pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Never the Same

Reading: Luke 19: 1-10

Verse 5: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”.

Zacchaeus is like many we see coming to Jesus. He is not popular. He lives on the edge or outside of society. He has few friends. He is looked down upon by the religious order and by almost everyone else. This tax collector is like others who came to Jesus: the lepers, the prostitute, the adulterous woman, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed… Zacchaeus has chosen his lot in life – one would bid for the lucrative position of tax collector. He chose wealth over many other things and over many relationships. He is where he is in life by his own choices.

How like Zacchaeus we are! We might not be tax collectors but we do often choose things ahead of our faith. Every time we sin – no matter how big or small – we are choosing self over God. Each time we make something more important than God we are elevating self over God. The choice is not limited to wealth or possessions. We can pursue a host of other things more than we pursue our faith. We chase after status and titles, after accomplishments and success. We can work hard so that others notice us or so that we gain that recognition. Yes, we can struggle with keeping faith the top priority in our life.

Zacchaeus heard Jesus was in town and wanted to see him. Zacchaeus was not looking to be healed or to have an audience with Jesus. He was curious. For Zacchaeus, yes, friends and some acceptance would have been nice. But life was okay. Wealth can make life feel okay. So can titles and recognition, possessions and status. Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree just so he can see Jesus pass by.

As Jesus gets to the place in the road adjacent to Zacchaeus’ tree, he stops, looks up at him, and says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”. The curious is captured by the curiosity. Life will never be the same for Zacchaeus. It was never the same for the lepers, the prostitute, … It was never the same for us. In this sense, we too were once like Zacchaeus. We were curious about Jesus and he eventually worked his way into our lives. Who do you know that is curious about or is searching for Jesus? Help them to know him today.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to speak today to turn hearts to you. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Christ Brings New Life

Reading: Luke 18: 9-14

Verse 7: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

Pride. One can take pride in one’s work or in something one is doing. If all it leads to is doing your best and being happy and content with the result or outcome, then pride is a good thing. But if it leads to boasting or bragging, then there is a problem. When one begins to feel superiority and arrogance creeping in, then pride has taken root. From there it is only a small step to judging and even condemning others because they fall short of your standards or expectations. Here sin has fully taken root. This is a path that the voices of the world seek to lead us down. Worldly success is measured in volume of wealth and possessions, in titles and appearance. Pride easily takes root in the pursuit of worldly success and gain.

In our parable today, the Pharisee struggles with pride. His pride is not rooted in wealth or possessions in a worldly sense. The Pharisee’s area of expertise is the Law. He has excelled at learning and now practicing the Law. He has risen up the religious system to the highest accolade: Pharisee. Rising to the top naturally fuels one’s pride and ego. Even in religious systems it can be a battle to keep pride in check. In our story, the Pharisee has failed to do so. His exquisite practice of the law has clearly elevated him far above others. His words call out the obvious differences between himself and those several rungs down the ladder – the robbers, evil doers, adulterers, and tax collectors. The Pharisee even thanks God that he is not like them.

The other option would be to look at such as these and to be moved towards empathy and compassion. This option would lead to ministering to them, to helping them to come to know God, to introducing them to the only one who can help them overcome their sin. It is so much easier to sit in judgment and to just go on with ones own life.

It is messy to enter into someone’s life if they are struggling with adultery or some other form of evil such as an addiction or abuse. If one has walked that same road, it is not easy to think that maybe you can “fix” them. There’s that pride again. Only the Lord Jesus can bring complete healing and wholeness. With a humble servant’s heart we must simply bring Christ to them and then step back, allowing Jesus Christ to work in them. We can bring the gospel; it is Christ that brings new life. May it be so.

Prayer: God, convict me when pride rises up and starts to gain a hold. Help me to die to my pride. Fill me instead with the heart of Christ, ever seeking to help others know the healer, the redeemer, the restorer – Jesus. Amen.


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Clear Priorities

Reading: Luke 14: 25, 26 and 33

Verse 26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father… mother… wife… children… brother… sister… even his own life… he cannot be my disciple”.

Two of three of today’s verses are really tough verses. Jesus says to the crowd and to us, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father… mother… wife… children… brother… sister… even his own life… he cannot be my disciple”. That is hard to read twice in such a short time. He then concludes our passage from Luke 14 by telling us that we must “give up everything” if we want to be his disciple. Jesus is using hyperbole today to make his point. He is addressing a large crowd. Those following Jesus has grown quickly and they all do not clearly understand the cost of following Jesus. Today’s verses are a bit of a reality check.

