pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Witness

Reading: Mark 12: 41-44

Verse 43: “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”.

This passage is a hard passage for many Christians today. Part of me wonders if it is a stay-home passage. That is a passage that people know is being preached on so they choose to stay home from church that day or they quit reading the blog at that point. It is a passage that challenges us to our core if we are willing to consider Jesus’ message and to really look within to see if we are equalling the example set by the widow.

“This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”. She only put in two small copper coins. They were worth just a fraction of a day’s wages. This would be equivalent to a $40,000 a year business person putting in a couple of dollars at church today. Jesus and the disciples have watched rich person after rich person throw large sums of money into the temple treasury. Compared to their large gifts, it is hard to say that the widow’s offering is “more” than theirs. Yet Jesus says it is more. In fact, more than all the others.

No matter how big or small our offering is today in terms of cash value, I wonder if Jesus would say our offering was “more” when set beside all the other gifts brought to our church today? It is NOT about the cash value of the gift but is about the cost to the giver. A four-year-old could bring the best offering today, just as the widow did. Jesus explains why the widow’s gift was such. Jesus says, “They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on”. Wow.

Some folks blanch at the word “tithe”. Compared to the widow’s faith, even 10% might look weak. There was not only great cost for the widow, there was a deep, deep faith on display. When you consider what you bless your church or community of faith with each week, does it demonstrate such cost and such faith in God? In not, I ask you to reconsider your faith.

Dear Father who blesses me so richly: may I ever give to you as the widow gave. Whether my time or my money or my gifts, may the portion I give you reflect the love you have for me. Amen.

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The Maker

Reading: Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, & 22-23

Verse 2: “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is Maker of them all”.

Our three pairs of verses from Proverbs 22 all deal with the same subject. It is a man-made subject but God is certainly aware of it. For as long as humanity has existed, some have been rich and some have been poor. Sure, we use other words too: haves and have-nots, blessed and cursed, upper class and lower class, fortunate and unfortunate… Rich and poor are but two of many words we use to classify, categorize, and even judge people. We also judge by education, location, position, ethnicity, gender, religion, politics,…

Our passage today deals with a topic that we can find many, many other places in the Bible: God cares for the poor. The argument for why is the same argument for any category we choose. Verse two reads, “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is Maker of them all”. One can substitute any two words that represent two ends of a spectrum for ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ and the bottom line is still the same: the Lord is Maker of them all.

Let us remember these seven words the next time we want to judge or exclude or condemn someone. In a world where we are all sinners, some saved by grace, we must seek to love others above all else. Beneath any label and under that really thin layer of covering that we call skin, all of our hearts are the same. All of humanity longs to be loved and to belong and to be valued. This was how Jesus lived His life. May we choose to do so as well.

Maker of all, give me a heart to love one and all. Give me eyes to see hearts and not anything else. Help me to love and care for and welcome one and all, just as Jesus did. Amen.


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A Beautiful Love

Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:7a

Verses 5 & 6: “David burned with anger against the man… He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity”.

Today’s passage comes in the aftermath of David’s affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. We recall that David simply took what he wanted and then did what needed done to cover up the problem. At least that’s how David saw it. As the king, there was nothing outside of his appetite. David is far from that young shepherd boy that God anointed years before.

We too can get to a similar point. No, we may not commit adultery or murder, but we can commit a sin and do as David did. We can try and rationalize it in our minds. We can try and make ourselves feel better through a variety of distractions. We can tell ourselves that ‘x’ is a sin but at least it is not ‘y’. And a favorite: we tell ourselves that we are not as bad as ___. The other trap we fall into is offering up a hollow and insincere admission of sin. Yet even as we do so we are thinking about committing that sin again. There is no repentance involved.

To bring David face to face with his sin, God sends Nathan to tell David a story. There is a rich man with many, many lambs. There is a poor man with only one lamb. The rich man probably hasn’t even seen all the sheep he owns. The poor man treats the one lamb that he owns as if it were his child. When a guest arrives at the rich man’s home, instead of taking one from his own vast flock, the rich man takes the poor man’s one and only lamb. The poor shepherd boy in him kicks in and “David burned with anger against the man… He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity”. What a consequence David metes out! The wealthy man with a vast flock of wives and concubines now stands in the shoes of the one poor soldier with only one wife to love and cherish.

