pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Righteous Love

Reading: Psalm 50: 1-6

Verse Three: “Our God comes and will not be silent”.

The Psalm begins with God summoning all people – “from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets”. The purpose of the summons is made evident in verse six: “for God himself is judge”. All peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, will one day be summoned for judgment. While this does sound a little ominous and apocalyptic (one day it will be both), there is also glimpses of beauty and relationship and love in our Psalm.

First, the psalmist reminds us that God shines forth, “perfect in beauty”. The light of God goes out into all the world. It is through the light if God’s love that we can see how to live more holy and righteous lives. The light guides the way and it also exposes the temptations and sins in our lives, allowing us to repent and walk with God. Second, we are told that “Our God comes and will not be silent”. Through the refining fire, God makes us to be more and more of who He created us to be. For Christians, the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit continues to help us hear God speak.

In verse five the psalmist speaks of covenant made by sacrifice. For the Israelites, the sacrifices were made on their part for God. In our New Testament understanding, we know that Jesus was the final sacrifice, made by God for us. Through this, God established the new covenant based upon love and grace. And lastly, we are reminded that God is righteous. It is not a condemning righteousness, but a righteousness also built upon love. God’s righteousness wants what is right for all of His beloved children: a saving relationship through Jesus Christ. So God’s righteousness gives us one more chance after one more chance, so that one more can be saved. God is patient. He waits to judge.

Whether we meet God at the end of our earthly life or when Jesus returns, one day we will all be judged. Between now and then I rejoice in God’s light, love, presence, and righteousness, all of which allows me, a sinner saved by grace, to live in relationship with a holy and loving God. It is a love and mercy that I do not fully comprehend, yet I am profoundly grateful for. Thanks be to God for His righteous love. Amen.

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Presence

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 15: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet”.

Today there is an understanding that God is real and present to His people in several ways. In Moses’ time, God was definitely real and present to them, but there was a fear of God being too physically present. Moses became the people’s designated person to go and communicate with God. We see this unfolding in the first few verses of our passage today.

God next decides that what has been established with Moses is good. He will continue this pattern of raising up prophets to speak God’s word to the people. For many years this is the pattern, with varying degrees of success (or failure). When the people were concentrated in one place or area, a prophet called to speak God’s word could speak to the whole nation. But at times, such as when some were in exile, it was harder. Yet prophets often played a key role in the development, guiding, and realignment of the people’s faith. Prophets were most often used to call the people back to God and God’s ways.

Today we still have prophets but not quite in the Moses mold. God continues to speak through people and through things such as miracles and natural events. But today our prophets seem to speak to a more focused area or group of people. Perhaps the Pope is the closest to an Old Testament prophet as he speaks to the whole Roman Catholic faith. Today many pastors and teachers function as a prophet in the church or place that God has planted them.

We are also blessed with a personal connection to God. As Jesus departed this earth, He blessed His followers with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is like a built-in prophet as it reminds us of God and of God’s ways, and as it calls us back when we sin and wander. I am grateful for those who speak into my life and who help me along on my spiritual journey. I am also grateful for the personal attention that God gives me through the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life. It is a presence that all believers are blessed with. May God continue to lead and guide all believers in all we do and say and think. Thank God for His constant and personal presence in our lives.


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Remember

Reading: Psalm 85: 1-2 and 8-9

Verse Nine: Surely His salvation is near for those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land”.

Today’s Psalm opens by remembering when God showed favor to His people when He restored Jacob and established the twelve tribes of Israel.  The second verse recalls how God has forgiven the people over and over.  Even this early in their collective history, the people have plenty of experience with the cycle of sin and God’s forgiveness.  The psalmist looks back over the history of the people’s relationship with God to remind them of God’s loving and active presence with them.  Sometimes, in a tough moment, all we can do is remember when God has been there for us in the past and cling to the hope and promise that God will be present again in a mighty and powerful way.

A few years ago, I was part of a high school mission trip to Seattle.  On our last ferry ride back across Puget Sound, as we were beginning the long trek home, God became present.  One of the ship’s crew had suddenly passed away and his only ‘family’ in the area was the crew of the ship.  The outward and inward bound ferries stopped beside each other in the middle of the Sound and the captain of our ship led a brief memorial service and tossed a wreath into the water.  As we stood in silence, a few of our youth chose to “listen to what God the Lord will say” and they began to sing “Amazing Grace”.  Everyone joined in and it was a very sacred moment.  It was a powerful experience of God’s presence in our lives and of His love for us all.  We returned to the top deck where we had been worshiping and shortly the captain appeared.  He shared that he believed that God had placed us on that exact ship that very day to remind him of God’s love and care for us all, his dear friend included.  As we departed the ship a while later, a still teary-eyed captain again thanked us for the reminder of God’s love and care for us all.

Just as recalling God’s activity with Jacob and God’s abundant grace throughout their history strengthened the Israelites, so do our ferry moments remind us of times when God has shown up and they strengthen our faith and encourage us in our moments of trial.When have you experienced God in a powerful and meaningful way?  Remember these times today and be grateful.


