pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Good Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 5: 3-7

Verse 4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”?

Today we see the outcome of all the love and care that was poured into the vineyard. The yielding of bad fruit draws a passionate response from the gardener. The gardener wistfully says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”? When one considers all of God’s love and care and patience and guidance poured into Israel, one can begin to understand God’s pain and heartache and even a little anger. All parents experience this process, but usually on a much smaller scale. We raise our children as best we can and they still make poor decisions and bad choices now and then in spite of our best efforts.

God’s response to the vineyard Israel is to tear down the hedge and wall and to allow thorns to infest the ground. God even withholds the rain. God is stepping back from the relationship. God is not abandoning Israel, but is allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices. The injustice and bloodshed will not have good outcomes; the unanswered cries of distress will go on. All of this pains God deeply. Stepping back is a loving and merciful response. It is the response of a God who loves the people deeply.

I imagine that as God looks down on the world today, there is much that is painful to see. I imagine that God frequently asks the same “what more can I do” question. And then God sees the good fruit, the kind and loving followers of Jesus, working to bring light and love out into the world. God sees believers seeking to love God and to love neighbor. Yes, there are images of God sharing God’s love and care and compassion and mercy and justice with a world in need. Won’t you be one of them today?

Prayer: Loving God, lead me to love like Jesus today. Help me to be compassion and mercy and grace lived out. May it be so for me today and every day. Amen.

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Things of Heaven

Reading: Luke 12: 32-34

Verse 32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”.

Jesus says to the crowd, to his followers, and to us today: do not be afraid. Fear drives a lot of what people think and do and say. Stress, anxiety, and worry are close cousins to fear. They too rest in the unknown and in the realm of doubt. The antidote: trust.

Jesus goes on to remind us why we should not fear, saying, “for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”. God wants to give us what we need and more. Jesus has just finished talking about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. In these verses Jesus emphasizes how much God cares for us, his children. Jesus transitions from assuring us that God will clothe and feed us to the assurance that God will give us the kingdom. It is a kingdom in the here and now and also in eternity. The first leads to the second. But that is tomorrow’s reading!

Today Jesus focuses on the kingdom here. To live in God’s kingdom here and now, we are called to focus our priorities on the ways of God. When we choose to live a servant’s life we are walking in Jesus’ footsteps. When our focus is first on loving God and then on loving neighbor then we are nearing the kingdom that Jesus is talking about. When we are generous and gracious and kind and compassionate then we find much joy and peace and contentment in our relationships, not in our stuff. In walking this way, we come to trust in our loving father. Fear is not a part of our lives. When the most important things in our lives are our relationship with God and our relationships with each other, then our heart is being filled with the treasures of heaven. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for helping me to value my relationships above my stuff, my time, myself. Keep me focused on you and upon those around me. May I love and serve as Jesus did. Amen.


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Love to Give

Reading: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-8

Verse 8: “Love never fails”.

Today we turn to the famous “love chapter”. It is popular at weddings because love is the core ingredient of a lifelong commitment. But Paul did not write these words as a homily for a wedding that he was going to officiate. Paul wrote these words because he knew that love had to be the core of all of our relationships – with our siblings and parents, with our spouse and our children, with our teammates and workmates, with our friends and with the stranger that we meet.

Paul seemed to know a few folks who were talented – one could move mountains – or who were kind – one who gave generously to the poor. He also knew that we can do good things yet they can be meaningless to God. Yes, giving food to a hungry family is good and meets a need, but if I do it grudgingly in my heart or with a look of contempt on my face, then it is “nothing”. It matters not to God if not done in love.

Paul also must have known what we ourselves experience. It is not always easy to love. He reminds us of what love is and does: patient, kind, rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. And he reminds us of what love is not: envious, proud, boastful, self-seeking, easily angered, score-keeping. Loving others is hard. Yet as followers of the One who was love, it is what we are called to be too.

Our passage today closes with, “love never fails”. Paul is speaking of God’s love here. Because Jesus was the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, His love is eternal. It will never fail. Yes, prophecies and tongues and knowledge will pass away. But love will always remain. In Jesus, we find the unending well of love. It is a love that is always poured out upon us, a love that we always have to give to others. May we share love as Jesus does – freely, lavishly, openly, to one and to all.

Prayer: Lord, may I know your love so completely that it becomes who I am. Amen.


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Kind, Compassionate, Forgiving

Reading: Ephesians 4:30-5:2

Verse 32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you”.

“Live a life of love” is Paul’s advice in Ephesians 5:2. He explains that this means to love as Christ loved. Paul also reminds us of the way Jesus ultimately demonstrated the depth of His love for us. Paul reminds us that Jesus “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice”. That is a pretty big love. But Jesus did not save up His love so that He could show it all at once on the cross. Rather, He lived it out each and every day, each and every moment, often one person at a time. Perhaps, for you and I, this is a greater demonstration of love because we can model and practice this love too.

In verse 32 Paul writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you”. There are three key words in this verse: kind, compassionate, and forgiving. All of these are driven by love. All three of these are important marks of a Christian.

