pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Invitation

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.

Lent is a season of fasting and self-denial. It is the season when we are invited to look within and to surrender all that keeps us from being fully committed to God. In general, the things of the men, the things that culture values, keep us separated. In today’s passage, Peter is a good example of this. After Jesus tells the disciples that He will soon be rejected and killed, Peter pulls Him aside to protest such a thing happening. Jesus then rebukes Peter, saying to him, “Get behind me Satan”! The future rock of the church is being called Satan. But Jesus goes on. He knows that the human Peter missed the “after three days rise again” part of the story. Sadly Jesus says to him, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”. Peter wanted Jesus to stay with them. He wanted to hold onto the familiar and comfortable. Peter is not alone.

The season of Lent with all of its fasting and self-denial and surrender continues to run counter to our human desires and to our culture and its values. In a culture that preaches “just do it” and “do it if it makes you feel good” the idea of Lent is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is no wonder so many of us struggle with Lent. Ultimately, though, Lent is a season all about grace and holiness. As we look within, God invites us to be more like Jesus. As we look outside of ourselves, God invites live out His grace and love. In these ways, Lent is an invitation not a requirement. It is an invitation to be a better follower, to live out a more holy and faithful life. And, yes, if we accept the invitation, it will bring some discomfort – it is a harder journey.

As God invites us to search within and to step out, we do so with a promise: “I will never leave you”. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we do not search and we do not go alone. In those moments of unfamiliar, the Spirit will guide and lead. In those moments of discomfort, the Spirit speaks words of peace and strength. In those moments when we look within, when it is unsettling, the Spirit speaks words of encouragement and support. Our discomfort, our unease, are invitations into God’s grace and love. They are invitations to draw closer, to walk holier. They are opportunities that allow His grace and love to reshaped us, to transform us. When we choose to focus our minds on the things of God, we are blessed. May this be my choice and your choice throughout this Lenten season. Amen!

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Thanksgiving

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse Four: “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.

As we begin the day, the psalmist encourages us to “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.  It is very appropriate for Thanksgiving Day.  This is the day when we will gather around the table and list off all of the things we are thankful for: family, friends, home, employment, time off, the food!  And in the midst of the holiday, let us not forget to be thankful for our God.

People will come into this day of thanks with a wide range of emotions and from different places in their lives.  Most will come into the day with the joy and praise called for by the psalmist.  But for some, this will be their first big holiday or their first thanksgiving without someone special.  May we be sensitive to and extra loving of them if this is the case.  Others will come to the gathering with different struggles or sorrows or burdens.  To each of these may we offer kindness and understanding and acceptance along with our love and welcome.

Maybe this is how we enter Thanksgiving today.  Then these words that open the Psalm are harder to live out.  we think: joyful songs when I feel this way?  Shouts of praise as I am going through this?  If so, perhaps just verse five matters today: “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness endured through all generations”.  Sometimes we must just cling to God’s love and His faithfulness.  Sometimes we must lean into God and His presence and know that it is enough.  As we turn to God in our need, He will surround us with His love.  And in time we will be grateful for this and we will thank Him for His love.

May our day today be filled with God, family, and  friends and with wonderful food and a joyous time of fellowship!  Amen!


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Lord

Reading: Matthew 22: 41-46

Verse 42: What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?

Questions about who Jesus is were a hot topic in Jesus’ day, especially amongst the religious leaders.  For a group who leads a people who have been looking for a Messiah for generations, they sure are pretty reluctant to see Jesus as the Messiah.  There were two main barriers that kept them from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah.  First, He did not match their expectations.  They were looking for a king like David, one who would defeat the Romans and re-establish Israel’s greatness.  Second, the idea of a Messiah coming was great in theory but hard to take in practice.  They would not be in control.  They would be less.  They liked being in power.

The religious leaders ask Jesus, “What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he”?  Jesus’ response is not directly about himself but it does silence the Pharisees.  They believe the Messiah will come through David.  But Jesus quotes from Psalm 110, showing how David calls the Messiah “Lord”, proving it cannot be David’s son.  They dared not ask Him any more questions and began to look for a way to kill Jesus.

Today people continue to ask who Jesus is.  Some are looking for a Jesus who will save them or who will bring freedom or relief from their current life.  But the radical change from the inside out is tough to take.  They struggle with giving up that secret sin or two and can’t quite call Jesus “Lord”.  Others are like the Pharisees.  They can see Jesus’ power, but can’t quite bow to Jesus as the new Lord of their lives.  They like calling the shots, being in control, having the power.  Jesus requires us to become 3rd at best.  We must be willing to place Jesus on the throne of our heart and then to love others more than ourselves.  Jesus demands all of us.  We cannot keep a few hidden parts or compartmentalize Jesus into just some parts of our lives.  It is a total commitment.  But it is also a process, a journey.  Daily we must ask: what more can I give?  What must I surrender to become less as Jesus becomes more?


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Shouldn’t You

Reading: Matthew 18: 21-35

Verse 33: Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

Forgiveness.  It is something we all want when we have done wrong and want to restore the relationship.  It is something that at times we can try and manipulate.  It is something that can be hard to give sometimes.

Just after teaching about how to offer forgiveness in the midst of conflict in the church, Jesus is asked by Peter, “How many times…”?  We do not know if Peter is asking when he can stop forgiving or if he is seeking a goal far past his current practices or if he is setting Jesus up to say we need to always forgive.  In any event, the latter is the point Jesus makes.

Jesus goes on to share a story that illustrates why we must always offer forgiveness to others.  A servant owes the king an amount worth millions of dollars.  The king demands payment.  The servant cannot repay the debt and begs for mercy.  In compassion, the king forgives the debt.  In our minds the servant should be very grateful and thankful.  But as he leaves he runs into another servant who owes him a very small sum.  He harshly demands payment and his fellow servant also begs for mercy.  It is refused and the second servant ends up in jail.

