pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Trials and Temptations

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Jesus prepares for His ministry with a period of testing.  He fasts for forty days and is physically weak.  Satan comes then and tempts Jesus with food, trust, and power.  Food represents both our basic needs and our desires.  Is our life about pursuing these things and then giving what’s left to God?  Or do we first give to God, knowing that He loves us and will provide for all we need?  The second temptation partly involves trust.  We we step out or step forward, trusting that God will have our back?  And perhaps before this first step, did we seek God’s discernment and direction or did we just make our own plan?  When seek God’s will and when we obey His lead, there is no fear or lack of trust.  Power is the third temptation.  Worship Satan and all the world is yours.  We like to be in charge.  What a temptation!

In our own journey of faith, we are often tempted and often out to the test.  In our giving, do we obediently give our tithe or volunteer for that cause that pulls at our heart strings?  Or do we focus on what “has” to be done first or pay all the bills and then see if we have time or money left for God?  In those moments when the Holy Spirit nudges us to get involved or to offer our talents or to engage the stranger, do we trust that God will give us the words to say or will show us what to do?  Or do we apply excuses or rationalize away the opportunity?  And when we look at our priorities, do they reveal that God is #1 in our lives?  Or does ‘God’ fall somewhere down the list?  If one looked at our lives, they should see how we are investing our lives in God’s work in the world and in growing our own personal faith.  Is that what they would see?

Just as Satan tempted Jesus to rely on something other than God, he will also tempt us.  How we respond to or react to the above questions and scenarios indicated how successful Satan may be at drawing us away from God.  In this season of Lent, where we too are preparing ourselves for ministry, may the Lord our God strengthen and encourage us each day as we strive to walk as disciples of Jesus each and every day.


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Blessings

Reading: Leviticus 19: 9-18

Today’s passage falls under the heading, “Various Laws”, in my Bible.  It is part of a longer list of “Do not…” laws that appear to jump from one subject to another, as the subtitle maybe suggests.  Sprinkled throughout this chapter is the phrase, “I am the Lord”.  It occurs five times in the ten verses we read today, 19 times in the chapter.  In the repetition of this phrase we are reminded of who God is – the creator and giver of all things – and of our role within God’s kingdom.  Our role should be one of gratitude for all that God has blessed us with.  Out of this gratitude should flow a love for all of humanity.

This role is represented well in verse nine.  God instructs, “Do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather gleanings from your field”.  God repeats this same idea in the next line concerning the grape harvest.  Yes, God wants to bless us with the bounty of a good harvest, but we are not to work and work and work for every last seed of grain or the very last grape.  This simple idea has several applications.  First, we are not to be greedy.  We are to be satisfied with what God provides.  Second, we are to share God’s blessings with those in need.  Third, keep the proper perspective – God created for all of humanity, not just for us.  In following these lessons, we maintain our connection to God and to one another.  In these lessons, we remain in our proper role with respect to honoring God and loving our neighbor.

Verse nine applies to the harvest – it was very relevant in the agrarian society of early Israel.  It translates well today as well.  It applies to our time, our talents, our money, our love, our possessions – to all that God has blessed us with so richly.  True, God calls us to work.  But not to the edge, to the point where work is our sole focus and the consumer of all we are.  Yes, God gives us each talents and gifts that bring blessings to our lives.  But He gives these so that we can bless others as well.  What gift of God do you guard to closely?  How can you loosen your grip so others may share in the blessing?


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Contentment

Reading: 1 Timothy 6: 6-11

Paul calls us to what really matters in this life and in the life to come.  He states in verse six, “godliness with contentment is great gain”.  When we live a godly life and are content with God’s blessings, then we do find much joy, peace, and happiness.  But it can be a struggle to live this way all the time.

Even though Paul reminds us in verse seven that we brought nothing into this world and can take nothing out of it, sometimes we sure act differently.  We eye the latest cell phone, tablet, or other gadget.  We see the newest model of our favorite car and think our 2015 version is getting a bit old.  We hear the Jones’s got a new boat and we think it sure would be nice to take the kids out tubing or fishing anytime.  Pretty soon it can be easy to not be so content.

Paul spells it out very clearly when he says, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”.  He does not say money is bad but that the LOVE of money in bad.  This love causes us to pursue much instead of God.  When we love something more than God, soon enough we “wander from the faith” and we find ourselves”pierced with many griefs”.  Money, possessions, status, … do not last.  When we chase after such things all we want is more, more, more.  Enough never comes.

“Flee from all of this!” is Paul’s advice.  Instead, Paul encourages us to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  When we fill our lives with these things, contentment is not far away.  When we pursue these things we soon realize the depth of God’s care and love for us, each a child of God.  When we realize this, we trust in God that all of our needs will be met and that our lives will be richly blessed no matter how much or how little we have.  When we live pursuing God, we find true contentment.  May God be our all in all.


