pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Enduring Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”.

Patience, patience, patience. Patience is such a tough thing to practice, especially when the situation is difficult. The difficulty can come from a variety of angles. For the brothers and sisters in Christ that James is writing to, the difficulty comes from the persecution and suffering that they are enduring. When we have been experiencing times of stress or distress, we have known how hard it is to patiently endure. This is what James is addressing in our passage today.

James turns to a familiar test of patience. He encourages them to consider the farmer. The farmer sows the seeds and then he patiently waits. With the sun and the rain that will surely come, he waits, trusting that the land will “yield its valuable crop”. It can be hard to have patience when growing crops. I have had a home garden for many years now. As I reflect back on each season I can now remember a familiar scene playing out. We would plant carrots, lettuce, and so on. Then about a week later I would go out to the garden, sometimes multiple times each day, checking to see if those little green shoots had popped up yet. Soon it became a practice in patience. Early in my gardening career my mind would question or doubt if the shoots took a little too much time to come up.

Our faith is a lot like that too. When the first trials or seasons of suffering come along, we do not have much patience. We quickly cry out, “How long, O God”? But as we spend a few more seasons in the valleys, experiencing God’s presence and strength and guidance… over and over again, we begin to build trust in God. Our doubts and questions and fears ebb away. We soon see these seasons as times of growth and maturing.

In verse eight James writes, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”. Be like the farmer, trust in God. For all who are struggling in the trial right now, cling to these words of hope and promise. To do so yields an unshakable belief that becomes your rock. As the faithful Christian endures the storms with patience and faith, we do come to know the truth of Jesus coming near. He never leaves us or forsakes us, especially in the trials. Be near to us, Lord Jesus, this we pray.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my anchor in every stormy gale. In the lows and in the highs and everywhere in between, your Holy Spirit is ever present. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Diligently

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-6

Verse 4: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”.

I pastor in a rural community where many are involved in agriculture. In a small but real way, the farmers and ranchers live out the idea of a new earth each year. We all experience the seasons in South Dakota, but for me that mostly means I dress differently and such. In general, for me, life in October is much like life in April. But for those tied to the annual renewal of the earth, this is not the case.

As people of faith we live in this present time with a hopeful eye towards the time when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”. We look forward but we do so with patience. Yes, it will be wonderful beyond anything we can begin to imagine, but we are just fine if it a ways down the road. With this hope, though, we are called to live an active faith in the present. Within we are to spend time daily with God and to grow more in love with God in this way. Without we are to allow our faith and God’s love to color all we do and say and think. We are to live as humble servants in this time and place, diligently building the kingdom of God here and now.

In the agricultural community there is a parallel. During the winter months, when the fields are dormant, they do not just sit and stare out the window. They are actively preparing – planning and studying, readying machinery, purchasing the needed seeds… They diligently do all they can to insure the greatest possible success when the new season comes. If they use the best seeds for the season ahead and do all that they can to have the best crop, then a good harvest likely lies ahead.

The same is true of our faith and the journey we are on towards eternal life. May we each tend diligently to the things of God, preparing for the new that is to come.

Prayer: Lord God, this day may I sow good seeds of faith and hope within and without. May I do all I can, empowered by the Holy Spirit, walking closer to you day by day. Amen.


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focus

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verse 36: “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”.

Advent begins this Sunday. It is a season of anticipation and expectation. It reminds us that we live in a now-not-yet space. Last week’s passage from Revelation reminded us that Jesus “was, is, and is to come”. This connects to our passage today and is a great pre-Advent thought. The Latin word that we derive “Advent” from is itself derived from the Greek word “parousia” – a term commonly used to describe the second coming of Jesus. Our passage today opens with signs that will proceed Jesus “coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. We are encouraged to “stand up and lift your heads” as we await His return. We are encouraged to stand up and declare our faith – to wish people a joyous “Merry Christmas” (instead of the secular “Happy Holidays”) and to focus ourselves and others on Jesus Christ during Advent.

Jesus uses the illustration of the fig tree to keep us focused and looking up and forward. Just as the buds indicate summer is near, we are to look for signs of the kingdom near us. Where can we see hope and love lived out this week? Where can we experience mercy and grace and forgiveness this week? Where can we be signs of the nearness of God’s kingdom, bringing hope and love, mercy and grace and forgiveness to other’s lives this week?

Our passage today closes with another good reminder. It ties back into the “stand up” idea. Maybe Jesus knew what Christmas would become. He warns us to be careful lest we become”weighed down” and filled with anxiety. As a parent I can remember times when I was weighed down and filled with anxiety over the gifts and reactions to them. It can be easy to go there. When our focus shifts away from God and His kingdom, then yes, the day will close upon us “like a trap”.

Instead, Jesus encourages us to “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”. Jesus must ever be our focus during the Advent season. Our eyes and heart must remain fixed on the Son of Man. Our lives will reveal what is truly in our heart and soul this Advent season. May Jesus Christ be what people experience in and through us.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to focus in on you alone this Advent season. Keep my eyes and heart on you and the coming of your kingdom. May my life reveal your Son as the focus of Advent and of Christmas. Amen.


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Pure Heart, Steadfast Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 10-12

Verse Ten: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast Spirit within me”.

Today, as we continue our Lenten journey, we come to a familiar passage. For many, the journey began on Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes. In our church and in many others, words very similar to the key verse were spoken: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast Spirit within me”. It was an appropriate verse to begin this season of preparation to celebrate Easter. The ideas of dying to self and of repenting of all that keeps us from God is well-represented by the ashes that began this journey.

