pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living Faith?

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-15

Verse 11: “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”?

Our passage today has some pretty tough words for Israel. In verse ten Isaiah compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah – two towns that were so evil that God wiped them from the face of the earth. If that were not enough, God goes on to say, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”? It is just empty offering after empty offering after empty offering. God has had enough and finds no pleasure in such actions. The stream of offerings is compared to “trampling” in the temple. For a people and religion built upon the sacrificial system, it is quite a thing to hear God say, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings”.

To what would God compare this in today’s church? What motion or actions are we going through that feel to God as if it were meaningless? Where is our worship far away from our actual living?

A big part of what was driving God to make such a declaration was how the people were living out their faith. They were failing miserably. Yes, they were going through the motions of worship and sacrifices. Their hearts were far from God. It showed most in those easiest to neglect and abuse. The poor were being oppressed and the widows and orphans were being neglected. Those without power and those without voice were not being taken care of. These are the ones nearest to the heart of God. They are far from the hearts of God’s people. They were showing up on the Sabbath and they were checking the sacrifice boxes. And then they were leaving the temple and returning to the world where they took advantage of their workers, used unfair scales in the market, and ignored the cries of the needy. Today this would equate to those who leave church on Sunday to eat, drink, and be merry while swearing at the TV as their team loses or to those who use dishonest business practices to earn a little more profit. Do such as these show up on Sunday morning and then go out and neglect the poor and needy around them?

Verse fifteen ends with a tough indictment: “Your hands are full of blood”. If said today, what would God be referring to in our lives? What must change so that our worship leads us out the door and into acts of mercy and kindness and love?

Prayer: God, it can be easy to focus on self or to rush through devotions or worship to get on with life. Slow me down, soften my heart, attune my ears to their cries, and open my eyes to see their realities. Lead me to action, living out my faith in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen.

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All in All

Reading: Colossians 3: 1-11

Verse 1: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”.

Paul is writing to the Colossian church. He opens the letter in chapter one with prayers for the church, reminds them that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and that they have been reconciled to God through Christ’s death and resurrection. In chapter two Paul reminds them that they must claim their faith and that he is praying for them. In my Bible, today’s section is titled “Rules for Holy Living”. Understanding these ‘rules’ is a gradual and evolving process. For most of us, this is a slow but steady lifelong process.

When I first met David I had no idea who he had been. Maybe the long hair and slightly loud personality could have hinted at his story. David had church in his childhood but stepped away in his early adult years. His life had become one of fast cars, fast boats, and a fast life. David had money and became involved in the drug world. Soon he was always racing to stay a step ahead of the law. He wove into his story that his mom and grandma were always praying for him. Then one day, in a face to face with mortality and the finite nature of the life he knew, David reached out to God in desperation. God reached back. It began David on the journey to being a servant of Jesus Christ.

In Colossians 3 Paul writes, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”. The people in the Colossian church had died to the world and were raised to new life in Christ. In verse two Paul also encourages them to set things minds on the things above. In verses five and eight Paul lists several things to not do and lists things to be rid of. These are the things of the world. These are the things many people chase after.

It is hard to set these aside and to always put on the things above. It is, in fact, impossible to do on our own. In verses nine and ten Paul shows how God makes it possible. In Christ we can take off the old self and put on the new self. The new self is renewed day by day. This is part of our lifelong faith journey. Paul concludes our passage today by writing, “Christ is all and is in all”. That became true for my friend David, it is becoming true for me, and it can become true for you. May it be so.

Prayer: God, I am far from perfect but I strive to become more like your perfect son every day. Fill me more with Jesus day by day, making Christ my all in all. Amen.


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The Choice

Reading: Luke 10: 38-42

Verse 42b: “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her”.

Mary chooses the better part and Jesus will not be taken from her. Mary chooses to be present to and with Jesus. Mary chooses life over the world. Once she has chosen Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she has claimed her connection to the eternal one. By her actions, Mary declares that Jesus is the Lord of her life. She will follow Jesus.