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Faithful Trust

Reading: Luke 16: 10-13

Trust is the key word in this passage.  Jesus begins by transitioning from talking about the shrewd manager to talking to the general audience, which now includes us.  In essence, Jesus is saying that if we prove trustworthy with the little things, then eventually we will be trusted with bigger things.  If we are trustworthy with another’s resources, then one day we will be trusted with resources of our own.  Jesus also ties this into our relationship with God.  He reminds us that if we cannot be trusted with earthly resources, then how would God ever trust us with heavenly riches?

To temper and reframe all this talk about wealth, Jesus shifts gears in verse thirteen.  He ties what we are trusted with into who we serve.  Jesus plainly states that we cannot serve two masters.  There is still the implication that the people of the world pursue only wealth, that wealth is their god.  At the end of the verse, Jesus clearly draws the line: “You cannot serve both God and money”.  Put another way, in a way that ties back into verses 10-12, you cannot trust both God and money.  But oh how we try!

Our trust must rest fully in God.  Too often we say we trust in God, but we act like we trust our money and other resources.  We allow our trust to waver and we rationalize our choices and priorities in life.  We cannot trust God in some areas and we can in others.  We compartmentalize.

Our trust must be fully and completely in God.  This means continually saying, “Your way” instead of “my way”.  It means giving without limit to the things God has placed upon our hearts.  It means allowing God to be in control.  It is terribly difficult to give up one’s will fully to God’s will.  Yet this day, may we begin.  As it is written, “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much”.


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Generous Living

Reading: Luke 16: 1-9

In today’s passage a manager is fired for poor job performance.  He has mismanaged the owner’s resources.  We do not know if he is incompetent or lazy as well, but we do know he is somehow being dishonest and is wasting the owner’s resources.  The shrewd manner in which he then acts would maybe rule out incompetent.  In a handful of quick transactions, he not only shores up his future, he also gains commendation from the owner.

If we are honest, there are times we too waste the company’s resources.  There are times when we check our Facebook or when we text back and forth solidifying our weekend plans or update our fantasy football lineup at work.  And there are other times when our mind simply drifts for a few minutes.  Some days we would really like to just lay our heads down on our desk and take a little nap.  If the boss notices these types of things a few times, we too could find ourselves unemployed.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to offer our best effort in all we do.  We are called to work joyously in all of our labors – to work as if we were working for the Lord.  Always putting in a good days effort is a witness to our faith.  It is about respect for others and being personally responsible.

Personal responsibility forms us another way as well.  In the parable Jesus offers advice on the use of our resources.  He says to be generous with our money – it will gain us friends.  This idea also extends to our time and talents.  We should be generous with these as well.  When we share what God has blessed us with to help others, we are building up a treasure in heaven as well.  Generous living is a blessing all around.


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Prepare

Reading: Luke 12: 16-21

Jesus asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  The answer we give to that question can come on the earthly level or on the spiritual level.  Jesus is posing a serious question that can be difficult to answer or even to wrestle with.

In terms of possessions, the things requiring bigger barns, our culture has shifted a great deal over the past fifty years.  We have gone from a society that cared for our family to the end of life to one that places our loved ones in a facility.  We often grew up and then lived in the same town all of our lives and now many young people cannot identify a ‘home town’s because they moved so often.  Great, great grandma Ethel’s China hutch that was eyed by many as her life ebbed away now has no value for young eyed.  Who would want that old thing?  In terms of our possessions, more and more it is about the bank account.  People want an inheritance they can spend how they want and on what they want.

To that end we have become a society that accumulates money.  Almost all else has become disposable.  Thus, for many their security is in how much they have in the bank.  Our reality is that we all need money.  Each of us requires ‘x’ dollars per day or week based on a number of factors.  This is determined by questions such as: ‘how big a house?’, ‘how new a car?’, ‘how often a vacation?’, ‘how many clothes in the closet?’

Looking at Jesus’ question from the spiritual side is a reality check.  If we are the recipient as well, are we preparing for life eternal?  If we prepare for this well, there is a trickle down affect.  The inheritance our children and grandchildren receive is the gift of faith.  The answers to the above questions are very different.  We see wealth as something we are blessed with so that we can bless others.  This holy day, may we wrestle with this side of the question.


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Discipleship

Reading: Luke 9: 51-62

Growth does not often occur on the mountaintops.  It most often occurs in the valleys, in the hard times of life.  In today’s story Jesus is heading for His final trip to Jerusalem.  He is heading there to die.  His fate may be some cause for their foul mood.  After being rejected by a village, James and John want to call fire down from heaven.  It is certainly not their first taste of rejection, so the reaction probably comes from their bad mood over what they know lies ahead.  Sometimes we are this way as well.

