pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Alone

Reading: 1st Corinthians 3: 1-9

Verse 3: “You are still worldly… there is jealousy and quarreling among you”.

Paul is known as the apostle to the Gentiles and as the person who spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world. He traveler east and north and west of Palestine, preaching about Jesus and planting churches as he went. Paul helped plant the church in Corinth and he continued to tend to it through letters. In these letters Paul continues to teach them about the faith and he also addresses issues and conflicts that arise. The portion of the letter that we read today addresses a division that has risen up in the church.

Paul begins by addressing the believers as “worldly” and as “infants in Christ”. These terms would have stung a bit and maybe started to bring them to their senses. In essence Paul is calling them to grow up and to act like the mature Christians that they can be. In verse three he identifies the issue: “You are still worldly… there is jealousy and quarreling among you”. Since they are struggling with worldly sins Paul implies that they have lost sight of the main thing: Jesus Christ. Paul himself then demonstrates his own spiritual maturity in the way he advises them. Instead of trying to elevate himself over Apollos he acknowledges that they have both played a role in developing the church. He identifies himself simply as a “worker”. Paul uses the farming analogy saying that he planted and Apollos watered. Then, in verses six and seven, Paul reiterates an important truth: only God can make someone’s faith grow. It is the action of God alone that changes lives. Yes, Paul and Apollos have a function in the process, but the real authority and power rests in God alone.

At times in our churches we can devolve into being small or into being focused on our own agenda. These things only lead to discord and possibly to division. At times a wise and mature Christian will lead the way and peace will be restored. At times the Holy Spirit will nudge and whisper and pull at our hearts, working us towards reconciliation and the restoring of relationships. Just as only God can make faith grow, only God can bring true healing. So in all things may we look to God, being attuned to the Holy Spirit, seeking to walk his path of love. May it be so for all of us.

Prayer: Father God, heal our churches and heal this nation. Heal our hearts and heal our relationship with you and with one another. Amen.


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At Once

Reading: Matthew 4: 18-23

Verse 20: “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

In our passage today, Jesus has begun his public ministry. He calls people to repent. Jesus begins by addressing the sin that he came to ultimately defeat. In our passage today Jesus gives us a great model for ministry. Yes, Jesus probably could have done some ministry by himself. In the moment he could have been successful in teaching obedience to God; he could have brought healing and wholeness to people’s lives; and, he could have drawn people closer to God. But if this were the case he’d have been more like another Elijah or Jeremiah instead of the Messiah. As much good as Jesus did in his three years of ministry, the work he did on the cross and through the grave are what made an eternal difference.

Jesus understood this. He knew that his ministry was not just for this three years and it was not just about what he could do. He saw his role in the bigger picture of God’s plans. In order to have a lasting impact, in order to reorient the human-divine relationship, Jesus knew that the ministry must extend beyond the person of Jesus. So he recruited and trained helpers. Today we hear the call of the first disciples. As he walked along the seashore Jesus calls first Andrew and Peter, then James and John. It is a simple call: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people”. The ask itself is quite simple. No persuasive speech, no miracle to prepare them to say yes. The simple statement is followed by an immediate response. In verse twenty we read, “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

“At once” – no hesitation, no time to think through the pros and the cons. Jesus’ words must have carried some authority, his presence must have been tangible. “They left their nets” – all was set aside, no, all was given up to follow this new rabbi. These four men left their jobs, their families, their everything to follow Jesus. They “followed him” – to where? They did not know where. They did not know to what end. We can be almost positive that these four men knew very little about Jesus or what his invitation meant. Yet, “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

We too have our moments when Jesus says, “Come, follow me”. In fact, we have them over and over. What would our faith and our lives look like – what would our world look like – if we at once left our immediate situation and followed Jesus wherever he led?

Prayer: Prince of Peace, fill me with your peace, so that when your Holy Spirit tries to lead me, I may follow more often. Melt away my excuses with the fire of your love. Help me to more fully live out your love every day. Amen.


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Called to Respond

Reading: Matthew 2: 13-23

Verse 13: “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”.

Jesus is born in a humble setting and receives some humble visitors – the shepherds who had been visited by the angel. Some time passes and the Magi arrive. They are well-educated men from the east, coming to worship the newborn. Along their journey Herod becomes aware of the new ruler. Power and authority have entered the story. Herod pretends to want to worship the one born in Bethlehem.

The Magi are warned in a dream and avoid Herod on their return trip. Our passage today begins with Joseph having another dream. The angel tells him, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”. God is acting to get Joseph and family out ahead of the coming storm. Right then, during the night, Joseph wakes his family and they flee to Egypt. In a fury over being tricked by the Magi, Herod has all the boys two and under living in and around Bethlehem killed. He does not want this newborn king to disrupt his reign. In the aftermath, there is the “weeping and mourning” of mothers refusing to be comforted.

