pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Flourish

Reading: Psalm 52

Verse 8: “I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God”.

The first seven verses of the Psalm are like the tempest of life. For David, Saul is creating the storms that rage around him. Sometimes for us it can be a person or a single situation that is creating the swirl that feels very consuming. Sometimes it is a combination of factors. We can become overwhelmed, especially when we are running at or beyond capacity.

This week we have VBS at the church. It makes a full schedule a little fuller, adding about 5 hours to most days. I love cooking and I love hanging out with middle school youth, so I was looking forward to the week. And then a wicked head cold settled in on Saturday and was going strong until this morning. Just that one little thing was enough to make the first three days extra hard.

David’s struggle lasted a lot longer. He was pursued by Saul for days on end. The constant pressure of moving and hiding again to avoid confrontation was draining. It was very hard. This is revealed in verses 1-7. But then comes verse 8. David pauses, takes a breath, and writes, “I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God”. He stops and pauses and then reminds himself that above all else, above all that is happening with Saul, that God is his refuge and his shelter and his strength.

An olive tree sinks down deep roots. These roots can draw nourishment from the soil. Olive trees are tough looking and are gnarly – they stand strong. David’s faith parallels these trees. He is deeply rooted in God. The connections that he has to God nourish him and allow him to even flourish in the midst of this struggle.

At times we too must pause and stop all of the busyness. At times we too must take a breath, pause, and reconnect through the roots that we have deep down in our relationship with God. Maybe it’s just an extra 15 minutes of quiet time after lunch. Maybe it is sleeping in just a bit to refresh the body. Maybe it is pausing at your desk to offer up a little extra prayer and praise. When we are pressed may we too take a little time, pausing to remind ourselves of our connection to God. In those moments, soak up the nourishment for the soul that time with God provides. Then we too will flourish.

Prayer: Dear Father, when I try and become or do too much, when I just try to push through on my own, slow me down, draw me back in, fill me with your love. Thank you, Father God. Amen.

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No Compartmentalizing!

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”.

On Ash Wednesday I encouraged the folks in worship to consider a fast for Lent. We spent time in prayer seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit for discernment concerning what it is that we could choose that would lead us closer to God. Today in our passage Isaiah speaks of the kind of fast that pleases God. As I fasted this past week, I came close to displeasing God with my fast. I became a little grumpy within and was tempted to let it out in my words, but the Holy Spirit squashed that thought and I turned to the Lord and He moved me past my difficulty. Praise God! Yes, it was good the Holy Spirit intervened. But to truly lead to growth and to become closer to God, this experience must change me within. God has brought this struggle to my mind and heart. I must choose to now be more aware of it and must work to not go down that road again next week when I fast again.

In our passage today Isaiah is reminding us first of the ways not to fast. This would apply for all spiritual disciplines that we practice – prayer, worship, Bible study, small groups… It does not please God if we live a life of sin – oppressing others, quarreling, abusing… – and then stop to fast for a time and then return to our sinful ways. Again, the same is true for all of our spiritual disciplines. We cannot compartmentalize our faith. For example, we cannot be a good Christian on Sunday mornings and then live as a pagan the rest of the week.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Again, we can insert pray, worship, study… in place of ‘fast’. The results will be the same. Whatever our spiritual practice, it must draw us closer to the heart of God. Starting in verse 6, Isaiah reveals the heart of God to us. It is a heart that cares for and walks alongside the weak and marginalized and oppressed. It is a heart that works to break the chains of injustice and oppression. It is a heart that works to give food and shelter and clothing to those in need. I must honestly ask myself, which of these did I work for this week? We must ask ourselves this because God desires that we live our faith out in the world. If not, we are compartmentalizing our faith.

Starting in verse 8, we read about the impact of choosing to live with the heart of God as we work to live our out faith. Verse 8 reads, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our light draws others to God. Our souls are healed. We will call out and God will say, “Here I am”. We will come closer in our walk with God. May we seek to discover and grow closer to the heart of God as we worship, as we pray, as we study our Bibles, as we meet with our fellow Christians, and as we live out our faith. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord, make your heart my heart. Align my thoughts, my words, my actions with your heart, O God. Amen.


