pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Radical Love

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse 7: “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

The Servant faced scorn and suffering without retaliation or violence because God was with him. The Servant was able to go beyond the abuse as well. To the abuser the Servant willingly offered himself for more abuse. In doing so, the abuser will be led to question their own actions. It is love in the face of hate, giving in the face of taking. Jesus did the same over and over. For Jesus, it was summed up in His encouragements to love our enemies and to offer your other cheek to the one who has just struck you. Jesus also lived this out. At the end, from the cross, Jesus prayed for forgiveness for those who placed Him on the cross. Through God’s presence, Jesus was able to extend love instead of retaliating with hate. Like the Servant, Jesus lived out Isaiah 50:7 – “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

This idea is so counter to what the world teaches and does. It us a radical love that makes the world take notice. In the world, it is not just get even but get ahead. It is done with emphasis to discourage another run at one’s money or status or position or popularity. It is power used to remind the other of who really has the power. It perpetuates the imbalance. But Jesus’ radical love offers even more than the one wants to take. When someone demands the shirt off of your back, Jesus asks us to give them our coat as well. It is a willingness to give more than is demanded.

Isaiah and the example Jesus set are calling us to look for opportunities to show love in unexpected ways. Returning from school one year I was in a drive through at a fast food restaurant. The line was long and moving really, really slow. In the other lane I noticed a woman who was clearly becoming more and more aggravated with the situation. She was pounding the dashboard and the steering wheel. She was yelling at the air in her car. I could feel her exasperation. When I got to the window I paid for her order. It was just a random act of kindness that I hope improved her day just a bit. It was small. But it is what we are called to do – to look for and to respond to others in and with love. May we all be blessed with opportunities to offer Jesus’ radical love today.

Prayer: Lord, grant me eyes to see and a heart to feel. Allow me the words to speak and the hands to serve today. If I find myself suffering, may I trust fully in your presence with me. Amen.

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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 32

Verse 1: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered”.

When we confess our sins to the Lord and seek to earnestly repent of them, we are washed clean, made new once again. This is what David is writing about in the opening verses of Psalm 32. In verse 1 he writes, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered”. When we walk honestly with the Lord we are blessed.

But we do not always walk honestly and righteously. Sometimes we sin. We are called to confess and repent whenever we feel the conviction of our sin. But we do not always do that. Sometimes we tell ourselves that God doesn’t really know. Sometimes we can try and justify our sins. David tries to hide from God. In verse 3 he writes, “when I kept silent… my bones wasted away”. He felt God’s “heavy hand” upon him and his strength was gone. We have all been there, drained by the efforts to keep up our charade. We know that we are sinning and we know that we need to confess and repent, but we just cannot quite get there. The power of sin is just a bit too much.

With renewed trust and confidence in God’s love, David pushes through. In verse 5 he writes, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you”. David confessed and knew God’s love and mercy: “you forgave the guilt of my sin”. He confessed and was made right with God. David encourages all to pray to God so that they can experience what he did: protection and presence. In verse 8 we read about this as God instructs and teaches, counsels and watches over. We will be surrounded by God’s love.

This Psalm is a great reminder to us. If we are struggling with a sin in our life, it reminds us that life is better when we are honest with God. When we confess and repent, the guilt and shame fall away and we are restored into God’s presence, protection, and peace. Living honestly, not having to hide, is liberating and joyful and leads us to be glad and to sing of God’s love. Psalm 32 is also a great passage to share with those we know who are stuck in their sin. If offers a view of the Lord’s “unfailing love” that we experience when we are made right with God and it offers a view of the life of joy and peace and security we find when we walk with the Lord. Thanks be to God for His unfailing love for all people!

Prayer: Lord, when I find myself in sin and feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, help me to quickly confess, repent, and turn back to you. When I don’t quite see my sin as sin, reveal it to me by the same power of your Holy Spirit. Give me compassion and love and gentleness when I seek to help another to be freed from their sins. Let your unfailing love shine through. May all I do and say and think reveal your unfailing love to a world in need. Amen.


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Head Over Heels

Reading: Psalm 63: 1-5

Verse 1: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”.

In our Psalm today, David is in the desert and he is seeking God. He offers a prayer to God that gives thanks for God’s power and glory and love. In the desert, in “a dry and weary land”, David’s soul longs for God. In the opening verse we read, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”. David earnestly seeks God. This is not a casual search for God. It is a search filled with passion and a sense of commitment, maybe even with a little urgency added in.

