pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Struggle Within

Reading: James 4: 1-3

Verse 1: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”?

So far in the book of James, he has built the argument that the things in our heart and mind are what guide our actions, control our tongues, and directs our decisions. In chapter four, he turns the discussion towards the disagreements and arguments that mankind often enters into. One only has to watch the nightly news for a short time to see plenty of examples.

James opens chapter four with two great focus questions: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”? Once in a while we fight and quarrel for other reasons, but most often the battle begins with an internal issue or struggle. Maybe it is something that happened in our past that we haven’t gotten past or let go of yet. Similar events trigger us, pushing that button that leads us to desire to fight and quarrel. Maybe our desire to enter the battle comes from some perceived need or want and our envy or jealousy flares up. Sometimes it has to do with a lack of maturity. I can remember times in my greener years when I’d argue for the sake of arguing and times when I would argue long after I knew I had lost the argument. Pride was definitely at work.

When we come to the edge of a fight and quarrel, James suggests a few filters. We should ask ourselves questions such as these: What am I about to fight about? Is this about getting even? Are these feelings even connected this actual person or situation? Am I being stubborn or prideful? Again, in most cases the urge to fight and quarrel is driven by a struggle or issue within us. When we allow these to linger, they inhibit our relationships with God and with others. Only when we make peace within will we have peace without. James has a suggestion here too: seek God’s help with the right motives. Pray for help with the struggle within. God is faithful. He will rain down mercy, grace, forgiveness, and healing.

Prince of Peace, pour out your peace upon my inner being. Guide me to those that I need to reconcile with. Lead me to speak words of unity and healing. Wipe away all unrest and discord that is within. Help me to freely offer mercy, grace, and forgiveness so that I may receive them from you and from others. May I model your love each day. Amen.

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Heavenly Wisdom

Reading: James 3: 13-18

Verse 13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, be deeds done in humility”.

In our passage from James 3, he compares earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. Earthly wisdom is concerned with the self. It focuses on our own preferences and is driven by envy and selfish ambition. In our churches we can see this type of wisdom now and then. It usually arises when change is on the horizon. Change necessitates leaving the familiar and the comfortable. Individually we also cling to earthly wisdom when the Holy Spirit is nudging us to say or do something – for the same reasons. James reminds us that such wisdom is “earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil”.

Our alternative is to choose heavenly wisdom or wisdom from above. This wisdom is the opposite of earthly wisdom. Hear again the words that James uses to describe heavenly wisdom: “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere”. What a contrast! This wisdom leads us to think of God and others more than ourselves. This wisdom leads us to see and love all people as God does. This sounds a lot like how Jesus operated.

Our passage today opens with this verse: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, be deeds done in humility”. In essence, James is asking us who is wise by God’s standard. In a return to the theme of James 2, it is again our works and the fruit of our faith that reveals the true condition of our hearts. When we are allowing God’s wisdom to be our guide, we live out of a good place in our heart, following Jesus’ example. We love and care for those in need. We enjoy good relationships with God, our family, friends, co-workers, teammates, and even with the stranger. We seek good rather than evil. We maintain a humble servant’s attitude as we interact with God and neighbor. In turn, we experience the good life, blessed by God. May it be so for you and for me.

Dear God, fill me with your wisdom – a wisdom that is pure and considerate and compassionate and humble and loving. May all I do and say lift others up. Empower me to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to shine a light on Jesus and His love. This day and every day, may your wisdom guide me. Amen.


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The Good…

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verse 20: “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”.

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is seen as the groom and the church is His bride. I encourage you to read again the passage from Proverbs 31 from this perspective. Re-read the passage and think of the church as the wife or bride of Christ.

A good church is worth far more than rubies – it has eternal worth as it helps people find salvation. A good church does bring glory and praise by honoring God in all it says and does. All of its efforts are aimed at building the kingdom here on earth.

A good church gets up while it is still dark and spends time in the Word, in meditation, and in prayer. A good church gives spiritual food to those who hunger and thirst. A good church does work hard – both for its members and for its community. It is strong for the task at hand, whatever that may be. Because of this, the lamp does not go out at night. The good church is ready to answer the call at 2 AM or whenever because God’s love is always at the ready.

A good church “opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”. A good church cares all members of society, regardless of race or religion, regardless of social class or standing. A good church offers food or clothing or a listening ear or whatever it can in a time of need.

A good church is clothed in strength and dignity. As it does the Lord’s work, it is assured of the path that it walks. A good church can even laugh at the days to come – it trusts and rests in the Lord. A good church receives faithful instruction, keeping it focused on a life of faith. It is to be praised because it fears the Lord. And the reward is found in leading others into a relationship with Jesus Christ. The good church is God’s body at work for Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for all the good churches out there.

Lord, may the church ever be Christ’s bride, bringing joy and hope and peace to a world in need. May it ever give to those in need, love all people, and draw all to Christ. Amen.


