pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Caught Up in Conflict

Reading: Exodus 17: 5-7

Verses 5 and 6: Walk on ahead of the people… I will stand there before you.

At times we have all experienced flaps and disagreements in our churches.  Generally speaking these conflicts are not over large theological issues.  These issues, for the most part, have been hashed out and settled as the different denominations have formed and defined themselves.  Today the conflicts tend to center around personal preferences and choices.  But some of the conflicts center around important and path-altering issues or decisions.  Such is the conflict Moses faces today, at least on the surface.

The central issue is the lack of water for the people and the livestock.  Water is an essential of life so it is a need, not a want or a personal preference.  But the issue is brought forth with much grumbling and a bit of complaining.  It is not an open and honest conversation.  Couched within the need is a questioning of both Moses’ leadership and God’s care for the people.  Conflict often has multiple layers to it.

Moses has some options on how he could handle the situation.  At first one can read some frustration into his words with God.  Moses could go to the grumblers and react back out of his emotional hurt.  But this does no good so he instead seeks out the one who can give him a little guidance and some empathy.  Moses turns to God and God gives him guidance, directions, and reassurance.  God instructs Moses to “walk on ahead of the people”.  He is instructed to take some elders along – wise and trusted leaders, not the grumblers.  ‘Gather some support around you’ is what God is saying here.  God then says, “I will stand there before you”.  God will be there with Moses.  Then strike the rock and water will pour out.  God will meet the need and He will be present for Moses, bringing him reassurance as God reinforces Moses’ leadership role.

Moses’ example gives us good steps to follow when we feel caught up in conflict.  Don’t take it personal, seek God as trusted friend and guide, proceed forward in God’s presence.  Doing so, we know that God is in our thoughts and decisions and that God is in control.

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Child of God

Reading: Romans 12: 17b-21

Verse 17b: Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

In today’s passage Paul encourages us to live a holy life.  The model that he looked to was Jesus and that is the model we are called to emulate as well.  So let us remember how Jesus lived a holy life – He served all He could, He fed and healed and forgave whenever the opportunity arose, He had time for one and all, and love guided all of His words and actions.  This is our goal as Christians: to live Christ-like lives.

Paul begins today’s passage with these words: “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”.  To do right according to everybody means we strive to not offend or to be a stumbling block to anyone.  He goes on to encourage us to “live at peace with everyone”.  To do this means we avoid things that cause conflict.  That means we do not judge or condemn others, we do not gossip or slander others, we do not take advantage of others, we do not envy or covet…  Instead we are called to lead with love and grace and mercy.

Paul next addresses a natural tendency we have: do not take revenge.  He knows that at times we will be wronged or hurt or taken advantage of.  Paul says to let God deal with that.  “On the contrary” Paul says – feed your enemy if they are hungry and give them something to drink if they are thirsty.  We just need to keep pursuing holy lives.  In doing so we will “overcome evil with good”.

Paul’s invitation to holy living is not without its challenges.  It requires that we look past race, gender, economic status, sexuality, culture, religion, and any other thing that could be a barrier to loving the other.  To do so can be difficult.  So we must begin where Jesus began, seeing every person as they are: a dearly loved child of God made in the image of God.  When we first see God in others, then it is a natural next step to love and serve them as Jesus did.

All people are dearly loved children of God.  May we see each we meet this day as the loved child of God that they are.  And may we seek to love them with all we are.


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, & 45

Verse Four: Look to the Lord and His strength, seek His face always.

Our Psalm today opens as a song of praise, recalling the works and wonders that God has done for His people.  The psalmist encourages the people to remember in song and to retell of God’s activity among the people through music.  It is through music that we best rejoice and give glory to God.  In verse four we read these words: “Look to the Lord and His strength, seek His face always”.  In looking to God and in remembering God’s mighty acts in song, we are reminded over and over of God’s strength and we are drawn back again.

Giving thanks and singing praises to God is not limited to the times when life is good.  It is also not limited to singing about just the times of blessing either.  The entire Psalm recalls both times of abundance and power as well as times of want and oppression.  In fact, it is often in and through trying times that we see God’s hand at work.  When God enters into our pain or when He relieves our burdens are experiences where we feel especially close to God and His strength.  They are moments that really remind us to look to God and to seek His face always.

Just as in Israel’s past and at points in our lives when life was hard, in some communities and neighborhoods life is hard.  Poverty and lack of decent employment opportunities couples with violence and substance abuse to create difficult environments to live in.  Poor schools and inadequate housing add to the hardships that exist in many inner cities and on some reservations.  All of these factors lead to higher levels of crime and gang activity and to higher rates of incarceration.  These places can be difficult places to seek His face.  Yet there God is, working in and through people’s lives, being worshipped in vibrant faith communities that joyfully sing of God’s goodness and love.  God’s presence is there in full force, allowing faithful disciples to both trust in God in the midst of hardship and also to go forth to be used by God to bring healing and hope and love.  May we all be encouraged and uplifted by God’s presence so that we can share His love and hope and peace today.


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Look to the Lord

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6 and 16-22 and 45

Verse Four: Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.

Psalm 105 is a summary of Israel’s early history.  The opening lines are a call to give thanks and praise to God for all He has done for the people.  The story told in Psalm 105 is not necessarily pretty all the time.  There were times of slavery and abuse and hardship.  There was famine and hunger.  Normally we do like stories with some conflict in them because they keep our attention.  But why would the psalmist tell a story that had abuse and slavery and hunger in it?

