pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Stories

Readings: Exodus 32: 1-6 and Psalm 106: 19-23

Key Verses:

Exodus 32:6 – He made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf.

Psalm 106:20 – They exchanged their Glory for the image of a bull.

In both passages, we have the story of the people departing from God to worship an idol made of gold.  True, Moses has been gone up the mountain a long time.  But the people did not worship Moses.  While Moses is up on the mountain, clearly the presence of God remains on the mountain.  The presence of God is right there in plain sight when the people and Aaron make another “god” to worship.

This is not a pretty story about what happened in the life of the chosen people and their relationship with God.  Yet it is recounted and retold over and over by these people and generations to follow.  Why?  For the same reason they tell and tell about the Passover, the parting of the sea, the fall of Jericho, the defeat of Goliath…  We remember and retell good and bad stories for the same reason: to remind us of God’s love and grace.  In the stories where we (corporate) are not faithful or where we have sinned, they remind us of God’s love in spite if our fleshy weakness.  In the stories where God provides or guides or redeems… we are reminded of God’s constant love and care for each of us.

There is great value in the telling and retelling of these stories where God is active and present in the lives of the people, always bringing comfort, guidance, peace, and, of course, love and grace.  But these stories are not just found in the pages of the Bible.  They are also found in the day to day living of our lives.  We each have stories to tell of when God rescued us, when God forgave us, when God redeemed us, when God loved us…  These too are powerful stories of God’s continuing presence and activity in the lives of His people.  They are stories we need to hear over and over.  They are also stories others need to hear.  Our faith is communal.  Our faith is a shared faith.  Today, who will we share our story with?

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Reading: Matthew 21: 33-41

Verse 40: When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do with those tenants?

Jesus is teaching in the temple courts.  He is in Jerusalem and each day people gather around Him to hear His interpretation of the scriptures and to hear the stories He likes to tell.  Others are there to listen for a way to trap Him or to catch Jesus in a blasphemy.  He is aware of both aspects of the crowd.

This day Jesus tells the story of the landowner who plants a vineyard and builds a wine press and watchtower.  Then he rents the vineyard out and goes on a journey.  Harvest time comes and he sends for his share of the crop.  But the tenants beat and stone and kill those who were sent.  The landowner sends a bigger group, but the results are the same.  AND then the tenants do it again when he sends his very own son to collect.  Then Jesus asks them a question: “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do with those tenants”?  The answer seems obvious.

At this point, most everyone in the crowd has the same answer.  Most of us would give the same answer too.  But Jesus’ stories always seem to have an edge or twist to them.  There are probably a few in the crowd besides His twelve disciples who are wary – they know there is more to the story.  But for now, for today, the story ends here.

When we consider the story, are we thinking we are more like the owner, like those sent, or like the tenants?  At times we certainly think we are the owner.  We look at our life and our possessions and our talents and think they are all ours.  At times we can see ourselves as those who are sent.  We try and share the good news but are rejected and/or abused.  And at times we are the tenants – living for self, disregarding all else.

Jesus is also framing larger questions too.  The first is who really owns the ‘vineyard’?  The second is who is the son that is finally sent to re-establish the correct relationship between owner and tenants?  And the third is, what is our response to the one who is sent?  From these perspectives, the story takes on new meaning and depth.  From here we must consider how we see and relate to God, how we see and relate to Jesus, and what role we are or should be playing in the vineyard.


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Say It Well

Reading: Psalm 105: 37-45

Verse 45: …that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws.

This last section of Psalm 105 recounts the exodus from Egypt.  The Israelites left Egypt “laden with silver and gold” and headed out into the desert with a cloud for shade in the day and a pillar of fire for light at night.  God provided for their physical needs with quail and manna and He brought water from a rock.  God led them into a land that other nations had toiled over and developed and built up.  God blessed the chosen people on their exit from slavery in Egypt right up to their entrance into the Promised Land.

It is good for a people to tell their story.  This Psalm that would have been sung in worship reminds the people of what God has done for them out of His great love for them.  We too sing songs that remind us of our faith story.  Whether it is a classic like “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Amazing Grace” or if it is a more modern song like “Trading My Sorrows” or “Come As You Are”, we sing songs of praise to remember His love and His actions in our bigger faith story.  We may know, for example, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins but songs that remind us also remind us of His great love for us.

To be reminded encourages us and strengthens our faith.  It helps us to grow in and to deepen our relationship with God.  It is why we hug and kiss our spouse and children each morning and night, saying “I love you” each time.  They know it but it sure does us good to say it and to hear it.  It is the same when we sing praises to the Lord.  God may know we love Him and we may know God loves us, but it sure does us good to sing it.

There is also a second benefit.  After listing how God gave, God brought, God provided, … the psalmist writes, “…that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws”.  This is also why we must sing of His mighty acts and of His love for us.  It reminds us to say “I love you” back with how we live our lives.  May we say it well today.


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Tell

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6

Verse Two: Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts.

