pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Plans, Promises, and Our Work

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verse 23: “May God himself… sanctify you through and through”.

Today’s passage is a great conclusion to an epistle letter.  It would be hard to say more in so few words.  Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be joyful, to pray, to give thanks, to keep the  Spirit’s fire burning, to hold onto the good and to avoid evil.  Just reading through these words that Paul offers brings encouragement to our faith.  But faith is about more than encouraging words.  It is also about putting these words in to action.

We really must begin by being faithful in our prayers.  We must be very intentional about having an attitude of joy and giving God the praise for the ways that He blesses our lives.  To be faithful and intentional we have to have a plan.  We cannot just say we will pray every day for example.  We must carve out a time and place to come before God each day in a a time of fervent and dedicated prayer.  If we do not, it will not happen consistently.  We will find ourselves offering up a quick little prayer and hoping that is sufficient for the day.

There will be challenges – that is why Paul encourages us to test everything, to not putout the Spirit’s fire, to hold onto the good and to avoid all evils.  We must test all we face and keep the fire burning by reading our Bibles daily, by being regularly present in worship, by being active in a small group.  In short, we must tend to our faith.  We must put in the work.  Now all of this action and work on our part is not all that is involved.  It is relatively a small piece, but a piece we must tend to diligently.  We are only human.  We are limited.  But God is not.

Paul writes, “May God himself… sanctify you through and through”.  Not just a little, but through and through.  All the way.  While we must do our part, it is God who does the transforming.  It is God who works in us to sanctify us more and more – to make us more and more like Jesus day by day.  He works in us to make our “spirit, body, and soul blameless”.  And God is faithful.  In the end, God will accomplish His purposes for our lives.  May we join in the work of the Spirit as we journey through this life, living as humble servants of our God most high.  May we trust fully into God’s plans and promises to sanctify us through and through. Amen.

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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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Talents to Work

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 25: “So I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground”.

Fear motivates at least the third slave.  He is fearful of losing the master’s money so he goes and buries it in the ground.  At least when the master returns he can give him what is his.  He is playing it safe.  He knows the master is harsh, so he avoids taking a risk.  When the master returns he punishes the third slave for playing it too safe.  The one talent he has is taken and given to the one with ten talents.  The third slave is thrown out into the darkness.

As Christians, does God expect us to take chances, to do some risky things for our faith?  I think He does.  At a minimum we are called to live out our faith.  In the simple way we live our lives, we should be sharing our faith with others.  This takes risks.  To offer fellowship to that co-worker who always seems to be alone takes on the risk of rejection.  To offer grace and forgiveness to that classmate who always wants to be first, usually hurting others to get there, takes on the risk of being hurt again.  To ask that person who seems to be in a rough spots takes on the risk of involvement and possibly relationship.  And these are just a few small risks that God expects us to take as ones who try and follow Christ’s example.  Each act, as a small seed planted, will one day bear fruit for the kingdom.

I believe God is also calling us to more than simply living out our faith.  God creates each of us uniquely, with special talents inside each of us.  Some are teachers, some are preachers, some are evangelists, …  God expects us to take these talents and to put these to work as well.  It usually involves stepping out of our comfort zones the first time or two.  Yet as we live into the call of God on our lives, we begin to see these actions bearing fruit as well.  God desires to be at work in and through us, allowing the light and love of Jesus to go forth into the world, bearing a crop 30, 60, or 100 times what was sown.  In both the small ways and in the big ways, may we each seek to use the talents that God has given us to build the kingdom here on earth.


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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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Keep Watch

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 13: “Therefore keep watch.”

Jesus begins by saying, “the kingdom of heaven will be like…”  This is one of four parables that relates to heaven.  Heaven is of great concern to most Christians.  We want to feel like we are living in such a way that heaven is our final resting place.  So when Jesus speaks on heaven, our ears perk up a bit.

The parable of the ten virgins is about being ready when the bridegroom, or Jesus, comes.  The parable ends with, “Therefore keep watch.”  As we ponder the parable, we consider if we are indeed ready for Jesus’ return.  We also naturally consider which group of virgins we are like.  Are we like the five with plenty of oil?  Do we regularly invest in our faith, keeping closely connected to Jesus, with lots of oil in our faith lamps?  Or do we slack here and there, sort of staying connected, sometimes not having enough faith to see us through that next crisis or situation?