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Resurrection

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15: 12-20

Verse 20: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead”.

As chapter 15 opens, Paul reminds the people of the church in Corinth of the basic truths of their faith. Paul reminds them that Christ died for our sins, was raised on the third day, and then appeared to many, many people, including Paul himself. All of these appearances offer proof that Jesus was indeed resurrected. Paul closes the opening section by saying, “This is what we preached and this is what you believed”. This sets the context for today’s reading.

There are now some in Corinth who are questioning the facts of the resurrection. To those with Jewish roots the resurrection is an end-times occurrence. To those coming in new to the faith, the idea of being raised from the dead is a struggle. People today struggle with this idea. In verses 12-19 Paul lays out why belief in the resurrection is necessary – through Jesus’ resurrection we too find hope for life eternal. In verse 20 he concludes with a reiteration of this fact that was made real for him in his own first hand encounter with the risen Lord, writing, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead”. Christ resurrected and eternal is simply one of the bedrock truths of our faith.

This truth affects our eternity as well as our earthly lives. Knowing that we have a future filled with hope is one thing that helps us in the struggles and trials that we face in our earthly bodies. It is the “something more” that can pull us through. In the darkest of valleys it is the promise that one day we will be reunited. As people of faith, we know that our last breath here is not “the end”. In the vast scheme of things, our earthly life is but a “mist”. For the gift of hope that we find in our resurrection faith, today I say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Savior, I rejoice in knowing that you not only lived to give me an example of how to love, but that you died and rose to show me the way to life eternal. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Pleasing Words & Thoughts

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 11: “By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”.

Psalm 19 was a song that the people sang in worship or when preparing for worship. It begins with praise for the handiwork of God that we can see in creation. This first section reminds us of both God’s might and power and the perfection of creation. Then the psalmist transitions to God’s law and precepts. Again we take in hints of completeness and perfection. The Law is perfect and trustworthy and right and radiant and sure and precious and sweet. It brings joy to the heart and light to the eyes. Creation and the Law can be seen as parallel works of God’s mighty hand. The Law section ends with this line: “By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”. How true!

The Psalm is also realistic. In verses 12 and 13, there is an acknowledgement that we are human and, therefore, will struggle with the Law. We each have our hidden faults. There will be times when they lead us into sin. By our nature we are attracted to the things of this world. The psalmist asks for both forgiveness and for God to keep him from “willful sins”. These are the ones that we consider and mull over and still fall into despite knowing they are sin. Only with God’s help can one stand against the temptations of this world.

Why do we praise God for the work of His hand in all of creation? Why do we meditate on the Word of God on a regular basis? So that we can live into the wonderful line that concludes this great Psalm. So that our words and thoughts are pleasing to our God. May they be so for you and for me.

Prayer: O Lord my God, help my eyes to see your hand at work in and around me. Make me sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit so that your Word is ever before me. Keep me closely connected to you so that my life is a fragrant offering to you, one that is pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Humble Submission

Reading: James 4: 7-8a

Verse 8a: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”.

In our short one and a half verses, James gives us three pieces of advice. In James 4 he has just finished quoting Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. When we are proud and allow pride to guide our words and thoughts, then we have trouble with today’s advice.

Most Christians are rule followers. In general. Sometimes we follow the rules because of circumstances. For example, in my old truck I do not drive 80 miles per hour on the interstate. 80 is the rule. I could physically drive 80 and the truck can too, but the gas mileage plummets and I am cheap. Most of the time, though, I do follow the rules because it is simply the right thing to do.

Sometimes rules do not make sense or we know they are wrong. In the cases when the rule does not make sense, we struggle to follow it. But when the rules are wrong, as Christians, we must take a stand. Such was the case back in the 1960s, when rules excluded or denied or segregated based on race. These rules were broken by and protested against by people, bringing reform to a bad system. Although it is sometimes long and hard, what is right usually wins out in the end.