All Christians come to the same decision point. We first come to know our personal need for Jesus, for a Savior. Then, at some point, we make the choice to surrender our life to follow Jesus. We make the conscious choice to die to self and to the desires of this world so that we can humbly follow Jesus’ example. We make the choice daily to spend time with Jesus and to worship God alone.

Martha has not quite made the choice to follow. She knows about Jesus and she has heard about the miracles. In time she will profess that Jesus as the Messiah, as Lord (John 11). Martha will join Mary to sit before the throne. But for now the tasks at hand – all the work that must be done for her guests – this consumes her. She feels so much pressure to meet the world’s expectations that her stress finally boils over in verse 40, where she asks the guest to intervene with Mary. She has become so distracted that she asks Jesus to pry her sister away from the better choice. Jesus will not do it. He simply points out Martha’s excessive worrying and the distraction that it has become. Jesus also reminds her of the fact that only one thing is needed. He reminds us too.

Our story ends without knowing the outcome. Does Martha go back to cooking, to offer the hospitality that she can at the moment? Does she stop and sit at Jesus’ feet, offering the best form of hospitality – being present to the guest? All of us wrestle with this choice. Even as a Christian and as a pastor I struggle to always slow down, to always lay aside the to-do list, to take the opportunity to be fully present to the other. I want to be more like Mary and less like Martha. May the Holy Spirit lead and guide me and you to slow down and to connect with Jesus so that his light and love shines in and through us.

Prayer: Lord, lead and guide me each day to recognize and take those extra opportunities you provide to stop and engage the other, encountering Christ along the way. Help me to see and experience the holy in all people. Amen.


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Time for Him

Reading: Luke 10: 38-42

Verse 41: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things”.

Today’s story focuses in on two sisters and their choice of how to invest their time. Martha is like most of us in the world. Mary falls into a smaller grouping.

I can relate to Martha. Perhaps you can too. Our culture measures our worth in many ways. One way is by how much we get done. A productive worker is highly valued. A person living an active and busy lifestyle is portrayed as the ideal. Having a lot of things on my to-do list brings a feeling of importance. Getting them done brings a feeling of accomplishment. These two things can lead to working a lot of hours. I can also relate at times to another part of Martha. She feels that all of her work is not being recognized. If it was, Jesus would’ve sent Mary to help. I can fall into that trap too. It is a signal that I need to take a break.

Finally Martha cannot take it any longer and she goes to Jesus. She basically tells him to tell Mary to help her. Jesus responds with, “Martha, Martha”. I can see him shaking his head side to side as he slowly says her name. Maybe he even reached out and took hold of her hands as he looked into her eyes. Jesus continues, saying, “You are worried and upset about many things”. The worries of her to-do list have distracted her from what is really important. Mary has chosen to slow down, to carve out time, to take the opportunity to be present with Jesus.

In his own way, Jesus is encouraging Martha to slow down, to pause for a few minutes. He affirms that Mary has chosen the better way. Jesus will not ask her to give up her quiet time with him for the busyness and worries of the world.

Mary’s choice seems like such an excellent choice. It is a choice that fills our souls and nourishes our spirits. It is a choice that is never regretted, no matter how long the to-do list might seem. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, began each day with an hour of prayer. When asked what he does when his schedule gets very busy, his response was, “I pray for two hours”. He, like Mary, knew the value of investing in Jesus. Deep down, we too know the value. May we each make the choice to slow down, to carve out time, to connect to Jesus regularly and daily.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for this morning’s time with you. It is a wonderful way to begin my day. I cannot even fathom what starting it another way would look or feel like. Thank you for your time. Amen.


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How Long?

Reading: Isaiah 6: 9-13

Verse 10: “Make the hearts of this people caloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes”.

Isaiah hears God’s call upon his life and responds enthusiastically, “Here I am. Send me”! He is eager to serve God. When I think back to my call to ministry, I was not quite so responsive. It took much longer to say “yes” to the call. But God was persistent and step by step He worked me around to saying yes. I think the process that I went through is generally true for most folks. God calls each of us to service; the response is up to us.

