Psalm 137: 1-4

Verse 4: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land”?

The sin abounded, the prophets warned, the tide rose, the Babylonians arrived, Jerusalem fell, and the people were hauled off into exile. Once the world stopped spinning, the Israelites have a moment to catch their breath. It is then that they wonder, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land”?

In our modern world things change at a rapid pace. Advances in technology, science, and medicine, just to name a few, often seem to move at a pace that we cannot keep up with. At times we too pop our heads up and wonder how we got to where we are. Society and culture do have a hand in all of the change and, as a part of these groups, we play a role, each to varying degrees. In spite of that, the world can change around us in ways that we do not like or do not understand. This creates in us the sense of loss and disorientation expressed today by the psalmist.

As people of faith we tend to want to cling to the way things were and we resist change. A big part of faith is built upon our traditions. Yet when we look at the Biblical record we see two big themes of change. First, God is often at work leading us forward. God led the people out of famine, out of Egypt, out of the desert, out of exile. Jesus and the apostles continue this theme in the New Testament, leading us out of Israel and on to the ends of the earth. A second and corresponding theme is the widening or enlarging of the circle. The story behind with one man, then a woman, and soon God’s chosen family grows to be as numerous as the stars in the sky. The family gets even bigger in the New Testament as Jesus and invites in the outcasts, the lepers, the sinners. The circle gets even bigger as the apostles are led to bring the Gentiles into God’s family. In and through all of this God has been in control. God continues to be in control. God will always be in control.

As we continue to experience change, may we trust in the hand of the Lord at work in our lives and in the world. God has a plan. God is in control. May we trust fully in the God of all.

Prayer: God, help me to trust in you. Sometimes I do not understand where or why you are leading; sometimes it is not easy to step out or to keep walking in faith. Increase in me my trust in you alone. Amen.

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Faith in Christ

Reading: Luke 12: 49-53

Verse 51: “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other”.

In about 30 AD, when Jesus was speaking these words, Israel was a very unique nation. They were a monotheistic people surrounded by and ruled over by polytheistic peoples. They were under the control of the world power, the Romans. The nation was relatively small and had little freedom. Their religion was all that was holding them together. Many of their laws were intended to keep the Jews their own people. Intermarriage with outsiders was frowned upon, they did not evangelize. Their circle was very small.

Jesus ministered in this setting. He caused a disturbance when he are with sinners and outsiders. He told stories that included and sometimes elevated the Samaritans. As Jesus taught and did miracles, he drew followers. His claim to be the Messiah was not accepted by most Jews. He fell outside of their small circle.

One or two in a given family might choose to follow Jesus and become a part of what would become known as Christianity. They would then live what Jesus is talking about today: “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other”. It was a very hard decision to make. It usually meant now living outside of one’s biological family. It was a very weighty decision to make. It was risky and there was a cost for stepping outside the circle.

In many parts of the world, this is still true. To follow Jesus brings division in families, or worse. We too often forget that Jesus did not come just for America or just for the western world or just for our segment of the world. Recently, even in the US, we have felt the fire that Jesus brings. Persecution and trial and suffering are more frequent events as people of faith stand up for what they believe. In some cases, there is division and fire, lines are drawn.

Whether within our families or churches or society, when fire and division come, may we always choose faith in Jesus Christ. Through prayer and study may we stand for Christ. Above all, may love lead the way.

Prayer: Lord, persecution and division seem to be more and more of a reality. Keep me focused on the task at hand: helping one more person to know you. And then, connect me to the next one… Amen.


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A Great Multitude

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-12

Verse 9: “A great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people, language, standing before the throne”.

Today’s passage is a wonderful one for today in our world and for many of our churches. John writes of this assembly that is a “great multitude”. This diverse body of believers gathers around the throne, in front of the Lamb, and worships. All are dressed in white robes and are waving palm branches. There is unity that comes from faith in Jesus Christ alone. This image casts a wide circle that seems to exclude no one. The gathering includes “every nation, tribe, people, language, standing before the throne”.

As Christians, how do we reflect this attitude in our lives and in our world? As a nation, we are struggling with who to allow into the land. As churches, we are struggling with who to allow into membership and leadership. As individuals, we are struggling with who is worthy of our love and care and friendship. When I look at Jesus’ life in the gospels, I see one who loved and ministered to and welcomed one and all. Jesus’ circle did not have any exceptions or any loopholes. How can ours?

In Revelation we see that people “from every nation, tribe, people, language” are standing in the presence of God, worshipping together as one. All the angels and elders and four living creatures join all of humanity to fall to their faces before God, worshipping and declaring “praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength to God for ever and ever”. May we too join their worship today, becoming the great multitude of God’s people, one and all. Amen.

Prayer: Help me to love all of my brothers and sisters just as your Son did. May I worship this day with all I meet. Amen.


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Peace Be with You

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 19: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'”!

The disciples are gathered together, behind locked doors, mourning the loss of Jesus. When one of a close group dies, this is common behavior. There is comfort in grieving together, in knowing you are not alone. Others just outside the circle also come and visit, offering support and presence and love to the group. But the group of disciples are also afraid. They are hiding behind closed doors because they fear what the Jews might do to them. Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ and Peter has seen the empty tomb. What all this now means must still feel a bit unsettling to them. Life will not be the same for the disciples.

At times of loss we too experience some of these same emotions and thoughts. While we may not fear other people, we may have a desire to hunker down and shut out the world. Sometimes there is a desire to visit familiar haunts or the scene of the tragedy. After a tragic loss in college I wanted to spend time at her house with her family. Then, after the funeral, I spent lots of time at the grave site. In those places I could feel a palpable desire to remain close. Even though I knew she was gone and life would never be the same, the desire was there. Being near brought a sense of comfort to my inner turmoil and unease over the future and my ‘now what?’ questions.

