pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Hands and Feet

Reading: Luke 14: 12-14

Verse 13: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed”.

The list Jesus suggests in Luke 14 is not all-inclusive. Do not think that because you do not know or encounter anyone on this list, that you are off the hook. This is a general list of who was marginalized by society in Jesus’ day. Back then there was no government assistance, no shelters, homes, or places for the blind… Add to this the Jewish understanding of sin causing said ailments and conditions, and these were the people who lived on the fringes, who had to depend on the kindness of strangers to survive.

In my last community there was a sizeable homeless population. There were lots of opportunities to serve a meal, to help out financially or with other donations, to even engage personally. In my early years my involvement was helping to cook and servr a meal at the shelter or giving someone on the street a few dollars. As opportunity arose I began volunteering one afternoon a week at a day center for the homeless and thr economically disadvantaged. This connected me in a new way to those living on the fringes. In turn, I was able to invite someone to lunch instead of just giving them the $5 they were asking for. Maybe that is past your comfort zone, but there is a place to start.

Maybe you do not have homeless persons in your community. But there are certainly opportunities to give to those in need. Perhaps you cannot give monetarily, but we all have time. In my new community there are no homeless people, but there are many struggling financially. For these, help with an electric bill or with a little food or clothing are opportunities for ministry. For those who are gifted accordingly, helping someone to budget and understand money can make a huge difference.

There are many other ways to minister in every community. On Saturdays, during visitation time, folks from church go to the jail and hang out and color with the children whose moms or dads or grandparents are visiting a loved one. Our youth decorate Christmas cookies with the residents of assisted living centers and then make them Valentine’s cards later in the year. There are many ways we can be the hands and feet of Jesus. How can this happen in your community?

Prayer: Lord, help us all to see the opportunities to serve those on the edges. Lead us to be your hands and feet. Show us how to build relationships as we minister to those in need. Amen.


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Fill Us, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 81: 1 and 10-16

Verses 11-12: “My people would not listen to me… so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts”.

Today’s Psalm is typical of Israel’s relationship with God. Our relationships today mirror this Psalm as well. Some things never change. In verse one we read of the joy Israel finds when God is their strength. The people sing with joy to their God. Throughout our faith journey we certainly have many experiences with God’s strength. If only all of our faith journey were here!

Jumping down to verse ten, we again see God desiring to fill the people up – both physically and spiritually. God wants to bless the people, to be their strength. This remains the case. God desires to be our God and to fill us up. This does not mean giving us a million dollars and a fancy house, but to give us our “daily bread” and to lead us to live a content and joyous life. Again, if only all of our faith journey were here!

Because God is not the only one in the relationship, we get verses eleven and twelve. Here we read, “My people would not listen to me… so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts”. It is part of the repeating cycle that seems to fill the Old Testament and fills our lives today. The journey begins by walking with God. Then sin leads us astray. There is a consequence to our sin. Repentance and forgiveness complete the cycle. Often the consequence of our sin is separation from God followed by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that leads us back. Sometimes there are real life consequences to our sin too. Our God allows us to freely choose to follow our stubborn hearts too. God hates sin but will not force us to love God or to follow like robots. Each time the cycle is repeated is another reminder of God’s redeeming love. In general, as we mature in faith, the cycle lengthens out. There are more good and faithful days walking with God in between our times of sin. We never quit sinning. Satan never gives up. Neither does God.

This Psalm closes with God’s longing to once again subdue the enemies and to fill God’s children with the finest wheat and the sweetest honey. This continues to be God’s desire. May we lay aside every sin that entangles and drink deeply of all the Lord offers. God will fill us with our daily bread and with joy and peace and strength and contentment and… All the desires of our hearts. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, pour out all of you into my life today. Fill my heart and mind with your word and your ways. Fill my soul with your peace and strength today. Guide me to ever walk with you. Amen.


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Faithful

Reading: Hebrews 11: 29-40

Verse 39: “These were all commended for their faith”.

Today we continue with the “Faith Hall of Fame” that we found last week in Hebrews 11. The people, both named and unnamed, are heroes of the faithful. Those we find in today’s reading are like those we read about last week in the first 28 verses of chapter eleven. Although on the list, the people on the list are not perfect examples of faith. Remember, for example, the Hebrews complained about ever leaving Egypt as Pharaoh’s army closed in on them in Exodus 14. And then God parted the sea and they walked through on dry land. Don’t forget about David either, who after living quite the blessed life and becoming king stooped to adultery, abuse of power, and murder.

Those in the Hall of Fame are not perfect. Much like you and me, they are rather imperfect people. Like us, their faith waivers at times. In general they are followers who desire to be faithful that stick close to a faithful God when life really presses in. Yes, Gideon doubted and Barak questioned God. Yes, Samson murdered innocents and Samuel failed miserably as a father. But these and all on the list were like David in one key way: they were people after God’s own heart. It was not in spite of their human weaknesses and failures, but rather because of them, that they pursued a relationship with God. They knew that their extraordinary God was faithful. Each stepped out and stepped up in faith. Because of that, “these were all commended for their faith”.