Today’s key verse is a great reminder that we are still on this journey. In reality, though, the focus on personal holiness that we give during Lent should be a daily practice all year. Yet there is also something special about intentionally setting aside time to be more focused on our relationship with God. The result of God creating pure heart in us is a right and steadfast Spirit. When our heart is pure, then we become more open to what God is doing in our lives and in the world. As our heart is more like His when it is pure, we see and hear and feel the world more like Jesus did. And that is a good thing.

The psalmist goes on to ask God to remain in the presence of the Holy Spirit. This voice of faith that dwells in us keeps us intimately connected to God. It is through this constant presence that God does restore to us the joy of our salvation each and every day. A clean and pure heart walking daily in the Spirit’s presence is a heart willing to love God and to love people with all that we are. The daily walk is not always easy, so we too need God to sustain us for the journey of faith.

Today may we again focus in on this season of Lent, seeking to fully surrender our lives to God’s will. May we seek for God to create in us a pure heart, a heart desiring to have a steadfast and right Spirit within us, leading and guiding us to be the light and love that our world so needs. Blessings on the journey.


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Invitation

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.

Lent is a season of fasting and self-denial. It is the season when we are invited to look within and to surrender all that keeps us from being fully committed to God. In general, the things of the men, the things that culture values, keep us separated. In today’s passage, Peter is a good example of this. After Jesus tells the disciples that He will soon be rejected and killed, Peter pulls Him aside to protest such a thing happening. Jesus then rebukes Peter, saying to him, “Get behind me Satan”! The future rock of the church is being called Satan. But Jesus goes on. He knows that the human Peter missed the “after three days rise again” part of the story. Sadly Jesus says to him, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”. Peter wanted Jesus to stay with them. He wanted to hold onto the familiar and comfortable. Peter is not alone.

The season of Lent with all of its fasting and self-denial and surrender continues to run counter to our human desires and to our culture and its values. In a culture that preaches “just do it” and “do it if it makes you feel good” the idea of Lent is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is no wonder so many of us struggle with Lent. Ultimately, though, Lent is a season all about grace and holiness. As we look within, God invites us to be more like Jesus. As we look outside of ourselves, God invites live out His grace and love. In these ways, Lent is an invitation not a requirement. It is an invitation to be a better follower, to live out a more holy and faithful life. And, yes, if we accept the invitation, it will bring some discomfort – it is a harder journey.

As God invites us to search within and to step out, we do so with a promise: “I will never leave you”. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we do not search and we do not go alone. In those moments of unfamiliar, the Spirit will guide and lead. In those moments of discomfort, the Spirit speaks words of peace and strength. In those moments when we look within, when it is unsettling, the Spirit speaks words of encouragement and support. Our discomfort, our unease, are invitations into God’s grace and love. They are invitations to draw closer, to walk holier. They are opportunities that allow His grace and love to reshaped us, to transform us. When we choose to focus our minds on the things of God, we are blessed. May this be my choice and your choice throughout this Lenten season. Amen!


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Anticipate

Reading: Isaiah 64: 1-4

Verse One: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.”

As we begin Advent today, we are preparing to remember when Jesus first came as a baby.  There is an anticipation that builds as we walk through this holy season.  There is an excitement that grows as we draw nearer to the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Part of our excitement and anticipation is built upon what comes next though.  The birth is exciting and grand partly because of the life that is then lived by Jesus the Messiah.  Jesus the Savior brought new life and love into the world.  Jesus allowed people to connect to God in a new way and also opened up the way to eternal life for all who believe.

As Isaiah wrote today’s passage, there was a deep longing for hope and God’s presence.  The Israelites had just returned from a long period in exile.  Things were not as they had been.  Life was hard.  Isaiah voices the people’s deep-felt need for God when he writes, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.”  It is a plea.  He is begging for God to come down and to intercede for the people.  The people long for God to come down to “make your name known” as God once again does “awesome things”.  The people of God are anticipating the restoration of God’s reign.  It is a waiting they want ended very soon.

On the edge of Advent, we too anticipate God’s reign.  Many people long for God to intercede in their lives today.  They long for God to bind up their hurts, to end their season in exile, to make all things new, to once again feel hope and love.  We all long for the God who “acts on behalf of those who wait upon Him”.  We too wait with hope and excitement for Christ to come down once again, to begin His forever reign.  In the interim though, we live now with the risen Christ, daily looking forward to His presence and activity in our daily lives.

As we wait, we pray for Jesus to be near the broken, to heal their hurts, to restore their lives to wholeness.  We ask that we may be used in the process, to have open hearts and willing hands.  May it be so.  Amen.


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The Hospital We Call Church

John Wesley once noted that sometimes a Christian’s behavior is the greatest obstacle to a non-believer being saved.  Today some churches are refered to as a social club for the holy and righteous.  In some houses of worship we say guests are great but we do not treat them that way – especially if they are not just like us.

In today’s passage from Mark, Jesus addresses our behavior as a follower.  In figurative but somewhat harsh language, we are advised to cut off a hand if it causes us to sin or to gouge out an eye if it causes us to sin.  Jesus tells us it would be better to live maimed or partially blind than to keep sinning and to eventually enter hell.  His point is that our behavior is critical, not only for our faith journey but also for the non-believer who sees us living out our faith.

Jesus concludes this teaching with the call to be salt to the people we encounter.  Through our gracious and loving words and actions we are to ‘season’ the world with God’s grace and love.  As we live out our call to build up His kingdom here on earth, our positive witness will draw the non-believer to seek this same grace and love.

Our behaviors must attract people to God, not make them question having a relationship with Him.  We must offer love and grace when others need it and offer honest and repentant words when our behavior necessitates this.  We must live in the knowledge that we are all sinners saved by grace alone.  May we offer Christ to the world this day, inviting others to join us in our hospital for sinners that we call church.  For it is there we are healed too.

Scripture reference: Mark 9: 42-50