Yes, it is the truth and, yes, it helps the Israelite people remember their history. But even more importantly, it reminds them of God’s presence.  For the Israelites, the chosen people, these stories represent the times God stepped forward and acted on their behalf – ending the famine, parting the sea, performing the miracles.  These stories remind the people of God’s love and care for them and they provide hope and promise for the future.

We have similar experiences with God in our lives.  We have events and situations where there was conflict or hardship or trial.  In these times we also have experienced God’s presence as He provided a way or brought us that peace beyond understanding or gave us the strength and courage to slay our giant.  Sometimes, though, we are hesitant to tell these stories because they show our imperfections or our struggles or our failures.  We do not always like to share these aspects of who we are.  Yet we need to share our stories of what God has done in our lives.  Just as the Exodus stories gave the Israelites hope and reminded them of God’s presence and promises, so too can our stories of when God came near give hope and promise to those we meet.  It is through the sharing of these stories and the impact they had on our faith and lives that we can help others to understand and practice the words of the psalmist: “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always”.


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Deeper

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-12

Verse One: O Lord, you have searched me and know me.

Although the Psalm is centuries old, it still speaks powerfully of the relationship we can have with our God.  When David penned this Psalm, he had matured in his faith and his position in life was pretty secure.  But in his youth he had been through periods of trial and testing, through times of fleeing and rebellion.  Through these experiences he developed a very intimate relationship with God.  The Psalm is a celebration of that relationship.  It also calls out to us to each seek an intimate relationship with God.

Verse one begins with the basis of the relationship: “O Lord, you have searched me and know me”.  It is not a snoopy or creepy knowing – it is a lovely and caring knowing.  God is both all-knowing and ever-present.  But it is a sign of intimacy when we choose to live into these facts – it shows we are all in too.  The idea that God knows the words of our hearts and minds before they come to our tongue reveals that God is all in.  Just as much as we need God, God desires a deeply personal and intimate relationship as well.

Verse seven begins with “where can I go…” and “where can I flee…” questions.  David is not seeking to hide from God or to take a break from the relationship.  He is celebrating that God is everywhere.  David knows that no matter where he goes and no matter where life may bring him, God will be there.  God is in the heavens and in the depths and on the far side of the sea.  Even in the darkness God is fully present.  No matter where he goes, David finds that God is right there for him.

God invites us into an intimate, deeply personal relationship.  God seeks anf offers transparency and honesty and an all in commitment to the relationship.  Even though we may wander from time to time and drift to the edge on occasion, God is always pursuing us, always seeking to deepen our relationship.  May we each pursue this relationship with our God and King.  This day may we move deeper into the depths of God’s love.


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Choice

Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

Verse Six: The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

Why do people choose to follow Jesus?  Why do some folks choose to worship God and live their lives by what is written in the Bible?  Why do some folks choose a path in life that is hard and narrow instead of walking a road that is wide and easy to meander down?  Why do some people make these choices in deciding to be a Christian?  Why do you?

Choosing to follow Jesus and to live according to His example is a choice.  In many ways, it is a choice that runs against the norm.  By nature we are wired to seek pleasure and to desire to feel good.  Our society ingrains in us the drive to succeed and accomplish and excel – all good things in and of themselves.  Our culture champions messages like ‘just do it’ and ‘of’ it makes you feel good…’  Put all together, the world says to live for self and to just enjoy life to the max.  For some, this is their choice and this is how they live their lives.  Paul writes of these folks: “The mind of the sinful man is death”.

When one chooses to walk the wide and easy way that leads to death, life is fun and exciting and entertaining most of the time.  But soon one realizes there is something missing.  One senses that there is more to life than what they are living.  There is a void.  Philosopher Blaise Pascal described this as the “God-shaped hole in all of us”.  We are created by God in His image.  Therefore, God has a place to fill in our lives.  When we make the choice to fill the hole with God, we are choosing to be whole and complete.  We are making the choice to be a Christian.  Paul also writes of this choice: “The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace”.

We make the choice to follow Christ.  It is through this choice that we find life eternal and peace beyond all human understanding.  Here we find that Jesus is our all in all, our everything.  Thank you Jesus.


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Trust and Sing

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse One: How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?

Our Psalm of complaint opens with quite the line: “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever”?  It is a place we all have been at times in our lives.  In our minds we know that God is always present and that His love never fails, but in our hesrts sometimes we feel like God is absent.  We can relate, in our own monents of trial and/or suffering, to the psalmist’s feeling that God is hiding.  Of course, this is all our own creation.  The Psalm refers to wrestling in our thoughts and this is usually when we think God has been absent – when we were too busy to stop and go to God because we had to solve or fix the ‘problem’.  We are sometimes slow to “let go and let God”.

The psalmist pleads with God to “look on me and answer” as he seeks some resolution or end to his struggles.  It is a point we eventually get to as well.  We finally hit bottom or get to the point of not knowing what else to do and we then turn to God.  We admit that our “enemy” has overcome us and we cry out for God to help us.  At times, this can look like a ‘we is me’ pity party.  Sometimes though, we do try and seek God right away, but it feels as if God is distant.  Mother Teresa called the season in her life when she felt far from God even though she was seeking God the “dark night” of her soul.  It is a very hard place to be, but sometimes we find ourselves here too.

In the end, in the last two verses, the psalmist returns to the faith that has sustained him before.  He recalls trusting in God’s unfailing love and his heart rejoices at the thought of salvation.  Instead of complaint, the psalmist sings to the Lord – “for He has been good to me”.  These too are choices we can make.  May we ever trust in God’s unfailing love and sing our praises to God each dsy, ever remaining close to our God and King.