I ask for mercy and forgiveness every day.  Daily I seek forgiveness from my wife and frequently from others in my life.  I often ask my King for forgiveness of my sins and my failures.  It is a practice that I walk through quite often.  Each time the Holy Spirit convicts me, I go asking one more time.  One Sunday a month I am reminded of what led to the open door to forgiveness that we find through Jesus.  Despite my vast experience with being forgiven over and over, sometimes I too struggle to give it.

The king in the story finds out the first servant withheld mercy and he calls him back in.  The king says to him, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you”?  Jesus asks me the same question.

Lord, give me the love and strength to be merciful and forgiving this day and every day.  Amen.


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Hold Tightly

Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31

Verse 24: Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.

God directs Jacob to return home.  He is being led to return to the family that he tricked and stole from.  This worries Jacob.  As he nears home, he sends all his family and all he owns across the stream and he remains alone on the far side.  The scene is set for some alone time with God.

At times we find ourselves in a similar situation.  We are returning to or going someplace that causes us some fear or worry or anxiety.  We may be the cause of it or it could be from things outside of us that are causing the uneasiness.  Yet we know we must go.  Here we too seek some guidance or direction or encouragement from God.  We want to know that we do not go alone.

“Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till daybreak”.  As turmoil stirs around inside Jacob, a man comes and wrestles with him.  It could be an angel.  It could be a man sent by God.  It could be God.  Whatever the case, Jacob realizes that this is a powerful foe and this leads him to demand a blessing.  He has already sent quite a blessing across the stream – his wives and children, his large herds and flocks, and his many possessions.  Yet he demanded more.  God has blessed him and now he asks for more.
In our times of trial and stress, we who have also been blessed often go to God asking for more.  Sometimes God will allow us to do a bit of wrestling too.  God will allow us to sit in our feelings of uncertainty and fear because it leads us back to Him.  He wants to know if we too will hold on tightly.  Jacob does not give up in the wrestling match and he is rewarded.  He receives a new name – Israel – the one who struggled with God.  Jacob departs the scene knowing that God is with him.  It is now a hopeful future for Jacob.

At times we too will wrestle with God.  We too will struggle and ask the “why” questions.  In this story we see that God is faithful to those who hold tightly to Him, to those who remain steadfast.  May we ever hold tightly to our God, trusting in His blessings.


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God Kept the Dark

Reading: Genesis 1: 1-30

Verse Two: … darkness was over the surface… the Spirit of God was hovering.

The creation narrative begins with the world being formless and empty.  There was darkness over the surface and “the Spirit of God was hovering”.  Sometimes we feel as if life were a bit formless or out of control and sometimes we feel a tad empty.  Life would not be the same if the world were void of these times.  God’s first act of creation is to form the light.  God chooses to separate light from dark instead of simply eliminating the darkness.

As Christians we often look at light as good and at dark as evil.  We reference Jesus as being light and we pursue “walking in the light” as a way to represent following Jesus.  We use the phrase “shine the light” to describe living out our faith as we seek to share our faith with others.  The implication here is that our ‘light’ drives away or at least exposes darkness.  And it does.  In the end, we know that light will triumph over the dark because only light can drive away darkness.  Darkness simply cannot drive away light.

Although we prefer to walk in the light, at times we​ do struggle with the dark.  On one level, sin and temptation are always near, lurking right around the edges as Satan is always at work.  On another level, life itself sometimes brings darkness.  In this sense, it is not necessarily evil.  It comes in a loss we experience or maybe it is caused by the actions of another person.  Sometimes we find ourselves in darkness as a result of our sins.  In any case, being here is uncomfortable and maybe painful.  We do not like being here.  But God kept the dark for a reason.  It is here, in the dark of the valleys, that we must trust and hold onto God the most.  It is here that we learn how much we need God.  It is often here that our faith grows the most.

We love the light.  This is our preference.  It is where we are called to live as here we reflect God’s love back out into the world.  The light is also our hope in times of darkness.  For God’s presence in both the light and the dark, we say thanks be to God.


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Cry Out, Trust

Reading: Psalm 31: 9-15

Verses 14… 15… and 16: I trust in you O Lord… my times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love.

Reading verses nine through thirteen one cannot help but to think of Jesus at the end of His earthly life.  His last days certainly contained distress, sorrow, anguish, affliction, contempt, slander, and plotting against Him.  These last days were certainly a trial and struggle for the human side of Jesus.  They would have been for us as well.  Probably moreso.

Each day in our world, there are people who live through these emotions and experiences on a regular basis.  There are places in our world where Christians are persecuted and where life is very difficult because of their faith.  Those living in such conditions need our daily prayers.

There are some in our country that will face trials today because of their faith.  There is the young person whose faith is challenged by the new pressures and pulls of college life.  There is the new believer whose faith is foreign or counter to their family’s belief system.  There is the middle schooler who experiences taunts each day because she prays over her food in the cafeteria.  There is the Dad who just lost his job.  There is the young couple who just lost a child.  This is only a sampling.

Perhaps we are one of those listed above.  Regardless, we all have struggles and trials that we face.  While most of ours and even those listed above pale in comparison to those Jesus faced, they are still very real and front-and-center for us.  They are significant because they affect our lives and our faith.  Just as the psalmist did, just as Jesus did, just as those in foreign land do, just as all other faithful disciples before us did and do, may we too place our hope in God.  May we too cry out, “I trust in you O Lord… my times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love”.  All like all of these, may His “face shine on you”.