Today, James is advising us to follow a rule that is both good for us and is in alignment with our faith. James says to submit to God. Tying in the verse from Proverbs, we are to humbly submit to God. Yes, it is good and right to do so. No, we cannot argue or protest against this rule. Yet at times we struggle to follow it. The devil is always at work, trying to tempt us. It is precisely then that we must over God. When we obey God, we are resisting the devil. When we obey God, the devil flees. And then we receive the promise: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”. Come to God and He’ll come to you. Draw near and rest in His presence. Connect with God and live in His light and love. How could life be any better?

O Lord, my God, in humble submission I draw near to you. In awe, I come into your presence. It is a good place to be. Fill me up with your love and grace and mercy and compassion. Fill me to overflowing, so that you can flow out of me and into the lives of those I meet today. Amen.


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The Struggle Within

Reading: James 4: 1-3

Verse 1: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”?

So far in the book of James, he has built the argument that the things in our heart and mind are what guide our actions, control our tongues, and directs our decisions. In chapter four, he turns the discussion towards the disagreements and arguments that mankind often enters into. One only has to watch the nightly news for a short time to see plenty of examples.

James opens chapter four with two great focus questions: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”? Once in a while we fight and quarrel for other reasons, but most often the battle begins with an internal issue or struggle. Maybe it is something that happened in our past that we haven’t gotten past or let go of yet. Similar events trigger us, pushing that button that leads us to desire to fight and quarrel. Maybe our desire to enter the battle comes from some perceived need or want and our envy or jealousy flares up. Sometimes it has to do with a lack of maturity. I can remember times in my greener years when I’d argue for the sake of arguing and times when I would argue long after I knew I had lost the argument. Pride was definitely at work.

When we come to the edge of a fight and quarrel, James suggests a few filters. We should ask ourselves questions such as these: What am I about to fight about? Is this about getting even? Are these feelings even connected this actual person or situation? Am I being stubborn or prideful? Again, in most cases the urge to fight and quarrel is driven by a struggle or issue within us. When we allow these to linger, they inhibit our relationships with God and with others. Only when we make peace within will we have peace without. James has a suggestion here too: seek God’s help with the right motives. Pray for help with the struggle within. God is faithful. He will rain down mercy, grace, forgiveness, and healing.

Prince of Peace, pour out your peace upon my inner being. Guide me to those that I need to reconcile with. Lead me to speak words of unity and healing. Wipe away all unrest and discord that is within. Help me to freely offer mercy, grace, and forgiveness so that I may receive them from you and from others. May I model your love each day. Amen.


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The Good

Reading: James 3: 9-12

Verse 11: “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring”?

James wants us to be consistent in our Christian walk. He encourages us to be faithful all if our days. But this is not the behavior that he always sees exhibited. We too struggle with this so today’s passage applies well to life as a Christian in 2018. Truth be told, it applied well in 407, 1268, 2001… and will apply well in 2047, 2206…

James uses some good examples to follow up his main point. We do use the same tongue to praise God and to curse our fellow men – “who have been made in God’s image”. We cannot love the Creator and hate His creation. That is as crazy, James says, as expecting fresh water out of a salty spring or figs from a grapevine. If in nature none of this occurs, then how can it occurs in us, the masterpiece of God’s creation?

If we are striving to live a Christian life, I do not think we want to intentionally cause harm to others. We do not wake up in the morning looking to curse at and fight with others. But we are imperfect beings living in a broken world. We will cross paths with people who hurt or wrong us or others. Satan causes greed and jealousy and pride and… to drive a lot of people’s decisions. Into all of this we are called to be light and love. When we are hurt or wronged, we are to handle it with grace and love and forgiveness. When we stand against injustice or bias or prejudice… we are to do do with peace and understanding and empathy. We are called to walk alongside those who are hurting and broken, bringing a burst of joy and mercy and compassion.

Sometimes it is hard. In those moments we must really search deep within the other to find the Creator. We must be patient and must persevere to find that which God created and seek to draw that out. There is good within all of us, just as there is evil. As followers of Jesus Christ may we work to be and bring forth the good in us and in the world.

Lord, give me patience when I want to react and perseverance when I want to just give up. Give me mercy when I want to judge. Give me grace when you just want to condemn. Most of all, give me eyes to see you in all and a heart to love as you love. In His name, amen.