pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Why Am I So Blessed?

Reading: Luke 1: 39-45

Verse 43: “Why am I so blessed, that the mother of my Lord should come to me”?

Luke begins his Gospel with the angelic visits to Zechariah and to Mary, each time proclaiming a special and holy birth. Zechariah is told that his boy will go before the Lord, preparing the people for His coming. Mary is told that she will bear the Son of the Most High. She is also told that Elizabeth will give birth too, even though she is old and barren. Gabriel closes his visit with Mary by reminding her, “For nothing is impossible with God”.

This quick recap gets us to today’s passage. Mary gets ready and heads off to see her relative Elizabeth. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, her baby leaps within her womb. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she identifies Mary as “blessed among women” and declares the child to be blessed as well. Elizabeth, through the power of the Spirit, knows she is in the presence of the Lord. She then asks, “Why am I so blessed, that the mother of my Lord should come to me”? She wonders honestly why she is so blessed.

Every day we cross paths with many people. Often they are familiar to us and sometimes we meet someone new or someone we only occasionally see. This last one was the case with Mary and Elizabeth. Some of our encounters each day are opportunities to be people of faith. Maybe it is by simply rejoicing in someone’s presence in our lives, thanking them for the positive ways in which they bless us. Maybe it is ministering to their need in that time and place – offering food or clothing or gifts for their children, praying with them, or just being present during a time of loss. Maybe it is sharing the good news with someone who does not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

We do not know if it is a familiar face or a stranger that God will place in our path today or tomorrow. We do not know what task God will set us to. But we do know that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us to accomplish God’s purposes if we are as willing and receptive as Elizabeth was. If we are, we too will be blessed. Like her, we may walk away wondering why we were so blessed to be in Jesus’ company. If we are faithful, we will be truly blessed.

Prayer: Lord, may the Holy Spirit be active and present today. May my words and actions bring your light and love into people’s lives. In doing so, I will be blessed to be in your presence as well. Thank you for the opportunities you bring my way. May I be faithful to be your hands and feet and voice. Amen.

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What Then

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

Verse 10: “What then should we do”?

Perhaps you remember a few years ago when the WWJD bracelets and t-shirts were popular. The WWJD stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” It was a way to focus Christians in on how they should live out their faith. In many ways, John the Baptist is a precursor to this movement. He is helping people to prepare for the way of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

There was a certain feel-good aspect to the whole WWJD movement. Although John the Baptist was a bit confrontational, there was a feel-good aspect to what John was doing out there in the wilderness. Our passage today begins with John addressing those who only want to look religious. The “vipers” look good but their faith has no depth. They are the folks today who come to church on Sunday morning and go home and swear at the television because their team is losing a ball game.

Some in the crowd hear John’s confrontation not as insult but as challenge. It is interesting to note who hears the challenge. The ordinary people in the crowd and the dreaded tax collectors and the hated Roman soldiers. Yes, there is a Good Samaritan angle to this passage too. In a similar way to this later teaching of Jesus, the religious leaders only hear insult in John’s words. He warns them, saying not to just claim Abraham as their father and think all is good. To many today, John would say, ‘Don’t just show up for an hour on Sunday and wear your little WWJD bracelet to work (or school)’. Just saying or pretending to be a Christian isn’t worth much.

To those whose hearts hear John’s message, there is a good conviction that occurs. In response they ask him, “What then should we do”? John’s response is what the WWJD gear was supposed to do: illicit the godly response in all situations. In essence, John said, ‘Do the right thing’. Share what you have, treat others well, don’t abuse your power, be content. Jesus would say, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. May we each go and do likewise.

Prayer: O Lord, sometimes I fall short. When I do, send your Holy Spirit, loud and clear, reminding me of my call to love and care for all of your children. May it ever be so. Amen.