The disciples must have been feeling and thinking at least all of this when the risen Jesus appears among them. Jesus begins with some simple words: “Peace be with you”. Peace – that is the feeling needed in this situation. Peace – a sense of normalcy and an absence of worry and fear and doubt. Peace is surely what the disciples and followers of Jesus needed.

Jesus offers us the same thing. Whether the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or marriage, an unexpected move, a sudden illness, or many other possible scenarios, we can find ourselves driven to a place of sorrow or insecurity or discomfort. Into all that life can bring, Jesus desires to come and be present to us. There He will say, “Peace be with you”. When we need Jesus the most, He will be there most powerfully. In the hour of need, turn to Jesus and cry out to Him. He will bring you His peace.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my peace again and again. I can trust in you. Help me to be a vessel of your peace too – bringing your peace to those in need. Amen.


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Imagine

Reading: Colossians 3: 12-17

Verse 17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus”.

As I read today’s passage, I think what wonderful New Years resolutions it makes. What would 2019 look like if we were intentional each day about living filled with all that Paul writes about in these six verses?

What if we each sought to treat all with kindness and humility and compassion and patience? It would radically change most of our day to day relationships. What if we made the choice to bear with all we meet and to be people of forgiveness? It would radically change our relationships with those in our next circle. What if we chose to love as Jesus Christ loved, loving all people and not just our inner circle? Talk about radical change in our relationships, especially with the stranger and the outsider.

Verses 15-17 center on centering our lives on Jesus Christ. First, Paul invites us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Each day we rest in Him. This allows our wants and needs to come after meeting everyone else’s. Second, Paul reminds us that the Word must dwell richly in our hearts. Not just dwell, but dwell richly. This means we must feast on the Word, delving deeply into our Bibles each day. Thus we give the Word free reign in our lives, allowing it to lead and guide all we do and say. Ultimately, this leads to Paul’s third idea: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus”. Choose to do and say and think everything for the glory of the Lord. Follow Jesus’ example always. Then we bring glory to God.

Imagine our world and our lives if each and every day, if each and every thought, word, and deed were focused on bringing God praise and glory. Imagine. Just imagine.

Prayer: Lord may I be filled with your love. Out of this love flows all that you are – compassion, kindness, patience, peace, mercy, grace. Fill me up and ground me in your Word, the book of life. In all that I am may I glorify you. Amen.


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Circle

Reading: Psalm 123

Verse Two: “Our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us His mercy.”

There is a perseverance in today’s Psalm that we would do well to model.  There is a confidence in God that we would do well to emulate.  There is a deep trust in God’s faithfulness that we would do well to hold fast to.  There is a humble plea for God’s mercy that we would do well to lift up over and over each day.

A circle shows unity, wholeness, togetherness, belonging.  When one sits in the circle in certain communities, one has voice, standing, worth in that community.  As we gather around a person in need of prayer and lay hands upon them, they are surrounded by the circle yet in it as we connect through our touch.  As we circle around a loved one in the hospital bed as they cross over to Jesus, we circle them in prayer and hold hands to connect together in love, support, and prayer.  In youth group and other gatherings at the church, we form a circle, hold hands, and lift our communal prayers to God.  In the circle, we are one with each another and one with God.

We can also draw circles around things.  We circle dates on the calendar that are significant and important.  We circle things in ads at Christmas time, indicating what we would value as gifts.  We can also circle God in our prayers.  This is what the psalmist means when he writes,  “Our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us His mercy.”  Just as the slave looks to the master and the maid looks to her mistress, we too lift our prayers and fix our gaze on the One who is our God and King.  We too look to God and circle Him with our prayers.  We pray over and over and over as we circle God with our prayers for mercy or healing or guidance or forgiveness or…

As we circle God with our prayers, we are seeking unity and connection.  As we circle God with our prayers, we are persevering in what we desire; we are trusting in God’s love and mercy and care.  This day may we pray through as we circle God with our prayers, becoming one with God as we pray.


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A Wider Circle

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 27: Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.

A woman whose daughter is demon-possessed comes to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter.  She must have heard of the miracles that Jesus was performing and she comes seeking a miracle for her daughter.  But she does not fit into the mold.  She does not check off the boxes of belonging.  She is not of the chosen people.  She is a Gentile.  The man we know as love rejects her.  In our mind’s eye we see a Jesus who always leads with love and who welcomes everyone, even sinners.  Suddenly our vision is a bit blurry.

After ignoring her for a while, she becomes annoying and the disciples ask Jesus to send her away.  His response: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”.  But she does not give up.  She comes and kneels before Jesus, saying, “Lord, help me”!  It is a desperate mother’s cry for healing.  Surely Jesus will show her love and cast out the demon from her daughter.  Nope.  He tells her He will not take the children’s bread and give it to the “dogs”.  Not only ‘no’ but an insult to boot!

In the first half of the passage, we recall Jesus trying to correct the Pharisees for a law that was a barrier keeping people from God.  And now Jesus himself uses a ‘rule’ to keep a woman at a distance, certainly outside of God’s love.  It is a game we are good at too.  If you are not dressed right or if you don’t have membership or if you are of another culture or if…  We also easily erect barriers that keep people out or at least at bay.  In a similar way, we allow differences to become reasons for why we do not go out and engage the lost.  But she does not give up.  She is persistent.

“Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”.  She says, ok, you can try and reject me and you can insult me, but I still want your help.  It’s hard to say what affected Jesus more – her deep love for her daughter or the faith she had that He could heal her.  He heals her daughter.  And she leaves Jesus changed.  The human Jesus now loves more.  He sees a wider circle.  God’s love is for all people.  Today, may we too look beyond the barriers in our own hearts and may we begin to love a wider circle.