pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Deeper

Reading: 1st Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

In today’s passage, David is anointed to be the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul is the king. He is in good health and will remain the king for some time. David is going to learn and grow and mature before stepping into this role that God has selected him for. It is a process. The process will be guided by God. In verse thirteen we read, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David”. From God’s perspective this all made sense. After all, it is his plan.

From the human perspective, it was confusing at best. Once the hurdles were all crossed and Samuel is present with Jesse and most of his family, the parade of prospects begins. One by one Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, horn of oil at the ready. The oldest son is Eliab. Seeing him Samuel immediately thinks he is the one. Eliab must have been tall and handsome, muscular and refined. But God tells Samuel “no”. I imagine the horn of oil dropped a little bit just then, going further and further down as each son passes by, until at last it dangles by his side.

We too can fall into the trap that Samuel and Jesse and probably all the elders and sons fell into. We too judge by appearance. The appearance may be physical, it may be based on the college they attended, it may be by the car they drive or the home they occupy, it may be by the title that hangs outside their office door, it may be by the position they play on the team. These would be valid tools for judgment if all that mattered was their drive to get to the top. Sadly, though, when we judge by what we can first see, then we often fail to go any deeper. Too often that first judgment prevents us from going deeper and prevents us from seeing who and what someone really is. God had a word for us today when this is our first tendency: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

Tying this thought into the model set by the one we follow, we see what this good word from God looks like lived out in the world. Jesus never ever stopped at tax collector or Samaritan or woman or leper or prostitute or blind or possessed or… Jesus always pressed deeper, developing a relationship that went far beyond some surface-level label. Going deeper, the labels always fell away. May we too strive to go deeper, to go way past labels and first appearances. May we too strive to get to know the heart of each we meet, for there we begin to see as God sees. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, help me to practice you counter-cultural and counter-intuitive love today. Help me to see those needs that you place before me and to fill them with your love. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Verse 10: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan’! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'”.

After forty days of prayer and fasting Jesus is tempted by Satan. The tempting begins with the most immediate need: food. Not having eaten for a long time, Satan goes after the apparent weakness. We too face these attacks in our lives. For those living with hardships it can be easy to question God about how he is providing for food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. For those a little better off the new car or new home can be the provision that Satan dangles in front of the eyes. For some they may ask God why they only have a net worth of $3,000,000. Few are immune to the lures of want and greed. Contentment can be an elusive target.

Failing at the first attempt, Satan turns to testing Jesus’ relationship with God. Satan places Jesus in a position to throw himself off the tower. Let’s see if God will rescue you, Jesus. To turn away this temptation Jesus reminds Satan that we are not to test God. But oh how we can test God. Maybe it is with the crazy physical things we do. It could be reckless living or excessive consumption. It could be willful disobedience to see if God really loves us. At times this can also manifest itself in times of trial or grief. We ask or wonder why we are going through something; we wonder why it goes on and on. These thoughts are testing God or questioning God’s love for us, his plans for our lives.

When this does not work either, Satan offers Jesus the supreme enticement: power. Some crave all-out, total power over all aspects of life. Some just like to be in control of their own lives and decisions. Most of us fall somewhere in between. The lengths we will go to to attain or maintain our desired level of power can vary, but too often we can rationalize away whatever we seem necessary to reach that goal. Along the way we can bow down to any number of idols or false gods. In each case we are ultimately choosing to put self and our will ahead of God and his will. Jesus knew the only correct order: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.

The Christian journey is not easy. Satan is ever at work. To stay the course requires obedience, faith, and trust in God alone. May God ever be our companion on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you and your Spirit were with Jesus as he faced temptations, so too be with me. I am weak and Satan seems to know the chinks in my armor. Stand guard in those places, Lord. Be my shield and defender as I work to die to those sins. Build up my hope and faith in you alone. Amen.


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King

Reading: Psalm 132

Verses 3 and 5: “I will not enter my house or go to my bed – till I find a place for the Lord”.

David proclaims that he will not stop until he finds a place for God to dwell. He will not go home or to bed until he finds a place for God. David is operating under the assumption that God will dwell in a building. While God did reside the in the tabernacle or temple for a while, in general God is not found in one place.

