pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Only Question

Reading: Matthew 25: 45-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we come to the end of Matthew 25, to the end of the parable of the sheep and the goats.  For me, it is one of the most difficult passages of scripture to read and ponder.  It often leads me to the question of whether or not I am doing enough for the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God and His justice are not about keeping score, but I often feel conviction when I read this passage.  I fail on both ends of the spectrum.  There are times when I see hunger or loneliness or some other need and I fail to act.  There are times when I do act but not for the right reasons.  I do meet a need but it was not for the building of the kingdom of God but it is for a selfish reason that I served.  So when I read, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”, the word ‘whatever’ looms large.  It seems that I often fail Jesus and the ones He loves and the ones sent my way.

I also often try and rationalize things in my mind to assuage my guilt.  I make excuses or I rationalize why I should not give this person money or I try to convince myself that I do not have the time…  I judge and try and make the one n need unworthy of love in my mind, helping my inaction to feel a bit better.  And when I do all of these things, they eventually bring on their own conviction and sense of guilt.  This sometimes leads me to try and do something for someone, but soon enough I am made aware that my motivation is in the wrong place and I am a goat in the parable.

It is a tough parable to wrestle with.  I do not like where it often leaves me.  Yet in the end, I realize that it is not a giant scoreboard that Jesus keeps, ever balancing my times when I did meet Jesus in the service of another against those times when I did not serve or when I served for the wrong reasons.  Instead Jesus keeps an overflowing well of mercy, grace, and love, offering me chance after chance to love as He loved, to serve as He served.  In the end, I believe the only question that will matter is this: do you love me?

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Serve

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-44

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me”.

At first, today’s passage is challenging because we can all think of times when we we both the sheep and the goats.  There are times in our lives when we have taken the time for one who was hungry or thirsty or have visited with a stranger or one who was sick.  There have also been times when we have passed by or ignored or chosen not to help, not to stop, not to care fore one in need when we could have.  But I do not think today’s passage is about making us feel guilty that we did not serve one in need or proud that we did.  It is about helping us to understand that Jesus is present in all of us.  It is about being open to the times when the Holy spirit nudges us to be of help and also about how we grow in our faith when we step outside of our comfort zones.

What is it about our times with the hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned and strangers that allow us to experience Jesus more?  In those times when we step outside the normal, outside our comfort zones, we are more willing to see or experience Jesus in a new way.  Sometimes it is in the experience of serving another, sometimes it is in seeing Jesus in them, and sometimes it is about feeling personally connected to Jesus ourselves.  It is much like going on a mission trip or going to camp or a revival meeting – we are then mentally predisposed to experience Jesus in a new and powerful way, so we are more likely to do so.

More often than  not, when we feel nudged or even led to engage or serve another, we should if at all possible.  Simply because we might meet or experience Jesus more is reason enough.  May we heed the warmth we feel in out hearts, allowing ourselves and others to know Jesus and His love today.


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Intimate, Personal

Reading: Psalm 123

Verse One: “I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.”

The Psalm today begins by acknowledging that we look up to God whom we envision in heaven, seated on the throne.  It is a position we are comfortable with – God up there, us down here.  This vision fits into our schemata of an all-powerful, almighty God who reigns over all.  This is the type of God we imagine we have.  This God is the God that can do anything.  It is the expectation conveyed in the opening line: “I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.”

The next verse sees the relationship differently.  Now our eyes look to our master or to our mistress.  We now have the eyes of a slave or maid.  This is perhaps a less comfortable way to look up to God.  To properly understand this image we must understand the context of the times in which this was written.  Slaves and maids lived in the house of the master or mistress, right alongside the rest of the family.  The slave or maid was given food, a bed, and usually spent time in community with the family.  They were an extension of the family in most cases.  Yes, there was a subservient nature to the relationship, but it was also a relationship of love and care.  The slave or maid desired to please the master or mistress, much as a child desires to please their parent.

When we see God as our master or mistress it changes out perspective.  As almighty God in charge of it all, there is a separation or distance between us.  In some ways this view is perhaps safer, less threatening.  As a slave or maid, we are right in there with God.  We are walking and living our day to day life right there with God.  It is a very intimate and personal way to look at our relationship with God.  It is a “hold your hand” relationship instead of a “look up to heaven” relationship.  It is a relationship of mutual dependency.  It is a relationship built upon God’s love and care for us and our personally serving God.  In what ways will we live out this intimate, personal relationship with God today?


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Choose

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3a and 14-25

Verse 14: Now choose the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness.