Another aspect of the “Therefore keep watch” directive has to do with the here and now.  The bridegroom does not just come on the last day.  Jesus comes to us every day in Spirit.  Perhaps these encounters with Jesus are of greater importance because of their cumulative effect.  But we can easily miss them.  Where did you encounter Jesus Christ yesterday?  How about on Sunday?

As we walk out our daily faith we must be watchful for those people, things, events, times where Jesus is present.  It could be in that article or devotional you read, in that prayer time you had, in that stranger on the bus, in your coworker across the cubicle from you, in the words shared by a friend.  Each time Jesus tries to draw near is a wonderful opportunity to connect and to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  In the parable framework, it is a way we put oil in our lamps.  In the end Jesus said to the unprepared, to the un-ready, “I don’t know you”.  May we be watchful and may we not pass Him by today or any day, lest we too hear these words one day.


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Hearers and Tellers

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4

Verse 1: “O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth”.

Today the psalmist urges us to listen and to remember.  It begins with listening.  We cannot just hear words but must really listen to the words and their meaning.  This allows us to internalize and understand the words and how they apply to our lives and to our faith.  Once done listening, we also must remember.  The words cannot come in one ear and go out the other.  To remember means to hold onto the words and the affect they have on our life and on our faith.

The psalmist is urging the people Israel to hold onto the teaching and to hold onto the “trustworthy deeds of the Lord”.  In remembering “what our fathers have told us” we begin to build up a collective memory of what God has done for His people.  In doing so, we build up a reservoir of strength to draw upon when we find ourselves in a time of trial or suffering.  All those memories of God at work in the past give us a reassurance that we can trust God to be present in our current need.

But is is not all about taking in and holding on.  We must also be a part of the telling.  The psalmist reminds us that “we will not hide them from our children”.  We must tell our children and the generations after them of the mighty works of God as well.  We must pour into our children and into the future generations so that they too will “hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth”.

We each are a part of the coming and the going out of the faith.  At times we must listen and absorb the stories of the faith – both those in the Bible and those experienced in life.  At other times it must be our voices who pass along the Word and the stories that help others to find and grow in their faith.  Each day may we be hearers as well as tellers, bringing the glory to God in all we do and say as we live out our lives of faith.


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Lead

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 11: The greatest among you will be your servant.

Leadership today is usually about having good people skills, making wise decisions, knowing the intricacies of the trade, carefully using ones power, and gaining experience in one’s field.  Society may even overlook some behaviors or actions if the bottom line is healthy enough.  In our world we also see some trying to lead, but they lack some of the necessary qualities and skills to lead well.  Others are following their own agendas and are leading a very small band or a group of one.

Jesus addresses leadership in Luke 23.  He is talking once again about the religious leaders and the Pharisees.  He begins by acknowledging that they sit in the seat of authority.  Therefore, He says they deserve obedience.  But from here, Jesus addresses their woes.  First, they do not practice what they preach.  Second, they use the Law to place heavy burdens on the people but they themselves do nothing to help the people live out the Law.  Third, they love recognition.  They desire to be noticed and recognized for their apparent holiness and esteemed positions.  It is all about them and little about helping others to know God and to live devout and righteous lives.

Jesus then shifts the focus to who we should really be following.  He insists that there is really only one true Father and only one true Teacher.  God alone is to be worshipped and we should follow Jesus alone.  As John the Baptist said, we must become less so that Jesus can become more.  Jesus also speaks of this today, saying, “The greatest among you will be your servant”.  The greatest here on earth will be the servant.  Faith is about loving God and, in turn, loving others.

The humble servant loves and serves and then points to Jesus Christ and His love as the reason why.  This is the task of all Christians: through our lives we are to point others to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.  To a degree, we are all called to lead.  By our prayers, our presence, our witness, our service, and our gifts, may we always lead others to Christ.  As we live out our lives and as we love others as humble servants of the Lord our God, may we ever shine the light on Jesus, the author of our faith.