pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 8-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

The pilgrims are on their way to Jerusalem! There is joy in where they are headed. They are going to be close to the God they love. As today’s passage opens, the people are petitioning God to hear and listen with favor to their prayers. This joy on the journey, this sense of anticipation – is it what we have when we walk out the door as we head to church?

For the pilgrims, the joy is not just in the journey. Being there is God’s house is really the point. Verse ten illustrates the value placed on being in the sanctuary: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. There is delight found in the place of the Lord. There is a sense of peace and strength in God’s house. Do we reflect this attitude on Sunday mornings? If we feel blessed to be in worship, then yes we do!

The psalmist also names the popular alternative. One can choose God or one can choose not to. Instead, one can live a wicked life. This is a life centered on self, filled with gluttony and greed and the pleasures of the flesh. The ego dominates and shows itself in pride and jealousy and anger. The psalmist would rather be one day with God than to spend a thousand days in the tents of the wicked. Yet those tents are crowded. The things of the world look good to those who do not know God. To the faithful, yes, they are temptations.

If we were to modernize the Psalm, what would we replace the tents of the wicked with? Today, for some, it is the cathedral of green pastures and little white balls. For others it is the sea of peaceful waters and sharp hooks. Still others prefer the sense of security and comfort found in the great comforter and soft pillow. Yes, these things do have their appeal. Yes, one sure can spend their days someplace other than in God’s courts. It is a choice.

The Psalm closes with this line: “O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you”. The world tells us to trust in ourselves, in our possessions, in our titles. But a thousand days of these things is not worth one day in the courts of the Lord. May we trust in the Lord. May we walk blameless today with our God. May we find the Almighty’s favor. Amen and amen.


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Evildoers and the Poor

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 6: “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”.

The second half of Psalm 14 speaks of evildoers. These are the folks who will do anything to become more powerful or wealthier. In order for anyone to gain more power or wealth, someone has to have less. What was true in David’s time remains true today.

Verse four speaks of evildoers as people who “devour” God’s people as “men eat bread”. In this verb there is an implication of greed and gluttony. It brings to mind the memory of placing a pizza before a group of teenagers who had been eating backpacking food for a week. The pizza was gone in the blink of an eye and I could see the look of “more?” in their eyes. But the evildoers that David writes of are not seeing “real food” for the first time in a week. They are folks who will eat and eat and eat – not because they are hungry but because they can. The lust for power and money is never satisfied. Getting some just wets the appetite for getting more.

Verse six reads, “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”. For those living in poverty, it is an enending battle to simply stay afloat, nevermind getting ahead. Decisions like buying gas to get to work or buying food for the kids competes with decisions to buy your medication or to pay the electric bill. It is a world of decisions foreign to most of us. These thoughts draw me back to a prayer walk we were on during a mission trip to Racine. A large pile of belongings was soaking up a heavy rain on the curbside. The pastor explained that someone else had been evicted. Among the belongings was a mattress – no box spring or rails or frame. The mattress was all this person could scrape and save for thus far. It was now ruined because they chose another necessity over rent. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to evict someone and, yes, poor decisions could have led to the eviction. The deeper issues that need to be addressed are why the person cannot earn a living wage or find affordable housing.

Where do we fit into this world of evildoers? As Christians, we are called to stand with and for the poor and marginalized. We are called to speak out against low wages and other practices that intentionally and unintentionally keep the poor poor. We are also called to help alleviate suffering wherever we find it by feeding, clothing, visiting, teaching, training… May we each discern both the changes that need to happen and the differences we can each make in our neighborhoods and communities today. May it be so. Amen.


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Cleanse Us, O God

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-9

Verse Two: “Wash away all my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin”.

Sin is all that we do or say or think that separates us from God. Despite our best efforts to follow Jesus and to bring honor and glory to God in all aspects of our lives, at times we fail. We were, in fact, created by God as imperfect creatures to live in a broken and sinful world. Being perfect or being without sin is not possible on our own. We were created this way so that we would come to rely on God.

King David learned the hard way about the sin in his life. While David is known as a man who was after God’s own heart, he, like us, was prone to sin. David even acknowledges, “surely I was sinful at birth”. David also recognizes another key element about sin: we sin against God. Yes, our sin can affect others, but our sin is really between us and God. Even though David dealt with sin in his life, he always sought God’s mercy and forgiveness as he repented of his sin.

