pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Love, Forgiveness

Reading: Psal 99

Verse Eight: O Lord our God, you answered them; you are a forgiving God.

God is, above all else, a God of love.  More than anything else, God is about loving His children.  The Psalm opens with God being exulted because He reigns.  The people offer their praise.  Then it shifts to God bringing justice and equality.  The people offer their praise.  In verse six three greats go to God and He answers the prayers of the faithful.  The people offer praise.  This is a God of love.  Truly God is worthy of our praise and worship.

All this is true of God today.  The Lord our God answers our prayers.  God continues to seek justice and equality for all peoples.  God continues to be in control of all things and to reign over all the earth.  He is worthy of our praise and worship.

But perhaps the greatest example of God’s love is His forgiveness.  We experience a glimpse of this kind of love from our parents and then again with our own children.  But ours is a slightly flawed, human love.  God’s love is a perfect, holy love.  Verse eight reads, “O Lord our God, you answered them; you are a forgiving God”.  Because of His love for us, He forgives us.  Over and over, without memory or score.  Over and over it is as if we had never sinned before.  This truly is a God of love.  He is worthy of our praise and worship.

The love and forgiveness we receive from God is wonderful.  But it cannot end with us simply receiving it.  We in turn must go out and love and forgive others.  Because we are loved, we love others.  Because we are forgiven, we forgive others.  It is through our practicing love and forgiveness that we are part of bringing God’s love and forgiveness into other people’s lives.  It is a part of our witness to our faith.  This day may we be people of love and forgiveness, helping to build up relationships with others that further the kingdom of God here on earth.


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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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Stories

Readings: Exodus 32: 1-6 and Psalm 106: 19-23

Key Verses:

Exodus 32:6 – He made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf.

Psalm 106:20 – They exchanged their Glory for the image of a bull.

In both passages, we have the story of the people departing from God to worship an idol made of gold.  True, Moses has been gone up the mountain a long time.  But the people did not worship Moses.  While Moses is up on the mountain, clearly the presence of God remains on the mountain.  The presence of God is right there in plain sight when the people and Aaron make another “god” to worship.

This is not a pretty story about what happened in the life of the chosen people and their relationship with God.  Yet it is recounted and retold over and over by these people and generations to follow.  Why?  For the same reason they tell and tell about the Passover, the parting of the sea, the fall of Jericho, the defeat of Goliath…  We remember and retell good and bad stories for the same reason: to remind us of God’s love and grace.  In the stories where we (corporate) are not faithful or where we have sinned, they remind us of God’s love in spite if our fleshy weakness.  In the stories where God provides or guides or redeems… we are reminded of God’s constant love and care for each of us.

There is great value in the telling and retelling of these stories where God is active and present in the lives of the people, always bringing comfort, guidance, peace, and, of course, love and grace.  But these stories are not just found in the pages of the Bible.  They are also found in the day to day living of our lives.  We each have stories to tell of when God rescued us, when God forgave us, when God redeemed us, when God loved us…  These too are powerful stories of God’s continuing presence and activity in the lives of His people.  They are stories we need to hear over and over.  They are also stories others need to hear.  Our faith is communal.  Our faith is a shared faith.  Today, who will we share our story with?


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God’s Promises

Reading: Exodus 32: 11-14

Verse 13: Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self.

The Lord’s anger with His people is mighty big.  Once again they have turned away and questioned and doubted.  Once again the people think Moses has abandoned then or has died, leaving them leaderless. Once again they turn to something other than the Lord.  Yet Moses asks, “Why should your anger burn against your people”?  Moses is a great advocate and prayer warrior for the Israelites, the people he leads under God’s direction and guidance.

Moses continues to convince God not to wipe these stiff-necked people off the face of the earth.  He begins his request with a reminder of God’s promises.  Moses says, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self”.  Moses is reminding God of the covenant promise that God himself made to each of these great men.  In essence, Moses is calling God out using God’s promises.  By bringing God’s focus to the love, the care, the relationships that led to the promises to make their descendants into a great nation, Moses defuses God’s wrath.

