pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Lifting and Filling?

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-53: “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”.

On Monday one of the members of the church stopped in to the office. We chatted for a little while. Part of the conversation was about context. She was curious about how the Bible can be so applicable thousands of years later. How we read a passage or interpret or even apply it can vary greatly over the ages and even within our own personal faith. On a personal level, for example, a passage can say something totally different to me today compared to when I read it ten years ago. The physical letters on the page have not changed at all. The context in which I read them has changed. Similarly, in applying the text, an illustration I use in a rural, small town congregation would not make sense in an urban setting and vice versa. And that context might affect how a hearer applies the message and passage to their life and faith.

In our passage today, Mary responds to God in a song. She has learned that she will be the mother of the Messiah, of the Savior of the world. Mary is a young teenage girl from a very poor family. She is engaged but not married. This is her context as she receives this news from God. Because of her context, she recognizes that this is all on God. She is powerless and must rely on God. In an outpouring of faith, Mary recognizes that God “has done great things for me” and that God’s mercy “extends to those who fear him”. God chose Mary because of her faith and because of her context. Mary goes on to sing, “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”. Mary connects to her context. She is humble. She is hungry. God has lifted her up and filled her with an amazingly good thing – Jesus.

God had and has always used the unlikely, the weak, the poor, the powerless. Mary is but one example of many. She recognizes this. Story after story in the Bible is about God using people like Mary to bring care to the poor, the marginalized… Jesus’ ministry was very much about and with this demographic of society. In fact, when Jesus speaks of who will inherit eternal life in Matthew 25, it is those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner who are identified as righteous and as those who will be welcomed into heaven. As we think about our personal ministries and about the ministries of our churches, do we join God in lifting up and filling our fellow children of God?

Prayer: God of all, your love is certainly not limited to just the poor or just to the rich, to just those in the church or to those outside the church. You are the God of all who loves all. Yet not all have access to that love. Many do not know of your love. Some even feel outside of or unworthy of your love. Help all of that to change. Each day, O Lord, use me as you will. Use me as you desire. To the mighty or to the low, in the halls of power or in the poorest neighborhood, use me today, O God. Amen.


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Layers, Ripples, and Depth

Reading: Exodus 20: 12-17

Verses 12-17: “Honor your mother and father… you shall not… murder… commit adultery… steal… give false testimony… covet…”

Today we look at the last section of the Ten Commandments. These six deal with our relationship with each other. They are not written in isolation but within the context of all ten. The covenant relationship that God establishes with us in the first four commandments influence our relationships with each other. Just as the first four revolve with loving God fully, so too do the last six center on loving each other completely.

On the surface level the last six are pretty straight forward and easy to understand. Yet each also has layers to it. For example, the command to “honor your mother and father” is generally about our relationship with our parents and the lifelong benefits of doing so. But this commandment can also extend to all who help parent us – grandparents, teachers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and even some of our bosses.

The layers on some can come from the ripple affects they cause. For example, committing adultery is simply not an act that affects just the two people involved directly. It also impacts families and friends and self and maybe even employment or social standing. The same can be said of all of the other six. We never sin in isolation.

The depth or breadth of a couple are also amazing when we take time to really ponder them. The command to not give false testimony is about not lying. Simple enough, right? But is not telling the whole truth or not being fully honest the same sin? When we think of a few other ways that false testimony can play out we can see how deep and wide this sin can really be. Do we gossip? Do we slander? Do we compare others unfairly to elevate ourselves?

The last of the Ten Commandments fits all three of the above. When we covet it can begin as an attraction. But it can soon become an obsession. The layers or levels of covetousness can also create ripples. Who we use or what we are willing to do to get that “thing” can leave a wake of hurt and pain in our trail. The sin of coveting can also become widespread. While it certainly is in our society, it can also become contagious in our lives. Finding joy or pleasure in getting some “thing” can lead us to search for joy or pleasure in other things and in other ways.

But all is not lost! When we love others as God intended, all is good in our lives and in the world. May we love well today!


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Talents

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 21: “Well done good and faithful servant… Come and share in your master’s happiness”.

In our passage today, the slaves see their master one of two ways.  Two see the master as trustworthy and to be worked for.  The third sees the master as harsh and greedy.  Two of the slaves take what the master has entrusted them with and put it to work, doubling what they had been given.  The third hides what he has been given, refusing to use it even a little by safely investing it with the bankers.