After Herod dies the family slips back into Israel, settling in small and out of the way Nazareth. Joseph still fears what the new ruler, Herod’s son, might do. Archelaus is part of the same institution that Herod was part of. The same tendency to look out for oneself is probably still quite strong. Sadly, this remains true of many institutions and of the people of power within these institutions. We see it alive and well in businesses, in government, and often in churches. People with power continue to exert their will because they believe their way is the right way or the only way. Those hurt, like the mothers weeping in Ramah, are not of their concern. Greed and pride and arrogance drive these types of decisions in business and government. In churches, to these we add confused religious certainty to the mix. Toxic environments are created for all but the holders of power. They were already there.

In the story of Jesus’ life, the escape to Egypt and the accompanying slaughter of innocents is one of the sadder and violent chapters. Jesus will go on to challenge some in power – particularly those in the religious institution – showing that power is not always right. This too is our call. We are called to respond to the injustices and wrongs that we see, shining God’s light and love into the darkness. In the light, injustices and wrongs and abuses of power will be revealed for what they are. May it ever be so as we work our way through building God’s kingdom here on earth!

Prayer: God of light, shine into the dark and broken parts of my life and my world. Lead me to stand for you and for what is right, regardless of the price. Strengthen me for the road ahead. Amen.


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Praying for our Leaders

Reading: 1st Timothy 2: 1-7

Verse 1: “I urge that… requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for everyone”.

Paul writes to Timothy, instructing and encouraging the younger leader. In today’s passage the topic is about prayer. At the time of the writing the Romans ruled over the land. One of Rome’s demands was to worship the Emperor. For a monotheistic people who believed in the one true God, this was a difficult request. Instead of worshipping the Emperor, Paul guides the believers to pray “for kings and all those in authority”. He is direct, writing “I urge that… requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for everyone”.

The Romans taxed the people heavily and limited some of their freedoms. For some it may have been hard to pray for the Emperor. Today some disagree with our political leaders because of policies or decisions. Yet Paul’s advice to Timothy is still the practice we should follow. The reason is the same: “so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. The Romans allowed the Israelites some religious freedoms – temple worship and sacrifices. Maybe this is partly because they were praying for them. We are free to go to church, to worship God, and to practice our religious beliefs. These freedoms remain in place. We are to pray for our leaders to be saved and to know Jesus. Why? So that they too can become Christians? Absolutely. To see the world through eyes of faith alters the choices and decisions made. Love for the least would reshape our care for those living in poverty and without the necessities. How we interact with other nations would change. The idea that “they will know we are Christians by our love” would positively impact our cities, states, nation, and world. This day and every day may we lift our leaders to God’s guidance, direction, and protection.

Prayer: Lord, I lift our mayor, our governor, our president, along with all other elected and appointed leaders, to you today. Lead and guide them in your ways of love, compassion, and justice. Align their thoughts, words, decisions, and actions with your will and your ways. Amen.


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God Radar

Reading: Acts 5: 27-32

Verse 29: “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men'”.

Emboldened by seeing the risen Christ several times and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the apostles go forth and proclaim the good news with the people. They are preaching that Jesus has been resurrected and that He “gives repentance and forgiveness of sins” to all of Israel. They are preaching in the temple when the religious authorities come to arrest them. Brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, the high priest reminds them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in His name”. He also reveals a concern – that their teaching makes the council appear guilty of shedding Jesus’ blood. The Sanhedrin’s attempt to silence Jesus has spawned more voices proclaiming His message.

Peter, who is becoming the leader of the group, speaks on behalf of all the apostles, saying, “We must obey God rather than men”. It is a hard claim to argue against – especially when the ones saying it believe it with all of their heart. They are 100% sure that Jesus is alive and risen. No matter what anyone else says and no matter what they might do to the apostles, their belief in Jesus Christ will not change. They know the power of Jesus in them through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This presence keeps their witness strong and powerful. It will be what propels the early church across the known world.

The basic conflict in today’s passage remains a conflict for Christians today. There will always be times when the ways of God conflict with the ways of the world. There will always be times when our “God radar” goes off and we know in our heart and mind that something is not right. On the big stage, the Nazi assault on the Jews comes to mind. The government went about a process and people knew it was wrong and some stood up against it. More recently we can observe people who refused service based on their religious convictions. What is “right” in the world’s eyes is not always “right” when seen through the lens of faith.

