pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Joy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-18 – “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.

The Christmas season is a time when joy and love seem to abound in extra measure.  At our churches, the Children’s Christmas Program brings smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts long after the program itself has ended.  The Christmas songs on the radio or our play stations and the specials on television also add to the joy of the season.  Extra time with family and friends is an added bonus that brings us even more joy.

On the past two Sundays in many churches we have lit the candles of hope and peace and have been reminded of how, in Christ, God brings these things to the world.  This Sunday we will light the candle of joy and will be reminded of how Christ also brings us joy during the Advent season.  Joy is an emotion that naturally surrounds a birth as well.  So it is fitting that we await the birth of Jesus with much joy.

Yet very quickly after December 25, for many the Christmas season will end.  We turn from time with family and celebrations with great food and merriment to times of being alone and figuring out how we can lose what we gained and pay for what we gave.  Christmas is too often moved on from and picked up long before the season is actually over.  And if we are not careful, the joy that filled us and lifted our spirits can also slip away.

To be joyful in Christ is a trait that Christians should have all year round.  Christ does not go away with the trees and bows and songs.  But our heightened sense of joy can go.  To keep our sense of joy requires some intentional effort on our part.  We must choose to cultivate a sense of joy in our hearts all year long.  Whether we make it a portion of our daily prayer time or whether we keep a little “thank” journal that we write in each day or whether we post a few things that we are thankful for each day on social media, we must thank God each day for His presence, love, and activity in our lives.  As we practice being joyful, we will find that joy becomes a natural part of our daily lives.  It is then that we begin to live into these words:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.  May it be so.  Amen.

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Remember

Reading: Psalm 85: 1-2 and 8-9

Verse Nine: Surely His salvation is near for those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land”.

Today’s Psalm opens by remembering when God showed favor to His people when He restored Jacob and established the twelve tribes of Israel.  The second verse recalls how God has forgiven the people over and over.  Even this early in their collective history, the people have plenty of experience with the cycle of sin and God’s forgiveness.  The psalmist looks back over the history of the people’s relationship with God to remind them of God’s loving and active presence with them.  Sometimes, in a tough moment, all we can do is remember when God has been there for us in the past and cling to the hope and promise that God will be present again in a mighty and powerful way.

A few years ago, I was part of a high school mission trip to Seattle.  On our last ferry ride back across Puget Sound, as we were beginning the long trek home, God became present.  One of the ship’s crew had suddenly passed away and his only ‘family’ in the area was the crew of the ship.  The outward and inward bound ferries stopped beside each other in the middle of the Sound and the captain of our ship led a brief memorial service and tossed a wreath into the water.  As we stood in silence, a few of our youth chose to “listen to what God the Lord will say” and they began to sing “Amazing Grace”.  Everyone joined in and it was a very sacred moment.  It was a powerful experience of God’s presence in our lives and of His love for us all.  We returned to the top deck where we had been worshiping and shortly the captain appeared.  He shared that he believed that God had placed us on that exact ship that very day to remind him of God’s love and care for us all, his dear friend included.  As we departed the ship a while later, a still teary-eyed captain again thanked us for the reminder of God’s love and care for us all.

Just as recalling God’s activity with Jacob and God’s abundant grace throughout their history strengthened the Israelites, so do our ferry moments remind us of times when God has shown up and they strengthen our faith and encourage us in our moments of trial.When have you experienced God in a powerful and meaningful way?  Remember these times today and be grateful.


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Stay Alert!

Reading: Mark 13: 32-37

Verse 33: “Be on guard!  Stay alert!”

Advent means “coming”.  As Christians, we celebrate the coming of Jesus during this season.  Advent invites us to slow down, to be present to God and to one another.  Advent calls us to lessen the pace of our lives and to prepare ourselves to welcome the baby Jesus into our hearts and into the world.  When we can do these things, our Advent season is calm, peaceful, and joyous.