Joshua comes to the people and asks them to choose who they will serve.  He asks them three times, each time reminding them of the temptations of other gods.  Joshua has seen the people go astray and God lets him know that this will continue to be the challenge.  Their forefathers worshiped other gods in the past, they experienced the worship of other gods in Egypt, and they even made a golden calf to worship while Moses was up on the mountain talking with God.

Joshua asks three times and the people respond three times that they will worship God alone.  Joshua reminds them that God is a jealous and holy God.  Three times, just to make sure.  This battle to choose God over idols continues to this very day.  Each day we must choose which God or many gods we will serve.  It is a daily battle that begins as we awaken each day.  Prayers for God to lead and guide us only begins the battle.  Throughout the day the Holy Spirit is praying for us, reminding us, convicting us.  We cannot remain faithful to God without the help of the Holy Spirit.

The temptations and other gods are many.  We can chase after money or possessions, popularity or recognition, status or position, beauty or knowledge.  We can get caught up in envy, gossip, greed, gossip, gluttony, fear, doubt, worry.  We are in no shortage of things or idols to tempt, lure, and pull us away from God.  The enemy is powerful.  But God is greater.  Through the Word, prayer, worship, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we can walk faithful and holy lives.  May all that is at God’s disposal work in us this day to be the witnesses of His love and truth in our daily walk, bringing glory to God alone.


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Come and Follow

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Jesus was quite the radical in His day.  He called a group of men to be His disciples not from within the elite of the pre-Rabbi schools but out of ordinary life.  He did not spend all of His time in the temple but was out in the towns and villages eating and teaching the sinners and the lost.  Jesus did not simply read the scriptures and proclaim the word, but He also rolled up His sleeves and served others as a mean to show them God’s love.  He lived this way so that we would know what it looked like to live as a Christian.

In today’s passage we hear these words: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.  The first step is to deny self.  Society teaches us to first look out for #1, but Jesus says to put self last.  Jesus loved God with all He was and then next loved all of His neighbors more than He loved Himself.  He first sought to serve God and neighbor and only then did He consider His own needs.  In doing so, Jesus met people’s basic needs, sought equality for all, showed love and forgiveness and compassion, and lived a humble and simple life.

The next part involves taking up our cross.  On the cross of Calvary, Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice.  When Jesus calls us to take up our cross, He is asking us to die to self, to be willing to live with less so that others may have some, and to be a servant to all.

And then He says, “Follow me”.  Jesus calls us to do what He did, to follow His example.  Get out there into the ordinary of life – get outside the walls of the temple and our homes and our comfort zones.  Spend time with the lost – the sinners and the atheists and the non-believers.  Eat with them, talk with them, share Jesus with them.  Find ways to serve others, to meet people’s basic needs, to lift them up, and to bring them hope and justice.  In all this, we follow the One who lived God’s love out loud.  May we come and follow, showing the light and love of Christ to all for the glory of God.


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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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#1 Tradition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 18: The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.

Every year for Christmas my family gathers after church on Christmas Eve and we open one present.  The present is always the same: new pajamas.  For Thanksgiving every year we always have green bean casserole and chocolate chess pie.  It feels like we have been doing these things forever.

Our churches also have traditions.  Most churches do.  In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing one of these traditions.  It began like many of our church traditions did and has become almost law by this point.  One day long ago someone started something and soon enough it became tradition.  For the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing, these traditions were very important.  Many of their traditions or laws were based on generations of interpretations of the Bible.  Much of it therefore had come not necessarily straight from God but from man’s interpretation of the Word.  A good, modern day example would be baptism.  In the Bible we do have some examples of baptisms and some understandings of what it means and why one is baptized.  But there is no place in the Bible where it defines exactly how and when a baptism should occur.  Yet this topic causes division and differences and barriers between us.  The same can be said of communion.  I think this makes Jesus sad.

In today’s passage Jesus is dealing with a rule that creates a barrier.  Many of the religious traditions or laws created barriers to people because they kept people away from God.  Ritualistic and detailed handwashing became the rule for the Pharisees.  Eat without perfectly pristine hands and you know what happens…  But Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'”.  He is saying that what is in a person’s heart is what makes them spiritually clean or unclean, not the condition of their hands.  If evil resides in our hearts, then we are unclean spiritually.  If good resides, then we are clean.  To Jesus, a person’s heart is what mattered.

Jesus’ most important question is: “Do you love me”?  For Jesus love was always the guide and the first consideration.  That’s why He ate with unclean sinners and why he healed on the Sabbath.  Love triumphed.  Faith is not about the tradition or the laws or the unwritten rules.  It is about letting love lead and serving and ministering to others in love.

What traditions or ‘rules’ create barriers in our churches?  How do we make love the #1 tradition or the rule?