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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Even Water from a Rock

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 5: “Walk on ahead of these people. Take with you some of the elders… the staff… and go”.

Out in the desert the people raise up a cry for water. It is human nature at times to complain and grumble and argue. As it is not the first time, Moses struggles to hear their concern. We too have experienced times when our relationships have been strained. In those moments we can be like the Israelites or like Moses. When I notice and am upset by silly little things like a dish left in the sink or by an overfull trash can being piled on top of, I know that there is a deeper issue that needs addressed. In a similar way, when a fellow employee or colleague keeps up a steady line of complaints about small things, there is always a deeper, more personal hurt or fear just behind the surface level stuff. In both of these examples, the issue or the hurt or fear may be in another part of life. Home or work just feels like the safest place to manifest these emotions.

The Israelites are experiencing freedom for the first time. All they needed had been provided by the Egyptians. They were even told how, when, and what to do. Now they find themselves out in the desert, wandering from place to place. They latch onto the first issue and focus on the lack of water. Moses gets frustrated immediately. The pressure of leading and meeting needs is starting to mount. In their own ways, both are questioning or beginning to doubt God. In their minds they ask questions like: Is God still leading us? Does God still love us? Does Moses/God know where he is going? All of these questions nobody wants to ask are manifest in the cry for water. It boils down to fear and needing some reassurance.

God calls a timeout. He tells Moses, “Walk on ahead of these people. Take with you some of the elders… the staff… and go”. Get a little perspective. Step away for a second. Take a few leaders so that they can see first-hand and then be voices to reassure the people. And take the staff – the one that split the sea. Remember that? It represented God’s presence once and will do so again – both for the people and for Moses. Without naming the fear, God addresses it by reassuring Moses and the people that God can even bring water from a rock if that’s what needs done. God is saying, “You can trust me”.

Reading these stories remind us too of God’s love and care for his children. With God, anything is possible. May we trust in God’s plans, allowing his love and care to sustain us on our journey, no matter what may come. If God can bring water from a rock, God has us covered. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, help me not to complain, not to grumble. Help me instead to trust fully in your love. Remind me of that love in my moments of doubt and worry. Lift me and sustain me, O God. Amen.


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May Love Guide

Reading: Matthew 5: 17-20

Verse 17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets… but to fulfill them”.

What does Jesus mean by “to fulfill them”? The Law and the Prophets all had the same basic function: to teach us how to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Beginning with the first laws, for example, this has always been the case. The first part of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship with God and the rest deals with our relationship with each other. In choosing the word “fulfill” though, Jesus is not implying simply following the letter of the Law, but is hinting at how we also fully live out the intent of the Laws.

As the rest of the Sermon on the Mount unfolds, this is just what Jesus does. He begins with “Do not murder” in the next section. Jesus explains that there is so much more to this law than just not killing someone. Jesus, in essence, begins long before this step and tells us that being angry with another or speaking words of contempt put us in danger of “the fire of hell”. When we allow these evils in our heart, Jesus says we are already on the road to murder. It may not end in physical death but maybe it does end in emotional or relational death. All of this violates the rule of love that is supposed to be how one is identified as a disciple of Jesus Christ and as a child of God.

In the rest of the Sermon, Jesus unpacks laws relating to adultery, divorce, honesty, revenge, loving our enemies, giving, prayer, fasting… Each and every one has the same focus. God’s intent is not just the words on the paper but it is more. The Law and the Prophets should lead us into deeper relationship with God and one another. To get to this place, one must allow the words we find in the Bible to become the way we love, see, interact, and treat God and each other at the heart level. Please take some time today to read through to the end of Matthew 7, understanding how Jesus unpacks many more laws.

We fulfill God’s plan by loving unconditionally, by loving just as Jesus first loved us. As we read and seek to understand our Bibles, seeking to discern how to model our lives after our Savior, may love be our guide.

Prayer: God of love, I’ve heard it said that if I do not have love, I am just a clanging cymbal. I’ve heard it said that love can conquer a multitude of sins. I’ve heard it said that if I am your disciple others will know me by my love. May it be so. Amen.


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Acceptable?

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-5

Verse 2: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”.

Isaiah 58 starts with a pronouncement from God. In verse one God encourages Isaiah to “shout it aloud. Do not hold back”. Proclaim it from the rooftops! The message is something God wants all the people of Judah to hear. Getting right to the point, God declares the rebellion of the people, laying their sins before them. In verse two we get a hint at the heart of the problem: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”. In these phrases, the key word is “seem”. On the surface the people of Judah appear to be seeking God. In verse three the people try to defend themselves, asking why God did not notice their fasting. There is a reason.

Yesterday in church we celebrated communion. At our church we offer communion on the first Sunday of each month. In the words before coming forward there was a prayer and a time to lay our sins before the Lord, inviting us to offer repentance along with confession. Everyone in church took communion. Did all take the opportunity to search their hearts and to make a humble and sincere confession of their sins? Did all humbly desire to repent and go forth walking a more holy life? In an ideal world the answers to these questions would be yes and yes! But maybe someone was thinking instead about the Super Bowl snacks that lay ahead or about which commercial would be their favorite. Maybe someone thought they had no sins to confess. If anyone came and took communion in these or similar mindsets, they were practicing a ritual not participating in a sacrament.

