pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Holy Marriage

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 & 6-9

Verse 7: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness, therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy”.

Wedding, baptism, or funeral? Based on the conversations that I have had with fellow clergy, a wedding would be their last choice. A baptism could involve a crying, unhappy baby when those waters run down their faces. A funeral could have some tension if the families do not get along, but that usually does not spill over into the celebration of life service itself. But a wedding… Oh the wedding horror stories. You have perhaps heard some. Maybe you’ve been a part of one yourself.

Myself, I like officiating weddings. Perhaps that will change. I’ve been blessed by all of the weddings that I have done. Meetings with the couples have been both fun and fruitful. There has not been a crazy mother of the bride or groom. No bride-zillas. The worst thing that has happened at a wedding was the three-year-old ring bearer who refused to walk down the aisle. (He did not have the rings though). Perhaps I am due for a doozy.

In today’s Psalm, a wedding is the focus. It sounds like a wonderful wedding – almost ideal. In this wedding, God is present and central to the event. The wedding covenant that Christians hold to understands that God is part of the covenant being made. The essence of a Christian marriage is captured well in verse 7: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness, therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy”. The couple promises to love no matter what, practicing righteous love in their marriage. The vow is one if exclusivity – setting aside all other companions, the spouse becomes the center of the others love and care. God anoints the new union with the oil of joy. What joy is experienced in the love consummated in Christian marriage!

Father God, today is a day when many will celebrate a wedding. God, please pour out your anointing oil of joy on all who join in holy marriage today. Bless them this day and forever more. Amen.

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Pleasing to God

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 1-8

Verse Three: “I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.”

Paul is encouraging the folks of the church in Corinth to be faithful in following through with their pledge to support the poor back at the home church in Jerusalem. Apparently, when first asked about giving to this cause, the Corinthian church was eager to help. But as time wore on their words did not quite match their actions.

If we are honest, we have all been there. We said ‘yes’ to something because it was a good thing to support or do. But as the event or the date approaches, we struggle to accomplish what we had promised to do. Maybe that date now has a competing interest. Maybe our finances have changed and it would be easier not to. And sometimes, what we committed to does not seem like such a good thing when it comes right down to it.

Paul does not know why the Corinthians are not coming through with their promised offering, he just knows that they are not. So Paul reminds them of their commitment. By way of being encouraging, he shares that the other churches have done the right thing in spite of their hardships. They gave generously. He also reminds them that this commitment is one of faith and of doing God’s will. Paul lifts us the things they do well – faith, knowledge, speech – and encourages them to do the same in their giving. Paul closes with a bit of a challenge: “test the sincerity of your love” by comparing it with the love of these other churches who kept their commitment.

When we too struggle to honor our commitment or to do what we said we’d do, it will do us well to first return to the ‘why’. Why did we feel led to say ‘yes’ or to make that commitment? Then we should test it against God’s will. Does this thing bring glory and honor to God? And if it is still difficult or hard to do it, then we should “test the sincerity of our love”. The last question we should ask is the question Paul also often asks: are we doing as much as we can for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? When all of these are affirmative, then we usually are able to honor our commitment. When we do we too come to know experience the joy of giving. May all we do and say be pleasing to God. Amen.


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Attitude

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verse Five: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

The opening verse from today’s passage is challenging. To try and take on the attitude of Jesus feels like a pretty daunting task. After all, He is Jesus.

Regardless of the pursuit or goal, a good attitude goes a long way in determining success. Some might even argue that it is one of the most important characteristics of people who are successful. I think this applies two ways when we think about our attitude as a follower of Christ. First, our personal attitude or outlook must believe that we can be like Christ. Trusting in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit goes a long way in thinking we can follow Jesus. Second, we must understand Jesus’ attitude and seek to live out what He lived out.

Jesus’ attitude is revealed in two actions in today’s passage. First, He “made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant”. For us to take on this attitude, like Jesus, we must first die to self. Only when we have given up the rights to our own selfish desires and wants can we truly take on the heart of a servant. From this place of surrender, Jesus was able to meet all where they were at and to meet their needs as He could. The idea expressed by John the Baptist applies well here: I must become less so that He can become more.

The second attitude we see today is, “he humbled himself and became obedient to death”. In many ways, the second is like the first attitude. It is maybe an extension of the first too. Humility does have something to do with becoming nothing, but it also acknowledges God’s role in our successes. We see God’s presence as what brings us success in following Jesus. It is not our own doing. Over and over Jesus credited God. So too should we. The idea of becoming obedient to death helps us to understand the depth of commitment to the other. First most of us, sacrifice of time or resources is what will be required. But for some, it may be the giving one’s life. It is hard to know if we could do such a thing when pressed to the choice.

Today and every day, may we strive to have the attitude of Jesus Christ, loving and serving all we meet.


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Narrow and Hard

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s passage is all about commitment, dedication, obedience, discipline, and, ultimately, transformation. This call to discipleship is hard. That is why Jesus said the way is narrow in Matthew 7. Faith is just like all other things of great value – it requires a great deal of effort to attain our goal.

Jesus begins today’s key verse with, “if anyone would come after me”. He is implying the first thing about faith is a choice. All people everywhere have a sense of God one way or another. Some sense a higher power, some sense God in the created world, some sense God in the “there must be more to life than this” feelings. Faith begins with the inner urge to live for and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Beginning a relationship is the first step.

Next Jesus turns to those big words I opened with, saying, “he must deny himself”. Denying self and our own wants and desires is the beginning of living out our faith. When asked, Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. When we truly do this, there is little room for self. In denying self, the transformation process also gets under way. The study and practice of our faith through prayer, worship, Bible study, … is what begins to transform our hearts and minds so that we begin to see and feel and think as Christ did.