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Abundant Grace

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse Eight: Call the workers and pay them their wages.

In the parable today the going wage is a denarius.  It was the standard pay for a day’s labor.  For the vineyard workers, four of the five groups received generous pay.  They had worked three, six, nine, or eleven hours less then the first ones hired.  All four of these groups walk away happy with their pay.

The fifth group – those who agreed to a denarius and those who worked the longest – receive the same pay.  In a way this too is generous.  They began the day with nothing to do and were fortunate to be hired.  But what they agreed to does not sit so well with them.  As each group of workers receives their denarius, their unhappiness grows as they come to realize all are being paid the same.  In complaining to the owner, they voice their grumbling relative to the ones who worked only an hour.  They speak of the ones who best ‘prove’ their case.  Yet I think they did not think the groups who worked three, six, or nine hours deserved a denarius either.

God’s grace extends to all who labor for the kingdom of God.  There is no minimum time required before one can begin to draw on grace.  There is no cosmic scorecard somewhere in heaven that determines how much grace each person is allotted or tracks how much we have earned.  We are each given as much as we need.  We are each given the undeserved and unlimited gift of grace anytime we need it.

Our churches are filled with people from all five groups.  Some have just begun to draw on God’s grace.  Others have been living in His grace for 10, 30, or 40 years.  Still others have been living in God’s grace for as long as they can remember.  Many of these receive grace like most of the vineyard workers.  They receive more than they deserve and walk away grateful for the owner’s generosity.  May we each respond to God’s grace the same way, realizing we are receiving more than we deserve, walking away grateful for God’s abundant Grace in our lives.


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Marvelous Deeds

Reading: Psalm 72: 18-19

Our short passage for today so well sums up the spirit of this time of year.  “Praise be to the Lord our God, who alone does marvelous deeds”.  In the bringing forth of the baby Jesus, God indeed did a wonderful thing.  But the list is much longer than this.  Take a moment or two and make a little mental list of the marvelous deeds that God has blessed you with in your life.  Praise be to the Lord our God indeed!

The passage ends with, “May the whole earth be filled with his glory”.  When we praise God for all of the marvelous deeds and wonderful blessings in our lives, we bring God alone the glory.  It is through us that glory is brought to God.  We can bring God glory in many ways.  It can be in our private prayer time.  It can be by singing a song or hymn that offers thanks to God or brings glory to God for the marvelous deeds that he has done.  It can be in the ways we speak to others and in the way we treat them that we bring glory to God.

This day, may we be cognizant of and thankful for all of the marvelous deeds of God.  And may our joyous and grateful response bring God the glory!  Amen and amen.


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Thanks

Readings: Philippians 4: 4-9 and John 6: 25-35

Thanksgiving is an awesome day where we gather with friends and family to give thanks for all that God has blessed us with.  All that we have comes from the Lord.  This day we give thanks.

Our Israelite forefathers recognized God’s provision from day one.  Adam was grateful for God’s love and care in the garden.  His son, Abel, brought the first lamb of his flock and sacrificed it as a thank offering to God.  The Israelites continued to give thank offerings and have a festival at harvest time where they thank God for all of their blessings.  Other festivals, such as Passover, also give thanks to God for the role God has played in their history.

Our American forefathers began Thanksgiving out of gratitude for surviving in a new and wild land.  They were grateful for those who God had sent to teach them what they needed to do to survive here.  They too recognized God’s hand at work in their lives and gave thanks.

Today, as we gather with family and friends, may we too give thanks for all of the ways God brings blessings into our lives.  May we celebrate today with a grateful heart full of thanks to God our Father, the giver of all good things.


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Praise

Reading: Psalm 150

Psalm 150 is the last Psalm.  It concludes the fifth ‘book’ within the larger book of Psalms.  But unlike the other four books, it does not end with a conclusion.  All of the other books in Psalms, and most other books in the Bible, have a definite conclusion to them.  Most often it is the word “Amen” and it usually functions much like ‘The End’ does in a novel or movie.

Psalm 150 ends with two sentences that invite a continuation of the action instead.  Verse 6 reads, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.  Praise the Lord”.  The invitation to praise is not limited either.  It does not say Israel or even human beings but ‘everything’.  As the bird lifts up its song one can certainly find praise in that.  As the cat purrs in response to affection one can feel love and bring God praise.  If one is open to a broad definition of breath, one can connect to God in the gentle breeze on a hot summer day or in the stream gently bubbling along.  From the beauty and awe of nature we often bring praise to God.

So why does God, through the psalmist, close with an open-ended invitation to continue to praise the Lord?  On the large, upper level it is just one more example of the Bible as the living Word of God, always active and moving.  On the more personal level, it is God asking each of us to live a life of praise.  God desires for our verbal praise to be not only daily but frequent within our days.  It is our grateful response to His many blessings.  But it is also more than words.  God desires for our actions to bring Him praise as well.  How we love and care for and treat others, both our friends and family as well as the enemy or stranger, should bring praise to God.  May He so shine in our lives that all we do and say brings praise to the Lord!