pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Lifting and Filling?

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-53: “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”.

On Monday one of the members of the church stopped in to the office. We chatted for a little while. Part of the conversation was about context. She was curious about how the Bible can be so applicable thousands of years later. How we read a passage or interpret or even apply it can vary greatly over the ages and even within our own personal faith. On a personal level, for example, a passage can say something totally different to me today compared to when I read it ten years ago. The physical letters on the page have not changed at all. The context in which I read them has changed. Similarly, in applying the text, an illustration I use in a rural, small town congregation would not make sense in an urban setting and vice versa. And that context might affect how a hearer applies the message and passage to their life and faith.

In our passage today, Mary responds to God in a song. She has learned that she will be the mother of the Messiah, of the Savior of the world. Mary is a young teenage girl from a very poor family. She is engaged but not married. This is her context as she receives this news from God. Because of her context, she recognizes that this is all on God. She is powerless and must rely on God. In an outpouring of faith, Mary recognizes that God “has done great things for me” and that God’s mercy “extends to those who fear him”. God chose Mary because of her faith and because of her context. Mary goes on to sing, “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”. Mary connects to her context. She is humble. She is hungry. God has lifted her up and filled her with an amazingly good thing – Jesus.

God had and has always used the unlikely, the weak, the poor, the powerless. Mary is but one example of many. She recognizes this. Story after story in the Bible is about God using people like Mary to bring care to the poor, the marginalized… Jesus’ ministry was very much about and with this demographic of society. In fact, when Jesus speaks of who will inherit eternal life in Matthew 25, it is those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner who are identified as righteous and as those who will be welcomed into heaven. As we think about our personal ministries and about the ministries of our churches, do we join God in lifting up and filling our fellow children of God?

Prayer: God of all, your love is certainly not limited to just the poor or just to the rich, to just those in the church or to those outside the church. You are the God of all who loves all. Yet not all have access to that love. Many do not know of your love. Some even feel outside of or unworthy of your love. Help all of that to change. Each day, O Lord, use me as you will. Use me as you desire. To the mighty or to the low, in the halls of power or in the poorest neighborhood, use me today, O God. Amen.


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Overflow

Reading: Romans 15: 7-13

Verse 7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”.

Stop. Read verse seven again. Slowly. The words “as Christ accepted you” are powerful. Jesus accepted me as I am. That includes my sin, yes. But, more than that, Jesus accepted me knowing that I would sin again. And again. And again. A love so perfect, accepting me as I am, is a powerful love. The “you” is also universal. Jesus’ love and acceptance knew no bounds. Many rejected Jesus. But that did not stop him from loving even these.

Rejection is something we must consider if we are to really live out this verse. To the proper Jews, the Gentiles were base and vile. They were to be avoided. But to Jesus, to Paul, to the early Christians, the Gentiles became ones to accept, to love as Jesus had first loved them. The Gentiles were simply people in need of Jesus’ saving love. The rejection did not come from the Gentiles. It came from those proper religious folks who would not go there themselves. Jesus experienced this kind of rejection too. He ate with the sinners, touched the lepers, healed on the Sabbath. Oh the things Jesus would do to love another.

That’s what this passage is calling us to. It is so easy to love those like us, those that fit the same boxes we fit. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”. For Jesus, the “you” was universal. Ours should be as well. But be prepared – some will ridicule you for ministering to that people or in that neighborhood. Some will reject you because you love and accept those kinds of people. Do not worry – Jesus was rejected too. To those who accepted Jesus, he was life. That is what brought praise to God.

I close with Paul’s closing: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

Prayer: Oh God! Fill me with that hope, joy, and peace. Fill me so much that I overflow. Use me today as you will, O Lord my God. Amen.


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Fill Us, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 81: 1 and 10-16

Verses 11-12: “My people would not listen to me… so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts”.

Today’s Psalm is typical of Israel’s relationship with God. Our relationships today mirror this Psalm as well. Some things never change. In verse one we read of the joy Israel finds when God is their strength. The people sing with joy to their God. Throughout our faith journey we certainly have many experiences with God’s strength. If only all of our faith journey were here!

