pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In the Midst

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Verse 1: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”.

The overall theme of our passage from Jeremiah 23 is that one day the Lord will reign. In essence, we know the end of the story. Even though we know this, sometimes we endure hardship and suffering during the story. Jeremiah begins our passage by addressing the bad shepherds who are negatively affecting the flock of Israel. To these the Lord declares, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”. This word of warning comes with some explanation.

God is speaking to those who are leading Israel. The kings and priests are the primary leaders. These leaders have scattered parts of the flock. By not caring for and watching out for the most vulnerable of the sheep, they have driven them away. These have sought care and protection elsewhere. Unfortunately, they often find greater danger outside the flock. The hardening of hearts within the flock has led to destruction. Love and care and empathy for one another is a memory. When the leaders become inwardly focused, soon the people do too. God promises to bring evil on these bad shepherds.

This word from Jeremiah remains relevant today. On many days it seems that our leaders are more concerned with fighting each other than they are with leading and caring for the people. The cost of this is great. The more they fight, the more the sheep scatter and wander into isolated camps. The hurling of bombs from afar leaves no space in the middle. The two polarized ends see anyone not in their camp as the opposition. The arts of dialogue and compromise and win-win seem to be lost. But we must remember we are just in the midst of the story. Jeremiah also reminds us, “the days are coming”. Christ will reign. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, help us to see more than just ourselves, more than our own little camp. Open our hearts to the other, to sitting at the table even with those that we are not totally aligned with. Remind us over and over that there is but one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Encouraging and Uplifting

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4: 16-18

Verse 17: “The Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that the message might be fully received”.

As a young married couple my wife and I became part of a couple’s group at our church. Each month when we would gather, we would talk about marriage and we would listen to the stories of the two older couples who led the group. Their experiences made our marriages better. Over the course of the past 20+ years I have been blessed to be in and eventually to lead numerous Bible studies and other small groups. In each of these settings there were always more experienced disciples of Christ. From these would and do come stories of faith and of when God acted in their lives. These witnesses to the faith were encouraging and uplifting for my journey of faith.

Paul has been mentoring young Timothy. He has chosen him to carry on the work of spreading the gospel. Paul is entrusting his life’s work to this young disciple. Timothy has shown himself capable and gifted. This is not a random selection. So in today’s passage Paul has a few stories to share with Timothy. He begins by sharing that at times one may feel alone in ministry – “everyone deserted me”. Paul quickly follows up with a deeper truth: “The Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that the message might be fully received”. God did not ever desert him! Just the opposite – God delivered him “from the lion’s mouth”. With an assurance based on both faith and experience, Paul adds that God has rescued him from every evil attack and will continue to do so as God brings Paul “safely to his heavenly kingdom”. Paul is sharing his faith and his experiences as a way to encourage and uplift young Timothy.

As I have progressed into my middle years, I find that I too have some stories to share. On the journey of faith we all have experiences when God guided or intervened or rescued us. These are the stories we have to tell to encourage and uplift those that we gather with on Sunday mornings, that we sit around a table with, that we work with… Like Paul, may we be intentional about passing the faith along to both those in our lives who are on the journey with us and to those yet to begin the journey, all for the glory of God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the journey so far. You have been with me in many ways and many times. Each experience with you builds up my faith and helps me grow closer to you. Open my eyes to the blessings and to the opportunities to share my faith with others. Amen.


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Recognition

Reading: Luke 14: 1 and 7-14

Verse 11: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

As Jesus arrives at a Pharisees’ house, he notices how the guests pick their seats. The order at the table was very important in Jesus’ day. The honored guest would sit at the center seat of the head table. The next most important persons would sit on the right and left of center and so on down the line. The furthest seat away from the honored guest would be the one with the least honor. Just like in the culture of our day, most folks want to be closest to the honored guest. Jesus observes people trying to ascertain where they rank amongst the other guests. Some people, of course, are filling in the important seats near the prime seat.

