pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Which Son?

Reading: Matthew 21: 28-32

Verse 28: Son, go and work today in the vineyard.

The priests and elders have just tried to question Jesus about His authority.  In today’s parable Jesus continues the conversation with them.  One son is asked by his father, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard”.  The first son refuses but later goes and works.  The second son hears the same request, says he will go, but does not go and work in the vineyard.

In Luke 10, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”.  Paired with our commission to go forth to make disciples of all nations, we have much to wrestle with in today’s parable.  Which son are we?

Each Sunday we gather in our churches to lift our voices in praise to God and to remind ourselves of how we are to live in the world as followers of Jesus.  We hear the Word proclaimed and the message brings application of the Word.  We offer up prayers of thanksgiving and we bring our requests as well, believing God to be loving and caring and merciful.  At the end of the service we receive a blessing or benediction that sends us out into the world to share Jesus.  We head out the doors to be His light and love in the world.

Jesus asks the priests and elders, “Which of the two sons did what his father wanted”?  We would answer as they did: “The first”.  The one who actually went out and worked in the vineyard.  It is important that he went out and worked in the vineyard because the harvest is indeed plentiful.

As Christians it is much easier to sing the songs, to pray the prayers, and to receive the message on Sunday morning than it is to go out into the world and to love our neighbors or to welcome the stranger.  It is difficult to love all people, to always offer grace and forgiveness, to be a humble servant.  Yet this is what the Lord of the harvest did every day.  The Father asks each of us to go to the vineyard, to labor today for the kingdom.  In reality, which son will you be 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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Say It Well

Reading: Psalm 105: 37-45

Verse 45: …that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws.

This last section of Psalm 105 recounts the exodus from Egypt.  The Israelites left Egypt “laden with silver and gold” and headed out into the desert with a cloud for shade in the day and a pillar of fire for light at night.  God provided for their physical needs with quail and manna and He brought water from a rock.  God led them into a land that other nations had toiled over and developed and built up.  God blessed the chosen people on their exit from slavery in Egypt right up to their entrance into the Promised Land.

It is good for a people to tell their story.  This Psalm that would have been sung in worship reminds the people of what God has done for them out of His great love for them.  We too sing songs that remind us of our faith story.  Whether it is a classic like “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Amazing Grace” or if it is a more modern song like “Trading My Sorrows” or “Come As You Are”, we sing songs of praise to remember His love and His actions in our bigger faith story.  We may know, for example, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins but songs that remind us also remind us of His great love for us.

To be reminded encourages us and strengthens our faith.  It helps us to grow in and to deepen our relationship with God.  It is why we hug and kiss our spouse and children each morning and night, saying “I love you” each time.  They know it but it sure does us good to say it and to hear it.  It is the same when we sing praises to the Lord.  God may know we love Him and we may know God loves us, but it sure does us good to sing it.

There is also a second benefit.  After listing how God gave, God brought, God provided, … the psalmist writes, “…that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws”.  This is also why we must sing of His mighty acts and of His love for us.  It reminds us to say “I love you” back with how we live our lives.  May we say it well today.


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Sing a Song

Reading: Psalm 149

Verses One and Three: Sing to the Lord a new song… Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him…

The psalmist writes, “Sing to the Lord and new song”.  New songs can spring up in us when God is present or acts in our lives.  Singing to God is one way we can express the joy or strength or love we feel when we encounter God personally in our lives.  Our song does not need to have four-part harmony or beautiful accompaniment or even have to be in tune – it can simply be praise lifted to God.  It can be as simple as a prayer that is hummed to God, giving thanks for His presence or saving grace or guidance or whatever He has blessed us with.

Expressing our praise to God and our love for God are the essential elements of a new song.  These can come from something as simple as a walk in the woods or along the shore.  The noises of the birds and the sounds of the water can be the music that accompanies your prayer to God for the time and place you find yourself in.  Feeling moved to praise God can come from an impactful experience as well – the birth of a child, the celebration of a saintly life, the gift of marriage.  In each of these events the power and presence of God can well up in us like a mighty spring, bursting forth in song from the depths of our heart.  Some of these experiences can lead to joyful exultations and others to a soul-felt waltz with the memories of life intertwined with someone so dear.  No matter the lyrics or the meter or the genre, each expression of praise and love can be an outpouring of praise to our Lord.

The day ahead may bring a powerful and joyful encounter with God or it may be a quiet moment when He reaches out and touches our soul.  Either way may we respond with a new song of praise and worship for God’s blessings in our lives.  May we find joy as we sing a new song to the Lord!


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If…

Reading: Psalm 124

Verses 6 and 8: Praise be to the Lord… Our help is in the name of the Lord.

The psalmist wrestles with an interesting thought today that is good for us to wrestle with from time to time.  The idea is “if…”. In the Psalm, he is considering the plight of the nation of Israel ‘if’ the Lord was not with them.  The writer realizes that without the Lord they would have been ‘swallowed’, ‘engulfed’, and ‘swept away’.  On its own, Israel would have long ago disappeared from the earth and would have existed only in history books just like thousands of other tribes.  But God was with them. “Praise be to the Lord”.

When I look back and consider my life, I too have many ‘if’ scenarios.  There are times where the hand of the Lord guided me to safety or kept harm from me.  There are times when the Lord our God has shown me the path to take or the decision to make and good and blessing have resulted.  Many times I have sinned and repented and found forgiveness and have been made new and whole again.  It is a good thing to ponder the ‘if…’ – where would I be now without God’s guidance, protection, direction, and forgiveness?  These thoughts lead me to where the psalmist went: praise be to the Lord!

God is always active and involved in our world and in our lives.  God remains our protector, our defender, our conscious, our guide, our redeemer, our hope, and our love.  For the Lord our God we say thanks be to God.  “Our help us in the name of the Lord”.  Amen and amen!


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Trust and Call

Reading: Romans 10: 5-13

Verse Ten: It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Rules or faith?  Myself or God?  Know or trust?  Living by faith can be a challenge to each of us.  Paul begins today’s passage with a quote from Moses about the Law.  Moses is basically saying that if one follows the Law, one is righteous for living according to God’s rules.  But the Law is something outside of us.  It is a list of do’s and don’ts.  The Law focuses on what I can (and cannot) do and is very black and white.  It says things like do not murder and keep the Sabbath holy.  In this sense, the Law is easy to understand.

To live by faith is another matter.  Paul quotes Deuteronomy and writes, “The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart”.  Faith in Jesus Christ is very much an internal thing.  Faith is about a relationship that shifts the focus from us to God.  This relationship begins with confessing “Jesus is Lord”.  This confession places Jesus instead of self on the throne of our heart.  It becomes less and less about what we can or cannot do (the Law again) and more and more about what Jesus is doing in and through us.

The Law is about knowing God in our head.  Faith is about having God in our heart.  The short distance between head and heart can be a very long journey.  Sitting in a pew each Sunday is following the rule written in your head.  Worshipping and praising God each week is Jesus living out of your heart.  It is a world of difference to have God in your head versus having Jesus in your heart.  Paul writes, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”.  Faith resides in the heart.  It leads us on that journey to confession of our sins and receiving mercy and forgiveness.  Through our relationship with Jesus Christ we are made holy and pure once again.

Paul concludes today’s passage with two more Old Testament quotes.  First, from Isaiah: “Anyone who trusts Him will never be put to shame”.  Faith involves trust.  In faith, Jesus has our backs.  Second, from Joel: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  It’s not ‘could be’ or ‘might’ but WILL BE saved.  Trust and call on the Lord.  He is all we need.  Jesus is our all in all.  Thanks be to God.