Yesterday at noon I gathered around the table with the usual crew that makes up the noon Bible study. Earlier in the morning some men of the church gathered to work through our church’s Lenten study. This afternoon I’ll gather with the book club as we discuss our chapters for the book that we have been reading about prayer. Tonight I will gather with about 8 high school boys to talk about being a man of God. Then after that I’ll gather with a different group of men to work through our Lenten study. The people that make up these groups ranges from teenagers through those well into retirement. There are men and women, some single, some married, some divorced, some widowed. One of the beautiful things they have in common is the very thing that David writes about today: a thirst for God, a longing for God.

The teen boys are just beginning their journeys of faith and are just getting to know God. Many of the people I gather with have been walking with God longer than I have been alive. I often have said to the youth I work with that there is nothing much more beautiful to me than the 90-year-old still showing up for Bible study each week. This image reflects what all of our journeys of faith should look like.

When we are pursuing God, our thirst and longing for God is never quite satisfied. We study and learn more and more about God. We grasp a new truth and deepen our faith. But along the way we also see new areas of darkness in that corner of our life and we discover that we still have some work to do. Along the way we also come to new questions and to new places of understanding that call us on to more prayer, seeking, and study. Being in love with God draws us to want to know God more and more. As we continue to thirst and long for God, we find that our pursuit leads us to fall head over heels in love with God. When we seek God, we will find God, deepening our relationship with God. May it ever be so.

Prayer: God, thank you for the parts of yourself that you have revealed to me. What I have come to know draws me to want to know even more. Keep me ever hungry, ever seeking. Keep me hungry and thirsty for you, O God. May I never be satisfied but always want more of you. Always. Amen.


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Come… Come and Hear

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-5

Verse 1: “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”!

To the world, our passage today sounds just as strange as it did to Isaiah’s audience. In our culture, nothing is free – at least nothing of value is free. Our culture values power and status and possessions – things that can be counted and that can be compared to our neighbors and teammates and office mates. Hard work and talent are what brings success and the new car, house, boat, phone… Free? Why would you want anything that is free?

The Israelites hear Isaiah’s words from another viewpoint. They sit in a Jerusalem that has just been destroyed. The walls, the gates, the temple lie in ruins. The best of the people have been hauled off into exile and those left behind sit on a rubble heap. They have absolutely no material wealth. They are in dire straits. To these Isaiah comes and invites them to drink and eat. The people have no money to buy from him. To their surprise what he has to offer is free. Isaiah proclaims, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! Isaiah goes on to offer what they need most, saying, “Listen to me… eat what is good… your soul will delight in the richest of fare… hear me, that your soul may live”. Yes, the people need actual sustenance, but even moreso they need to feed on the word of God. In their time of trial and fear, Isaiah offers food and drink that bring hope, strength, and a future.

Sooner or later most folks chasing the things of the world realize that the chase is endless. The food and drink they pursue is nice and all – for a while. Then their shiny things become dull or the Jones buy a newer, bigger house or Suzie-Q gets a nice promotion at her job and the race is back on. Peace is never known. A sense of purpose is never quite found. There seems to be a hole that is never really filled. Counter to all of their understanding of what matters and of what is of worth, God too calls out and says, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! God offers what money or possessions or status cannot buy – no “money” in the world can. When we finally become willing, God says to each of us, “Give ear and come to me, hear me, that your soul may live”.

If we have given in to God, we have a story to tell because we have found true life and have experienced grace, mercy, and love. Thanks be to God! Go and tell your story. If our ears have been deaf, may we be willing to step off the treadmill, to humble ourselves, and to bow before the Lord. There and only there can we find peace, purpose, and fulfillment. Trust in the only one that offers food that lasts. May it be so.

Prayer: Each day, O God, help me to lay aside my fleshy, worldly desires to pursue you and your word. Be with me each day and make me more and more wholly yours. Amen.


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Power

Reading: Luke 13: 31-35

Verse 31: “Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you'”.

Power is something Jesus, the Pharisees, and Herod all have. Power is something we all have too. The Pharisees and Herod see Jesus’ power as threatening to their power. We too can see Jesus’ power as something that can threaten our lives too.

Jesus uses His power to do good for others. He uses His power to teach a better way of life: the way of love. He also uses His power to heal and restore people. The physical healings of the blind, lame, deaf, crippled, mute, leprous… restore people back into community. The spiritual healings of the tax collectors, prostitutes, theives, adulterers… restore people to wholeness. Jesus’ power is a power that gives life to both the individual and the community.

The Pharisees’ and Herod’s power is centered upon themselves. It is used to take from others and to keep others down in order to build up their own comfort and prestige. It is the opposite of Jesus’ giving power. Some Pharisees say to Jesus, “Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you”. Go away Jesus, you are raining on our parade. Jesus sees right through them. Basically He says He has things to do and they or Herod cannot and will not get in the way.