In the parable, Jesus warns against taking too “high” a seat, lest more important people arrive, forcing the host to move you to a lower seat. That would be humiliating and shameful. Jesus is speaking against arrogance and against judging. He is reminding his audience and his readers today that being humble is the correct course. If one is humble, choosing a lower seat, then the host might move you up some seats, exalting you in the process. We may not pick seats at tables anymore, but there is no shortage of ways that we can try to toot our own horn. Sometimes the ways are public, using different means to draw attention to ourselves and our accomplishments. For some of us, like me, it is usually a more private thing. I wonder why others don’t notice this or that and wish they did. Jesus would probably condemn this fake humility much more than he does the jostling over seats.

However and whenever we allow pride, arrogance, judging, and ego to control our lives and our thoughts, then we are not walking in Jesus’ footsteps. Each time we seek to bring honor for ourselves are instances when we do not bring honor to Jesus. In a similar way, when we seek to draw recognition ourselves, there is a piece of us that does not fully trust God. Humility links us to the belief that God is enough. Recognition does not need to come here and now. Simply living a life that is pleasing and honoring to God is more than enough. May we rest in that today.

Prayer: Lord, it can be tempting to want to be seen and known for doing great things. Yet serving you is all that matters. Remind me of this over and over again. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Open to Others

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.

On its most basic level the parable of the rich man is about greed and the negative decisions it can lead to. In the parable a bumper crop triggered the man’s “mine” instincts. He decided he had to build bigger barns to store his new crop. He coveted his grain because in it he saw not only financial security but also a chance to take some time to enjoy life. He was very focused on self.

Possessions and wealth are not the only things we can feel greed over and can seek to covet. This morning I read about a small neighborhood church in a changing community that decided to take a chance and reach out. Instead of holding onto their church, they opened their doors and invited their new immigrant neighbors inside. They invited them in and began praying with them – to find homes and jobs and for comfort to their loneliness. The praying led to relationships and that small church grew as their new friends became brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some churches could see new faces as threats to what they have and know. In many cases immigrants are cast in an “us” and “them” scenario. And immigrants are not the only people groups that can be seen in an “us” and “them” framework. When we create perceived differences between ourselves and another group of people, we are denying that they too were created in the image of God. When we allow greed to put up a barrier between us and our neighbors, we are holding tightly to what we have always known or had and are not allowing God’s love to work in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world, or in our own heart.

The rich man was focused only on self. He could not see all he had to offer his neighbors. His greed prevented him from seeing beyond himself and from experiencing God’s love at work. In the end, what good did all that grain do him? Storing up and holding things for ourselves – goods, money, time, compassion, prayers, empathy, a place at the table – does not make us rich towards God either. May we all learn a little from the rich man and from the church that opened its doors to those outside. May we practice what we learn.

Prayer: Lord God, who is out there today for me to engage? Lead me to share your love with another today. Soften my heart and open my eyes, hands, and feet. Amen.


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Goodness and Love

Reading: Psalm 23: 5-6

Verse 6: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”.

Yesterday we looked at how our Shepherd provides and cares for us, the sheep of His fold. Today we look at the last third of Psalm 23. God prepares a table for us. In the eternal, this will be the banquet feast in heaven. In this life it is a place to gather, to relax, to share in a meal. Usually we gather at the table with family and friends. It is the place we laugh and enjoy community. It is where we share our day or week, our joys and concerns. The table can also function as the place we gather to learn and discuss our faith. Many groups gathers around many tables in many churches and homes to grow deeper in our faith.

Our psalmist includes someone that maybe we’d rather not have at the table – our enemies. At the table is the best place to become not enemies. To sit and talk with someone who has wronged you or that you have wronged often leads to healing and reconciliation. It also often leads to the common ground that allows a friendship to begin. Jesus was very clear that we are to love and pray for our enemies, to forgive them, to be reconciled to them. If we are truly loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then there is not room in our hearts for enemies. When we truly live with no enemies then our head is anointed with the oils of blessing and our cup overflows with love and mercy and goodness.

