pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Action

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse Eighteen: “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”.

Already in the early days of the church John was seeing a struggle between the words Christians said and claimed and the actions that they were living out. In the first chapter of 1st John, he encourages the followers of Christ to walk in the light. Walking is an active verb – John wanted them to walk in the faith or to have an active faith. He continues this encouragement in chapter two and then turns to warnings against loving the world and being led astray by false teachings. In chapter three John turns to our call as children of God and how to live righteous lives. It is within this chapter that our passage today lies.

For John and for the church today, we cannot separate the idea of being a Christian from the idea of love. The two cannot be separated. Jesus was all about loving others and that is one of Jesus’ primary directives to His followers. In most churches, we do this very well with each other. Yes, we will disagree now and then, but by and large the folks in our churches love one another well. Those John was addressing must have done this well too. The challenge comes in loving those outside the walls of our churches, those who are different, those who struggle with sin or hardships in their lives.

John was challenging the church to love those in need in a time when persecution was high. We are challenged today in a time when it is pretty safe to be a Christian. Yet we too struggle to always help those who cannot help themselves and to offer self-sacrificing love that goes out and meets people’s needs where they are at. John wrote, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”. Don’t say you love your neighbors but actually go out and love them. Don’t see injustice and do nothing about it. Don’t see the hungry without feeding them, the naked without clothing them, the lonely without visiting them…

There is much need and brokenness in our world. There is much love in our hearts. May the two meet not only in our thoughts and words but out there in the real world too. May we each be a part of making this happen today.

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Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verses Three and Four: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Today we begin the season of Lent. Lent is a period of preparation for Easter Sunday. During the season of Lent we look inward and seek to examine our lives and to repent of all that hinders our relationships with God and our fellow man. For this purpose, many give up something (or somethings) for Lent. They abstain or fast from things that get in the way of their relationship with God and, therefore, with their fellow man. In many churches we place ashes on the forehead. With ashes we are reminded of our mortality, of our absolute need for God, and of our desire to die to self so we can fully live for God.

In our passage today, Isaiah addresses fasting. It is a very appropriate reading to consider as we begin Lent. The passage opens with God directing Isaiah to “declare to my people their rebellion” and goes on to say that they “seem” eager to know God and they “seem” eager to draw near to God. In verses three and four it is revealed why: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Their fasting is for appearance; it is not to refine oneself and to draw closer to God. Today, for example, one may fast from chocolate – not for God but to loose weight. God does go on to indicate the kind of fast that is pleasing to Him. God desires us to fast from hard hearts and blind eyes, from self-centeredness and arrogance, from prejudiced and judging.

God desires for His people to loosen the chains of injustice and oppression, to offer acts of love and compassion such as feeding the hungry, offering shelter to the homeless, clothing the naked. In doing so our “light will break forth like the dawn”. To do these things, our heart needs to be in the right place. That is why we must look within to see what inhibits our relationship with God and all of His children. When our fast leads us to love and care for others, then our light does shine into the darkness. This kind of fast produces fruit as others see true faith in our hearts and they come to know the love of Christ in their hearts as well.

What is it that prevents us from seeing the needs all around us? What is it that prevents us from responding to the opportunities to love and serve others? This Lenten season may we begin to look within as we seek a walk of faith that is pleasing to God, one that shines light into darkness. May we have the courage to identify all that holds us back and prevents us from being the light in the darkness. May we have the desire to cast these things out of our hearts as we strive to walk closer to God. As we do so, God will create a clean and pure heart within each of us. May it be so for each of us. Amen.


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Refuge

Reading: Psalm 62: 5-8

Verse Eight: “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge”.

The psalmist is secure in God. The opening line of our passage today reads, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone”. There is a place of comfort and peace that the psalmist knows in God’s presence. This is likely found for him when he enters into a time of prayer. It is in the purposeful connecting with God through prayer that I have felt a sense of peace and comfort come over me as God has become my refuge.

The psalmist describes God in many ways, each embodying how God has been a refuge for him. He begins with how God has become his hope and adds that God has also become his rock and salvation. He then says that God is his fortress – one that cannot be shaken. This imagery provides us a glimpse into God as our eternal refuge as well as our refuge in times of trial and trouble here in this life. Because God is our ever- present help, the psalmist encourages us to, “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge”. When we trust God in this way, He is indeed our refuge. Then the circumstances in our lives become less as our hope begins to trust and rest in the eternal.

Once we begin to see our lives as resting on the hope and rock of our eternal salvation in God, then we are able to share our hope, our fortress, our rock, our peace with others. When God is our source for all of these things, then we can begin to extend them to others. By visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, consoling the broken-hearted, welcoming the stranger, … we offer God to others. Through sharing our experiences when God has been these things for us, others can begin to see and feel how God can be these things for them as well. This begins them on a journey to a relationship with God. They too can begin to trust in God as our God becomes their God, their rock, their fortress, their hope, their rest, their salvation. God is a refuge for all people. May we help others to know God in these ways today.


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Work

Reading: John 17: 1-5

Verse Four: I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You have Me to do.

It was quite a night for Jesus and His disciples.  They gathered together one last time.  It has been a full night: the Passover meal with the institution of communion added in; the washing of the disciples’ feet; the predictions of denial and betrayal; and, the promise of the Holy Spirit.  Three chapters in John are dedicated to Jesus’ farewell discourse.  And then Jesus prays.  These are His last words in John before He is arrested in the garden.  This prayer us our reading today.

