pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Open to Others

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.

On its most basic level the parable of the rich man is about greed and the negative decisions it can lead to. In the parable a bumper crop triggered the man’s “mine” instincts. He decided he had to build bigger barns to store his new crop. He coveted his grain because in it he saw not only financial security but also a chance to take some time to enjoy life. He was very focused on self.

Possessions and wealth are not the only things we can feel greed over and can seek to covet. This morning I read about a small neighborhood church in a changing community that decided to take a chance and reach out. Instead of holding onto their church, they opened their doors and invited their new immigrant neighbors inside. They invited them in and began praying with them – to find homes and jobs and for comfort to their loneliness. The praying led to relationships and that small church grew as their new friends became brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some churches could see new faces as threats to what they have and know. In many cases immigrants are cast in an “us” and “them” scenario. And immigrants are not the only people groups that can be seen in an “us” and “them” framework. When we create perceived differences between ourselves and another group of people, we are denying that they too were created in the image of God. When we allow greed to put up a barrier between us and our neighbors, we are holding tightly to what we have always known or had and are not allowing God’s love to work in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world, or in our own heart.

The rich man was focused only on self. He could not see all he had to offer his neighbors. His greed prevented him from seeing beyond himself and from experiencing God’s love at work. In the end, what good did all that grain do him? Storing up and holding things for ourselves – goods, money, time, compassion, prayers, empathy, a place at the table – does not make us rich towards God either. May we all learn a little from the rich man and from the church that opened its doors to those outside. May we practice what we learn.

Prayer: Lord God, who is out there today for me to engage? Lead me to share your love with another today. Soften my heart and open my eyes, hands, and feet. Amen.


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Spirit Led

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 16-25

Verse 25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”.

The passage for today contrasts the fruit of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. In many ways these are polar opposites. The works of the flesh are the selfish desires that we all have inside and that lead us to living a life that is not in alignment with God’s plans and purposes for our lives. On the other side of the spectrum are the works of the Spirit. When we live in alignment with these godly things we produce good fruit.

The works of the flesh are many. We are each familiar with these things. Paul provides a list in verses 19-21 that are “obvious”, to use Paul’s word. This list of sins contains many that most of us struggle with: jealousy, selfish ambition, envy – just to name a few. We each could add to the list as well: pride, lust, greed, and gluttony – again, just to name a few. Paul warns us that those living this way “will not enter the kingdom of God”. It is the reality that we all live within and that we all struggle with because we are creatures of the flesh.

Even though we are of the flesh, our inheritance does not lie here on earth. As heirs with Jesus Christ, we are children of God. When we keep ahold of this side of our character, then we are led by the Spirit. There is still this conflict within us, but we are not fighting the war alone. We are not even in charge. When we live by the Spirit our lives are different. Instead of the fruit produced by the flesh, we produce Holy Spirit fruit. Instead of guilt and shame and doubt and fear and condemnation we experience love and joy and patience and kindness and… The fruit is both within and without. When led by the Spirit we produce good fruit for the building of our faith and for the building of the kingdom of God here on earth. Therefore brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my battle within is almost constant. But the presence of your Holy Spirit is always constant. Attune me better to the lead of the Holy Spirit so that the fruit of my life may ever be pleasing to your sight. Amen.


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All Over Town

Reading: Luke 8: 37-39

Verse 39: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you”.

Fear has been a common theme this week. Elijah’s fear drove him into the wilderness. Fear runs throughout this passage from Luke 8. Fear led the townspeople to first bind the demon-possessed man and then to drive him away when he kept breaking the chains. The demons inside the man fear Jesus more than another fear – being sent back the the Abyss. The townspeople fear Jesus, asking him to leave rather than risk the change he may work in their lives. The man who was healed also faces fear once again. It is the same fear that Elijah must have felt after he encountered God and was being sent back to the work of prophet.

The man only sits for a little while at Jesus’ feet before those who had driven him away come to drive Jesus away. He seeks a new community with Jesus and his disciples, begging to go with them. But God has a different plan for his newfound life. Instead of coming along, Jesus says to him, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you”. Jesus reminds the man of the power of God that has just brought him freedom. The man who had long been captive to demons was now free. The power of God is enough to lead him to do just what Jesus asked him to do. The man returned to his town and “told all over town how much Jesus had done for him”.

