pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Heavenly Wisdom

Reading: James 3: 13-18

Verse 13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, be deeds done in humility”.

In our passage from James 3, he compares earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. Earthly wisdom is concerned with the self. It focuses on our own preferences and is driven by envy and selfish ambition. In our churches we can see this type of wisdom now and then. It usually arises when change is on the horizon. Change necessitates leaving the familiar and the comfortable. Individually we also cling to earthly wisdom when the Holy Spirit is nudging us to say or do something – for the same reasons. James reminds us that such wisdom is “earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil”.

Our alternative is to choose heavenly wisdom or wisdom from above. This wisdom is the opposite of earthly wisdom. Hear again the words that James uses to describe heavenly wisdom: “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere”. What a contrast! This wisdom leads us to think of God and others more than ourselves. This wisdom leads us to see and love all people as God does. This sounds a lot like how Jesus operated.

Our passage today opens with this verse: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, be deeds done in humility”. In essence, James is asking us who is wise by God’s standard. In a return to the theme of James 2, it is again our works and the fruit of our faith that reveals the true condition of our hearts. When we are allowing God’s wisdom to be our guide, we live out of a good place in our heart, following Jesus’ example. We love and care for those in need. We enjoy good relationships with God, our family, friends, co-workers, teammates, and even with the stranger. We seek good rather than evil. We maintain a humble servant’s attitude as we interact with God and neighbor. In turn, we experience the good life, blessed by God. May it be so for you and for me.

Dear God, fill me with your wisdom – a wisdom that is pure and considerate and compassionate and humble and loving. May all I do and say lift others up. Empower me to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to shine a light on Jesus and His love. This day and every day, may your wisdom guide me. Amen.

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Favorites

Reading: James 2: 1-7

Verse 1: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism”.

James is addressing our tendency to play favorites today. In reading his short illustration we think that we would never do such a thing. We also think that we would be glad to equally welcome one and all into our meetings on Sunday morning. In reality, sometimes our practice does not match our actions and sometimes we are just not very welcoming.

We tend to gravitate to people we know and to people who we think are most like us when in a crowd of strangers. This is true of almost all people, regardless of level of wealth. Observe any gathering – church potluck, community event, ballgame… – and you will see this play out. Here us an example. Folks walk into our monthly Fellowship Meal at church and they look around the room to decide where to sit. They survey the open seats and select to sit by their closest friends currently present. If they are the first to arrive or if they arrive early and no close friend is there, they sit and watch the door, hoping to see a familiar face to wave to as an invitation to join them. We often have guests from outside the church come too. They are the same way! They took seek out a familiar face amongst a group of relative strangers.

The true test of how welcoming and nonjudgmental we are comes when a person or couple comes in alone. They will get food and find a place to sit. Sometimes, if they do not know anyone, they will sit by themselves. Usually someone from the church will go over with a cup of coffee or lemonade and will sit down to chat with them. This gesture is an important way to let our guest know that they are welcome and it can begin to build a sense of belonging. It is an essential first step to sharing God’s love with others.

Ideally we are welcoming to one and all. James sums up why in verse one: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism”. Why Jesus as our example? Because He truly loved and valued and honestly engaged with one and all. When we study Jesus in the Gospels, we do find an awesome example to follow.

Father God, help me to love as Jesus loved. Help me to see all people as You see them and to treat them as Jesus did. All people are your children. Lord, help me to love them like I know you do. Amen.


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The Foreigners

Reading: 1Kings 8: 41-43

Verses 41-43: “As for the foreigner… who has come from a distant land because of your name… when he comes and prays… then hear from heaven”.

Solomon is making a request that we all want to make. He hopes that God’s name spreads and that people outside of his nation will come to pray to God. His request of God is to hear their prayers so that foreigners know and fear the Lord. I am not sure, but I’d guess Solomon’s hope comes more from the perspective of more people knowing God than from God’s name becoming famous or from enlarging the nation.

In our lives we all want to think that we welcome in the foreigners and strangers amongst us. We want to think that the least, the lost, and the broken, the poor and the fatherless – when they get up the courage to step inside our churches – that they will feel welcomed and loved. We, like Solomon, hope that God hears their prayers and answers them so that a relationship with God begins to form. And then, if they are to come back the next Sunday and seem inclined to become a part our community of faith, then we expect them to be and look and act just like us that next week. So when the foreigner returns next week they still look a lot like a homeless man or an addict or a teenage single parent or… and we realize that this could be messy and hard. The welcome becomes just a little less welcoming.

Yes, in our heart of hearts, we want all people to come to know God and Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yes, we want all people to find a community of faith where they can find fellowship and a place to worship God. We are just not always sure that we want it to be at our nice and tidy church and in our fellowship of perfect sinners. It is difficult to really pray this hope that Solomon expresses for those in our communities who are the foreigners to us. It is even harder to live it out. Yet when we look to our example, to Jesus, we see this is exactly how He practiced ministry. To all who came, Jesus offered welcome and love and a place at the table. To all who came, Jesus ministered to their needs. To all who came, Jesus extended relationship. It did not matter who the foreigner was – tax collector, prostitute, Samaritan, demon possessed, adulterer, thief… As we strive to live out Solomon’s hope for the foreigner, may we follow Jesus’ example, loving and welcoming all.


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Love and Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse One: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”.

In today’s Psalm, there is a connection between unity and blessing and anointing with oil. The opening verse begins this relationship, stating, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”. Who is it good and pleasant to? Certainly to God but also to the community of faith itself. Living in harmony and unity is how God intends our churches to be.