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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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Solomon’s Request

Reading: 1 Kings 3: 3-14

Verse 5: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”.

Solomon is now King Solomon. He is the ruler of the nation of Israel. He inherits the kingdom from his father David. Israel has enjoyed a recent period of peace and prosperity under David’s leadership. Often, with a new king, the competing and rival nations around him want to test him and see if he really can lead. And although Solomon has worked hard to eliminate all possible and known enemies or threats within, one never knows who amongst your “friends” might be eyeing power. So when God comes and tells Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”, he could have easily and naturally asked to be king for “x” years or to have rest from his enemies.

Kings also often like to look “kingly” so Solomon could have asked for people to admire him. Or he could have asked for more wealth or a bigger kingdom… But Solomon does not ask for any of these worldly trappings. In essence, he asks for more of what it appears he already has. Solomon’s response to God’s offer: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”. This is such an interesting response!

First, notice how Solomon identifies himself: your servant. He is acknowledging God’s supremacy and defining his preferred role in their relationship. Solomon shows both great faith and also deep humility. Second, he asks for a “discerning heart”. Solomon is asking for eyes to see and a heart to feel. This is different from knowing. To know means that 2+2=4. This is a fact that we can know. Discernment is deeper – it adds the ‘why’ to the knowing. Third, Solomon asks for the ability to distinguish right from wrong. We cannot miss why this is important. This request applies on two levels: as a leader of Israel and as a follower of God. Not only does Solomon desire to lead the nation well, but he also wants to walk upright before the Lord. Verse 10 tells us, “This pleased the Lord”. God not only granted Solomon’s request, but He also blessed him in many other ways as well.

When we come to God with our requests, may we be as wise and humble and faithful as Solomon, seeking ever to please God, to bring God the glory, and to walk in His ways. Amen.


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One

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”.

In a different season in my life I went backpacking once a year. The backpack was my existence for that week. The pack would carry the tent, my pad and sleeping bag, my food and cooking gear, the stove and fuel bottle, my clothes, my Bible and devotionals, my toiletries, a shovel and some toilet paper, and a water filter. Each of these was essential for my week trekking around the wilderness. If I discovered six miles into the journey that I had forgotten the fuel for the stove, I was in trouble. In a similar way, Paul describes today the essentials for our Christian journey. If we do not have all of these traits inside of us on our journey of faith, we are also in trouble.

Paul encourages us to be completely humble, to be patient, to bear with one another in love. He also encourages us to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. At times our journey is not always easy. To represent Christ well, it requires humility and patience and love and peace. In the good and especially in the bad these traits are essential because they help us through and they are the things that others notice. The peace in the suffering, the patience in the trial, the love for the unlovable or the unloved – these are some of the marks of the Christian. When we fail to love the other or when we demonstrate arrogance instead of humility, then we do harm to our Christian witness. We must carry all of these traits with us all of the time if we are to live out our faith well as we interact with the world.

Paul closes this section with a great reminder of what unites us as people of faith. He writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”. We are all one body of believers throughout the world. We are all connected to and through the head, Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we find humility, patience, love, and peace. May others see these traits in us today as we bear witness to our faith in Jesus Christ today.


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No Sin Too Great

Reading: 2 Samuel 12: 7b-13

Verse 9: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes”?

David has just heard Nathan say, “You are the man”! In our passage today, God begins by telling David this same thing but from a much different perspective. God reviews how David was anointed and protected, how he was given the houses of Israel and Judah. God closes this summary of how He has led and blessed David with these words: “And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”. The unspoken line is, ‘All you had to do was ask’.

God’s intent was to bless David. I believe that is God’s intent with us too. We probably will not be made kings or be given large mansions to live in. The blessings are not necessarily financial. Yet I believe that God does bless the faithful. At a minimum, there is a joy and peace about life, a contentment that assures us, and a hope for all to come. Like David, even when we find ourselves in this good place with God, we still fight the urge for more or for some earthly thing. With the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can usually withstand the temptation. But sometimes we cannot. Like David, sometimes we sin.

In our passage, David’s sins have consequences. Yes, God forgives him but there will be ramifications. God asks, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes”? It is again a way of asking why David didn’t just come to God in the first place. But because David lusted after another man’s wife and used the sword, these two sins will rear their ugly heads against David from within his own family. Unlike David’s though, this rebellion will be out in the open, for all to see. It will be public and it will be brutal.

Our sins also bring consequences. These are usually not of the type that David faced, but they can be. At the very least, our sins disrupt our relationship with God. The same can happen with other people that are affected by our sin. And our sins also affect us too. Our hope is that when we utter, “I have sinned against God”, we too repent and repair whatever damage we can. Out of His great love, God forgives and restores us too. No sin is too great to forever separate us from God’s love. Thanks be to God. Amen.