Nathan says to David, “You are the man”! At once David recognizes the depth of his sin. We too come to these moments. Maybe it is the Holy Spirit, maybe it is a ‘Nathan’ that God has sent into our lives. God sends us a messenger to draw us back into a right relationship with Him. The conviction falls heavy upon us and we fall before the throne, begging for mercy. In that moment, Christ reaches out, helps us up, and reminds us that the price has been paid. Once again we are made new, holy and perfect in His sight. It is a beautiful love that we find in Christ. Thanks be to God.


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Evildoers and the Poor

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 6: “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”.

The second half of Psalm 14 speaks of evildoers. These are the folks who will do anything to become more powerful or wealthier. In order for anyone to gain more power or wealth, someone has to have less. What was true in David’s time remains true today.

Verse four speaks of evildoers as people who “devour” God’s people as “men eat bread”. In this verb there is an implication of greed and gluttony. It brings to mind the memory of placing a pizza before a group of teenagers who had been eating backpacking food for a week. The pizza was gone in the blink of an eye and I could see the look of “more?” in their eyes. But the evildoers that David writes of are not seeing “real food” for the first time in a week. They are folks who will eat and eat and eat – not because they are hungry but because they can. The lust for power and money is never satisfied. Getting some just wets the appetite for getting more.

Verse six reads, “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”. For those living in poverty, it is an enending battle to simply stay afloat, nevermind getting ahead. Decisions like buying gas to get to work or buying food for the kids competes with decisions to buy your medication or to pay the electric bill. It is a world of decisions foreign to most of us. These thoughts draw me back to a prayer walk we were on during a mission trip to Racine. A large pile of belongings was soaking up a heavy rain on the curbside. The pastor explained that someone else had been evicted. Among the belongings was a mattress – no box spring or rails or frame. The mattress was all this person could scrape and save for thus far. It was now ruined because they chose another necessity over rent. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to evict someone and, yes, poor decisions could have led to the eviction. The deeper issues that need to be addressed are why the person cannot earn a living wage or find affordable housing.

Where do we fit into this world of evildoers? As Christians, we are called to stand with and for the poor and marginalized. We are called to speak out against low wages and other practices that intentionally and unintentionally keep the poor poor. We are also called to help alleviate suffering wherever we find it by feeding, clothing, visiting, teaching, training… May we each discern both the changes that need to happen and the differences we can each make in our neighborhoods and communities today. May it be so. Amen.


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Share and Connect

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 14: “King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known”.

Faith is all about our experiences and our connection to God, Jesus, and others. In today’s passage, the first part of the conversation connects Jesus to several other people or groups that were connected to God. In this way, we come to know more about Jesus.

First, Jesus is connected to John the Baptist. Herod and guests wonder if Jesus is John reborn because of the miracles that Jesus is performing. As we remember the stories of John’s and Jesus’ births, we recall that both were miraculous births. We also recall the angel’s visits and John’s recognition of Jesus while both were yet in the womb. In his ministry, John fearlessly spoke truth into people’s lives and called them to walk more holy lives. These things will become central to Jesus’ ministry as well.

Next, they wonder if Jesus is Elijah returned. Both men offer miracles as proof of connection to God and both men freely speak the word that God gives them to speak. Both men clash with those in power – calling them to be better followers of God and His ways. Elijah’s final moments on earth also foreshadow Jesus’ ascension into heaven as God lifts them up.