God gives each of us talents or gifts as well.  Each of us has gifts that can be used to build the kingdom of God here on earth.  What we do with what we have been given depends on how we see our master, God.  If we see God as a God who is harsh, as a God who punishes His children, then we are likely to risk little for God.  We will take what we have been given and guard it closely.  We do not want others to know the gift we have so we keep it hidden away.  But if we see God as loving and trustworthy, then we desire to take the talents or gifts we have been given and to invest them to help others to come to know God.  We use our talents to grow the kingdom of God.  One day we too will hear, “Well done good and faithful servant… Come and share in your master’s happiness”.

Our God is a loving, compassionate, grace-filled, forgiving God who calls us to be the same.  If we truly see God in this way, then we feel led to be this type of person to others.  We seek ways to help others know our loving, compassionate… God.  In doing so we use the talents and gifts that God has blessed us with so that all will come to know our God.  What gifts has God given you?  How are or can you use your talents and gifts for the building of the kingdom of God here on earth?


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Looking Within

The first part of Psalm 51 is a confession of our sinful state.  By our nature we are prone to sin.  By our nature, we are weak and struggle to stay out of sin.  By His nature, God loves us unconditionally.  By His nature, God seeks to always bring us back to wholeness and to a right relationship with God.  Our sins stand between us and God alone.  In His great compassion God will blot out our sins, our transgressions, our iniquities.  For our part, we come to Him and repent.

In the middle part of the psalm comes our plea: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and restore a steadfast spirit within me”.  These words will be spoken over and over and over tomorrow.  They are familiar words on Ash Wednesday.  And just as the Lord’s Prayer is not just for Sundays, these words are not just for Ash Wednesday.  These familiar words should be our plea to God every day.  They admit our dependence on God.  We cannot win this battle on our own.  We need God to create a pure heart within us and to help us be steadfast to His ways.

The psalmist follows this plea up with a request to not be cast from God’s presence or for God to not take the Holy Spirit from us.  The psalm continues with these words: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.  God is the one in action, the one who can do these things.  In our acts of repentance we need both God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  After we repent of our sins, then God alone can restore us.  God alone can grant us a willing spirit, one seeking to follow His ways.

At Lent begins tomorrow, today I must look within and seek to identify my ungodly choices, my poor habits of faith, my sins.  May God grant me the will and the strength to come before Him in repentance, seeking His mercy.  Lord, melt my stubborn and prideful heart.  Mold me into who You desire me to be.  O God, fill me with Your presence and with the Holy Spirit.  And then use me, use me to love You and to love those You love.  Use me as You will, O God.

Scripture reference: Psalm 51: 1-17


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His Gifts, His Call

Paul writes to the Corinthians concerning the many gifts that the Holy Spirit has blessed them with.  In today’s passage Pauli stressing that all gifts are equally given and that all are to be used for the same purpose: to do the will of God in the world.  He also emphasizes the idea that we each are uniquely gifts to do our own special work for the kingdom of God.  Lastly, Paul points out the fact that our gifts are given to be used.

It is often said that where our passions meet God’s desires for our world is the place our gifts are best used.  Where our gift as a teacher or healer or encourager or interpreter of tongues fills a need in someone’s life or in a ministry is just the place God calls us to use the gift that the Spirit gave us.

We mus be careful to be aware of, to recognize, and to give the glory to God for the gifts we have.  Our gift is like all else we have in life – a gift from God.  It is something that God placed within each of us through the Holy Spirit.  Our thankful response should be to use our gift for God.  We must recognize that God intended our gifts to be used for the good of all of God’s children, for all of the people in our lives, not just for some.  Each of our gifts is intended to make the world a better place.  And in the end, all must point back to God.  It is He who gave the gift and it is really God who is at work accomplishing all that results from us using the gift.  To God be all the glory.

Sometimes the call to put our gift to work can be a scary thing.  It may involve giving up a career or maybe moving to a new place.  It may involve doing something in your community that is a bit uncomfortable.  We must remember that He who calls is really the only one in control anyway.  He will be with us in the response as well as in the call.  May we be ever faithful to the One who calls.

Scripture reference: 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11