pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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One More Year

Reading: Luke 13: 6-9

Verse 8: “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it”.

God made the tree in our passage today. In John 1:3 we read, “Through Him all things were made”. This tree, this tree that produces no fruit, was made by the loving hands of God. Just as it was with all of the rest of creation, this tree has the fingerprints of God all over it. In our minds and hearts we believe that we all have a purpose and a place in God’s plans. So it is for this tree as well. The man who planted the tree came to look for fruit. At this time it would have been a primary purpose for trees. The other primary purpose would be to become wood.

Our tree is young – the man has only been coming for three years to check for fruit. It is just beginning to mature to the point that it can bear fruit. At just 6 to 8 years old, though, it probably is not big enough to produce much wood for a project of any size. So, finding no fruit on the tree once again, the planter says, “For three years now… Cut it down”! The man is tired of waiting and getting no results. Let’s clear that little patch of ground and plant another tree in its place. Maybe this next one will be able to produce the fruit that is so desired.

But the gardener, the one who tends the tree, asks for patience. He says, “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it”. Just one more year. This is a big request. Imagine starting a new job and on day one your boss says, work one year and then we’ll start paying you. Imagine three years. For the owner, fruit probably equals money. Fruit has value. At a minimum, fruit will feed the family.

We too have similar expectations. Of young people, we often ask, “When will they grow up”? In our minds, they are past the point when they should be acting a certain way. Even of some adults we think a similar question: when will they ever quit doing ___? I suppose God looks down at me at times and sees the tree. I suppose God looks down and wonders, “When…”? Like the gardener, God is patient. God’s love and patience does not just ask for one more year either. God’s patience is extravagant with me. God patiently waits for me to produce fruit. He tends to me, fertilizes me… One more year. Yes, one day this will end too. One day we breathe our last. But until then, may we live to mature in our faith, producing fruit for the building of the kingdom. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, do a good work in me – today, tomorrow, and each day after that. Continue to make me a work in progress, a creation that seeks to grow and mature. May my life be one that produces fruit. Amen.


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Fellow Children of God

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verse 34: “You are not far from the kingdom of God”.

Today’s passage contains what I believe are the two quintessential requirements of our faith. Jesus is asked about the most important commandment and the two He gives summarize our faith practices. If all we do is love God completely and love our neighbors as ourselves, then we will be living out an excellent witness. Today, though, I want to focus on the relationship between Jesus and the man.

We know that today’s interaction occurs within a group of people, but it is as if they are the only two there. In my mind it is a personal conversation that others happen to overhear. It does not matter to Jesus or the man who else us there that day. This happens elsewhere in scripture too. Jesus focuses in on that person and they are all that matters. This is the type of relationship and personal interaction that we are called to have with one another.

People can treat each other poorly. We can have an “I’m the boss and do as I say” attitude that leaves others feeling of little value. We can have a “this is just the way it is (or has always been)” attitude, leaving others feeling powerless. We can interact with people in other ways that diminish, exclude, overlook, discount the other. This is not the way of Jesus; it is not loving God and neighbor.

Instead, Jesus focuses in on the man. I envision Jesus looking him right in the eye the whole time. Maybe He even steps a bit closer or places a hand on his shoulder. This should be the model for our personal interactions with each other. The focus and attention communicate value, worth, importance, acceptance. It says they matter to us, that our relationship is important. As they prepare to part ways, Jesus appreciates the man’s faith, saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. This statement also says “you are drawing close to God”. Jesus sees the heart of God in this man. May our words and actions convey the same to others today as we encounter each fellow child of God. May it be so.

Lord God, slow me down, focus me in. Help me to be one-on-one with each I encounter today. Help me to see you in them. Amen.


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Blameless, Upright

Reading: Job 1:1

Verse 1: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”.

Today we begin a short journey with Job. For the month of October we will read a selection from Job each week. It will be, of course, just a small sampling of who Job was and what his story teaches us. Even so, the passages will reveal much to us about ourselves and our faith journey.

Job was a man who lived in Ur, a city far outside of Israel. He worshipped God in a foreign land in a culture that often counter to God and God’s ways. We find ourselves in a similar position today. In our time culture and society in general is ambivalent to matters of faith, even clashing with our beliefs and practices from time to time. The values and priorities of modern culture in the western world do not align well with the values and priorities that God calls us to practice and live out.

Verse one tells us, “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”. Job is an early example of faith. On our best days we might be blameless and upright for periods of time. While this is our goal, it is not very often our reality for long stretches of time. But because it is our goal, like Job, we too must deal regularly with the attacks of the enemy. Because we are seeking to live and walk out a life of faith, Satan is ever on the lookout for ways to lead us into sin.

Job also feared God and shunned evil. These qualities of Job are much more realistic for us. Job’s fear was not a fear of ghosts or spiders type of fear. It was more of a reverence or healthy respect of God. To have this, one must have an intimate relationship with and knowledge of God. For Job, it came from having a deep and personal connection to God. Because of this, Job shunned evil. When we love God deeply, we too will shun evil. When our love of God is strong, we desire to please God. This leads us to shun evil and therefore to avoid sin, the thing that separates us from God.

