pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Woman and a Foreigner

Reading: Ruth 4: 13-16

Verse 15: “For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth”.

Our nice story continues. The woman who left her homeland to be with her mother-in-law has found a husband. Ruth and Naomi, the two widows, have found happiness and security. It gets even better as Ruth gives birth to a son. Naomi is a grandmother!

As the women gather around to gawk at the baby and to celebrate with Naomi, they make a profound statement. They note the blessings that Ruth has been and will continue be to Naomi: “For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth”. This is quite the statement. It is quite an acknowledgement to Ruth. Sons were valued much more than daughters. Sons were labor. Sons got the inheritance. Sons carried on the family name and the family business. Women were clearly seen as inferior. Yet these women recognize Ruth as being better than seven sons!

On top of this gender reversal, Ruth is also a foreigner. In a nation that often prohibited foreign wives and who usually viewed themselves as isolationists, Ruth is viewed as a great blessing. Ruth did not bring with her the religion of her youth but has instead become a part of God’s family. The quality of the person far overshadows the normal tendency against outsiders. As our passage concludes, the story gets even better.

The child Ruth bears is a boy. That is good news. But the best news is the lineage. The boy is Obed. His son will be Jesse. One of Jesse’s sons will be a Shepherd named David. David will become Israel’s greatest king for the longest time. Then, generations later, a forever king will be born. From the line of Ruth, the Savior will be born in the city of David. Ruth’s name will be found in the list of Jesus’ relatives. A woman and a foreigner – imagine that!

Lord, thank you for the awesome example of Ruth. She placed love and devotion to another far above her own wants and desires. Help me to be a humble servant each day, loving you and others more than myself. Amen.

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Serving God, Serving Others

Reading: Mark 9: 33-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”.

The disciples are arguing about something we can argue about from time to time. As kids, we all argued with our siblings about who was our parents’ favorite. As we got a little older, we discussed who was the teacher’s or coach’s favorite. As we entered into adulthood, the discussion took place most often in our heads. Whenever we did voice our opinion concerning someone being the favorite, it was usually a manner of complaint or gossip.

Unfortunately, most people want to be #1. Some express this by being large and in charge. Some simply want to be the one others look to. Deep down, we all want to be important, to matter. Society teaches us that worth is in our possessions, our titles, our status. This equates out to being the greatest. Faith runs counter to these values and ideas. Knowing what the disciples were arguing about, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”. If you want to be the greatest in God’s kingdom, be the last to consider yourself, be the first to offer yourself in humble service to one and all. How counter-cultural this is. What a radical way to consider greatness.

To drive His point home, Jesus has a child stand among them. In His day, children were at the bottom of the social and familial ladder. Jesus tells His disciples that when we welcome one of these – the least – we welcome Jesus and we welcome God into our lives. When we feed the hungry, visit the sick and the lonely, clothe the naked… then we are serving our needs last, we are being the servant of all. In the process, we often see the face of God in those we meet.

Lord God, this day may I seek to be last instead of first. May I be a giver and not a taker. May I be a person of humble faith, not a person of aloof religion. In all I do and say, maybe serve you as I serve others. May it be so each day. Amen.


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God’s Good

Reading: Psalm 125

Verse 4: “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright”.

For the psalmist and his contemporaries, trusting in God and doing what God said to do was how life was to be lived. A hop, skip, and a jump to the west or south or north and religion was what one must do to please Baal or some other god. Even today, as we scan the world, we find that religion is still essentially these two components: worship God or a god or gods and live a good life to gain an improved state in the next life. Naturally there is conflict between those who seek to worship their god and to do what is right according to that god and those who do not. All religions have an “us” and “them” mentality to some degree. In Judaism, you were one of the chosen people or you were not. In Christianity, either you are saved or you are not.

Psalm 125 clearly paints this picture. Trust in God and you will not be shaken. God surrounds His people. God banishes evildoers. In the context of this Psalm, the Jews were a closed group. They practiced circumcision as a physical sign of belonging to God. Either you were or you weren’t. The Law kept the Jews from mixing with others. Verse 4 fits right in: “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright”. Follow God and be blessed. Sin and be cursed was the flip side of this.

And then came this radical evangelist and his followers who shared a message that God loves all people. They took the idea that God was the omnipotent and omnipresent creator of all and applied God’s love in this way – to all people and to all situations. They acknowledged that we are all sinners. And then the leader, Jesus, gave His own life as the perfect sacrifice for all sins. He who was without sin, God’s own Son, gave His life to atone for all sin. Once and forevermore. Jesus defeated the power of death and rose to be the first of many to experience God’s grace. Grace – this purely Christian manifestation and experience of God’s love – says “I love you” over and over, to all people in all situations. Oh yes, God is good. God pours out grace upon grace freely. There is no condemnation, there is no punishment, there is no banishment.

Thank you God for your good grace – a grace that allows us to be forgiven and to walk upright in a continuing relationship with you. Thank you God for your goodness and your love. May both be evident in our lives. May both overflow from us so that all may come to know your love and grace. 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 Process

Reading: 1st John 5: 1-6

Verse One: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well”.

