pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Invitation

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.

Lent is a season of fasting and self-denial. It is the season when we are invited to look within and to surrender all that keeps us from being fully committed to God. In general, the things of the men, the things that culture values, keep us separated. In today’s passage, Peter is a good example of this. After Jesus tells the disciples that He will soon be rejected and killed, Peter pulls Him aside to protest such a thing happening. Jesus then rebukes Peter, saying to him, “Get behind me Satan”! The future rock of the church is being called Satan. But Jesus goes on. He knows that the human Peter missed the “after three days rise again” part of the story. Sadly Jesus says to him, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”. Peter wanted Jesus to stay with them. He wanted to hold onto the familiar and comfortable. Peter is not alone.

The season of Lent with all of its fasting and self-denial and surrender continues to run counter to our human desires and to our culture and its values. In a culture that preaches “just do it” and “do it if it makes you feel good” the idea of Lent is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is no wonder so many of us struggle with Lent. Ultimately, though, Lent is a season all about grace and holiness. As we look within, God invites us to be more like Jesus. As we look outside of ourselves, God invites live out His grace and love. In these ways, Lent is an invitation not a requirement. It is an invitation to be a better follower, to live out a more holy and faithful life. And, yes, if we accept the invitation, it will bring some discomfort – it is a harder journey.

As God invites us to search within and to step out, we do so with a promise: “I will never leave you”. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we do not search and we do not go alone. In those moments of unfamiliar, the Spirit will guide and lead. In those moments of discomfort, the Spirit speaks words of peace and strength. In those moments when we look within, when it is unsettling, the Spirit speaks words of encouragement and support. Our discomfort, our unease, are invitations into God’s grace and love. They are invitations to draw closer, to walk holier. They are opportunities that allow His grace and love to reshaped us, to transform us. When we choose to focus our minds on the things of God, we are blessed. May this be my choice and your choice throughout this Lenten season. Amen!

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The Call

Reading: Mark 1: 19-20

Verse 20: “Without delay He called them, and they left… and followed Him”.

I can remember times as a kid when I was out in the yard playing and a friend would ride up on his bike and tell me he was going someplace. I’d hop on my bike and off we’d go. Later in life I’d be sitting in my dorm room studying and some friends would be heading off to play soccer or basketball and I’d jump up and go with them. We’ve all had experiences where we have left what we were doing to go and do something else.

In today’s passage we have James and John doing a similar thing. As they sit in the boats working on the nets Jesus happens by and invites them to come along. In that culture the invitation to follow another would have meant more than my riding off on my bike. All rabbis had followers, so James and John would have understood that this call was a great commitment. It also meant that Jesus saw something in them that merited a call to follow. Usually a rabbi’s call followed years of competitive schooling and evidence of some solid gifts and talents. The most respected rabbis always got the best students as followers.

So here sits a couple of fishermen. For a spiritual call they do not appear to have any special gifts or talents. James and John were out of rabbi school long ago. Yet Jesus comes to them and invites them to become one of His followers. What was it about them that led Jesus to call them? By profession they are hard workers and ply their craft in all kinds of conditions. Fishing is a hard way of life and if they have hired hands they appear to be successful at their jobs. Commitment, hard work, the ability to persevere – sounds like disciple material.

We were all somewhere when Jesus met us where we were at and called us to follow Him. What we left behind was not everything, but it was our old self and our life of sin. We went through a transformation after we responded to the call. As we have journeyed with Jesus we have had experiences that allow us to help others hear Jesus’ call and to answer the call of Jesus on their lives. Like the Master, may we too meet people where they are as we seek to make disciples for the transformation of the world.


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Invitation

Reading: Matthew 22: 1-14

Verse Nine: Go to the streets and invite to the banquet anyone you find.

Today’s parable is symbolic of God’s continuing invitation to all of humanity to come into the kingdom of God.  The original invitation began with God’s chosen people, but most rejected the invite – they did not see Jesus as the Messiah.  Still God invited them.  They abused and killed many who God sent to invite them – even killing the Son.  So God sent others out, saying, “Go to the streets and invite to the banquet anyone you find”.  In the Good News translation the Great Commission from Matthew 28 reads, “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere”, mirroring the invitation to all.  In God’s great patience, He will continue and continue to invite all into the kingdom.  Today, tomorrow, and on into the future God will continue to send out invitations to all who are lost.

The parable goes on to say that the good and the bad respond to the invitation, filling the banquet hall.  There are some who hear the invitation and come to see what it is all about.  Some come because a friend or family member received the invitation and they are going.  They come and they sit in the pew.  But they do not take the next step.  They do not become a part of the kingdom.  In the parable, the king comes to look over the guests.  He notices a man not wearing the right clothes.  The man did not fully accept the invitation.  He came to the banquet, but on his terms.  He remains stubbornly silent.  He is cast out into darkness.

This same idea occurs elsewhere in scripture.  In the parable of the sheep and the goats, for example, the goats are left wondering why they are cast out.  They knew who Jesus was and even did a few things He asked, but they did not choose to enter a saving personal relationship that changed their lives.  Today, many know who Jesus is, but they cling to their old self.  They appear to be at the banquet, but inside they are the ones in control, not Jesus.