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The Maker

Reading: Psalm 124: 6-8

Verse 8: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

Our Psalm continues the thanksgiving for God’s presence and rescue from those who sought to capture Israel. The Psalm ends with a familiar line: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”. God, the maker of all, is surely our help too. The bigger question to me is: what do we do with this experience and knowledge? Do we hunker down within the walls where it is safe and comfortable? Or… do we venture outside the walls where it is unknown and is where those who attacked us, those whose anger flared against us, those who tried to sweep over us live? Do we peer out through our stained glass windows or do we engage the world, inviting them too to know the maker of heaven and earth?

The stories and promises of faith – that God will rescue us, that God will be present in the trials, that Jesus is the way, truth, and life, that Jesus is the hope for more than this earthly life – are all parts of our faith that we treasure. They are what sustains us in our day to day life. Together this is the good news that Jesus commissioned the disciples and all who would later take up their cross to follow to share with the lost, the broken, the least, the arrogant, the marginalized, the self-assured, the lonely…

Today each of us will have opportunity – maybe just one or two, maybe many – to introduce those who do not know Jesus to the Son of our maker. We will have a chance to hear their story, to connect that thing inside them to the answer. Whether they need rescue or presence or truth or hope or whatever else, the answer is found in Christ. Modeling Jesus and His love, may we offer whatever ministry we can then and in those moments. In doing so, may we begin to connect them to their maker, to the One who loves them as His dear child.

Today, God, may I recognize and seize the opportunity you give me. May I be your hands and feet, your eyes and ears, when I can. May I always be your voice, whether by word, action, or deed. This is my prayer for today and for every day. Amen.


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 124: 1-5

Verse 1: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

Today’s Psalm is a great reminder of God’s presence with us. The psalmist remembers when they were attacked, when the enemy’s anger rose against them. He remembers when the tipping point was tangible, when they could have been engulfed and swept away. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” reminds him and all who read these verses of why we are not swept away – God’s presence. God was with them. God is with us.

In our lives we have these experiences too. Upon reflecting on just this past week, I can think of times when I could have been pulled off into sin. None were huge or monumental this week, but at times we all have those moments when we are on the brink or when, if not for God’s presence, we do not want to think of how things could have turned out. There was the divorce when I was in sixth grade. There was the car accident my junior year of college when one person did not survive. Recently, in our community, three young teens walked away from a rollover. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” applies in all of these situations. Thanks be to God.

While it is good and right to recognize and rejoice in all of the times and ways that God is with us, we cannot allow ourselves to use this as a dividing line or to judge others. There are many who feel like God does not care about or love them, nevermind whether or not God is on their side. There are others who feel the opposite – that God is against them. Instead of being content in our relationship with God and keeping it to ourselves, our grateful response should be to share God’s love with others. Instead of being comfortable with an us and them attitude, may we recognize that all people are dearly loved children of God and may we make efforts to help the estranged to become part of the family. This day, may we help those who are living outside of a relationship with God to come to know His love and presence in their lives.

Lord God, you are my all in all, my strength when I am weak. Each moment of each day you are with me. Like the psalmist, I cannot imagine life without you. Yet many live this way. Today, may my words, actions, and thoughts help to decrease the number of those who are lost. Thank you, Lord, for your presence in my life. May I share it well today. Amen.


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God at Work

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “Mordecai wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food”.

Our passage today begins with Mordecai recording the recent events and sending this out in a letter to “all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerses, near and far”. Mordecai is writing to all the Jews for two purposes. In Esther 3 an edict had been sent out to all the provinces that on the 13th day of the month of Adar, all the Jews were to be killed. Imagine the horror and fear that must have swept through the Jewish communities spread “near and far”. The date would have felt like a ticking bomb. So the first purpose of Mordecai’s letter was to let the Jews know that they had been spared.

As important as this information was, the bigger purpose of the letter was to tell the story of how God had acted to save His people. Yes, being spared is super important, but the “how” is much more important. The letter must have detailed Mordecai’s faith and trust in God to act. It must have spoken of Esther’s course and trust in God. In both cases, it speaks of people willing to step up and stand up for God and for their faith. Thus, it encourages to do the same should necessity or opportunity arise. The letter also tells, more importantly, of how God was faithful too – guiding and orchestrating the events to rescue His chosen people from sure death. The letter ultimately reminds the Jews of God’s love and care.