Jesus uses the word ‘hate’ today as a term to define our priorities in life. If asked what our priorities are, almost all of us would respond: God, family, work (or school). But a look into our week and our choices and decisions might not actually reflect that order. Jesus chooses his words today to drive home the point that faith must be our clear #1 priority. It must be so clear that we appear to hate our family, friends, and even our own self when compared to how much we love God. Jesus wants us to understand that there must be a striking contrast between the devotion we live and show to God and all other relationships and priorities in life. Jesus had strong relationships with his mother Mary, with the disciples, and with friends like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. ‘Hate’ would not describe any of these relationships. But his devotion to God never wanted – it was clearly Jesus’ top priority.

In verse 33 Jesus addresses the sacred cow of the secular world. Culture identifies and defines worth by what we have and by who we are in the power structures of the world. Again, Jesus is calling us to put all this worldly stuff a distant priority when compared to our faith. When we turn away and pursue the things of the world more than loving and serving God, we have lost focus on what really matters. Our priorities have been reordered.

Jesus says “Follow me” to us. That means living the priorities that Jesus lived. That means clearly committing to our faith as the most important thing in our lives and then living that commitment out. Yes, it is a hard commitment. Jesus is the only way. May he be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, at times walking a life of faith can be so simple and straight forward. At other times it can be a great struggle as the flesh inside me rises up and as the voices and things of the world call out. O God, help me to walk closely with you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Amen.


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Open to Others

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.

On its most basic level the parable of the rich man is about greed and the negative decisions it can lead to. In the parable a bumper crop triggered the man’s “mine” instincts. He decided he had to build bigger barns to store his new crop. He coveted his grain because in it he saw not only financial security but also a chance to take some time to enjoy life. He was very focused on self.

Possessions and wealth are not the only things we can feel greed over and can seek to covet. This morning I read about a small neighborhood church in a changing community that decided to take a chance and reach out. Instead of holding onto their church, they opened their doors and invited their new immigrant neighbors inside. They invited them in and began praying with them – to find homes and jobs and for comfort to their loneliness. The praying led to relationships and that small church grew as their new friends became brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some churches could see new faces as threats to what they have and know. In many cases immigrants are cast in an “us” and “them” scenario. And immigrants are not the only people groups that can be seen in an “us” and “them” framework. When we create perceived differences between ourselves and another group of people, we are denying that they too were created in the image of God. When we allow greed to put up a barrier between us and our neighbors, we are holding tightly to what we have always known or had and are not allowing God’s love to work in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world, or in our own heart.

The rich man was focused only on self. He could not see all he had to offer his neighbors. His greed prevented him from seeing beyond himself and from experiencing God’s love at work. In the end, what good did all that grain do him? Storing up and holding things for ourselves – goods, money, time, compassion, prayers, empathy, a place at the table – does not make us rich towards God either. May we all learn a little from the rich man and from the church that opened its doors to those outside. May we practice what we learn.

Prayer: Lord God, who is out there today for me to engage? Lead me to share your love with another today. Soften my heart and open my eyes, hands, and feet. Amen.


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Come… Come and Hear

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-5

Verse 1: “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”!

To the world, our passage today sounds just as strange as it did to Isaiah’s audience. In our culture, nothing is free – at least nothing of value is free. Our culture values power and status and possessions – things that can be counted and that can be compared to our neighbors and teammates and office mates. Hard work and talent are what brings success and the new car, house, boat, phone… Free? Why would you want anything that is free?

The Israelites hear Isaiah’s words from another viewpoint. They sit in a Jerusalem that has just been destroyed. The walls, the gates, the temple lie in ruins. The best of the people have been hauled off into exile and those left behind sit on a rubble heap. They have absolutely no material wealth. They are in dire straits. To these Isaiah comes and invites them to drink and eat. The people have no money to buy from him. To their surprise what he has to offer is free. Isaiah proclaims, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! Isaiah goes on to offer what they need most, saying, “Listen to me… eat what is good… your soul will delight in the richest of fare… hear me, that your soul may live”. Yes, the people need actual sustenance, but even moreso they need to feed on the word of God. In their time of trial and fear, Isaiah offers food and drink that bring hope, strength, and a future.

Sooner or later most folks chasing the things of the world realize that the chase is endless. The food and drink they pursue is nice and all – for a while. Then their shiny things become dull or the Jones buy a newer, bigger house or Suzie-Q gets a nice promotion at her job and the race is back on. Peace is never known. A sense of purpose is never quite found. There seems to be a hole that is never really filled. Counter to all of their understanding of what matters and of what is of worth, God too calls out and says, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! God offers what money or possessions or status cannot buy – no “money” in the world can. When we finally become willing, God says to each of us, “Give ear and come to me, hear me, that your soul may live”.