When we speak of finding a place for God today, it is referring to a place in our hearts. There, in our heart, Jesus prefers to sit on the throne. I think that is where we want Jesus to be too. Yet we can sure struggle at times living with Jesus as the real Lord of our life. We find all sorts of idols to chase after and, in doing so, give them priority in our lives. Jesus is often dethroned while we pursue wealth or popularity or titles or other bright, shiny objects.

I am drawn to the “where would I be…” questions. Where would I be without that new car? Still driving that reliable older car. Where would I be without that extra $500 I worked so hard for? Still living a comfortable life. Where would I be without that title that took so much effort to attain? Still happily serving my church.

But then I get to question: where would I be without Jesus? I do not want to think about the answers to that question. It is then that I realize just how much I need Jesus to be the Lord of my life, to ever sit on the throne. How about you?

Prayer: Lord, you are all that really matters in my life. Be the king of my heart each and every day. I ask this humbly and knowing that I need you desperately. Jesus, be my king. 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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We Want a King

Reading: 1 Samuel 8: 19-20

Verse Nineteen: “But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us'”.

Can you remember times as a kid or young adult when you were really concerned with fitting in? Maybe you had to have the right brand of sneakers – those cheap store-brand shoes would just not do. Or maybe it was a brand of jeans or a certain hoodie or… Today, for many kids, it is having that cell phone or about using it to keep streaks going. As we grow older we continue to practice this comparing skill. We watch our friends to see when we should think about marrying and when we should start having a child. The Israelites look around and see kings ruling over the other nations and think, ‘where is our king’?

God must’ve thought, I’m right here. Remember how I just broke Pharaoh’s hard heart to spring you from Egypt? Remember how I parted the sea to provide you an escape route and then used it to wipe out the pursuing army? Remember how I brought you food and water in the desert? Remember, remember, remember…

As adults, we do this too. We mentally check to see if we fit in and to see if we are keeping up. We see the new car or boat in our neighbor’s driveway, envisioning one in our driveway. We hear a co-worker got a raise and we begin thinking about how we can drop hints when around the boss. And sometimes we even look around for good things. We notice how nicely our neighbor’s children play together and we ask for secret. Or we find a great mentor to help us grow in our faith or in our vocation.

Ultimately, as Christians, we should look at Christ and ask how we can be more like Him. How do I live my life in ways that best align with what I know of Jesus? That question leads us to delve deeper in our faith to really get to know Jesus more. When we focus in on Jesus and on following Him closely, we are saying to God, “I want a king over me. Please, Lord God, help me to make Jesus my King”. May it be so today and each day, Jesus my King.


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Consuming Fire

Reading: 1 Kings 18: 20-39

What a contrast we have in today’s story.  One team builds their altar and places the sacrifice on it.  They dance about the sacrifice, they pray and shout to their god.  Then they resort to cutting themselves and crying out more urgently to gain their god’s attention.  Their god does not answer.  Their god does not satisfy their pleas.  All is done in vain.

We scrape together our dollars to buy a bigger house or a fancier car.  We work late every day as the announcement date for who will be promoted or made partner draws near.  We show up early with our neatly dressed little family and sit in the front pew so everyone can see we are there again this Sunday.

Then the other team steps to center stage.  But instead of a team of 450 it is a one man show.  He builds the altar and places the sacrifice on it.  The audience has seen this show before.  But then he digs a big trench around that altar.  Interest rises.  Then he has people dump bucket after bucket of water on the sacrifice and altar.  The trench fills with water.  The audience slides up to the edges of their seats.  Then he simply asks for his god to make it known that He is the Lord God, the one and only true God.  He trusts that God will answer.  He knows this God.  And fire falls from heaven and consumes it all – the sacrifice, the wood, the altar stones, the water.  The fire of God consumes everything.

Maybe the house is a little small but we are comfortable.  Maybe the car isn’t shiny and new anymore but it runs well and is reliable.  Maybe that project can get done tomorrow.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Maybe we could trust this God with all we have.  Maybe He really is able to do all things.  Maybe He loves us unconditionally.  When we pursue and place our trust in the one true Lord of life, then the gods of this world have no sway in our lives.  When we seek first the things of God, we do not have any desires left for the things of this world for His fire consumes us.  Consume us today, O Lord our God.