Right out of the gate, the eager Isaiah hears that his call will be an uphill battle. God sends Isaiah to tell the people to hear but not understand, to see but not to perceive. The message to repent and turn back to God’s ways will go in one ear and out the other. In verse 10 we read, “Make the hearts of this people caloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes”. Hard hearts, dull ears, closed eyes. Does not sound like a great audience to work with. The eager Isaiah must wonder why he is being called. If his ministry will make no difference, why go?

At times we can feel this way too. We can reach out to people and share the good news with them, but we experience what Isaiah experienced – hard hearts, closed minds. At times we will question why we are sent to such people. At times we too will ask, “For how long, O Lord”? How long should we keep inviting so and so to church? How long should I keep talking about my faith with him or her?

God answers Isaiah with something that reflects God’s timing and the fact that God is in control. God says, “the holy seed will be a stump in the land”. In other words, there is something there, not quite dead as it may appear, but dormant. When God decides the timing is right, God will bring forth a shoot – new life.

When we share our faith with others, through our words or actions, it may feel as if nothing is changing or that we are not making a difference. Yet, even then we are planting seeds. They may seem to lie in infertile ground or on hard soil, but they are seeds nonetheless. We plant faithfully, trusting God to one day bring those seeds to life as faith springs up in that new believer.

The same question can also be asked of us – how long? How long will we serve the Lord? May our answer be the same as Isaiah’s – all the days of our lives.

Prayer: Lord, give me the perseverance to always plant seeds of faith. Show me the words or actions that I need to say or take today to plant a few seeds in someone’s heart. Amen.


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Praise

Reading: Psalm 104: 1-9, 24, 35c

Verse 24: “How many are your works, O Lord! The Earth is full of your creatures”.

Is it on a mountain top? Is it by a lake or quiet stream? Is it along the seashore or on a winding path in the woods? Is it on the porch as the sun sets or rises? Is it at the picture window as the lightning flashes? Is it in the garden, fresh with the smell of tilled earth? Where is it in creation that you sense God’s presence?

The Psalm today speaks of the works of God in the created world. In verses 1-9 we get a great sense of God’s power and majesty. Our world is an amazing place. We notice this when we slow down enough to be still for a few moments. We notice this when we are intentional about seeking God in His created world. When we do, we connect to these words we find in verse 24: “How many are your works, O Lord! The Earth is full of your creatures”.

Can we slow down the pace at which we live our lives enough to connect to the Creator in creation? It is a choice we must make. Today, may we find a few minutes to just soak in God’s handiwork. And then, in that time communing with God, may we join the psalmist in declaring, “Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord”.

God, today help me to be still. Calm all within so that I can know you more. In the voices of the birds, in the motion if the breeze, on the broken sidewalks, may my soul be still. In the stillness, draw me in, O God. Amen.


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An Honest Look

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

A new covenant. A new promise. Hope. Opportunity. How we sometimes long for a fresh or new start. For the Israelites long in captivity in Babylon this word from Jeremiah had to bring great hope. Suddenly there was possibility and hope ahead again. They must have certainly felt like the old covenant was a thing of the past. They were living without a temple and without the systems that had connected them to God. Oddly enough they saw change as a good thing. They did not simply want a return to the way things were. Where they were spiritually and relationally was broken and needed changed. They were full of joy to hear, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

Today we can find ourselves here too. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere. For example, one day we find out that our job has been eliminated or that our spouse is asking for divorce. These types of disruptions are forced upon us and we have no choice but to adapt. But sometimes it is a slow creep instead. This happens in life sometimes. We look up and suddenly realize where we’ve gotten to and know in an instant that something must change. Sometimes this can happen in our institutions as well. Our church that used to have hundreds in worship and dozens in Sunday school suddenly seems a bit empty and without much life. At this point, whether personally or institutionally, we can look for and seek for God to do a new thing or we can continue the slow fade. Sometimes this is the easier choice.

We are still in Lent, so I challenge you to look within – to both yourself and to your church. Do you see growth and movement forward or do you see plateau or regression, complacency or death? These are hard questions to consider. Take an honest look within and go to God accordingly.