pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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!

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Whole

Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11 & 20

Verse Eleven: “The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love”.

The theme of a mighty and powerful and compassionate creator is continued from our reading in Isaiah 40 into today’s reading from Psalm 147. The psalmist’s initial response is to sing praises to God. The themes of caring for His people and healing and caring for the broken continue to resound in our passage today. In power and might God again counts and names the stars. The psalmist connects this action to God’s great understanding that has no limits. It is out of this understanding that the power and might of God remains a good thing, sustaining the humble and casting the wicked to the ground.

The idea of caring for the broken and sustaining the humble runs against the cultural norms of the day. In today’s secular world you must be bright and shiny and polished to be seen as successful or as having worth. Broken? In today’s secular culture being humble gets you nowhere. At least that’s what we’re told. Success and power in the world only comes from dominating those around you, doing whatever is necessary to ascend the ladder, and being proud of your success. Humble?

Yet we see in today’s Psalm that power and might can be present as we respond to our call as a child of God. It begins with our own experiences. From those times when God has come alongside or carried us we learn that true power and might is shown in caring for the broken and the weak. This also brings humility as we learn to do for others what God has done for us. It is a compassionate love brought in the name of our mighty and powerful God.

“The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love”. Through the ups and downs of our life we experience God’s faithfulness. Learning that God is the only one in control brings us a reverent fear of God. In humility we bow down and worship our God – so powerful yet attentive to each of His children. It is so because God desires wholeness in each of us. May we trust into God’s power and might to bring us a wholeness that rests upon hope. In response may our lives be living praise to the Lord our God.


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Worship Fully

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse Seven: “The works of His hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy”.

The psalmist feels all-in to me. He does not just love God a little. He loves God with all that he is. The psalmist declares that he will “extol the Lord with all my heart”. The love is complete and fills him up. He then praises the works and deeds of the Lord: great, glorious, majestic. These are all-in words too. The psalmist then remembers how God is gracious and compassionate, always providing for the people’s needs. Psalm 111 paints a picture of God being totally worthy of our praise and adoration. Verse seven is a nice summarizing verse: “The works of His hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy”. God is indeed worthy of all of our praise and adoration!

Today many of us will have the opportunity to praise and worship the Lord our God. May we enter our sanctuaries and meeting spaces with hearts turned fully to a God who desires to pour into us today, filling us with His love and compassion. May we focus on connecting on a deep and intimate level. Let us not come halfway but fully ready for God to meet us and change us today. Do not allow your worship to just be part of the routine, to just be something you did today. Jump all in and seek God with all your heart. Allow God to fully claim you today as you feel His loving presence wash over you today. 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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Restore

Reading: Psalm 80: 5-7 and 17-19

Verse Five: “You have fed them with the bread of tears”.

Psalm 80 is a song of lament.  As one reads the Psalm, you can feel the people’s pain and hurt seeping out of the words.  They are calling out to God and and feel as if God were not there.  In the opening line of our passage, the psalmist asks, “How long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people”?  They are searching for God.  They long for God’s face to once again shine upon them.

Today our headlines are filled daily with stories of people who could use God’s face shining upon them.  And there are countless others who feel this way whose stories do not cross our TV screens or our Facebook feeds.  There is much hurt and brokenness in our world and even in some of our lives.  We continue today to ask where is God in the midst of the pain and suffering of our world.  We wonder why God would allow tings to be as they are for so many people.

On behalf of the people Israel, the psalmist laments to God: “You have fed them with the bread of tears”.  It is a sad image to have in our minds.  Instead of being filled with God’s love and compassion and healing, they are eating tears.  They long for God’s presence instead.  The psalmist goes on to ask, “Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.  The people long for God to look their way.

Many would voice this call today.  “Restore us, O God Almighty”.  You are powerful and can do anything.  You came down to earth and lived among us, healing many – physically, emotionally, spiritually.  You continue to be present both through the Holy Spirit and through us, your disciples.  So Lord, God Almighty, send us out, led by the power and presence of your Holy Spirit.  Send us out to bring healing and restoration to the broken people of our neighborhoods and communities.  Send us out to be your love and compassion to those who are eating tears.  Lead us and guide us to fill them with your bread of love and hope.  Send us out.  Amen.


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Come and Save Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 103

Verse Two: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s Psalm is written at the time of the Assyrian invasion.  The nation of Israel is divided and the Northern Kingdom has fallen to the invading army.  The psalmist expresses the hope of the Southern Kingdom when he writes, “Awaken your might; come and save us.”  It is a great plea for God’s intervention and help.

At times in our lives we will issue a similar plea.  We may not be facing an approaching army, but many things invade our lives and try to steal our faith in God, our commitment to our family and friends, our joy and peace in life.  The invading force may be ‘small’ things like gossip or jealousy or greed or resentment or pride.  As these things come to permeate our life, they draw our focus away from God.  ‘Larger’ forces such as addiction, slavery to our jobs, and selfishness can steal time and attention from things that really matter in our faith and in our lives.No, we may not have a vast army with horses and chariots on our border, but we do have plenty of things in life that can make us cry out for God’s might to save us.  And He does.

Our Psalm today begins by calling God a shepherd.  This image of God evokes care, protection, guidance, and watchfulness over the sheep.  As our shepherd, God provides all of this for us, the sheep of His flock.  As our shepherd, God also helps us avoid dangers and evils while trying hard to guide us to good and safe pastures.  It is through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that God leads and guides us as we journey through life.  When we listen to and follow the guidance of the Spirit, we find peace and rest and joy and contentment in this life.  These things help us to fend off those invading armies and to keep to the path that God intends for our lives.

We are saved not to simply rest in our salvation, to enjoy a quiet God-centered life.  We are not called to be silent, isolated sheep.  We are called to be in the world, trusting God to be with us as we go forth to share our peace, joy, love, and contentment with other sheep who are lost and are seeking these things for their lives.  We are called to bring God’s love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to others so that they too may come to know the Good Shepherd.  May Jesus flow out of us today, so that in all we do and say others may see Him today, coming to know the Good Shepherd as Lord of their lives.