The psalmist names this blessing in verse 6, saying, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”. When we dwell in the house of the Lord, we are filled with His presence and love and peace and grace and strength… Yes, indeed our cup overflows. The more it overflows the less room we allow in our hearts for enemies and hate and prejudice and stereotypes… There is then more room for God. May we each actively seek to be reconcilers and people of grace and mercy and forgiveness this day and every day, all for the glory of God and the building of His kingdom.

Prayer: Lord, may I be filled with your love. Drive all hate and evil from my heart. Let “enemy” not be a term in my life. Grant me words of healing and mercy and life today. Amen.


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Something Far Better

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty”.

For the audience in today’s passage, there is a recent past and a distant past. Just the day before Jesus fed them. He took five loaves and two fish and fed thousands. And there were twelve baskets full of leftovers. He had satisfied their physical hunger in an amazing way. Remember their response? They wanted to force Jesus to be their earthly king.

In the handful of hours since the miracle, the people have connected their recent experience with an event from their people’s distant past. When the people were starving out in the desert, just a month and a half after leaving Egypt, they grumbled against Moses. God responded by saying, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you”. For the rest of their forty years in the desert, each person received food from God. So the crowd now returns to Jesus, looking for food for a second day.

Jesus’ response to the people coming for food was this: “Do not work for food that spoils”. In other words, don’t be so concerned with earthly sustenance. It is not that Jesus wants them to starve, it is that Jesus has something far better to offer. To receive this eternal food, Jesus tells them that they must “believe in the one God has sent”. The people respond to Jesus’ claim with a request for another miracle. Prove it Jesus.

Jesus again claims to be the bread that God has sent down from heaven. Their response is to ask for this bread that gives life to the world. Jesus says,”I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty”. Come to Jesus, believe in Jesus, and you will be satisfied with food for your souls and water for your spiritual thirst. In this way, Jesus offers something far better than daily meals. It is far better to receive eternal food that sustains us for eternity. Jesus continues to offer this far better option. The offer is still on the table. For those who have come to Jesus and accepted His Lordship, we rejoice and partake daily. For those yet to bow before the King, take the offer and find life. Believe in Jesus Christ and be filled. Believe in Jesus Christ and find true life.


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At the Table

Today’s text is a little troubling.  As a fellow pastor said at the lectionary study yesterday, “It makes me uncomfortable.”  In today’s text Jesus calls the woman who has come to beg for her daughter’s healing a “dog”.  It was not likely a racial insult in Jesus’ day.  We are used to Jesus sparring with the Pharisees and calling them ‘hypocrites’ but this seems different.  The loving Jesus who seems to accept all who come to him is trying to rudely dismiss this woman.  This version of Jesus makes me uncomfortable too.

Perhaps it makes me uncomfortable because at times I have thought less of another as well.  This is often a means to justify not helping them or to rationalize not taking the time to be present with them.  In essence I too am calling them a ‘dog’ in my mind and in my analysis of their worth.

Yet in this story I also find hope.  In my sin I come before God seeking healing and forgiveness much like a dog.  Slinking up to Him, head bowed low, I approach knowing I am unworthy to be in His presence.  Like this woman, I do not and cannot argue with my position because in my sin I am lowly.  So like her I approach humbly.  In her the hope I find, though, is also in her boldness.

This woman is bold in asking for her daughter’s healing.  She just asks for a ‘crumb’.  She knows that just a little bit of Jesus’ power is enough to heal her daughter.  And it does.  I too approach boldly.  Although made low in my sin, I too can boldly ask to be healed, to be made new, to be washed by His blood.  And just like that I too find healing and restoration.  And in God’s great love and mercy, I am no longer under the table.  As a child of God I am restored back to the table.  For this, I say thanks be to God!

Scripture reference: Mark 7: 24-30