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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Right Relationships

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verse 24: “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”.

At the core of today’s passage is the call to live in right relationship with God and with one another. In each small section Jesus first reminds us of the “big” or obvious sins – murder, adultery, divorce, dishonesty. Then he digs deeper, looking at the “smaller” and easier to hide or rationalize sins that we struggle with more often. These sins are the ones that lead up to murder… Each of these sins are offenses against both God and one another.

In verse 23 Jesus invites us to consider if our “brother has something against you”. If this is part of our daily prayer life, the the Holy Spirit will reveal to us these sins that we have committed against another. This process requires a careful and thoughtful introspection. When our words or actions or looks have caused hurt – when we get an immediate reaction – then we know we have sinned and must seek forgiveness. The careful and thorough introspection must go deeper, searching our day for instances where our interactions caused harm.

Jesus even seems to place our human relationships before our relationship with God. He says that before offering our gift to God – whether a thank offering or a guilt offering – to“first go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”. Be right with one another first. I think Jesus offers this thought because we think we can more easily hide or overlook our sins against our brothers and sisters. We think that God sees all and knows all (and God does) so that we cannot slip our offenses past God. In these words, Jesus is calling us to first be accountable to one another and then to God. Tend to the smaller relationships then to the bigger one with God. This is yet one more example of God’s upside down kingdom.

May we be mindful of our interactions with one another today, seeking reconciliation and forgiveness when we should, seeking to live in right relationship with God and with one another. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, make me mindful of all I do, say, and think today. Send the Holy Spirit to bring sure conviction when I sin and to guide me in the ways of peace and reconciliation and grace. Elevate my relationships with each I meet today, leading to deeper fellowship with them and with you. Amen.


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Uriah’s Path

Reading: 2 Samuel 11: 6-15

Verse 11: “As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing”!

In today’s passage there is quite a contrast in characters. David chose to stay home from war, to sleep with another man’s wife, to get her pregnant, and to try and cover it all up. Uriah has dutifully gone off to war, chooses not to lie with his wife, and honors the men out in battle. He walks a different path. What a contrast to David’s path.

David knows Uriah. He is one of David’s thirty mighty men – elite warriors who have spent much time with David. David sleeps with his friend’s wife. News of Bathsheba’s pregnancy hatches a new plan. Bring Uriah home under the guise of getting a report about the war and then send him home for the night. Surely he will lie with Bathsheba and all will think he’s the father. But Uriah sleeps outside the entrance to the palace. David asks why he didn’t go home. Hear the integrity in Uriah’s response: “As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing”! How could I? This response must have stung David a bit. No worries – plan B. That night David gets Uriah drunk and tries to send him home again. Again Uriah sleeps outside the palace. He does the right thing again. Plan C begins to unfold. It works as Uriah is killed in battle. After mourning, Bathsheba will become a wife to David and the child seems legitimate.

David implicated and affected many people in his sin. Some were impacted in small ways, but impacted nonetheless. Others were obviously affected more – Uriah, Bathsheba, Joab. When we sin, we too affect others. In our minds we also try to rationalize it or to minimize the ways it affects others. But sin never affects only us. At the very minimum it impacts us and our relationship with God. Indirectly there is always a list of others negatively affected. And then there are those we hurt directly.

Just as sin has ripple effects, so too does doing good. Let us not lose sight of Uriah. In our passage today, we can also learn from Uriah. Doing the right thing is always an option. When presented with the choice today, may we choose Uriah’s path – the path of righteousness. May it be so today.


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Prone

Reading: Genesis 3: 1-7

The story of sin in our passage today is repeated each day in our lives.  While we do not eat the forbidden fruit, we partake and indulge and rationalize and justify and blame any number of times each day in our lives.  Maybe it is an unkind word to our spouse, maybe it is a little gossip, maybe it is one too many treats, maybe, maybe, maybe.  The list is long.

For Adam and Eve it appears that just one thing draws them away from following God’s instructions.  But I do not think the serpent’s whisper was the first time they thought about the tree.  They have probably wondered ‘why’ ever since God said, “don’t eat”.  Adam and Eve have always obeyed God up to this point.  That is why it has been a wonderful relationship.  They walk and talk each day.  The serpent tells Eve that she will not die if she eats the forbidden fruit.  The serpent also plants the ‘real’ reason God does not want them to partake.  Later, when Adam and Eve are at the tree, she sees the fruit is appealing and good to eat, when she remembers that what God said isn’t ‘true’, she eats.  She indulges.  She justifies what she knows she shouldn’t.  And Adam is right there with her.

Sitting in the break room, the conversation begins.  It is so hard not to join in or at least listen to the gossip and silently judge.  TV show isn’t quite over and there are some chips left in the bag.  It is so easy just to finish them off.  It was a hard and stressful day at work and emotions are tense.  Something is not quite right with dinner or the kids are a bit rambunctious, so you let someone have it.  It is so easy to slip into sin.  We like to think those listed here and others like them are relatively ‘harmless’, but each sin comes with a cost, a price, a consequence.  A relationship is damaged or broken.  Maybe it is repairable, but should we ever get to the point of having to repair our relationships?

We all know the answer is ‘no’ but it is easier said than done.  We are, by nature, prone to sin.  God works all the time, most often through the presence of the Holy Spirit, to turn us from temptation and sin.  Merciful redeemer, when we do sin, make us humble in seeking forgiveness.  O Lord our God, strengthen and encourage us today for the trial and temptations that surely lie ahead, so that we may walk as faithful disciples this day.


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At the Table

Today’s text is a little troubling.  As a fellow pastor said at the lectionary study yesterday, “It makes me uncomfortable.”  In today’s text Jesus calls the woman who has come to beg for her daughter’s healing a “dog”.  It was not likely a racial insult in Jesus’ day.  We are used to Jesus sparring with the Pharisees and calling them ‘hypocrites’ but this seems different.  The loving Jesus who seems to accept all who come to him is trying to rudely dismiss this woman.  This version of Jesus makes me uncomfortable too.

Perhaps it makes me uncomfortable because at times I have thought less of another as well.  This is often a means to justify not helping them or to rationalize not taking the time to be present with them.  In essence I too am calling them a ‘dog’ in my mind and in my analysis of their worth.

Yet in this story I also find hope.  In my sin I come before God seeking healing and forgiveness much like a dog.  Slinking up to Him, head bowed low, I approach knowing I am unworthy to be in His presence.  Like this woman, I do not and cannot argue with my position because in my sin I am lowly.  So like her I approach humbly.  In her the hope I find, though, is also in her boldness.

This woman is bold in asking for her daughter’s healing.  She just asks for a ‘crumb’.  She knows that just a little bit of Jesus’ power is enough to heal her daughter.  And it does.  I too approach boldly.  Although made low in my sin, I too can boldly ask to be healed, to be made new, to be washed by His blood.  And just like that I too find healing and restoration.  And in God’s great love and mercy, I am no longer under the table.  As a child of God I am restored back to the table.  For this, I say thanks be to God!

Scripture reference: Mark 7: 24-30