To be a follower requires that we put off the old self and take on the new robe of righteousness.  We must not only accept the invitation, but we must allow it to reshaped us into the image of Christ.  We must die to self so that Christ can rule on the throne of our hearts.  Yet even then God continues to send us invitations.  He invites us to go out and live our lives as the salt and light the world so desperately needs.  He invites us to go out to the street corners and to invite everyone we see, helping them into the kingdom.  How will we do this today?


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Sufficient for Us All

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 21: You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.

Today’s parable is challenging.  It has been prompted by Peter asking Jesus what the disciples will receive for following Jesus.  After all, they left everything behind to follow.  Peter’s question is prompted by the response Jesus gave to the rich young man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.  If we recall, the young man went away sad because Jesus asked of him more than he could give at the time.  Peter is told by Jesus that they will be by His side in eternity.  In fact, Jesus says that all who leave things or people behind will inherit eternal life.  Jesus ends this response with, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”.  From here, Jesus tells today’s parable.

In short, workers are hired throughout the day to come to the vineyard to help with the harvest.  The owner of the vineyard promises each of them the same thing: a fair wage.  They work and line up at the end of the day to receive their pay.  Some had worked all day, some just an hour.  The last are paid first and all receive the same pay: a denarius.  Those who worked the longest are upset, saying to the owner: “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day”.  The landowner responds with this: “Or are you envious because I am generous”?

In life, Christians come to faith at different stages in life, each joining in in the building of the kingdom.  The Lord of the harvest promises the same reward to each of them: eternal life.  They go to work and then line up for the reward at the end of their lives.  Some labor for all if their lives, some for just a short time.  The lifers and the new converts receive the same pay.  Those who have been faithful all of their lives can be tempted to say, “Lord, you have made that person who just accepted you equal to us who have served you all of our lives”?  The Lord of the harvest will respond with words of grace and love and invitation.

Yes, God loves us all.  He loves the saints and the sinners.  He loves the saved and the lost.  Heaven rejoices each time a lost soul becomes a part of the family.  His grace is sufficient for us all, whenever and however we come to faith.  The promise is the same: love God and claim eternal life.  Thanks be to God!


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Shine

Reading: Psalm 80: 4-7 & 17-19

It is dark outside.  The street lights and Christmas lights shine brightly in the cool, crisp air.  In dark places, even one small light can seem so bright.

The psalmist also writes of darkness, although it is a different kind of darkness.  Our Psalm today speaks of “eating the bread of tears” and drinking tears “by the bowlful”.  At times this is the darkness we experience.  Life has become difficult and we feel like we are alone in the dark.  If not us right now, it is true for someone we know.  This time of year can be particularly hard for folks.  For all those who are in pain and feel like they are in darkness or in a dark place, one small light can seem so bright.  God’s love is that light.

Light shines into darkness, casting the dark away.  There can be no darkness in the presence of light.  Whether it is depression or loss or loneliness, darkness can settle in like an unbearable weight.  Often with the darkness comes a loss of hope.  A kind word, a simple gesture, a warm invitation, a gentle hug, a short prayer offered, just our presence – all bring light into darkness.  All bring God’s love to bear.  None of these human efforts, by themselves, cures depression or loss or loneliness, but they bring in God’s love, they begin a step in the right direction.

The psalmist writes, “Restore us, O Lord God Almighty, make your face shine upon us”.  When we reach out, when we pray, when we offer our presence, then we are helping God’s light to shine in dark places.  God’s love can restore anyone and can heal any brokenness.  May we be willing bearers of the light and love this day.  May our lives help God’s light shine into the dark places of light.  In dark places, one light can seem so bright.


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Community, Personal

Reading: Romans 15: 4-13

Community and personal connection to God flow through this section of Romans 15.  Paul reminds us that the coming of Jesus that we await is also the one spoken of by the prophets of old.  The Root of Jesse will save the world from its sins.  He is the one who offers endurance and encouragement and a spirit of unity among all believers.  Through this unity we glorify God.  There is a deep sense that unity pleases God.  Paul goes on to quote several Old Testament passages that include the Gentiles in God’s family, again seeking to build unity amongst all believers.

The vision that God sent Jesus for all people is a great one to lift up during Advent and particularly around Christmas.  As we draw nearer to the day, it is upon each of us to invite all to the celebration.  Paul clearly spells out that Christ came for all people.  Thus is a message we all need to share.  It is an open invitation that we need to proclaim.  May we fling wide the doors of our churches to welcome all into the gift of Jesus Christ!

We invite to allow others to begin to know and develop what we have – a personal relationship with Jesus.  It is this personal connection that underlies and undergirds our overall sense of Christian community.  The joy and hope and love and peace that we celebrate in Christmas is the same joy and hope and love and peace that we live with all year long because we know Jesus as Lord of our life.  While we are called to share this with others and to invite them to the birthday celebration, this season is also a time when we ourselves again invite Jesus into our hearts.  We prepare our hearts to once again welcome the Christ child.  It is a deeply personal time of connecting to Jesus Christ.  May our own hearts be filled with the gift of Jesus Christ as we fling open the doors of our hearts to welcome in the joy and hope and love and peace of our Savior.


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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!