Then Jesus turns to our calling. He next instructs us to “take up his cross”. As we are transformed more and more into His image, we come to discover that special blessing or talent or gift that God has given us to serve His will. Some teach, some preach, some feed, some clothe, some visit, some sing, some clean, some sew, some lead, some transport, some… The cross represents Jesus and our gift or talent is how we share Jesus with others. Our “cross” is what helps others to connect to Jesus.

Once we have been drawn into relationship, once we have been transformed to love God and others more than self, once we have found our niche in serving God, then and only then can we say we follow Jesus. May we all choose the hard and narrow way of Jesus today. It is through the Lord that we find the life truly worth living. Blessings on your journey.


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Faithful

Reading: 2nd Kings 2: 1-7

Verse Four: “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho”… “I will not leave you”.

Elijah is known as the greatest Old Testament prophet according to most Biblical scholars. His tenure as prophet is full of great stories that demonstrate his obedience and faithfulness to God. Elisha is his prophet-in-training. Elisha will succeed Elijah as the next “prophet of God” in Israel. As we begin 2nd Kings 2, we hear that the time is now: “when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven…”. Elijah will not die a normal death. Instead he will be taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire. For his part, Elisha has been a few servant to Elijah and loves him dearly. He wants to be with him right to the end.

What unfolds over the course of our passage is sort of like a game of cat and mouse. Elijah says, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho”. Over and over Elisha’s response is, “I will not leave you”. Elijah wants to leave Elisha behind, maybe to spare him actually seeing Elijah go. Elisha keeps repeating his line, showing the deep dedication he has to Elijah. “Just one more moment..” is what Elisha is saying. At each juncture the prophets of that place remind Elisha that God is going to take Elijah today. And each time his response is the same: “Yes, I know. But do not speak of it”. Elisha is saying, I know already! You don’t need to remind me of it!

Elisha is as dedicated and faithful as Elijah. He will not leave the one he loves and serves. We have to admire Elisha’s level of commitment. It is one we would do well to emulate. As we reflect on this today, we first must ask ourselves: how could my life better reflect my love and dedication and commitment to Jesus? Secondly, we must ask: how could I be as faithful and dedicated to Jesus?


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Sharing the Good News

Reading: 1st Corinthians 9: 16-23

Verse 22: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some”.

Paul had a very strong commitment to the gospel. He felt an amazing drive to share the good news of Jesus Christ with as many as he could. In today’s passage we get a glimpse of his commitment and drive. Paul opens by sharing why he preached the gospel. He is “compelled” to preach because he was personally chosen by Jesus. Paul even says, “work to me if I do not preach”. He has been entrusted with this wonderful gift and he almost cannot comprehend what it would be like to not preach Jesus. He even sees his reward for following his call to preach as the opportunity to continue to preach. In Paul preaching the gospel we find a man doing a “job” that he absolutely loves.

Paul transitions in verse nineteen to the “how” he preaches the gospel. He opens by saying that he became a “slave to everyone”. In a time when a slave was totally bound to ones owner, this was a big statement. But this is how Paul saw himself and his commitment to share the gospel. In the same way that Jesus met people right where they were at to minister to them, so too does Paul. To the Jew, he preached like a Jew. To the gentile, he preached like a gentile. To those who are weak, he became weak. Paul used words and illustrations that were familiar to whatever person or audience he was preaching to so that they could better connect to his message. In the same way, Jesus often used parables centered around sheep, fishing, and farming because they were the primary economic activities of Israel.

Paul draws to a close with this statement: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some”. Paul is willing to do anything for the chance to share the gospel. You and I might not be the evangelist that Paul was, but each of us has been gifted by God with experiences that we can share and use to help bring others to Jesus Christ. How have you been uniquely gifted to share the good news? Paul concludes our passage today with these words: “I do all the this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in it’s blessings”. We too will be blessed when we share the good news of Jesus Christ. May we each find opportunities today to bring Jesus to another.


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The Call

Reading: Mark 1: 19-20

Verse 20: “Without delay He called them, and they left… and followed Him”.

I can remember times as a kid when I was out in the yard playing and a friend would ride up on his bike and tell me he was going someplace. I’d hop on my bike and off we’d go. Later in life I’d be sitting in my dorm room studying and some friends would be heading off to play soccer or basketball and I’d jump up and go with them. We’ve all had experiences where we have left what we were doing to go and do something else.

In today’s passage we have James and John doing a similar thing. As they sit in the boats working on the nets Jesus happens by and invites them to come along. In that culture the invitation to follow another would have meant more than my riding off on my bike. All rabbis had followers, so James and John would have understood that this call was a great commitment. It also meant that Jesus saw something in them that merited a call to follow. Usually a rabbi’s call followed years of competitive schooling and evidence of some solid gifts and talents. The most respected rabbis always got the best students as followers.

So here sits a couple of fishermen. For a spiritual call they do not appear to have any special gifts or talents. James and John were out of rabbi school long ago. Yet Jesus comes to them and invites them to become one of His followers. What was it about them that led Jesus to call them? By profession they are hard workers and ply their craft in all kinds of conditions. Fishing is a hard way of life and if they have hired hands they appear to be successful at their jobs. Commitment, hard work, the ability to persevere – sounds like disciple material.

We were all somewhere when Jesus met us where we were at and called us to follow Him. What we left behind was not everything, but it was our old self and our life of sin. We went through a transformation after we responded to the call. As we have journeyed with Jesus we have had experiences that allow us to help others hear Jesus’ call and to answer the call of Jesus on their lives. Like the Master, may we too meet people where they are as we seek to make disciples for the transformation of the world.