pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.


Leave a comment

Living Out Faith?

Reading: Luke 12: 49-56

Verse 56: “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time”?

Sometimes when I read the Bible I forget that the people are living long ago. Sometimes I imagine Jesus talking to me instead of to a crowd of first century Jews. When Jesus says things like “I have a baptism to undergo”, I think of something much different than his audience would have thought. For those new to Jesus maybe they’d have thought it a bit late to be baptized. For those following Jesus they’d have remembered John baptizing Jesus in the wilderness and they would be confused. But when we read the words many years later we connect them to Jesus’ crucifixion. At the time, only Jesus would have this thought.

After acknowledging the crowd’s ability to predict the weather based on the signs they see in the sky, Jesus admonishes them for not being able to see who he is. He asks them, “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time”? We can look back, again, knowing how the story ends and we can think the same question as Jesus asks. But hold that thought for a second.

Jesus’ audience is steeped in the Old Testament. They have read and read the Messianic prophecies and other writings scattered throughout the scriptures. These are signs predicting the coming Messiah. As his birth, life, and ministry have unfolded, many have been fulfilled. These are the signs that Jesus implores them to read, see, and interpret. But many in the crowd are not really looking. Most Jews want a Messiah that is another David, a triumphant leader who defeats the Romans. Others there are curious – they hope see or perhaps receive a miracle. They want a peek at this Jesus character. Not many are not looking for the servant king predicted in the Bible.

Let us return to the question for a moment. We have read the end of the story and we know that Jesus is the Messiah. We know the gift of salvation, the promise of eternal life, the daily presence of the Holy Spirit… In turn, do we live out a life of faith seeking to make disciples of all people? Or do we live out a personal, private faith?

Dear God, I can do better. Help me to better live out my faith. I do not always love the least and the lost. I do not always share the good news with the broken and hurting. Lead me outside my comfort zone, O God. Amen.


Leave a comment

Hear

Reading: Matthew 13: 36-43

Verse 41: The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.

After telling the parable of the weeds, Jesus next tells two more parables.  They are short and speak of how the kingdom of God will spread and grow and affect all it touches.  After these two parables Jesus withdraws to the house.  Here the disciples ask for an explanation of the parable of the weeds.  In private, Jesus unpacks the parable for the disciples.

When Jesus told the parable to the crowd, it followed the parable of the sower, where Jesus talks about what kind of soil we are.  In explaining this parable to the disciples, Jesus explains why He speaks in parables.  For those who understand, Jesus says more will be given.  He goes on to say that some who hear never understand and He laments that some have closed their eyes and hardened their hearts.  Jesus is using a prophecy from Isaiah to do all this.  Tied into the parable of the soils, this leads us to introspection: what kind of soil am I today?  What kind of soil do I want to be?  As we grow in our faith, we come to understand more and then more will be given.

In today’s passage, Jesus is giving more to the disciples.  He begins by explaining who the real characters are: the Son of Man, the evil one, humanity, and the angels.  The story isn’t about storing up the crop and getting rid of the weeds.  It is about the end of the age, when a resurrected Jesus will return.  There is a foreboding and ominous feeling to the explanation.  There is a stark contrast between the two outcomes.  When Jesus says, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil”, there is a finality.  Instead of simply telling stories, Jesus has become very serious.  Again, Jesus is leading those who have ears to hear what He is saying.  He is leading those who hear to gain more understanding.

As we ourselves reflect on the interpretation of today’s passage, we must ponder: are we those weeping and gnashing teeth or are we those shining like the sun?  Do we take what Jesus has to say and allow it to change and challenge us?  Our passage ends with, “He who has ears, let him hear”.  May it be so with us today.


1 Comment

Tomorrow 

Reading: Luke 12: 54-56

Jesus opens today’s passage with some praise of the crowd’s ability to read the weather correctly.  It is praise to draw them in, to pique their interest and attention.  Then in a sudden twist He calls them hypocrites.  Many a mind gathered there must have wondered at what could be hypocritical about predicting the weather.  If only that was where Jesus was going.  Instead Jesus shifts to interpreting who He is and to reading the signs of God’s presence in their midst.  But the masses miss these signs.  They seem oblivious to the coming judgment.

Unfortunately believers and non-believers alike live in the mindset.  Death or the day of judgment is far away, not right here at hand.  Many are aware of God but have not dedicated their lives to following Christ.  After school, after marriage, after kids, after … then I’ll go to church.  Some day.  For others life is good and they have no need for God.  Perhaps in the back of their minds they know that in a big crisis they can seek God, but God is not needed now.  Life is good.

Many Christians live with a similar mindset.  They rationalize a sin they continue to practice and vow in their minds to give it up one day.  Others vow to start reading their Bible and to pray every day, starting tomorrow.  Or it may be joining that small group or helping out with VBA or…  Yet too often tomorrow always remains a day away.  Making a total commitment to Jesus is hard.

In the last few verses of chapter twelve Jesus uses another illustration to show that judgment will come.  His point of emphasis is that one cannot wait until they are standing before the judge to start making things right.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  It is for us as well.  Are we aware of it?  Are we choosing to live now for the King?  Is there an urgency to be ready for the kingdom because tomorrow may be at hand?