As they continue, people approach Jesus wanting to follow Him.  Each man has a ‘but first…’ to their request.  One is concerned with shelter, one with burying his father, and another with having a proper goodbye with his family.  Each turns away as Jesus harshly addresses their lack of commitment to placing Him first.  Each of these ‘but first’ commitments resonate with us.

I will give of my time and resources Lord, but first let me set aside enough for all of my bills.  I will serve you Lord, but first let me go take care of all these other responsibilities.  I will be faithful to my prayer, Bible study, and worship disciplines, but first let me get in these activities and commitments.  I will, I will, I will… but, but, but.

The life if disciple of Christ is difficult.  The choice to place God first requires all else to get in line behind this commitment to our faith.  It is a difficult commitment that daily requires setting aside self and saying, “Here I am Lord, use me”.  It is truly a daily struggle, but may we struggle well this day and each day.


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Reconnect to God

Reading: Psalm 42

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by problems relating to money, health, relationships, and vocation.  When a couple of these worries pair up, which they often do, then our lives can be quite challenging.  Our habit tends to be to dwell on such things, to allow them to consume our lives.  The cloudiness that settles in can even affect our relationship with God.

Sometimes we become so centered on our problems that we forget God is available as a source of strength and relief.  Our troubles can consume us.  When we finally are reminded of His presence we wonder why we did not turn to Him sooner.  At other times we are like the psalmist.  We seek God but end up asking, “Where is God”?  Despite our efforts, God feels distant.  The cloudiness can be hard to shake.

In these cases, we need to practice the motions of faith that we know so well.  First, we need to pray.  We need to pray out to God even if we feel all alone.  God is near and He is listening.  If we pray faithfully, He will be present.  Second, we need to praise God.  If we are too downcast to find any current praises, turn back to times and ways in which God has blessed you before.  Also, we can be thankful for the littlest things.  Song is another way to pray and to praise God.

In both of these ways we will reconnect to our God, our help and our rock.  In prayer and praise we invite God’s presence to be real to us and to also offer ourselves back to Him.  May we place our hope in God, for He is ever faithful and His love never fails.


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Much to Give

The story of the rich young man.  In it we can hear his desire to follow Jesus.  In it we can sense how torn he is when challenged to give away all his possessions.  In it we can sense Jesus’ sadness over the man’s condition.  In it we can feel great conviction ourselves.  The general principle Jesus is teaching is to give away all you can.  He tells the man to sell his possessions – those things he more we must trust in God.he owns that he really doesn’t need.

We live in a society that teaches us to be consumers.  Society even tries to tell us that it is OK to live in debt, maybe even that it is normal.  Our culture values signs of wealth – big paychecks, impressive titles, grand mansions, fancy cars…  It is easy to say we are doing ‘well’ simply because of the country we were born in or because God is blessing us.  We easily become comfortable with our nice lifestyle.  All of this makes Jesus’ words so hard to hear.

Jesus does not say wealth makes it impossible to enter the kingdom, he just says it makes it hard.  He says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  But don’t miss the key phrase, “impossible with man.”  He reminds us that anything, though, is possible with God.  “With God” is the key.

God blesses us in so many ways.  He blesses us not so that we can accumulate great wealth but so that we can bless others.  We are not blessed so that we can live in excess.  It is hard to look at our lives and to decide to prioritize differently so that we can give more away.  But it is not impossible.  The further we want to push that line, the more we must trust in God.  With our trust fully in God, we all will have much to give away.  In doing so we bless others and we bring glory to God.

Scripture reference: Mark 10: 17-27


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Jesus as Center

Idols are all of those things that we invest our time in, that we put our trust in, and that, in the end, draw us away from God.  Our idols can include our possessions or money, our job or position, our looks or our body.  It is all that we place ahead of or before God.  Idols are stumbling blocs in our relationship with God.

In times of need, when we are struggling or suffering and need strength or comfort, our idols can do very little for us.  For a time we can think our chosen idol is helping as it masks the pain or hardship for a time, but it cannot take is away.  Only God can do that.  Only through a relationship with Jesus Christ do we find true peace, comfort, rest, and contentment.

Our idols can also harm others, drawing their attention away from God.  One new to the faith may see you as an example to follow.  If we choose an idol over God, they too may make a similar choice for themselves.  The same is even more true for our children.  Their little eyes are watchful and their small ears are attentive.  What they observe in our lives, they mimic in theirs.

As our lives silently speak out about what we value and where we put our trust, does your life reveal Jesus as your center?  All in our life must fall under His authority.  It is a daily struggle to put God first in all we do, but we can have Jesus as our rock if we make a conscious choice to take our stand upon Him each day.  He is our firm foundation.  Thanks be to God!

Scripture reference: 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13