But Advent is not without its distractions.  Culture seems to shift into a higher gear during this time of the year.  Our schedules get busier with programs at church and at school, with an office party or two, with trips to both sets of family, and, of course, with time to shop.  Our bank account seems to get stretched a bit thin with travel expenses and the need to get just the right gifts to please our family and friends.  On top of this our mind is filled with Christmas advertisements and jingles as our body is tempted to overindulge with holiday treats and more.  With all of this going on and engaging us, it is no wonder we can have difficulty focusing on the birth of Christ and what this means to our lives and to our world.

So when Jesus says, “Be on guard!  Stay alert!”, He is offering us good advice.  To not fall into the Christmas rush, we must remain on guard.  We must be aware of how the secular can draw us quickly away from the sacred.  We must stay alert to the movement and presence of God during this holy season.  In our passage, Jesus also tells the one at the door to keep watch.  We are the filter and the decision-maker for our hearts.  We choose what we allow in and what we allow to come out of our hearts.  May we open wide the door of our hearts for the presence of God to dwell in our hearts this Advent season while we share the love of Christ, allowing Him to burst forth from our hearts into all the world.  May it be so!


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Thanksgiving

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse Four: “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.

As we begin the day, the psalmist encourages us to “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.  It is very appropriate for Thanksgiving Day.  This is the day when we will gather around the table and list off all of the things we are thankful for: family, friends, home, employment, time off, the food!  And in the midst of the holiday, let us not forget to be thankful for our God.

People will come into this day of thanks with a wide range of emotions and from different places in their lives.  Most will come into the day with the joy and praise called for by the psalmist.  But for some, this will be their first big holiday or their first thanksgiving without someone special.  May we be sensitive to and extra loving of them if this is the case.  Others will come to the gathering with different struggles or sorrows or burdens.  To each of these may we offer kindness and understanding and acceptance along with our love and welcome.

Maybe this is how we enter Thanksgiving today.  Then these words that open the Psalm are harder to live out.  we think: joyful songs when I feel this way?  Shouts of praise as I am going through this?  If so, perhaps just verse five matters today: “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness endured through all generations”.  Sometimes we must just cling to God’s love and His faithfulness.  Sometimes we must lean into God and His presence and know that it is enough.  As we turn to God in our need, He will surround us with His love.  And in time we will be grateful for this and we will thank Him for His love.

May our day today be filled with God, family, and  friends and with wonderful food and a joyous time of fellowship!  Amen!


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Lead

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 11: The greatest among you will be your servant.

Leadership today is usually about having good people skills, making wise decisions, knowing the intricacies of the trade, carefully using ones power, and gaining experience in one’s field.  Society may even overlook some behaviors or actions if the bottom line is healthy enough.  In our world we also see some trying to lead, but they lack some of the necessary qualities and skills to lead well.  Others are following their own agendas and are leading a very small band or a group of one.

Jesus addresses leadership in Luke 23.  He is talking once again about the religious leaders and the Pharisees.  He begins by acknowledging that they sit in the seat of authority.  Therefore, He says they deserve obedience.  But from here, Jesus addresses their woes.  First, they do not practice what they preach.  Second, they use the Law to place heavy burdens on the people but they themselves do nothing to help the people live out the Law.  Third, they love recognition.  They desire to be noticed and recognized for their apparent holiness and esteemed positions.  It is all about them and little about helping others to know God and to live devout and righteous lives.

Jesus then shifts the focus to who we should really be following.  He insists that there is really only one true Father and only one true Teacher.  God alone is to be worshipped and we should follow Jesus alone.  As John the Baptist said, we must become less so that Jesus can become more.  Jesus also speaks of this today, saying, “The greatest among you will be your servant”.  The greatest here on earth will be the servant.  Faith is about loving God and, in turn, loving others.