The pattern Moses uses is a pattern we too can use in our prayer life.  Many are the promises of God.  God promises to be our guide, our healer, our protector, our light, our love, our salvation…  We are promised that He will never leave or forsake us.  We are promised that His mercies never end and that we can be made new every morning.  These are but a sampling of what God offers to all who believe.  So when we find ourselves in the midst of trial or suffering, we too can call on the promises of God.  Our prayers for our lives and for others can be like Moses’ request.  We may not always see the answer right away, but we know that God is faithful and that He will respond.  We may not get the answer we want some of the time, but we are promised that God has good plans for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11).  At times, we trust into this as well.

“In everything, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”. – Philippians 4:6


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The Father’s Love

Reading: Exodus 32: 7-10

Verse Nine: “I have seen these people”, said the Lord to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people”.

The people have allowed fear and doubt to win the day and they cast a golden calf to be their god.  Being fully made by human hands, the calf has no power.  But it is visible and present and the people want to believe it can save them.  So they offer sacrifices and worship it.

God looks down on His chosen people and suddenly the Israelites are “your” people whom “you” led out of Egypt.  God uses the third person to talk about His children – “they” are corrupt, stiff-necked.  He is like a parent, angry over what a child has done.  On occasion I have said, “Honey, your son has…” or “That daughter of yours…”

Reading this passage makes me wonder how close I have come to drawing God to the place of wanting to disown me.  One can easily look back over one’s life to identify points where or words or actions or choices maybe upset God, maybe made God feel like giving up on us.  I wonder if God ever thinks, “Not again…” because I too at times am “corrupt” and “stiff-necked”.

Even though we may get upset with our earthly children and “feel like” disowning them, we never do.  They will always be our son or daughter and we will always love them.  Our love for our children pales in comparison to God’s love for us.  God’s love for His children is so much more than we can even understand.  In the 103rd Psalm we are reminded that God removes our sin as far as the east is from the west – they are no more.  In Titus 3 we are told that our sins are washed away, giving us new birth, a fresh beginning.  This is how great the Father’s love is for us, His children.  It is a love that never fails, a love that never ends.  Thanks be to God for this love.


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Kingdom Fruit

Reading: Matthew 21: 42-46

Verse 42: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Jesus transitions quickly from the parable of the tenants to today’s passage.  We recall that in this parable Jesus revealed that God is true owner of all and we are simply tenants.  In today’s passage, Jesus opens with a quote from Psalm 118. But before the quote, Jesus says to the chief priests and Pharisees, “Have you never read in the scriptures…”?  He transitions from God and the kingdom to claiming His own place in it.  He is proclaiming this role as He quotes from Psalm 118, saying, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.  Jesus’ implication is that the chief priests and Pharisees are rejecting Him but that He will still become the cornerstone of the church.

Yes, Jesus is giving it to the chief priests and Pharisees and many of us relish these scenes.  But, we must also evaluate our own faith and see where we place Jesus in our lives.  Is Jesus the cornerstone – that upon which all else stands?  Or is He in a room that we go to just in our times of need or want?  Is He the first and last consideration in all the decisions we make, in all of our words and actions?  Jesus wants to be our cornerstone.  Is that where He is in our lives?  If so, we will see kingdom fruit producing a deeper faith within us as well as the fruit that comes from sharing the good news with others.

The chief priests and Pharisees are not producing fruit.  More than anything, Jesus sees them and all of their man-made rules as barriers to people connecting with God.  He blatantly tells them, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce fruit”.  Ouch.

Are we people who are producing fruit?  To produce fruit, our words and actions must always draw people to Christ.  To produce fruit, we must be humble servants, allowing others to see the example set by Jesus as the way of life that we are all called to follow.  To produce fruit, our love must be Jesus’ love – a live for one and all that places self last.  In all we think and do and say, may we love God first and neighbor second.  Then we will produce much kingdom fruit.