Lastly they compare Jesus to the “prophets of old”. The Old Testament prophets collectively connect well with Jesus. The prophets of old provided for the widow in need, withheld rain for a time, went up the mountain to speak to God, and called out those who worshiped idols and false gods. We see much of this in Jesus’ ministry. Care for the poor and the outcast were a high priority for Jesus. Calming the storm and walking on water demonstrated Jesus’ power over nature. His frequent trips up the mountain and to other isolated places to connect with God were important times of communication, renewal, and reassurance for Jesus. The conversations with religious leaders and everyday people were both opportunities to teach, to guide, and to correct – all to draw people closer to God. In many ways, Jesus connects to the prophets of old.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is the fuller revelation of God. It makes perfect sense that Jesus and His ministry would connect to others who served God and sought to build the kingdom here on earth. Our faith experiences also further the revelation of Jesus to the world. Through these connections and through our faith experiences we have much to share with others that can help them to connect with Jesus. May we be willing to share both who we know Jesus to be historically and personally, helping others to know Him as well. May it be so today. Amen and amen.


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With a Joyful Heart

Reading: 2 Corinthians 8: 8-15

Verse Twelve: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has”.

Paul opens this section with a reminder about the ultimate giver: Jesus Christ. As a way to nudge the Corinthians, who are struggling to give as they committed to, Paul reviews the gift Jesus gave. Not only did Jesus leave heaven and become human, becoming poor, He also gave His life so that they could be rich in their eternal inheritance. Just as Jesus completed His work, Paul wants to see the Corinthians complete their work.

The Corinthians were eager to receive and accept the call to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul even reminds them of how well they did last year and encourages them now to “finish the work” with the same enthusiasm that they began it. We do not know exactly what has caused the stagnation, but the drive that was present at the beginning has certainly been lost. This scenario is one that we are all familiar with. That project that we began with such enthusiasm now sits on a shelf or in a closet gathering dust. Every time we see it we are reminded that it needs finished but we lack the motivation to get it back out.

Paul is not asking for the moon. In verse eleven, he acknowledges that they just need to give “according to your means”. He also emphasizes that the giving must come from the heart, saying, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has”. Giving should be joyful and willing. It should not be done grudgingly or if it causes undue hardship. The spirit of the gift can be like Cain’s offering in Genesis – the first fruits given as a thanks offering. It can also be like the widow’s gift in Mark 12. Yes, she only gave a mere two copper coins. It was small but it was also all she had. She, like Cain, gave trusting that God would continue to provide.

Whether an exercise in faith or as a joyful thanksgiving for the blessings that God has given us, may we too be willing to give. Our gift may show our commitment to support our brothers and sisters in Christ or it may simply show our thanks to God. May we give with a joyful heart – whether our time, our talents, or our resources – for the glory of God and for the building of His kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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The Light of God

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 5-6

Verse Five: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”.

In Jesus we receive the fuller revelation of God. In Jesus we get a witness to the love of God for humanity. In Jesus, God in the flesh, we witness what it looks like to love each other as God loves us. Through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we welcome His light to shine in our hearts, illuminating the path to walk as we follow Jesus in our daily lives. This light is the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”. Just as it was when Moses encountered God in the Old Testament, this light is the goodness and love of God shining out into the world.

It is the light of Jesus Christ inside each of us that shines out into the lives of all we meet. It is the light that guides us to preach and serve. Paul writes, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”. There is both words and actions in how we share our faith with others. With words we seek to share the good news if what Jesus has done for the world and what He has done in our lives. In those words we proclaim Jesus as the Lord of our lives and we invite others to do the same. We seek to do the same as we serve those we encounter each day. Through acts of piety and mercy we invite others into a relationship with Jesus. In doing these things we become the fuller revelation of God to others. We bear witness to the love of God for humanity. We testify to His love with our love. All of this is said and done “for Jesus’ sake” – to bring glory to God.

This idea of sharing our faith by both words and actions begs the question: to whom do we go? We are commissioned by Jesus to make disciples of all people. We are sent to the rich and the poor, the lowly and the esteemed, the educated and the illiterate, to those like us and to those who are different from us. Herein lies one of the greatest challenges of our faith. It is easy to share the love of Jesus with our fellow believers. It is even relatively easy to share Jesus when with a group serving at the local mission, for example. The difficulty comes in those moments when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable, in those situations when we encounter someone who is different than us. Even then – especially then – the light of God that shines in us must be shared. May we be willing to let that light shine out into the world. When we do we will find that it illuminates something familiar as we see the face of Christ in the new friend that we have met. It is then that His glory is revealed. May we be willing today and every day.