The truth of a changed life makes a powerful witness. The words of healing and restoration that come from the one who was made whole again can change lives. We have all found freedom in Christ. Our story may not be about being freed from something that possessed us, but it might be. It might be about the freedom we found in surrendering control to Jesus. It might be about the new life we found when we let go of our anger or pride or greed. We have all found freedom in Christ. We all have a story to tell that shares how much Jesus has done for us. May we claim our story and may we too share it all over town.

Prayer: God, thank you for grabbing ahold of me and making me new again. I was once lost, but you found me too. May I ever share the good news of what Jesus has done and continues to do for me. Amen.


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The Good

Reading: James 3: 9-12

Verse 11: “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring”?

James wants us to be consistent in our Christian walk. He encourages us to be faithful all if our days. But this is not the behavior that he always sees exhibited. We too struggle with this so today’s passage applies well to life as a Christian in 2018. Truth be told, it applied well in 407, 1268, 2001… and will apply well in 2047, 2206…

James uses some good examples to follow up his main point. We do use the same tongue to praise God and to curse our fellow men – “who have been made in God’s image”. We cannot love the Creator and hate His creation. That is as crazy, James says, as expecting fresh water out of a salty spring or figs from a grapevine. If in nature none of this occurs, then how can it occurs in us, the masterpiece of God’s creation?

If we are striving to live a Christian life, I do not think we want to intentionally cause harm to others. We do not wake up in the morning looking to curse at and fight with others. But we are imperfect beings living in a broken world. We will cross paths with people who hurt or wrong us or others. Satan causes greed and jealousy and pride and… to drive a lot of people’s decisions. Into all of this we are called to be light and love. When we are hurt or wronged, we are to handle it with grace and love and forgiveness. When we stand against injustice or bias or prejudice… we are to do do with peace and understanding and empathy. We are called to walk alongside those who are hurting and broken, bringing a burst of joy and mercy and compassion.

Sometimes it is hard. In those moments we must really search deep within the other to find the Creator. We must be patient and must persevere to find that which God created and seek to draw that out. There is good within all of us, just as there is evil. As followers of Jesus Christ may we work to be and bring forth the good in us and in the world.

Lord, give me patience when I want to react and perseverance when I want to just give up. Give me mercy when I want to judge. Give me grace when you just want to condemn. Most of all, give me eyes to see you in all and a heart to love as you love. In His name, 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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Come and Save Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 103

Verse Two: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s Psalm is written at the time of the Assyrian invasion.  The nation of Israel is divided and the Northern Kingdom has fallen to the invading army.  The psalmist expresses the hope of the Southern Kingdom when he writes, “Awaken your might; come and save us.”  It is a great plea for God’s intervention and help.

At times in our lives we will issue a similar plea.  We may not be facing an approaching army, but many things invade our lives and try to steal our faith in God, our commitment to our family and friends, our joy and peace in life.  The invading force may be ‘small’ things like gossip or jealousy or greed or resentment or pride.  As these things come to permeate our life, they draw our focus away from God.  ‘Larger’ forces such as addiction, slavery to our jobs, and selfishness can steal time and attention from things that really matter in our faith and in our lives.No, we may not have a vast army with horses and chariots on our border, but we do have plenty of things in life that can make us cry out for God’s might to save us.  And He does.

Our Psalm today begins by calling God a shepherd.  This image of God evokes care, protection, guidance, and watchfulness over the sheep.  As our shepherd, God provides all of this for us, the sheep of His flock.  As our shepherd, God also helps us avoid dangers and evils while trying hard to guide us to good and safe pastures.  It is through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that God leads and guides us as we journey through life.  When we listen to and follow the guidance of the Spirit, we find peace and rest and joy and contentment in this life.  These things help us to fend off those invading armies and to keep to the path that God intends for our lives.

We are saved not to simply rest in our salvation, to enjoy a quiet God-centered life.  We are not called to be silent, isolated sheep.  We are called to be in the world, trusting God to be with us as we go forth to share our peace, joy, love, and contentment with other sheep who are lost and are seeking these things for their lives.  We are called to bring God’s love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to others so that they too may come to know the Good Shepherd.  May Jesus flow out of us today, so that in all we do and say others may see Him today, coming to know the Good Shepherd as Lord of their lives.