Some view religion as a list of rules that one must follow. They see obedience as a burden. In today’s passage, John uses father-son language. When we look at the obedience that occurs in a parent-child relationship I think we get a good look at how mature obedience is a process that must be carefully developed.

Through early childhood the child looks up to the parents and behaves as a means to please their parents. This is mirrored in early faith as well as they join in table graces and bedtime prayers. Their faith is the faith of their parents. As a child grows and develops a sense of Independence, boundaries get pushed. There are an important set of years where skilled parents still exert some control yet begin to meter out more and more decision-making to their teenager. While this is rarely a smooth and gradual shift of the locus of control, when done ‘well’ the teen eventually learns good inner self-control and learns to take responsibility for one’s own actions and decisions.

A similar process occurs as the faith of the parents becomes a faith of their own. As a young person’s faith matures, they gain a sense of a personal faith that centers around a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The stories of Sunday school and vacation Bible School begin to take on a personal meaning and application. This too is a time of questioning and redefining boundaries and understandings that usually occurs during the teen years. When one professes faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, the love of God takes on a whole new meaning. As verse one states, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well”. When one comes to understand love and our faith this way, there is a shift in the locus of obedience. One moved from “having” to love God and neighbor to “wanting” to love God and neighbor. This becomes more like sharing a wonderful gift than carrying a heavy burden. This owning and living out of one’s faith is a process and can take many years.

Jesus is also involved in a process. He is in the process of conquering the world through love. He invited us to join him in this process of overcoming hate and sin with love. Each day may we join Jesus in the process. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.


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Love and Faith

Reading: John 2: 18-22

Verse 22: “Then they believed the Scriptures and words that Jesus had spoken”.

Our passage today begins with the religious leaders asking Jesus a question: by what authority? It is an interesting question when we apply it to Jesus and us. Jesus does not use authority to force us into a relationship with Him. Jesus does not use authority to make us behave. For us, our connection to Jesus is based on love and faith. But for those leaders, they were all about being fully in charge and about having absolute authority within their spheres of influence – the temple and God’s chosen people.

In many ways the leaders were teaching the people to follow a religion or an institution. Judaism had become about making sure you did this and avoiding doing that. And there was a lot of this and that. At the pinnacle of this religious system were the religious leaders. Their authority was absolute and they kept a good grasp on it by hammering home the rules. For them it was largely about establishing and maintaining that authority. Then along comes this outsider, turning over tables and disrupting things. So when they asked Jesus about his authority, they were really asking: when did we give you permission to do this? They thought they had the corner on God.

Jesus is not about a checklist or a system of rewards and punishments, nor is following Jesus about any of these things. Jesus was all about love and that manifests itself through our relationships with God and with each other. Our relationship with God is based upon a covenant that says I will be your God and I will love you no matter what. It says I will love you when you do and when you don’t. It says I will love you when you sin and when you walk in faith. It says I will love you because I am love. Jesus is about as far from an authority figure as He could be. Yes, Jesus did set for us an example to follow but following is based upon love and faith. We enter relationship through faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as the way, truth, and life. Our belief comes just as the disciples’ faith did: “Then they believed the Scriptures and words that Jesus had spoken”.

As we live and grow in Jesus, He continues to love us through our ups and downs, through our failures and victories. For His love and for the faith in a Savior who loves us no matter what, we say thanks be to God.


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Grabbed

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-9

Verse Seven: Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Saul had a really good life.  His religious life checked off all the boxes: circumcised as an infant, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, great zeal for his religion, a faultless follower of the Law.  To Saul, he was as faithful to God as anyone.  From his perspective on top of the pedestal, he looked pretty good.

But then Saul met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.  He went through a powerful transformation experience.  The new Christian, Paul, writes, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Jesus Christ”.  All the titles, all the accolades, the view from the pedestal – they all are lost.  In the next verse Paul calls all these things “rubbish”.  For Paul, they are pale and worthless compared to the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”.  What a change has been wrought in Paul!

At times, some look at faith as Saul did – a series of rules to follow or boxes to check.  Baptized as a baby, came back to church for a dose of confirmation, returned maybe for graduation or to get married.  For others it is a bit deeper – come most Sunday mornings for the hour, say a short grace before meals, help out at the yearly ham dinner.  On the surface, their religion feels okay, maybe even good.  It would appear the requisite boxes were being checked off.

When Saul met Jesus, his life radically changed.  It wasn’t about saying that memorized prayer three times a day and eating only the “right” foods any more.  It wasn’t about coming that one hour on Sunday morning.   To Paul, the boxes were rote, they were false.  He gave up all “that I may gain Christ and be found in Him”.  Paul found a righteousness that comes not from the Law or anything he could do, but a righteousness that comes “from God and is by faith”.  Jesus reached out and grabbed Paul.  Life was never the same.

Has Jesus grabbed you?  Is self and all else loss for the sake of Christ?