The psalmist goes on to compare this type of living to an abundant anointing. The overflow of oil is obvious and extravagant – much like the love that pours forth from a community of faith living in unity with each other and with Jesus Christ. This anointing is not the slightest dip of the finger that traces a thin line of a cross on someone’s forehead. It is a pouring out of blessing that runs down the face and through the beard and onto the clothes. The anointing in the Psalm is a thorough and complete blessing that is obvious for all to see.

When people walk into our churches and communities of faith, do they sense and feel unity that pours forth, overflowing like the oil on Aaron’s beard and robes? Does the love and care for one another and for the stranger in our midst burst forth like this oil? Or is there just a hint of unity and love, that like that thinly traced cross that can be seen if one really looks?

The love and unity present in our faith communities should be obvious and extravagant and generous. It should freely flow out to and over all who enter our community. The Psalm closes with, “there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore”. May our love and unity flow out like the oil in today’s Psalm, blessing all who enter our midst.


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Distinct

Reading: Exodus 33: 12-23

Verse 13: Teach me your ways so I may know you.

Moses represents God’s connection to the people as the spokesperson for both God and the people.  Although they are the “chosen people”, what Moses provides is essential to the relationship.  At this point, the people do not feel a connection to God that allows them to communicate directly with God.  This is done by Moses.  The way we communicate with God through our prayers would seem an impossibility to the Israelites.

The Lord God knows Moses by name.  It is a personal relationship.  Moses has come to know God well enough to be able to negotiate with God, but he wants more.  Moses says to God, “Teach me your ways so I may know you”.  He is saying, in essence, that he wants to know God even more.  God’s response is the promise of His presence with Moses and the people Israel.

Moses’ request should be the request that always lies at the center of our personal relationship with God.  “Teach me your ways” should be our daily goal and our constant aim.  Central to this should be our own daily communication with God.  Each day we should often spend time with God, giving our thanks and praise, seeking His activity in our lives.  A part of the conversation must be listening as well – not just to the Holy Spirit but also for God’s voice in our times of prayer.  We must also spend time daily in His Word – reading, meditating, seeking discernment and direction, growing in our knowledge of His ways.  Lastly, we must live out our faith.  As we interact with others, as we meet the stranger, as we work, as we play – in all things God must shine through.  In all we are and do, we too should hear, “I am pleased with you and I know you by name”.  Just like Moses, we too should have an intimate personal relationship with God.

This relationship made Moses and the Israelites distinct from the rest of the world.  They were set apart.  What makes us as Christians distinctive and set apart for God?  How does our daily living bring God the glory as it draws others closer to Jesus Christ?


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Which Son?

Reading: Matthew 21: 28-32

Verse 28: Son, go and work today in the vineyard.

The priests and elders have just tried to question Jesus about His authority.  In today’s parable Jesus continues the conversation with them.  One son is asked by his father, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard”.  The first son refuses but later goes and works.  The second son hears the same request, says he will go, but does not go and work in the vineyard.

In Luke 10, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”.  Paired with our commission to go forth to make disciples of all nations, we have much to wrestle with in today’s parable.  Which son are we?

Each Sunday we gather in our churches to lift our voices in praise to God and to remind ourselves of how we are to live in the world as followers of Jesus.  We hear the Word proclaimed and the message brings application of the Word.  We offer up prayers of thanksgiving and we bring our requests as well, believing God to be loving and caring and merciful.  At the end of the service we receive a blessing or benediction that sends us out into the world to share Jesus.  We head out the doors to be His light and love in the world.

Jesus asks the priests and elders, “Which of the two sons did what his father wanted”?  We would answer as they did: “The first”.  The one who actually went out and worked in the vineyard.  It is important that he went out and worked in the vineyard because the harvest is indeed plentiful.

As Christians it is much easier to sing the songs, to pray the prayers, and to receive the message on Sunday morning than it is to go out into the world and to love our neighbors or to welcome the stranger.  It is difficult to love all people, to always offer grace and forgiveness, to be a humble servant.  Yet this is what the Lord of the harvest did every day.  The Father asks each of us to go to the vineyard, to labor today for the kingdom.  In reality, which son will you be today?


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Radical and Generous

Reading: Genesis 18: 1-15

Verses Four and Five: Let a little water be brought… let me get you something to eat.

Abraham and Sarah receive three men and they extend gracious welcome to them.  They recognize them as strangers.  Abraham first requests that these three men stay for a while.  To help them in their decision, he offers, “Let a little water be brought… let me get you something to eat”.  In showing good hospitality, Abraham offers them a way to clean off the dust of their journey and a way to refresh themselves.  They prepare bread and meat for their guests, sharing abundantly with these three guests.  It is an illustration of generous hospitality.  The men stay and in the end bless Abraham and Sarah with the promise of a child, even though they are very old.

Often we too have the opportunity to offer welcome to the stranger.  On any given Sunday morning they are in our churches.  On any given afternoon we may cross paths with them on the street.  In these encounters at the personal level, do we quickly extend radical and generous hospitality?  Or do we quickly pass them by, instead focusing on our own needs and concerns?

On the national level, the larger struggle with offering radical and generous hospitality swirls around immigrants and refugees.  Most are seeking freedom or a better future, yet many do not receive a warm welcome.  We turn to fear and worse to deny welcome and to keep up a wall between us.  It is a struggle our nation has always had.  Being a place of freedom and the “land of opportunity” has brought millions to our country.  As Christians living here, what should our response be?

Of course, Jesus called us to love neighbor as self.  He illustrated the results of loving or not loving neighbor in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  He lived the commandment to love others out with all He met so we would have plenty of examples to follow.  The blessing of Isaac was a great blessing to Abraham and Sarah.  For you and I, the stranger also offers great blessings.  It is only when we take the opportunity to engage the other and to offer our love through radical and generous hospitality that we experience the blessings.  This day may we live as He first loved us.