Being kind goes a long way in our world and in our relationships. If you do not think so, try being as kind as you can to the first few grumpy people you meet today. Being kind does things like bringing a smile to someone’s face, lifting a spirit, reminding someone that they are valued and loved. Being kind can remove tension and anxiety and can build a sense of belonging. It can change attitudes and outlooks.

Being compassionate opens our eyes and hearts to seeing others and the needs that they have. Being compassionate tilts us towards stopping and engaging the other instead of passing them by. Compassion leads us to get to know them and their story, beginning to form a relationship with them.

Practicing forgiveness is a two-way street. Jesus reminded us in Luke 11 that to be forgiven we must be willing to forgive others. The same is true in the forgiveness that we share with each other. Forgiveness acknowledges that we are all human, that we all make mistakes. Practicing forgiveness also reminds us of God’s covenant with humanity – the one that says I will love you no matter what. When we practice forgiveness we are modeling Jesus’ love. It is what the cross was all about.

Be kind to one another. Forgive those who hurt and wrong you. Seek forgiveness when you have hurt or wronged another. See and feel with eyes and a heart of compassion. Model Jesus to others. Living as Jesus lived and loving as Jesus loved, we will be truly blessed.


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Parent God

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse One: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.

What were your parents like growing up? Were they kind and living and came to all of your activities? Were they hard-working and focused on providing for you? Were they the type that did not say “I love you” with words but certainly did with their actions? Were they overprotective or strict or were they too lenient? And… how did they affect how you parent or how you parented?

Today’s Psalm speaks of the ways that God is our parent. We often say something along the lines of “we’re all God’s children”, but do we really consider what that means? Today’s Psalm does! It begins with, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”. First, as our parent, God knows us inside out. God knows how we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we need and desire, … The psalmist goes on to remind us that God is “familiar with all of my ways” – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Our ways do not sway or change God’s love for us. As a loving parent, God’s love is always there for us. God balances who we are with who we are created to be, ever drawing us to the latter.

Verse four speaks of a loving parent who knows us so well that He knows the words before we even speak them. God really does know us inside out. Verse five reads, “You hem me in…”. It is not that God limits or controls us absolutely, but that God’s protection is ever around us. The Holy Spirit is also present, always leading and guiding us – when we are willing and receptive. God never forces or coerces us. We are as free to make poor decisions as we are to make decisions that please God.

Our passage closes with, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me”. It is hard to fathom just how good of a parent God is. Although we cannot fully understand the extent of God’s love, we can appreciate it. To God almighty, creator of the universe, parent to us all: thank you.


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Good

Reading: Jeremiah 4: 11-12 and 22-26

As I read Jeremiah today, I wondered how similar the world today looks to God.  I wonder how much of the earth seems to be filled with people who do not know God and who are skilled at doing evil.  From God’s perspective, is the world still a good place?

If one reads the headlines of the world news feed, the stories of violence and evil certainly dominate the news.  But, in general, I believe they involve a very, very small percentage of the world.  For example, on a day when terrorists strike and kill scores of people, there are billions and billions of people not doing evil.  While evil in all forms must be and is addressed, those perpetrating violence and evil acts are still in the very small minority.

While most of the world’s seven billion plus people are not Christians or other God-believing people, I do believe the spark of God resides in all humanity.  In each human being is the inate sense of good and evil.  Some choose to do evil for a variety of reasons, but there is still that twinge of good in all but the rarest of people.  Because if this spark of the divine, most people seek to be a ‘good’ person.  Most people will not intentionally harm another person and will feel remorse when they do so.  Most people will try and treat their ‘neighbor’ well and will help another when presented with the opportunity.

Through the New Testament we understand our call as Christians to be to bring the good news to all people of all nations.  This is both a collective and individual charge.  Some are missionaries in far corners of the world.  Some are translating and providing Bibles to people all around the world.  But for most of us, the charge is right here in our own family, right here in our own neighbor, right here at our job or school.  Today, each of us will have opportunity to do good and to be the gospel lived out.  May we make the most of our opportunities today.


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Well Done

The shepherd is looking for a few good sheep.  He searches for us so that He can gather us up, take us to good pasture.  There He will tend to our needs.  If any wander off, He will seek them.  If any hurt, He will heal them.  Ezekiel lays out a kind, loving, caring shepherd role for Christ.

Isn’t it comforting to know that Christ the King is such a loving shepherd?  Yet Jesus is also the King of kings and Lord of lords – absolute, sovereign, and in total control.  Ultimately Christ came to sit as judge over all of creation.  For us this is a present and future reality.  For some this is a discomforting thought.

On a day to day basis Christ is a loving, caring, nurturing shepherd, kindly caring for all the sheep.  And what is our response?  To do the same for other sheep, even for those who are lost?  When we choose to live and love as Jesus did, then we have no fear of Christ as judge.  Because on the day when we stand before Him, seated on the throne, He will say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”  Can’t you just see Him smiling as He repeats, “Well done”?

Scripture reference: Ezekiel 34: 11-16 and 20-24