The opening verses to Psalm 105 encourage us to sing our praises to God for all that He has done for us in our lives.  It encourages us to make known to all the nations what God has done.  The psalmist reminds us that the great works of the Lord bring rejoicing and to look to the Lord always to find strength.  It is a wonderfully encouraging opening few lines to a great Psalm of praise.

Remembering and singing of God’s actions in our lives serves two main purposes.  The first is to strengthen and increase our own faith.  When we joyously praise God for all He does for us, then we are reminded of His great love for each of us.  This, in turn, deepens our love for Him.  If we make a regular habit of joyfully thanking God for those times when He was very present to us, they also more readily come to mind in our trials, bringing us a strength and a peace.

The second purpose is evangelism.  These stories of God in our lives that have strengthened and encouraged us and that have helped us mature in our faith are a huge part of our own personal God story.  In answering the Great Commission, Jesus’ call to each believer to share the good news, our God story is the center piece.  Yes, we need to tell of Jesus’ life and teachings and witness, of the gifts of grace and mercy and forgiveness and eternal life, and of the power Jesus had over sin and death.  But we must also tell the story of how God makes a real difference in our lives.  Each of our unique stories of God’s hand at work in our lives will help others to see how God can also bring them the hope, strength, peace, love, mercy, forgiveness, … that they so desperately need.

This day and every day, whether in voice or in deed, may we each, “Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts”, bringing God all the glory and honor.  Amen!


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Present

Reading: Exodus 14: 19-31

Verse 31: When the people saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people put their trust in Him.

In today’s passage the Israelites experience the final detachment from Pharaoh and his army.  Fear and doubt has again suddenly consumed the Israelites.  They even uttered to Moses, “It would have been better for us to serve in Egypt than to die in the desert” (Exodus 14:12).  Moses told them to stand firm and see the deliverance of the Lord.  Trust – trust in God.

God does indeed deliver Israel!  The angel and pillar of cloud form a protective barrier and God parts the sea.  The Israelites cross over on dry land but when the Egyptians follow God stalls them out and the waters return.  Verse 21 records, “Not one of them survived”.  What the people saw as a huge situation that quickly led to doubt and fear, God saw as an opportunity to deliver His people.  God intervened on their behalf to save His chosen people, whom He dearly loves.

God had led them out of slavery and had even blessed their exit.  He had guided them to this point, yet fear and doubt rose up quickly.  God’s mighty act of deliverance in the Passover was still very fresh in their minds, yet they quickly abandoned their faith.  We too can be much like the Israelites.  We can walk in close connection with God for days and days or even for years and something arises that makes us question or doubt and our faith almost evaporates.  The doubt or fear or anxiety or whatever quickly dominates our thoughts.  And then God still steps in and begins to work in our situation and delivers us too.  We look back and wonder why we ever questioned, why we doubted, why we didn’t just continue to rely on God.

The Israelites are delivered!  It was a powerful experience of God’s might.  Verse 31 tells us, “When the people saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people put their trust in Him”.  This too is an experience like the Passover, one they will tell over and over down through the generations.  Our experiences with God delivering us can be such moments as well.  May we also remember when God was present and acted in our lives, so we can retell and retell the story so that our faith and trust grows and grows.  God is ever present in our lives.  May we live into this more and more each day.


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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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Hear

Reading: Matthew 13: 36-43

Verse 41: The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.

After telling the parable of the weeds, Jesus next tells two more parables.  They are short and speak of how the kingdom of God will spread and grow and affect all it touches.  After these two parables Jesus withdraws to the house.  Here the disciples ask for an explanation of the parable of the weeds.  In private, Jesus unpacks the parable for the disciples.

When Jesus told the parable to the crowd, it followed the parable of the sower, where Jesus talks about what kind of soil we are.  In explaining this parable to the disciples, Jesus explains why He speaks in parables.  For those who understand, Jesus says more will be given.  He goes on to say that some who hear never understand and He laments that some have closed their eyes and hardened their hearts.  Jesus is using a prophecy from Isaiah to do all this.  Tied into the parable of the soils, this leads us to introspection: what kind of soil am I today?  What kind of soil do I want to be?  As we grow in our faith, we come to understand more and then more will be given.

In today’s passage, Jesus is giving more to the disciples.  He begins by explaining who the real characters are: the Son of Man, the evil one, humanity, and the angels.  The story isn’t about storing up the crop and getting rid of the weeds.  It is about the end of the age, when a resurrected Jesus will return.  There is a foreboding and ominous feeling to the explanation.  There is a stark contrast between the two outcomes.  When Jesus says, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil”, there is a finality.  Instead of simply telling stories, Jesus has become very serious.  Again, Jesus is leading those who have ears to hear what He is saying.  He is leading those who hear to gain more understanding.

As we ourselves reflect on the interpretation of today’s passage, we must ponder: are we those weeping and gnashing teeth or are we those shining like the sun?  Do we take what Jesus has to say and allow it to change and challenge us?  Our passage ends with, “He who has ears, let him hear”.  May it be so with us today.