Jumping down to verse ten, we again see God desiring to fill the people up – both physically and spiritually. God wants to bless the people, to be their strength. This remains the case. God desires to be our God and to fill us up. This does not mean giving us a million dollars and a fancy house, but to give us our “daily bread” and to lead us to live a content and joyous life. Again, if only all of our faith journey were here!

Because God is not the only one in the relationship, we get verses eleven and twelve. Here we read, “My people would not listen to me… so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts”. It is part of the repeating cycle that seems to fill the Old Testament and fills our lives today. The journey begins by walking with God. Then sin leads us astray. There is a consequence to our sin. Repentance and forgiveness complete the cycle. Often the consequence of our sin is separation from God followed by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that leads us back. Sometimes there are real life consequences to our sin too. Our God allows us to freely choose to follow our stubborn hearts too. God hates sin but will not force us to love God or to follow like robots. Each time the cycle is repeated is another reminder of God’s redeeming love. In general, as we mature in faith, the cycle lengthens out. There are more good and faithful days walking with God in between our times of sin. We never quit sinning. Satan never gives up. Neither does God.

This Psalm closes with God’s longing to once again subdue the enemies and to fill God’s children with the finest wheat and the sweetest honey. This continues to be God’s desire. May we lay aside every sin that entangles and drink deeply of all the Lord offers. God will fill us with our daily bread and with joy and peace and strength and contentment and… All the desires of our hearts. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, pour out all of you into my life today. Fill my heart and mind with your word and your ways. Fill my soul with your peace and strength today. Guide me to ever walk with you. Amen.


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Filled

Reading: Colossians 2: 6-19

Verse 13: “And you… he has made alive together with him”.

In our passage from Colossians 2, Paul is encouraging the church and us to fill ourselves with Christ. Those around the church, the world, are trying to fill them with all sorts of things. Some think they need to follow Jewish laws: circumcision, dietary, festival, and Sabbath laws. Some are pressing them with the things of the world: philosophy, worshipping angels, the pleasures of the flesh. Paul reminds them and us that all of these things are false and temporary. All that matters is Jesus Christ.

Today we can struggle with what we choose to fill ourselves with. We too can chase after other, worldly things. What we fill ourselves with will determine how we live. If work is our top priority, then it will eat up the majority of our time and energy. If we next allocate space for family and friends, then most of our time and energy has been spent. Add in a hobby or interest plus a little sleep… and little time is left for God and faith. It can become hard to fit faith into our lives. Nevermind being filled with Jesus.

According to Paul, this is backwards. Paul encourages the Colossians and us to first fill ourselves with Jesus Christ. When we first put on Christ, we become one with him. We circumcise self and our selfish desires. We are baptized into new life with Jesus. We cannot stop there though. We cannot allow our faith to become boxed in, to become a list that we check off periodically. Nourishing and growing our faith must be our top daily priority. If it is we will live in and through Christ. We will live into verse 6: “And you… he has made alive together with him”. We are alive with Christ when we fill ourselves with him. This day and every day may we begin by filling ourselves with Christ. May we be so filled that he overflows.

Prayer: Father God, fill me to full with Jesus. Fill me so that he is my all in all. May Christ shine bright in my life today. Amen.


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Time for Him

Reading: Luke 10: 38-42

Verse 41: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things”.

Today’s story focuses in on two sisters and their choice of how to invest their time. Martha is like most of us in the world. Mary falls into a smaller grouping.

I can relate to Martha. Perhaps you can too. Our culture measures our worth in many ways. One way is by how much we get done. A productive worker is highly valued. A person living an active and busy lifestyle is portrayed as the ideal. Having a lot of things on my to-do list brings a feeling of importance. Getting them done brings a feeling of accomplishment. These two things can lead to working a lot of hours. I can also relate at times to another part of Martha. She feels that all of her work is not being recognized. If it was, Jesus would’ve sent Mary to help. I can fall into that trap too. It is a signal that I need to take a break.

Finally Martha cannot take it any longer and she goes to Jesus. She basically tells him to tell Mary to help her. Jesus responds with, “Martha, Martha”. I can see him shaking his head side to side as he slowly says her name. Maybe he even reached out and took hold of her hands as he looked into her eyes. Jesus continues, saying, “You are worried and upset about many things”. The worries of her to-do list have distracted her from what is really important. Mary has chosen to slow down, to carve out time, to take the opportunity to be present with Jesus.

