pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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All the Glory

Reading: Exodus 34: 29-35

Verse 35: “Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord”.

Moses is radiant after being in God’s presence. Whenever Moses is just Moses, he wears a veil to cover up the shine. When Moses returns to God’s presence he lifts the veil and keeps the veil raised when he is sharing the word of God with the people. We read, “Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord”. A veil is an interesting choice. After the people’s first fears are quelled, the Israelites know why Moses glows and they know that being in Moses’ presence will not kill or harm them.

When we spend time in God’s presence it makes us more like God. Who we are inside becomes more holy, more righteous, as we draw closer. As our hearts become more like Jesus’ heart, we should appear different to others. As new creations in Christ, our old selfish ways die off and we become more loving, more caring, more compassionate. Yes, early on in our Christian journey we have some doubts and we question some and maybe we even hold back a little. As our faith matures and as our confidence in who we are as a child of God grows, we are more willing to let Christ’s light and love shine forth. And yet, like Moses, we must be careful too – we cannot become smug or arrogant or condemning. We cannot become holier-than-thou or self-righteous. Perhaps the veil reminded Moses that he was still human, was still prone to sin, was still susceptible to pride and ego and judging others. Perhaps the veil was a physical barrier that reminded Moses to not allow his special relationship with God to become a barrier with all those with a lesser relationship with God. As we grow in our faith we too must be careful not to flaunt our faith or our connection to God, especially when we are walking alongside the lost and those new to the faith.

Moses was one who acted on behalf of God. At times we find ourselves in that role as well. Moses was one in whom God placed authority and power. We too can find ourselves here. Perhaps the veil was a way for Moses to remind himself that this power and authority were not his own – they came from God alone. When God works in and through us, we too should do as Moses did and reflect all the praise and glory to God. It can be easy and can feel good to accept the accolades and the credit, but this will lead to pride and arrogance and eventually to a fall. We must always reflect the praise and glory back to God, walking as a humble servant, knowing all power and authority belong to God alone. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, it is wonderful when you are present and when you work through us to help one in need or to draw someone closer to you. Keep me ever humble, always cognizant of my inability to do anything without you. At times, remind me of my weaknesses and failures. In all I do and say and think, may I ever give the glory, praise, and honor to you. Amen.


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Watch Out

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the law…”

Jesus is teaching a large crowd in the temple when He shares some observations about the religious leaders – the teachers of the law. This passage is one of several we find in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the appearance of these men and then contrasts it with what is actually inside of their hearts. In reality, this is an issue we all face.

The teachers love their positions and the cultural respect that comes with the title. The teachers of the law were the top of the social ladder. All young boys dreamed of becoming rabbis when they grew up. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for advanced study and from there only a portion would become a rabbi. One can work so hard to get ‘there’ that sometimes we forget why we were aiming at that goal.

Jesus observes that the teachers wear long robes to be noticed. They like people to see them and to call out to them. Today there are lots of people who dress a certain way to draw attention to themselves. The teachers like the important seats – again so that they will be noticed. Some today like to be front and center to be seen. The teachers “devour widow’s houses”, using their power and authority to take advantage of the elderly and the powerless. Today folks in power prey on the weak and defenseless, using their authority to manipulate and sometimes even to abuse.

While today’s passage speaks most directly to those of us who are pastors and priests, it applies to all people who have any degree of power or authority. When we allow the title or the recognition to be more important than loving and serving others, then we have lost sight of the #1 command to love God and neighbor. We must all remind ourselves over and over that this is our call. When temptation arises to use our power or authority for personal gain, we must repent of our sin immediately. In the battle with pride and ego and self, may we ever strive to remember that all we have and are is a gift and blessing from God Almighty. Ever and always, may all of our thoughts, words, and actions be pleasing in God’s sight.

Lord, each day may I seek to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with you, my Savior and King. Amen.


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Service = Greatness

Reading: Mark 10: 41-45

Verse 43: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave to all”.

The ten are upset with James and John for their request. James and John want places of power and authority. What led them to make this request is unclear, but the ten assume the request is not coming from a good place. Because all twelve need a worldview adjustment, Jesus gathers them around and reorients their viewpoint.

Jesus begins by reminding them how the worldly leaders lord their power over their subjects. Those in places of worldly authority exercise it at will. The disciples probably first thought of the Romans who occupied their nation and then thought of the religious leaders who so often flaunted their power – both over their fellow Jews but especially over the Gentiles. Jesus often clashed with the religious leaders “do-as-I-say…” attitude that was far from how God viewed leadership. The disciples would have no shortage of examples of those who abuse their power and authority.

Jesus begins to counter this worldly understanding of power by saying, “Not so with you”. This worldview is is not the model for the disciples or for any follower of Jesus. Jesus offers a better way – a way that aligns with God’s worldview. In verse 43 He lays it out, saying, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave to all”. This viewpoint is totally upside-down from the world’s viewpoint. To further drive His point home, Jesus reminds them of the example that He is setting. God incarnate, the most powerful One in all of creation, took on flesh not to rule over others but to serve others. And not only that, but He also came to give His life up as a “ransom for many”. Jesus came to serve others and demonstrates this in His willingness to die so that others can find salvation and eternal life. Talk about being a slave to all!

This view of service and sacrifice as the goal of discipleship must have reoriented James and John’s way of thinking. It must have realigned the thinking of the ten. May it realign our way of understanding how we are to live out our faith in the world as well. This day and each day, may we seek ways to serve others, building God’s upside-down kingdom, bringing God all the glory.

Lord of all, help me to be humble, to willingly look first to the needs of others. Make me willing to seize the opportunities to be of service to all I meet. May my life be about giving and lifting others and their needs above my own. Amen.