When I look in the mirror I too see imperfection. As I think about this past week – nevermind over the course of my lifetime – I see failures and sins. I am not without blemish. None of us are. But God is. And God is the one who can take imperfect vessels and can work amazing and awesome results. I can do all things with the one who strengthens me. So too can you. May we walk in faith today.

Prayer: Lord, my name will never be added to this list that I read in Hebrews 11. That is OK! Yet this I ask: use me as you will today. Then do the same tomorrow. And keep on going. Amen.


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Ever Ready

Reading: Luke 12: 35-40

Verse 38: “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready”.

In Jesus’ words that we looked at yesterday, he instructed the disciples not to be afraid. He emphasized God’s pleasure in giving them the kingdom. Jesus also encourages his followers to find and store up treasures in heaven. In our passage today Jesus speaks of being ready both daily and for his return. For his contemporary audience, they first thought Jesus’ return was imminent. Holding onto the treasures of the earth was not a priority for them if Jesus would return soon. They gave to others in need generously because they expected Jesus to return very soon.

While we live knowing that, yes, Jesus could come back this afternoon, we do not live with much urgency about our faith. That future return seems a long way off. Being ready for that return does not feel pressing. We do not like to consider our own departure either. So we have grown complacent. In our passage today, Jesus addresses this tendency, saying, “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready”. For Jesus, being ready does not mean waiting or doing nothing. For Jesus, being ready means living an active faith. Like the men who immediately opened the door when their master returned, we too should be ready to jump into action for Jesus, our master. When an opportunity comes to minister to or to pray for or to serve another comes along we should be ready to live out our faith.

Jesus calls us to be ready for two things in today’s reading. In order to be ready, we must first be prepared. To be ready to live out our faith, we must be ready spiritually. God’s word must be fresh upon our lips and Christ’s servant heart must be guiding us. Busyness or laziness cannot consume our lives or we will miss the opportunity. We also must be ready ourselves to meet our Jesus. We must ever live in a right relationship with him – talking with him daily, confessing our sins regularly, studying his example… In all ways may we be ready for our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Dear God, help me to always be ready. Do not allow me to become complacent or lazy. Give me this day a servant’s heart, willing to serve all I meet. Amen.


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Things of Heaven

Reading: Luke 12: 32-34

Verse 32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”.

Jesus says to the crowd, to his followers, and to us today: do not be afraid. Fear drives a lot of what people think and do and say. Stress, anxiety, and worry are close cousins to fear. They too rest in the unknown and in the realm of doubt. The antidote: trust.

Jesus goes on to remind us why we should not fear, saying, “for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”. God wants to give us what we need and more. Jesus has just finished talking about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. In these verses Jesus emphasizes how much God cares for us, his children. Jesus transitions from assuring us that God will clothe and feed us to the assurance that God will give us the kingdom. It is a kingdom in the here and now and also in eternity. The first leads to the second. But that is tomorrow’s reading!

Today Jesus focuses on the kingdom here. To live in God’s kingdom here and now, we are called to focus our priorities on the ways of God. When we choose to live a servant’s life we are walking in Jesus’ footsteps. When our focus is first on loving God and then on loving neighbor then we are nearing the kingdom that Jesus is talking about. When we are generous and gracious and kind and compassionate then we find much joy and peace and contentment in our relationships, not in our stuff. In walking this way, we come to trust in our loving father. Fear is not a part of our lives. When the most important things in our lives are our relationship with God and our relationships with each other, then our heart is being filled with the treasures of heaven. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for helping me to value my relationships above my stuff, my time, myself. Keep me focused on you and upon those around me. May I love and serve as Jesus did. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-9

Verses 8-9: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love… he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things”.

The Bible is one big story that tells of God’s love for all of creation. It begins in a garden paradise and it ends by returning to a paradise – the new heaven and earth. In between it is the story of God helping as many people as possible find eternal life.

In today’s Psalm, the writer recalls some of the ways that God has expressed love for the Israelites. In the opening verses of Psalm 107 God is remembered redeeming them from their foes, gathering them from afar, delivering them from distress, and leading them to a city to settle in. Verse eight echoes some of verse one. In verses eight and nine we read of the psalmist’s response to all that God has done for Israel. He writes, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love… he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things”. These verses themselves also remind the people of God’s love and care.

As Christians, we can look to the New Testament to find many stories of faith. We also each have our own faith journey that is also filled with stories of when and how we personally experienced God’s love and care. There is the time when Jesus became “real” and we claimed a personal relationship with him. There was that time that God saved us from injury or worse. There was that time when God answered that big prayer and then all the times those small prayers brought help or relief or comfort or guidance or peace or… Then there was that time, in the darkest of valleys, when God carried you through. And there was that time when helping a stranger you saw the face of Christ. And then there was…

Those stories, those moments, those experiences, they lead to growth in our faith and to deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ. They build our trust in God’s love and care. They make us feel connected. They bring us into the family of God. Like the psalmist, may we too remember a few of our own stories of faith today and may we then declare with the psalmist, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Prayer: Lord God, as I look back on my years I can see the many times and ways you have been a part of my life. Some are monumental for me; others are quiet and personal. Most fall in between these two. Yet each, every one, has led me a step or several steps closer to you. Thank you for your unfailing love. You are good! Amen.