In verse four, Jesus says, “I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You have Me to do”.  He has completed the work God gave Him to do.  The work encompasses teaching us what to do as disciples of Jesus Christ.  As a good teacher, Jesus taught by example.  His work included teaching how to live as a child of God in a fallen world.  This certainly helps us see the world and those in it as God sees them, not as the world sees them.  Jesus’ task also included showing us how to be at work in the world.  This meant feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the orphans and widows, caring for the sick, welcoming the stranger and the outcast.  It is being the very hands and feet of Jesus in our world.  The work also included healing.  This too is part of our work.  We pray for other’s physical healing.  We offer words of comfort and encouragement and lift up prayers for emotional and spiritual healing.  We also work to bring healing and restoration by fighting to end injustice and oppression and prejudice when and where we can.  All of this is the work Jesus completed when here on earth.  It is the work He commands us to continue.

Verse three reads, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent”.  Eternal life comes only through knowing God and Jesus Christ.  We come to know Him n the Word.  We come to know Him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We also come to know Him through those we encounter in the world as we work as His hands and feet.  May we know Him well today in our study, in our prayer time, in our encounters with the Spirit, and in those we meet.


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The Good Shepherd

Reading: Psalm 23: 3-4

Verses 3 and 4: He guides me in paths of righteousness…  I will fear no evil, for you are with me…

The Shepherd seeks to guide us.  He seeks to guide us and to keep us from harm.  Sometimes the Shepherd protects us from the dangers and the lures if this world, sometimes He protects us from ourselves.  It is a full-time job.

In ancient Israel, the shepherd was very essential to the lives of the sheep.  The shepherd would lead and guide the sheep to find food and water.  The shepherd would lead the sheep to the next green pasture when they had grazed the one they were in.  A good shepherd would be wise with the resources of the land.  In this way, the shepherd managed the land as well.  Finding good grass and not overgrazing a pasture required frequent moving of the flock.  Sometimes the journey was long and dangerous, so the shepherd had to be diligent.  For the sheep, they simply followed and ate grass in the pasture they were led to.  The pastures were not fenced.  The sheep would eat and walk, eat and walk, …  If the shepherd did not pay close attention to all of the sheep, one could easily wander off and become lost.

In our faith journey, Jesus also leads us along.  Often times He leads us to green pastures where our souls are fed.  At other times He guides us through the narrow and trying times of life, helping us to see the path to walk and strengthening us as we make our way.  In extreme cases, He will even pick us up and carry us.  Some of the time we wander a bit and in these cases, He gathers us back and continues to “guide me in paths of righteousness” so that we safely navigate life.  The Good Shepherd reminds us of our call to be holy as He is holy.  In doing so, He leads by example.

During life, at times the troubles and temptations of the world creep in.  The Good Shepherd uses His rod to fend off the attacks of Satan and uses His staff to pull us back into His presence.  In the storms, Jesus brings us His peace and comfort.  In those times, we can speak as the psalmist wrote: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.  In all things and in all ways, Jesus Christ seeks to be our Good Shepherd.  For His incredible love and care, we say thanks be to God!


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Peter’s Response

Reading: John 21: 15-19

We don’t do awkward well. Yet from time to time it certainly finds us. Sometimes it is something we blindly and innocently stumble into. We can look back later and have a good laugh. But sometimes it is of our own doing, often tied to a misstep or poorly chosen words, and our awkward moment is not so fun.

Peter has the second kind of awkward moment. Jesus forces him to relive the night that Peter denied Christ three times. I imagine Peter was nervously waiting for this conversation. We’ve all been there – said or done something that we know we will have to face again at some point. Peter knew Jesus well. He knew Jesus to be a person who said what needed said.

So finally the eggshells are broken and Jesus asks the question: “Simon son of John do you love me?” Jesus chooses to use his old name instead if Peter. When Jesus renamed Peter it was because Peter meant ‘rock’ and Jesus said He would build His church upon that rock. But now, Peter is still Simon the denier. Can’t you see the relief on Peter’s face as he can finally tell Jesus that he lives Him again? Peter can finally begin to put the guilt and shame of that night behind him.

Then Jesus asks the same question again. Same response from Peter and instructions from Jesus. But Peter probably feels a little more awkward, a little more reminiscent of when he denied Jesus. Then Jesus asks him a third time. Did Peter hear the rooster crowing in his mind? Peter is obviously hurt. But Peter is steadfast – yes Jesus I love you. And again the same response from Jesus: feed my sheep, care for my lambs. Build my kingdom.

We too hear this call each time God places another before us: feed my sheep. We feel it each time the Spirit nudges us to engage one in need: care for my lambs. May we too have Peter’s response: yes Jesus I love you.


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What Should We Do?

Many people came out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist.  He preached a simple message of repentance.  He told people to get rid of the sin in their lives so that they were ready for the coming of the messiah.  Instead of looking within and searching their souls, many people asked John, “What should we do?”  His advice was pretty simple.

To the common person who asked, John said if you have two of something, to give to one who has none.  In doing so today we can clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, feed the hungry, and visit the orphan, widow, and prisoner.  Yes, this sharing includes our time and our presence.

To the tax collector, many of whom were know to overtax so that they could line  their own pockets, John said to collect only what is due.  For the business owner this means to charge a fair price and to pay a fair wage.  To the employee, to be content with your fair pay.

John’s advice to the soldier was to not extort or otherwise abuse one’s authority.  This advise extends to all in positions of authority – to the judges and other government officials, to teachers and parents, to caregivers and providers, and to all else who have authority over another.  In essence, John is saying to treat others with respect and dignity.

As we ask this same question, “What should we do?”, may we heed John’s advice.  May we lay aside the greed, the self-centeredness, the desire for power and may we pursue the things he championed – sharing, giving, treating others well, and offering of self to others.  What great ways to prepare ourselves for the coming of the messiah.

Scripture reference: Luke 3: 10-18