pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Glorious and Beautiful

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 6: “Here’s the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!”

In our parable today, ten bridesmaids await the arrival of the bridegroom.  The festivities cannot begin until he arrives and ushers in all of the bridesmaids.  It will be quite a party.  A wedding banquet lasted days and was a demonstration of all that the host family could offer.  It was an event full of joy and laughter and celebration.  Of course these ten bridesmaids cannot wait!

Then the shout goes out: “Here’s the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!”  What excitement!  But when the bridegroom arrives we find that five of them were not really prepared.  They only came with some oil in their lamps and must go and to get more.  There must have been some indecision at this point – stay and hope I have enough?  Go and get more oil?  All must have wished they had filled their lamps before coming to the banquet.  All must have wished they were prepared when the call came that the bridegroom was on the way.  It is sad that they cannot enter the banquet.

But what joy for those who were prepared, for the five who did get to enter the wedding banquet.  They step inside and see the beautiful hall, well-decorated for the occasion.  They smell the lavish and tasty food prepared for the celebration.  They can sense the emotional buzz, the excitement.  The five step inside the door that the bridegroom hols open for them and they become a part of this beautiful and glorious scene.

One day we too will stand at that door.  One day we too will have the opportunity to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.”  As we read the Word of God each day, we hear the call of God’s love.  As we pray and get connected to God, we sense His love covering us as we pray.  As we worship, we are in God’s presence.  We are preparing for the day.  All these ways we connect to and experience God in the day to day of life are just glimpses of the day to come.  It’s just a small taste of the moment we walk through that door and enter forever into God’s light and love.  What a glorious and beautiful day it will be!  Amen and amen.

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Represent

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 1: 1-10

Verse Three: Work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, endurance inspired by hope.

Thessalonica was a large city.  It was an economic and political hub.  In the city was a mix of Romans, Greeks, and some Jews.  It was a worldly city – a place with lots of idols worship and plenty of wild living.  Paul had been there on a missionary journey and had begun a church.  It was a challenge to be a Christian in such a setting.  Our world today is still filled with many false idols and it is easy to stray from the faith into the dark side of the world.

Yet the Thessalonicans remain faithful.  Paul commends the church for the faith that they have and live out in the city.  Their faith has drawn some persecution yet they remain steadfast and joyous.  Their faith is known around the city and region.  Paul notes the three ways in which their faith is seen: “Work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, endurance inspired by hope”.  Their faith has gone from their head to their hearts and pours out of their mouths, hands, and feet.  It is a faith that is easy to see.

In our daily lives, is our faith so easy to see?  By simply watching us, can others see the joy of the Lord in us?  When the storms of life come, can others see our endurance that is inspired by our hope in God?  Our faith should pervade our lives in the good and the bad, being on display for all to see.  Do people see us as the hands and feet of Jesus in our daily lives?  Do they see in us a servant’s heart, offering our work and labor as an offering of love and faith?  In our daily living others should see the ways that we serve Christ.  In these three ways, we model Christ and introduce the world to our Lord.  May we represent well today.


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Distinguished

Reading: Exodus 33:16

Verse 16: What else will distinguish me and your people from all other people on the face of the Earth?

Moses asks a great question today.  If not for God’s presence in their lives, what else distinguishes them?  You and I could ask the same question.  Like everyone else, we woke up this morning and got ready for work or school or whatever else lay ahead.  Like everyone else we will eat and drink today, will smile and say hello to many people, will return home and be ready to repeat it all tomorrow.

Moses is seeking to define the people’s identity and he wants to do that through their relationship with God.  Our personal relationship with God is what sets us apart from many other people as well.  As Christians, we are in the minority.  Moses’ question makes me think of another great question to ponder: if you were arrested today for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Our relationship with God manifests itself mostly in two ways.  Who we are at our core should distinguish us from most of the world.  Our relationship with God brings us a peace and joy and contentment about life.  Our faith leads us to times of personal connection to God as we pray and spend time in the Word.  It is a relationship built on love.  This love of God and from God is what wells up in us and flows out into the lives of all we cross paths with each day.  The way we treat others and the way we go through life should distinguish us from others.  Our lives should lead others to want some of whatever we have.

“What else will distinguish me and your people from all other people on the face of the Earth”?  It is through our relationship with God that we are set apart.  May our love of God and neighbor be that fragrant offering to the world that draws others into God’s love.


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The Lord Is Near

Reading: Philippians 4: 1-9

Verse Five: Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.

Paul has just finished writing about pressing on towards the prize for which God calls us heavenward.  He has spoken about those who believe in Jesus having a citizenship in heaven.  Paul has written of the glorious transformation that will come – the one that He and other believers eagerly await.  Our passage today begins with Paul’s encouragement to “stand firm in the faith”.