Sometimes the sin in our lives is quite obvious and we quickly turn to God to restore our relationship. But sometimes we hold onto our sin, pretending that God cannot really see into that corner of our heart. At other times we are weak and our sin’s pull is stronger than we are at that moment. There are other sins that we always seem to battle. For me these are the sins of self, pride, ego, and gluttony. At times my faith does help me to live victoriously, but these sins are ever at the door of my heart.

In David’s words in Psalm 51 we find some great prayers to lift to God and some great reminders if who God is. We are reminded of God’s mercy and unfailing love. We are reminded of God’s desire to teach us truth. In those moments when we stumble, may we remember David’s plea: “Wash away all my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin”. In those moments, may we claim this prayer as our own. God desires to make us “whiter than snow”. We simply must humble ourselves and come before God with a contrite heart. May we search deeply within and confess our sins today, opening the way for God to heal our heart. May it be so today.


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Body, Mind, Heart

Reading: 1st Corinthians 6: 12-20

Verse Fifteen: “Do you know know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself”?

The believers in Corinth were not quite living a 24/7 faith.  They were living a faith that at times was disconnected from daily life.  Paul begins today with a statement that sums up this attitude: “Everything is permissible for me”.  The Corinthian believers were living however they wanted to, falsely thinking that they body and soul could be separate.  They were involved with prostitutes and were trying to say that this just involves the body – the soul is disconnected from this immoral act and therefore remains faithful to God. But Paul reminds them that when one unites with another they become “one flesh”.  He reminds them that they are part of the body of Christ and then asks if we should unite Christ with a prostitute.  “Never!” is Paul’s answer.

Prostitution is the apparent issue in the church in Corinth, but it is not the only struggle we wrestle with today.  The battle to keep our bodies and minds pure includes pornography, alcohol and drug addictions, verbal and physical abuse, gluttony, gossip, judging, and many, many more.  Just as Paul asked the church in Corinth, “Do you know know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself?”, so too must we ask ourselves this question today.  We cannot allow these sins to enter our bodies or minds without facing negative consequences both to our physical as well as spiritual being.  What we do with our bodies and minds is connected to our hearts and therefore to our relationship with God.

Paul goes on to write, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”.  As such, we should be careful how we treat our bodies and minds.  Paul reminds us, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price”.  Christ gave all for us.  This is another way of reminding us that since Christ dwells in us, we need to guard against sin entering our bodies and minds and hearts.  Just as Christ is pure and holy, so too are we called to live pure and holy lives.  As we seek to do this daily, we will bring all of the glory and honor to God in all we do, say, and think.  May it be so.


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Reaping Good, Always

Reading: Galatians 6: 7-16

Paul opens this section if his letter to the Galatians with two key points.  The first is that we reap what we sow.  The second is that we must not grow weary of doing what is right.  While these two ideas are directly related, each point of emphasis has its own challenges.

We have all experienced the ‘reap what you sow’ concept both with the good we do and with the evil we allow into our lives.  When we sow good into the world, we so often receive good in return.  For example, when we serve a meal at the local mission, it is good but we are usually the ones mist blessed by it.  On a more basic level, when we are kind and loving towards our fellow man they tend to be loving in return.  On the other end of the spectrum, when we sow evil by allowing greed, anger, gossip, gluttony, … into our lives, then we hurt both others and ourselves.  It is a hard road to only sow good with Satan and his emissaries always working to tempt us.

Paul’s second point is to not weary of doing what is right.  As Christians our natural bent in life is to do what is right in the world.  It is the example set by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Our natural disposition as disciples is to be a servant to those in our lives.  Jesus calls for us to die to self so that we can better see the needs of others and to act accordingly.  For me this us easiest when the task is simple.  I could help an elderly woman to her car with her groceries all day long.  The challenge comes when there is risk to ourselves in serving another or in correcting a wrong that is occurring.  It can be hard to do what us right over and over.  Like Peter we ask, ‘how many times?’ – how many times must I forgive them?  How many times must I help the same person?  Jesus’answer was a simple ‘forever’ – just as long as God will forgive and love us.  Just as long.

May we find strength, grace, love, forgiveness, and encouragement in our saving relationship with Jesus Christ so that we may reap good to build His kingdom here and so that we may not grow weary in our own pursuit of His kingdom in our lives.