As we live out our faith, being blameless and upright are worthy goals. Fortunately, they are not one and done goals. If we stumble or even if we fail, God’s love and mercy allow us to reset our goals and to begin anew. May we strive to grow closer each day, fearing God and shunning evil in all its forms. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit may it be so for me and for you.

God of Job, God of all people, God of me, pour out the power of your Holy Spirit on me today. Help me to be blameless and to live out an upright faith. 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 Maker

Reading: Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, & 22-23

Verse 2: “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is Maker of them all”.

Our three pairs of verses from Proverbs 22 all deal with the same subject. It is a man-made subject but God is certainly aware of it. For as long as humanity has existed, some have been rich and some have been poor. Sure, we use other words too: haves and have-nots, blessed and cursed, upper class and lower class, fortunate and unfortunate… Rich and poor are but two of many words we use to classify, categorize, and even judge people. We also judge by education, location, position, ethnicity, gender, religion, politics,…

Our passage today deals with a topic that we can find many, many other places in the Bible: God cares for the poor. The argument for why is the same argument for any category we choose. Verse two reads, “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is Maker of them all”. One can substitute any two words that represent two ends of a spectrum for ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ and the bottom line is still the same: the Lord is Maker of them all.

Let us remember these seven words the next time we want to judge or exclude or condemn someone. In a world where we are all sinners, some saved by grace, we must seek to love others above all else. Beneath any label and under that really thin layer of covering that we call skin, all of our hearts are the same. All of humanity longs to be loved and to belong and to be valued. This was how Jesus lived His life. May we choose to do so as well.

Maker of all, give me a heart to love one and all. Give me eyes to see hearts and not anything else. Help me to love and care for and welcome one and all, just as Jesus did. Amen.


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Rooted and Established

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Verses 17 & 19: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power… to know this love that surpasses knowledge”.

In this life we can pursue many things. Even for those who know God, the things of this world can call out in loud and enticing voices. We can act as if we were in love with the things of this world and our behaviors can indicate that we are smitten. Bright and shiny things that we chase are easier to identify: a new car, a bigger home, the latest iPhone. Non-physical things can draw us in too: the promotion, the recognition, the applause. No matter what we are pursuing, if it is not God, we find that ultimately self is at the core of the pursuit. We chase after things to try and satisfy self. And at the center of self we find pride.

Even though it looks like love as we pursue these things, none of these things can love us back. The new phone does not love us and the new title hanging outside the door does not love us. These things cannot make others love us. So we keep pursuing to find love. And if we dig down deep to the heart of the matter, we find that pride does not love us. Pride is willing to do much to elevate self but never finds love because the car or the title or whatever are never enough. Pride never rests because there is no final satisfaction.

To this endless cycle and for the rest of our souls, Paul offers this prayer: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power… to know this love that surpasses knowledge”. It begins with where we are rooted and established. Instead of being driving by pride, God invited us to be rooted and established in His love. Paul prays for us to have the power know God’s love because it is a love that brings peace and joy and contentment to our souls. It is not based on this world or on the things of this world. It is an eternal love. It is an unending love.

When we know and are rooted and established in God’s love, our focus shifts outward from self. We pursue God and the things of God as we reciprocate His great love. We begin to see as God sees, finding worth and value in all people. As this occurs, the things of this world grow dim. Relationships with God and each other become our pursuits. These have true value. Here we find a love that surpasses even knowledge. This day and every day may we be rooted and established in God’s love.


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Loved, Welcomed, Chosen

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 22: “In Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by the Spirit”.

All of the early builders of the church had to work through age-old divisions and lines. The Jews, the chosen people of God, looked at all others as not chosen. It was like all other people were like that last kid that always gets picked last for any and all pick-up games. The Jews’ understanding of themselves as the chosen people led to a pretty isolated mindset. They did not intermarry, they did not adopt anything from another culture. ‘Just stay in our own little group’ was the thought. For any of us who were routinely picked last or who often found ourselves on the outside of the “in” crowd, we can relate to those who lived outside of the Jewish faith.

Saul was a Jew. He was proud of his position as a Pharisee. He was an ardent follower of the Law. He would have been seen as aloof and arrogant by most people. But then he met Jesus. Then he became Paul. Instead of saying you are not one of us, Paul preached that all are welcome. Instead of saying one must know and follow all of these laws, Paul preached that one must know Jesus. Paul was a radical shift from the norm. When he preached the message that, “In Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by the Spirit”. It was like saying to the one always picked last or to the outsider always looking in, you are invited, you are worthy, you are a part of us – we love you.

It was a message of love and inclusion and acceptance. But to those hearing it, there was hesitation. Is this for real? Is this some trick? Am I really wanted, really acceptable? Could God really love me? Some today see Christians as snobby, hypocritical, judgmental, hateful, isolated. We too may encounter doubting and questioning. We too may encoubter people who question our motivation. We too may encounter people who question their worthiness. For one and all, may our message be just like Paul’s: in Jesus Christ, you are loved. In Jesus Christ, you too are welcome. In Jesus Christ, you too are chosen. May we persist through the barriers, loving all as Jesus loves them. Amen.