Paul quickly shifts gears to plead with two people who appear to be fighting.  Paul asks others in the faith community to help them solve their differences and to “agree with each other in the Lord”.  Paul then again shifts gesrs, maybe giving evidence if why we should be of one mind.  In verse five he writes, “Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near”.  As we rejoice in the Lord, it really should be evident to all.  And when we feel anxious or begin to worry or doubt, Paul reminds us to take it to the Lord in prayer.  He is near so we should quickly go to Jesus in prayer.  When we do, we will find that peace which passes all understanding.  To summarize: stand firm, be of one mind, rejoice in the Lord, pray often, live in His peace.

Sounds like simple steps.  They can be.  But at times these simple steps can be so hard.  My mind easily returns to that pile of to-do on my desk, to that person I need to visit, to that uncomfortable conversation that needs to happen…  At the core of it all is trust.  Do I trust God to lead, to give me guidance, to give strength, to give all that is needed for what is at hand?  Paul’s advice is good advice: pray.  In all things, turn it over in prayer.  When I do, I find His peace.

Paul concludes today’s Word with things to fill our minds with that remind us that He is near.  These are things that keep us close to God and that keep our gladness evident.  Paul calls upon us to think of whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable…  He is calling us to think of God in Jesus Christ.  When we choose to keep our minds on Jesus, we are ever reminded that “the Lord is near”.  When Jesus Christ is near, peace and joy are close as well.  This day, may we rejoice in the Lord!


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Imperfectly in Perfect

Reading: Psalm 19

Verses 7 and 12: The Law of the Lord is perfect… forgive my hidden faults.

Our Psalm for today begins by recognizing how the natural world shines forth God.  When one looks to the sky at night, one gains a sense of the vastness and power of God.  As the sun moves across the sky, we can sense God’s perfect plan at work.  The earth was placed at exactly the right distance from the sun – much closer or further and we could not have life on our planet.  The sun is described as a bridegroom bringing light and heat to all.  This is much like the Son who brings light and love to all.

In verse seven, the psalmist begins comparing God’s beautiful and perfect creation to God’s Law.  He writes, “the Law of the Lord is perfect”, trustworthy, right, and radiant.  The psslmists says the Law revives the soul, makes wise the simple, gives joy to the heart and light to the eyes.  These ordinances of God are “sure” and “righteous” and are “sweeter than honey”.  Reading all these descriptives the Law is much like the perfection and beauty of nature.  It is a wonderful thing to keep and a great place to be.  Verse eleven summarizes this: “By them is your servant warned, in keeping them there is great reward”.  All who walk daily with the Lord know this is true.

Even though we live in the beauty and wonder of God’s creation and even though we know the law and have Jesus’ example, there are times when we choose to walk outside of God’s law and love.  There are times we sin.  In verse twelve we read, “forgive my hidden faults”.  The next verse seeks protection from “willful sins”.  Within the perfection of creation and beside God’s perfect law reside us humans.  Just as the psalmist does, so too must we recognize our absolute need for God’s grace and forgiveness.  Out of His perfect love God brought us Jesus Christ, so that through His perfect love we could be redeemed.  Each day may we choose to stand upon our Rock, seeking God as we dwell imperfectly in His perfect love.


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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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Overflow

Reading: Philippians 1: 21-26

Verses 21 and 23: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain… I am torn between the two!

Paul writes today from a Roman prison cell.  Death looms in the air.  The executioners could come at any moment.  Yet even in this place Paul is full of hope.  He has come to a place in his life where his faith is absolutely secure.  He is assured that if this day were his last that he would depart and be with Jesus – “which is far better”.  This is what Paul means when he says, “to die is gain”.

But Paul also feels this pull to living.  He feels a pull to live so that he can continue in his ministry.  He knows that if he “stays in the body” that he will continue to have fruitful labor.  His work will continue to be about bringing people to Christ and about helping people to grow in their faith.  This is what he means by “to live is Christ”.  He also acknowledges another “better” – it is better for the church in Philippi if he continues to live so that he can continue on with them on their faith journey.

Although Paul is “torn between the two”, there are some lessons in his circumstance and attitude for us.  First, his focus is on others.  It would be far better to be with Jesus in heaven.  Many people today feel this way.  But like Paul they know God has more in store for them.  Paul loves Jesus and the church more than himself so he joyfully remains.  Second, he finds joy in the suffering.  Paul is living into the idea of being worthy to suffer for Christ.  He has stood firm in the faith and gladly faces the consequences for doing so.  And lastly, Paul is reflecting Christ.  His desire and will to serve others regardless of the cost to self models Christ’s example to others.  Just as Paul has chosen to closely follow Christ, his example here beckons us to do the same.  In all we do and say each day, may we strive to allow our “joy in Jesus Christ” to overflow into the lives of all we meet.  May it be so.