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Choose

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3a and 14-25

Verse 14: Now choose the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness.

Joshua comes to the people and asks them to choose who they will serve.  He asks them three times, each time reminding them of the temptations of other gods.  Joshua has seen the people go astray and God lets him know that this will continue to be the challenge.  Their forefathers worshiped other gods in the past, they experienced the worship of other gods in Egypt, and they even made a golden calf to worship while Moses was up on the mountain talking with God.

Joshua asks three times and the people respond three times that they will worship God alone.  Joshua reminds them that God is a jealous and holy God.  Three times, just to make sure.  This battle to choose God over idols continues to this very day.  Each day we must choose which God or many gods we will serve.  It is a daily battle that begins as we awaken each day.  Prayers for God to lead and guide us only begins the battle.  Throughout the day the Holy Spirit is praying for us, reminding us, convicting us.  We cannot remain faithful to God without the help of the Holy Spirit.

The temptations and other gods are many.  We can chase after money or possessions, popularity or recognition, status or position, beauty or knowledge.  We can get caught up in envy, gossip, greed, gossip, gluttony, fear, doubt, worry.  We are in no shortage of things or idols to tempt, lure, and pull us away from God.  The enemy is powerful.  But God is greater.  Through the Word, prayer, worship, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we can walk faithful and holy lives.  May all that is at God’s disposal work in us this day to be the witnesses of His love and truth in our daily walk, bringing glory to God alone.


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Secure?

Reading: Luke 12: 13-15

The issue of greed is the central focus of today’s reading.  One brother asks Jesus to help him get his share of his father’s estate.  We do not know his status – rich, poor, comfortable, in deep need.  Nor do we know his brother’s situation.  Jesus does not seem to care about this.  He aims right at a huge issue in the day and probably for these brothers: greed.  This focus may or may not be related to the man’s request for his share of the inheritance.

Greed us certainly an issue still today.  So Jesus’ teaching on greed is still very relevant today.  It always will be so.  Just as the brother is warned to be on their guard against greed, we too are warned.  We must be on our guard against greed because it can so easily become consuming of our focus and attention.

In the parable Jesus is clear that greed is not the possessing of things but in being possessed by what we have or what we lust after.  It is entirely possible to have much and be possessed by none of it.  We can be richly blessed and be very generous in offering what we have when a need arises.  But it is hard.  To attain wealth takes some time and effort, therefore we tend to develop an attachment to our wealth.  This is hard especially in our culture.  The main message of society is more, more, more.  Society encourages us to own or have as much as we can.  This easily leads to the mindset of greed.

So Jesus is right to warn us of greed.  We must be on our guard to not be drawn into being possessed by what we possess or desire to possess.  To do so our focus must be on Christ and the treasures of His kingdom.  This is the true inheritance we must seek.  It is the only inheritance that matters.  Our possessions do not secure our future.  It is our relationship with Jesus Christ that secures our future.  He is the only way, truth, and life.  May we do all we can to seek Jesus as our all in all.  Holy Spirit work in us this day to set Jesus as our all in all. 


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God’s Wisdom

We as Christians have the opportunity each day to take the wisdom that God offers and to share it with the world.  God’s wisdom is pure and holy, gentle and peaceful, accepting, willing to serve, and is sincere.  When we look at and live out our lives in this manner, not only is our life better, so are the lives of all around us.

When we allow God’s wisdom to be our guide, we build bonds of true community.  Here we grow seeds that will become the fruits of love and harmony and unity.  Living in God’s wisdom allows us to begin to build His kingdom here on earth.

In contrast to and opposing this is the world’s wisdom.  Characteristics like envy, greed, lust, mistrust, and selfishness tear down community and destroy relationships.  They give rise to anger, conflict, disputes, and separation.

As individuals and as communities of faith, we have opportunities to be bearers of God’s ways and wisdom.  We can choose to live lives of mercy, grace, love, compassion, and service.  If this is the ‘flavor’ of our lives, then we in turn will flavor those around us.

In the world there is plenty of negative, plenty of the world’s wisdom.  God’s wisdom can counter this and be a light to all we are in relationship with.  When we allow patience and goodness and righteousness to saturate our entire beings, then these things seep out in to those around us.  May God’s wisdom and love be our guide as we seek to build His kingdom here on earth.

Scripture reference: James 3: 13-18