In his letter, Mordecai declares the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be “days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food” as the people celebrate God at work. These are the days immediately after the former date of their destruction. Mordecai directs the people to give gifts of food not only to each other but also to the poor. Just as God had cared for His people in a time of need, so too will they care for those in need among them. This act is also one more way to tell the story of God’s saving hand.

This story reminds us of times when God has been at work in our lives. These times are part of our story of faith. Like Mordecai, may we also share the story.

Lord, I recognize and give thanks for the many times that you have guided and cared for and even rescued me. May I use each opportunity today to tell the story of your love and care and faithfulness. Amen.


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Who Is This Jesus?

Reading: John 6: 35 & 41-46

Verse 46: “At this the Jews began to grumble about Him because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven'”.

Jesus has just fed the 5,000 so the idea of Jesus and bread seem to go hand in hand at this moment in His ministry. He has encouraged those who return the next day for more food to look not only for physical bread but also to work for the “food that endures to eternal life”. He offers this “bread” to them if only they will believe. It is at this point that our passage opens today as Jesus says, “I am the bread of life…”

Some of the Jews balk at Jesus’ earlier claim when He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”. They cannot rectify this with the Jesus they know. The people here know His parents – Mary and Joseph – and they have known Jesus since childhood. They know where He came from. How can He now make this claim to be from heaven? They see and understand Jesus only on the literal, human level. To them bread is simply bread.

In the interceding verses Jesus makes some other claims. He claims that He is sent by God and that He only does the will of God. Jesus also reiterates that belief in Him is the path to eternal life. Then, in verse 40, Jesus claims that on the last day He will raise up all who believe. None of these claims hit a nerve. They are all beyond where His audience is stuck. The Jews can not or do not or will not move past the birth narrative that they know.

To try and help them connect to something they know, Jesus turns to the Old Testament for reinforcement. He quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying, “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me”. In essence Jesus is saying to look in the scriptures and you will see that they point to Jesus the Messiah. This connection was a stumbling block for many. It continues to be today.

For all believers, we must spend time in our Bibles so that we understand this connection of Old to New. We must be able to articulate how the New Testament is the fuller revelation of the God of the Old Testament. We must be able to explain the continuing story of God’s activity in the world through Jesus. Jesus incarnate is God. Jesus is God’s love lived out in human relationships. Our role as believers is to help the lost to find and understand this truth. May we know the story of Jesus well so that we can share it with others.


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One

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”.

In a different season in my life I went backpacking once a year. The backpack was my existence for that week. The pack would carry the tent, my pad and sleeping bag, my food and cooking gear, the stove and fuel bottle, my clothes, my Bible and devotionals, my toiletries, a shovel and some toilet paper, and a water filter. Each of these was essential for my week trekking around the wilderness. If I discovered six miles into the journey that I had forgotten the fuel for the stove, I was in trouble. In a similar way, Paul describes today the essentials for our Christian journey. If we do not have all of these traits inside of us on our journey of faith, we are also in trouble.

Paul encourages us to be completely humble, to be patient, to bear with one another in love. He also encourages us to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. At times our journey is not always easy. To represent Christ well, it requires humility and patience and love and peace. In the good and especially in the bad these traits are essential because they help us through and they are the things that others notice. The peace in the suffering, the patience in the trial, the love for the unlovable or the unloved – these are some of the marks of the Christian. When we fail to love the other or when we demonstrate arrogance instead of humility, then we do harm to our Christian witness. We must carry all of these traits with us all of the time if we are to live out our faith well as we interact with the world.

Paul closes this section with a great reminder of what unites us as people of faith. He writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”. We are all one body of believers throughout the world. We are all connected to and through the head, Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we find humility, patience, love, and peace. May others see these traits in us today as we bear witness to our faith in Jesus Christ today.