The people of Judah were going through the motions of fasting. Yes, they were abstaining from food. But that is as far as their fast went. They were exploiting their workers. They were quarreling and fighting amongst themselves. The ritual of fasting was not changing their sinful ways. Their ritual fasting was not changing their hearts or helping them to be holy. A fast, when celebrated properly, works to draw one closer to God and deeper into walking in God’s ways. Communion should have the same affect. The same can be said of prayer, worship, Bible study, meditation, practicing Sabbath…

Our section for today ends with this question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord”? Tough question. Reflect on yesterday for a minute or two. Would God ask this question of any part of your day set aside for God?

Prayer: Lord God, it is a bit disconcerting to think about when I just go through the motions instead of choosing to be fully present with you or others. Strip away my busyness, my selfishness, my distractions, my half-hearted efforts. Just as you are fully present with me, may I be so to you and to those you place before me today. Amen.


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Simply Be Conduit

Reading: Luke 10: 17-20

Verse 20: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”.

The 72 return to Jesus overjoyed with all they were able to accomplish. They could not wait to share with him the wonderful things they did – “even the demons submit to us”. Jesus was ready for this. He acknowledges that, yes, he “saw Satan falling like lightning”. He then quickly reminds them that he gave them the power and that he kept them safe and protected.

We can be like the disciples. When we have been faithful to the task that God has given us and when we experience “success”, we can quickly claim recognition or glory for ourselves. We can quickly fall into the “look what I did” trap. Like the disciples, we can get excited when our service leads people to responses of faith or to a commitment to Christ. We can forget that it was the Spirit that led us and that it was God within that gave us the words to speak or led us in the action we took. We too need reminded that only with Jesus and only when the Spirit is working in and through us do we accomplish great things for the kingdom.

Jesus said to the disciples, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”. The rejoicing comes in knowing that our prayers or words or actions had eternal kingdom consequences. Maybe the impact was someone moving closer to beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Maybe the consequence was God moving us deeper in our faith. Maybe it was both. When we are faithful and when we remain closely connected to God there is little doubt who has the power and the ability to do great things. It is all God. May we simply be the conduit through which God works today.

Prayer: Lord, may I be open to your Holy Spirit as it leads and guides me today. Draw me close to you, O Lord, so that all I do and say and think brings you glory. Amen.


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A Home of Love

Reading: John 14: 23-24

Verse 23: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teachings… We will come to him and make our home with him”.

The word “home” conjures up many memories. It is the place we lay our head down at night. Right now, for me, home is the grey house across the street from the church I serve. It has been filled with our stuff, but what makes it home is the memories created with family and friends and even surprise guests. Many homes are filled with such memories. Each of our memories are built around and upon a relationship. It is these relationships and the attached memories ethat make a house into a home.

The key to our most important relationships is love. The relationships that matter the most in our lives are built upon love. It is love that leads us to be selfless and more concerned with the well-being and happiness of the other. In our passage today, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teachings”. In our relationship with Jesus, love is demonstrated with obedience to His teachings or commands. The first two commands that we are told to work on were loving God with all that we are and loving our neighbors as Jesus first loved us. Both of these are not always easy to do. That is why God offers us some help. Jesus goes on to say, “We will come to him and make our home with him”. If we love and obey Jesus, He will come and dwell in our heart.

Jesus just waits for us to extend that invitation. Once we do, it is the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ that makes it possible to live in love. The Holy Spirit is given and it leads and guides, it reminds and convicts, helping us to walk in love. When we ask Jesus to make a home in us, we are inviting love to lead us. It is through that love that we build our relationship with Jesus deeper and deeper. May we each love well today.

Prayer: God of love, walk with me today, helping me to be love to all I meet. Make my words, my thoughts, my actions all point to the love of Christ in me. Amen.


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Expect

Reading: John 21: 1-14

Verse 13: “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish”.

In today’s passage from John, Jesus makes His third appearance. When Jesus arrives about seven of the disciples are out in a boat. They have fished all night and have caught nothing. Jesus stands on the shore and directs them to cast their empty nets on the right side of the boat. Then, once ashore, we read, “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish”.

If we dig a little deeper, our passage reveals a few important things about Jesus and His relationship with His followers. First, He enters our lives at times unexpected. After a long and unsuccessful night of fishing, suddenly He is there on the shore. At times, Jesus will suddenly appear in our lives. Yes, He is always there. But at times that presence will be more – we can and do experience Jesus in a deeper or more meaningful way from time to time. Expect Jesus always.

The second thing we see is that Jesus is still in the miracle business. The large catch of 153 fish when there had been no fish for hours and hours triggers John to identify Jesus and Peter to leap into the lake. Yes, the risen Christ is still capable of miracles. This is not the answer to our prayers kind of miracle. It reminds the fishermen and it reminds us of just who our Jesus is – one who will surprise us now and then to help us along in our walk of faith. Maybe it will be a door opening to a new opportunity. Maybe it will be a revelation in a scripture or devotional that we are reading. Expect Jesus always.

The third thing we see is that Jesus continues to provide. He physically provides something of value and He spiritually provides for their faith too. The income from the fish will help the new ministry. The fact the Jesus comes and feeds them some bread and fish assures their faith. The risen and resurrected Lord will continue to be there, to care for His followers, to reveal Himself through acts of love. For us, it can be a neighbor or friend bringing something in a time of want or need. It can be that note or text or phone call when we need a little pick up or a little reminder of faith. It can be the Holy Spirit helping us to see with new eyes. Expect Jesus always.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for remaining present, for being there in my life in so many ways. I praise you for the unexpected visits, for the ways you work in and through me, for the love and care you pour into my life. Thank you, God. Amen.