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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On the Throne

Reading: 1 Samuel 8: 4-20

Verse Seven: And the Lord told him… “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

The Israelites come to Samuel with a request: give us a king. The people want a king to lead them. A king rallies the troops and goes out in battle before the army. A king can negotiate with the nations around them. The people say, “then we will be like other nations”. But this is not God’s plan. This was not God’s intent for the chosen people.

Samuel senses right away that their request is a bad idea. Their request displeased Samuel. But God says to him, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”. Yes, Samuel is God’s voice as the prophet, but it is ultimately God that they are rejecting as their leader. The Israelites are creating a system that we ourselves know is difficult to follow. One cannot serve two masters. One cannot chose both God and the world.

Samuel gives the people a litany of ways that a king will use his power to take their sons and daughters, their crops and livestock, and even some of them as slaves. The people do not heed the warning. They simply say again, ‘give us a king – we want to be like all the other nations around us’.

We too can sense the danger in this line of thinking. We question the logic. But how often do we choose other ‘kings’ over our relationship with the one true King? The primary king we often choose is self, placing ourselves on the throne of our heart. When we do do we soon are like the Israelites, focusing on the other things of the world in pretty short order: power, possessions, status, recognition, popularity… We top it off by justifying it, saying we’re just like all the other people around us. This too is a rejection of God. But God will never force or coerce us into loving or obeying. God is a true King.

When we are tempted to follow anyone or anything other than God, may we remember the cost of that choice. May we also remember the awesome place we find ourselves when we keep God on the throne of our hearts.


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Lavished

Reading: 1 John 3: 1-3

Verse One: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God”.

Identity is an important thing. At times we are very sure of who we are. We feel confident and we know our purpose in life. So often, for many people, this is wrapped up in earthly things like our job or our position on the team or in the money we have or in the possessions we own. When this is how we define ourselves, then the trials of life rock our world.

Today’s passage opens with a reminder of who we truly are. John writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God”. This sums up the core of our true identity. It is because of God’s great love. This is where it starts. It is a rich and lavish love that God wants to pour down on every single person. Not all accept His love. But for those that do, we are called “children of God”. There is a huge difference between knowing that all people are God’s children and actually living as one. When we live as a child of God, we know our true identity.

When we identify as a child of God, life takes on an eternal perspective. Yes, this life will still have its trials and hurts and sufferings, but they are temporary. In addition, as a child we do not walk alone through these valleys either. Our Father walks with us and will even carry us at times. Our Father gives us strength to face any challenge because we do not face it alone and we can draw on His limitless strength. How great is the love indeed!

No matter what life has brought us or will bring us, we can trust in the love that God has for each of us, His dearly loved children. Thanks be to God for His great love!


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Some Things

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 23: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”.

Jesus is speaking of death and life I today’s passage. On one level He is talking about His own physical death that will come on the cross. We hear a hint of emotion in the next verses about what He will soon face, but He also reveals this is why He came. Jesus knows that His death will bring glory to God. He knows this is true in a sense for all who will follow after Him as well.

Jesus speaks of the sacrifice a seed makes, saying, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”. The seed must be willing to fall into the ground and to give up being a seed for a tree or flower or some other plant to spring up with new life. In turn, the plant will create more seeds which will then produce more plants. Jesus then ties this idea to those who follow Him. Some men, Jesus says, love the things of this world – possessions, power, position… They have no hope. However, the man who ‘hates’ life in this world will find eternal life in the time to come. The implication is that if one hates the things of the flesh, then one will love the things of God. By loving and serving God, one finds eternal life.

When one ties these two ideas together, we come to see that we must allow some things in our lives to die. Those things are the things of the world. As followers of Christ, we follow after Jesus. In doing so, we value the things He valued: loving others, honoring God, giving of oneself, caring for those in need… When we walk this path we die to the pursuit of worldly things. There is simply not room for them when we are filled with Jesus.

This passage closes with this thought: “Where I am, my servant also will be”. Where will we find Jesus today? Will it be in the comfortable and routine of life or will it be in the places we find the marginalized and disadvantaged? May we willingly go where He leads us today.


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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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Repent of Ye Idols!

Reading: Acts 17: 29-31

Verse 29: We should not think the divine being is an image…

Paul tackles the prevalent religion of the local people in today’s passage: polytheism.  For many, many years the Athenians have worshipped many different gods.  Each god was limited, confined basically to its own area of expertise.  Paul takes the local faith head on when he states that we are God’s offspring.  His logic is that if we are created by God, then we should only worship the one true God and not any creation of our human hands.  For Paul, God is limitless.  All is under God’s control as God was and is the creator of all things.  This is in striking contrast to the popular stance on many gods held be the Athenians.  Paul goes on to proclaim God’s judgment on them and to call them to repentance.

On the surface level it is hard to imagine worshipping a god for this and another god for that and yet another god for this need or concern.  On the surface level, it runs so counter to basic understanding of God.  Yet if we delve in a little deeper, if we look a little more intently into the mirror, we realize that we too are more like the Athenians than we’d like to admit.  We shy away from calling them ‘gods’ but at times w definitely have lots of idols.  We might recoil at the idea of worshipping money or possessions or status or beauty, but when we get honest and get right down to it, anything we place above or before God becomes an idol we worship.

Like Paul called the Athenians, his words call us to repentance as well.  What are the things we chase after, the idols we worship?  Verse 31 reads, “for He has set a day…”.  Judgment will come.  Paul reminds us that God calls us to repent.  This day, may we look deep within, repent of all that draws our love away from God, and begin to live the lives we are called to – lives that love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.


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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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Shine

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Today is Epiphany!  Just as the wise men appeared to reveal and celebrate the birth of Jesus, so too do we arrive today, celebrating the gift of Jesus in our lives.  Like the wise men, we too are called to reveal Jesus to the world.  The star led the way for the wise men.  Today, the light of the Son of Man leads the way for you and me.  The light of Christ guides our path and illumines our decisions.  We need the light.  So too does a world living in darkness.

Verse one begins, “Arise, shine, for your light has come”.  Yes indeed!  Jesus Christ has come and His light is in our hearts.  Verse two continues, “the Lord rises upon you, and His glory appears over you”.  God is present in us, His glory waiting to be revealed through us.  Our call as disciples of Jesus Christ is to take the light of Christ out into the world with us.  This verse reminds us that God is present with each of us and that His glory will appear over us as we live out our faith in the world.

The world can be a dark place.  Many people struggle with darkness in our world and in all of our communities.  For some, the struggle is with homelessness or poverty or prejudice or abuse or discrimination or injustice or addiction.  For others the struggle is with pride or control or possessions or position or ego or self-centeredness.  The world can be a dark place when we struggle with these issues.  There is great need in our world for the light of Christ.

We are each that light.  We each carry Christ in our hearts.  Can you see that light within you shining out into a dark world?  Can you see yourself being the light for just one person in need of God’s love?  We are called to arise and shine!  This day, this day of Epiphany, may we each shine God’s light into the world, bringing honor to Christ the Lord!


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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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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.