The humble servant loves and serves and then points to Jesus Christ and His love as the reason why.  This is the task of all Christians: through our lives we are to point others to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.  To a degree, we are all called to lead.  By our prayers, our presence, our witness, our service, and our gifts, may we always lead others to Christ.  As we live out our lives and as we love others as humble servants of the Lord our God, may we ever shine the light on Jesus, the author of our faith.


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Humble Servants

Reading: Joshua 3: 7-17

Verse Ten: This is how you will know the living God is among you…

As Moses was about to die, he passed leadership to Joshua.  He laid hands on him as a symbolic gesture and prayed over him as a way to bless him.  As Joshua began his leadership of the nation of Israel, God comes to him and speaks these words: “Today I will exult you in all the eyes of Israel”.  God gives Joshua instructions and he passes them along to the people.  It is a miracle that is similar to but exceeds the parting of the sea.  This day the river that is at flood stage will stop flowing so that the people can cross over safely.  It is an impressive beginning to Joshua’s time of leadership and a great witness to God’s continuing presence and provision for Israel.

Flash forward to today.  What miracle will you be blessed by this day?  Or how will God intercede or intervene or guide or provide for you this day?  Too often we think miracles or God’s hand at work are things of the past – relegated to the pages of the Bible or reserved for some exceptionally deserving person.  But not so.  Just as God used some pretty unlikely folks and even an unsavory character now and then, God continues to do so to this very day.  And He will again tomorrow.  Three weeks ago God nudged me to go visit a friend.  Exactly two weeks ago as I drove to see her God gave me the words to say that brought some healing to her broken heart.  Yes, God can use us all.

Verse ten today reads, “This is how you will know the living God is among you…”. Yes, God continues to be the living God that dwells in our midst!  Are we each sensitive to and attuned to the living God?  Are we expectant that God will come and intercede or provide or guide?  Are we willing to respond to the touch of the Holy Spirit and the whisper of the divine?  When we say yes to these questions, then we will know that the living God is among us.

Holy and awesome God, may we each have ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to feel, and hands and feet to respond to the ways You lead and guide each of us today.  May we be humble servant of the living God.  Amen.


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Daily to Eternal

Reading: Psalm 90: 1-6 and 13-17

Verse Two: From everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Today’s Psalm begins by establishing God as the dwelling place of humanity.  Ever since God walked with Adam and Eve at the beginning, God has been present to His people.  The psalmist then turns to the eternal nature of God.  Before creation, God already was.  He writes, “From everlasting to everlasting you are God”.  These opening verses paint a picture of God’s eternal nature, inspiring awe and praise from us, His creations.

In the next verses, the psalmist turns to our reality – the shortness of life.  It is an interesting comparison when set next to God’s everlasting nature.  We are reminded that man quickly turns back to dust.  This quickness applies equally to a newborn as well as to one passing at 100.  To God, a thousand years in our counting is “like a day that has just gone by” for God.  For an unimaginable amount of time, God has been.  Then we are each born and then quickly gone, almost as if in a flash.  And then, if one has been faithful, we join God in the continuing walk into eternity.  We will then dwell with God forever.
The psalmist then returns to the present.  He calls on God for compassion and to experience God’s unfailing love.  Our time may indeed be relatively short, but the psalmist wants it to be filled with God’s presence.  He seeks a balance of glad days with the afflicted days, acknowledging that life brings its ups and downs.  The Psalm closes with a request for God’s favor and for God to bless the works of our hands.  As Moses writes these words, looking back over a life that was certainly filled with both times of trial and times of God’s presence and blessings, he surely has the confidence that God has been with him and has been active in his life.  It is because of this confidence that Moses rests secure in his eternal destination.

Whether our days are numbered in the single digits or in scores of years, we too yearn for the assurance that we will spend forever with God.  We gain this assurance just as Moses did – keeping a steady faith in God through it all, turning to God over and over, and trusting in God’s constant presence with us.  It is our daily walk that leads into our eternal walk.  May both be fully with God.