If we have given in to God, we have a story to tell because we have found true life and have experienced grace, mercy, and love. Thanks be to God! Go and tell your story. If our ears have been deaf, may we be willing to step off the treadmill, to humble ourselves, and to bow before the Lord. There and only there can we find peace, purpose, and fulfillment. Trust in the only one that offers food that lasts. May it be so.

Prayer: Each day, O God, help me to lay aside my fleshy, worldly desires to pursue you and your word. Be with me each day and make me more and more wholly yours. Amen.


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Hearts

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 5-10

Verse 10: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind”.

Our passage today closes with this reminder: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind”. God knows all that is in our heart and mind. There is nothing that we can hide from God. Jeremiah writes that the heart is “deceitful” and is “beyond cure”. He then asks the question: “Who can understand it”? The One who knit us together in our mother’s womb, the One who formed us – God can understand our hearts and minds. God’s power pierces through our bodies of flesh to see the condition of our spirit.

Speaking through Jeremiah, God sees trust as the essential characteristic of our heart. The person who trusts in man, in the flesh, is cursed. They have turned away from God and that is indeed a cursed place to be. It is a dry and parched place to dwell. By contrast, blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord. This person experiences joy and is nourished by the waters of life. This person experiences no fear or worry. The one who trusts in the Lord “never fails to bear fruit”. It is a loving and wonderful place to dwell.

If trust were a simple thing, life would be just great. But it is not. Our culture tells us that we should be independent and that success comes from hard work and from within us. Culture tells us that wealth and possessions and status are what matters. How and whom we go through to attain these things is secondary to attaining them. The many voices of the world run counter to the idea of trusting in God. Our heart tries to navigate these waters. Like Jeremiah, we too can ask, who can understand it?

God certainly understands our hearts. God knows us through and through. All that we are is transparent to God. It is for us as well when we are honest with ourselves. Inside our spirits we know the condition of our heart. God searches our hearts to know us, not to condemn us. God seeks to refine us. God searches not to find reasons to punish us but to send the Holy Spirit to convict us and to lead us towards repentance. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can become more than the world says we are. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can become who God says we are: holy. As we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, we draw closer to God. We come to know God more and more. This process reveals a God who loves us deeply. God’s love wants the best for us and our lives. This is a God we can trust. In this place of trust, we are truly blessed.

Prayer: Holy and gracious God, ever draw me to you. Give me ears sensitive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Give me a heart that soaks up more and more of you. May it be so. Amen.


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Sing God’s Praises

Reading: Psalm 146

Verse 5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”.

The psalmist has chosen God. He will praise God and he will put his trust in God. In contrast to this, the psalmist addresses where many put their trust – in man. He writes, “Do not put your trust in mortal men, who cannot save”. They die and return to the earth; their plans end with them. We often extend this idea to the things of men. We place our trust in our possessions, in our wealth, in our titles, in ourselves. All of this is finite. None of this has the power to save. Only the Lord can save.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”. We can place our trust in God because God is the maker of all and because God “remains faithful forever”. This contrasts sharply with men and the things of man. God is also pure love and goodness. Because of who God is, because God is faithful to his children, the cause of the oppressed is upheld, food is given to the hungry, prisoners are set free, the blind receive sight, those who are down are lifted up, the alien is watched over, the orphan and the widow are sustained. God cares for and loves on the weak and powerless. God gives hope and strength to the least and the neediest. How does the God who dwells in heaven do all this? Through those who are faithful.

Remember where the Psalm began – with the rulers of the earth. Their plans cannot save, they fade. They are concerned with themselves and their things. Contrast this to the desires of God. The endless love of God is concerned with those who are in need. There is poverty and neglect in our cities. Many sit in prisons – some with bars and some without. Injustice and abuses of power splash across the headlines and our feeds. A stream of aliens, orphans, and widows nears the land of opportunity. As the people of God, how are we making God known in the midst of all this hurt and pain and sadness? How are we working alongside God to alleviate the affects of poverty and injustice and inequality and prejudice? When we enter into the places and into the lives of those affected by these things, we bring the hope and love of God with us. We are opening the door for them to know God, to know God’s endless love. One day they will also sing God’s praises. May the work of our hands and feet and the love in our hearts make it so.

Lord, make me an instrument of hope, love, and peace. Amen.