This too is true of our power. When we follow God’s lead and use our power to do the right thing, to correct the wrong thing, to share Jesus’ love and care, to help one in need – nothing on earth can stop us. Yes, some can oppose us too and some can put up barriers, but they are just bumps in the road. Just as it was with Jesus, no obstacle can stop what God wants to accomplish in and through us. God will always prevail. This fact is what kept Jesus driving towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. Jesus had an unshakable faith in God’s plan. May we live the same way all day, every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, may I use the power I have in you to bring good, to offer love, to lift others up. Amen.


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Thy Word

Reading: Luke 4: 1-13

Verse 13: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”.

Jesus heads out into the desert to fast for forty days as a preparation to begin ministry. During this time of denying self He is tested by the devil. The three temptations that we read about today come at the end of the 40 days. It is when Jesus is at His weakest that Satan tempts Him in these ways.

The first test concerns food. No food for 40 days – this is the perfect test. It gets right at Jesus’ human need. How often does Satan tempt us here too? Yes, I deserve that bowl of ice cream or that drink. It was a hard day. Satan helps us twist things too. This can lead to accumulating things for ourselves and to not being generous with our gifts, talents, and time.

The second temptation is for power and authority. Feeling weak after 40 days of self-denial – wouldn’t a little power feel good? Just worship the deceiver and all this can be yours. But will it really be ours if we worship the ruler of this world? Yes, there is much splendor in the world. But all that is shiny and bright does not really satisfy – it just leads to wanting newer or better or more. This too can get twisted. Pride and ego kick in and lead us to think things would be so much better if we were in charge. Then it becomes easier to cut a corner, to not quite be so moral…

The third temptation comes down to testing God. Satan quotes from Psalm 91 in encouraging Jesus to put God to the test. Just jump off and God will save you. God’s word says He will. Is it true? This idea can catch us too. We can be pretty good at trying to wheel and deal with God. Those if-then prayers are an attempt to bend God’s will and plans to our will and plans. Like Satan we too can twist and cherry-pick scripture to try and get our way or to make our point. This too is a way to test God.

For each temptation, where does Jesus turn? He turns to scripture. In each case today, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy. In each case, the bottom line is the same: trust in God, not in the things of man. This should be our model when we face temptation.

Our passage closes with this line: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”. Satan keeps coming back. Jesus was tested over and over and over. In the next moment of weakness or frustration or exhaustion, Satan came right back at Jesus. We too can expect the same. Satan is ever on the lookout for the next opportune time to test us. Like Jesus, may we also immerse ourselves in the word of God, ever readying ourselves for the next inevitable attack.

Prayer: Lord, may I dwell in your holy word so that it richly dwells in me. May it be my wellspring of life. Amen.


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Be Moved

Reading: Luke 9: 37-43

Verse 43: “They were all amazed at the greatness of God”.

On the mountaintop we get a glimpse of heavenly presence. Maybe this is what it will look like in heaven – each aglow with God’s glory. At times God reveals a little bit of heaven to us. The expression “a little heaven on earth” comes at times when we feel like things just couldn’t be any better. I think that is an accurate thought about heaven. There things just can’t get better.

As Peter, James, and John come down the mountain with Jesus, they re-enter the world. We’ve felt this before too when we have come down off a mountaintop experience. We’ve felt what they feel walking back into the real world. They come down to a large crowd. The crowd has found the other nine and others who follow Jesus, but no Jesus. A man asks the nine to heal his son but they can’t. Maybe the nine are also waiting for Jesus. They feel inadequate without Him there. They want Him to lead. They have seen Jesus heal and they themselves have just returned from being sent out to heal and preach the gospel. It was a successful trip.

We find ourselves here. We have witnessed Jesus at work in our lives and we have had prayers answered. We have shared our faith with others and have made a difference in their lives. We know and believe in Jesus and we know the power and presence that the Holy Spirit has in our lives. We have a tangible connection to God. And yet at times we act like we do not. We suddenly doubt or question or feel like we cannot meet the call or task at hand. We sort of try to act or talk but do so thinking we are alone in our efforts. We mostly want Jesus to show up and do it. Instead of seeking and inviting Jesus into the situation, we wait. It is a step of faith to act in faith, believing that Jesus will be present and will come alongside. It is a step of faith that we are called to take.

The disciples waited for Jesus to come and act. His questions about ‘how long’ clearly indicate His displeasure that they did not act trusting in the power of His name. Because Jesus is love and compassion, He rebukes the evil spirit and heals the boy. It is one more glimpse into who Jesus is. “They were all amazed at the greatness of God”. Amazed is wonderful. Moved to action is better. May we be moved.

Prayer: Dear God, may I be one to step out in faith, trusting that as you have always been there, so will you be: present, with me, for me, by my side, guiding my words and actions. Amen.