In his own way, Jesus is encouraging Martha to slow down, to pause for a few minutes. He affirms that Mary has chosen the better way. Jesus will not ask her to give up her quiet time with him for the busyness and worries of the world.

Mary’s choice seems like such an excellent choice. It is a choice that fills our souls and nourishes our spirits. It is a choice that is never regretted, no matter how long the to-do list might seem. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, began each day with an hour of prayer. When asked what he does when his schedule gets very busy, his response was, “I pray for two hours”. He, like Mary, knew the value of investing in Jesus. Deep down, we too know the value. May we each make the choice to slow down, to carve out time, to connect to Jesus regularly and daily.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for this morning’s time with you. It is a wonderful way to begin my day. I cannot even fathom what starting it another way would look or feel like. Thank you for your time. Amen.


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Free to Love

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 13-15

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”.

Paul speaks a lot of freedom. While it is true that in Christ we find much freedom, it is a freedom that is bound by love. We are free to live a full and wonderful life, but Paul is clear that there are lines that we are not to cross. In Paul’s way of thinking, we are free to love others. Paul describes the love we are to have for one another as “becoming slaves to one another”. That means we place the needs of others far ahead of our own needs.

In verse 14 Paul makes an important statement. He writes, “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”. This is a big and bold statement. As Saul, he would have never made this statement. The law and keeping every letter of the law was very important to the former Pharisee. For most Jews, the law was a key focus and was the underpinning of life. Paul has come to understand what Jesus meant when he talked about love. It was a complete and sacrificial love that gave all for the other.

When we are willing to live out this sacrificial love for the other, we are building up or pouring into the other. Instead of giving ourselves away and emptying ourselves, we find that we too are filled up and we feel more freedom to love others. As we give ourselves away, we gain more and more. Our freedom in Christ abounds!

Prayer: God, grant me the opportunity to pour into another today. As I do so, thank you for your giving love that overflows my heart. Amen.


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Go

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 9b-15

Verse 9b: “What are you doing here”?

Earlier this week I looked at verses 1 through 9a in this same chapter. To review quickly, Elijah angered the queen, fled in fear, and was cared for and guided by God to the cave on Mount Horeb. In the morning, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here”? This is a question that I think God asks often.

Fear and worry and doubt and job fatigue led Elijah to flee – to hide from the world. I can relate to some of these emotions and to Elijah’s response to them. Once in a great while monastic life seems like a great idea. His loving God leads Elijah to a safe place, to a cave atop a mountain, far away from his enemies and from the world. Until God asks this question, the cave is a comfortable place for Elijah.

When I retreat it is not usually to a cave or to any other physical place. When I do retreat it is usually into myself. In those moments when the world seems against me or when it seems to be closing in, I withdraw emotionally. In my mind I disconnect. I try and create felt distance and separation. But soon enough, God asks, “What are you doing here”?

Elijah has a response. He has been thinking about it. He knows the question is coming. This process is familiar to me too. Elijah tells God that he has been “very zealous for the Lord God Almighty” – I’ve been working really hard for you God. And these people – these Israelites – they have broken the covenant. Why would I want to be with those sinners? And then the ice cream atop the cake – “I am the only one left”. Woe is me. Have you been here? I certainly have.

The God says, in essence, ‘Come here. Come here Elijah’. Elijah goes to the entrance to the cave and the noise of the world passes by. The wind, the earthquake, the fire – those are the threats of Jezebel, the fears of the world, the self-pity. Then Elijah hears a gentle whisper. Ah, God has arrived. It is significant that God comes in the calm, in the quiet.

But once again Elijah tries the “I’ve been so busy…” excuses. God simply says, “Go…”. Return to the world, go where I am sending you. I will be with you. God knows we will stumble and falter too. God says the same thing to us: go, go where I lead. I will be with you. God continues to lead Elijah every step of the way. God will do the same for us. So, go.

Prayer: God, in those moments when I too doubt or fear or feel wrung out, come and push me back out into the world. Use me for what you will. Strengthen and encourage and fill me for the task at hand. Help me to ever step forth in faith. Amen.