In our own lives we will also experience moments when our “God radar” leads us to stand up for our faith. Sometimes it is to speak for someone who is without voice. Sometimes it is to step in to stop an unjust situation on behalf of someone without power. Sometimes it is to defend someone who is powerless against another in authority. Sometimes it is to love someone whom others cannot or will not love. When, like the apostles, we trust in God and bear witness to His light and love, we will find that God goes with us too. God will lead and guide when we are willing to trust in our faith and in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It will be so. God is faithful.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see the places and times that I can be a voice for the other, that I can serve the one in need. Grant me the courage to not only see but to act as well. Amen.


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Radical Love

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse 7: “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

The Servant faced scorn and suffering without retaliation or violence because God was with him. The Servant was able to go beyond the abuse as well. To the abuser the Servant willingly offered himself for more abuse. In doing so, the abuser will be led to question their own actions. It is love in the face of hate, giving in the face of taking. Jesus did the same over and over. For Jesus, it was summed up in His encouragements to love our enemies and to offer your other cheek to the one who has just struck you. Jesus also lived this out. At the end, from the cross, Jesus prayed for forgiveness for those who placed Him on the cross. Through God’s presence, Jesus was able to extend love instead of retaliating with hate. Like the Servant, Jesus lived out Isaiah 50:7 – “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

This idea is so counter to what the world teaches and does. It us a radical love that makes the world take notice. In the world, it is not just get even but get ahead. It is done with emphasis to discourage another run at one’s money or status or position or popularity. It is power used to remind the other of who really has the power. It perpetuates the imbalance. But Jesus’ radical love offers even more than the one wants to take. When someone demands the shirt off of your back, Jesus asks us to give them our coat as well. It is a willingness to give more than is demanded.

Isaiah and the example Jesus set are calling us to look for opportunities to show love in unexpected ways. Returning from school one year I was in a drive through at a fast food restaurant. The line was long and moving really, really slow. In the other lane I noticed a woman who was clearly becoming more and more aggravated with the situation. She was pounding the dashboard and the steering wheel. She was yelling at the air in her car. I could feel her exasperation. When I got to the window I paid for her order. It was just a random act of kindness that I hope improved her day just a bit. It was small. But it is what we are called to do – to look for and to respond to others in and with love. May we all be blessed with opportunities to offer Jesus’ radical love today.

Prayer: Lord, grant me eyes to see and a heart to feel. Allow me the words to speak and the hands to serve today. If I find myself suffering, may I trust fully in your presence with me. Amen.


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Thy Word

Reading: Luke 4: 1-13

Verse 13: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”.

Jesus heads out into the desert to fast for forty days as a preparation to begin ministry. During this time of denying self He is tested by the devil. The three temptations that we read about today come at the end of the 40 days. It is when Jesus is at His weakest that Satan tempts Him in these ways.

The first test concerns food. No food for 40 days – this is the perfect test. It gets right at Jesus’ human need. How often does Satan tempt us here too? Yes, I deserve that bowl of ice cream or that drink. It was a hard day. Satan helps us twist things too. This can lead to accumulating things for ourselves and to not being generous with our gifts, talents, and time.

The second temptation is for power and authority. Feeling weak after 40 days of self-denial – wouldn’t a little power feel good? Just worship the deceiver and all this can be yours. But will it really be ours if we worship the ruler of this world? Yes, there is much splendor in the world. But all that is shiny and bright does not really satisfy – it just leads to wanting newer or better or more. This too can get twisted. Pride and ego kick in and lead us to think things would be so much better if we were in charge. Then it becomes easier to cut a corner, to not quite be so moral…

The third temptation comes down to testing God. Satan quotes from Psalm 91 in encouraging Jesus to put God to the test. Just jump off and God will save you. God’s word says He will. Is it true? This idea can catch us too. We can be pretty good at trying to wheel and deal with God. Those if-then prayers are an attempt to bend God’s will and plans to our will and plans. Like Satan we too can twist and cherry-pick scripture to try and get our way or to make our point. This too is a way to test God.

For each temptation, where does Jesus turn? He turns to scripture. In each case today, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy. In each case, the bottom line is the same: trust in God, not in the things of man. This should be our model when we face temptation.

Our passage closes with this line: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”. Satan keeps coming back. Jesus was tested over and over and over. In the next moment of weakness or frustration or exhaustion, Satan came right back at Jesus. We too can expect the same. Satan is ever on the lookout for the next opportune time to test us. Like Jesus, may we also immerse ourselves in the word of God, ever readying ourselves for the next inevitable attack.

Prayer: Lord, may I dwell in your holy word so that it richly dwells in me. May it be my wellspring of life. Amen.