pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hard Decisions, Challenging Steps

Reading: Psalm 79: 1-4

Verse 4: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors”.

The Babylonians invaded Israel and left a wake of death and destruction in their path. In Jerusalem, the city walls were destroyed and the temple was leveled. For the Babylonians this was just one more nation to conquer. But for the Israelites, the killing was the murder of God’s chosen people and the destruction of the temple was the defilement of God’s home. What is left is not a pretty sight. “They have poured out blood like water” paints a grim picture. To add insult to injury, “we are objects of reproach to our neighbors”. The tribes around them mock what is left of Israel.

As people of God living in an increasingly non-Christian world, we can have similar experiences and emotions. In parts of our world Christians face persecution and even death. In most of our lives, however, persecution does not rise nearly to that level. Yet being a Christian is not always easy in our modern, secular world. Many of the more recent cultural norms are decidedly anti-Christian. The rugged individualism of the past and the me-first attitude of today combine to make being a humble servant countercultural and difficult. To think less of yourself and more of others can lead to questioning and ridicule. To refuse to be immoral or unethical at work can cost one promotions and can draw the ire of those above you.

Satan works in these and in many other ways to draw us away from God and into the ways of the world. It can be hard to look at what your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are doing and to not want to go along. Inside we all have a strong desire to fit in, to belong, to be liked. At times our faith will deny us these things. Something else inside of us – the Holy Spirit – is also at work to lead and guide us to be faithful and true to the Lord our God. One day we too will be poured out and will breathe our last. But between now and then may we make the hard decisions and take the challenging steps to walk as a child of the light in a world of darkness. May we live a life worthy of the one who called us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Guiding God, sometimes it can be tempting to go along with the crowd or to say what pleases. Keep me ever focused on your will and your ways in my life. Hold my hand as I try to walk as a humble servant today. Amen.

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Salvation Has Come!

Reading: Psalm 14

Verses 5-6: “God is present in the company of the righteous… the Lord is their refuge”.

As we read Psalm 14 there are some similarities and connections to the passage from Jeremiah 4 that we read yesterday. The opening verse – “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” – echoes Jeremiah 4:22, which reads, “My people are fools; they do not know me”. As God looks down on the earth all have turned aside and have become corrupt. Through the words of David, God laments, “there is no one who does good, not even one”. The state of affairs is not good.

Yet, as we turn to verses five and six, we begin to find hope. David notes that the “evildoers” devour God’s people. In the midst of this, though, we are reminded that “God is present in the company of the righteous… the Lord is their refuge”. God continues to be present to those who still follow God and still seek to obey God’s ways. Even though evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, God is with them as their refuge. Not all is lost. As we read in Jeremiah 4 yesterday, there is still a remnant that are faithful and obedient to God. The Lord our God remains faithful to these.

Today we can feel like a remnant. The church and the followers of Jesus Christ can feel like these righteous people that David is writing about in Psalm 14. The ways of the world and the lures of Satan – wealth, possessions, popularity, beauty – continue to challenge the walk of the faithful. In our workplaces, our schools, and in other settings we can feel frustrated by the plans of the evildoers of the world. Like the righteous and the poor in Psalm 14, we too need the Lord to be our refuge.

Just like the faithful of David’s day, we too persevere and endure suffering because we trust in God’s plans. Verse seven reminds us of this truth. Here we read, “O, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion”! About 1,000 years after these words were written, the Messiah did come out of Zion. Jesus was born to bring salvation to all who call on him as Lord and Savior. Even though we face trial and temptation, we can rejoice and be glad because Jesus reigns. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being with us, especially in the times when we feel like a small island in the storm. Be our refuge and our strength as we seek to walk faithfully with you. Thank you most for Jesus, our only hope and our salvation. Be with us today, O God. Amen.


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Everything

Reading: Luke 14: 27-33

Verse 33: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple”.

Our passage today begins with the idea of carrying our cross. Like Jesus, we must be willing to surrender our will to God’s will in order to advance the kingdom here on earth. Bearing the cross will challenge us as we are called to suffer with Jesus, loving the unlovable, caring for the outcast, walking with the stranger. In grace and love we are to be Christ to the world.

Jesus then talks about the cost of discipleship. We are advised to consider the cost of following Jesus before we begin to build a life upon him. Like with any project, we must first consider if we are willing to give up family, friends, personal comforts, security… for the sake of serving Jesus. We are also warned in our passage about the coming battle. Satan is relentless in his pursuit of the faithful. Can we, in faith, stand against Satan’s lies and temptations and against the voices of the world? We cannot. If wise, we will go first to the one who has overcome the world and seek Jesus’ peace (and strength and guidance and…) to walk the narrow road that we chose to walk.

The passage today closes with these words: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple”. Jesus wants us to understand that the commitment that he requires is “all in”. It is a 24/7 commitment to be like Jesus. He is not asking for an hour a couple Sundays a month plus a five minute prayer most days of the week and sometimes before meals. Jesus asks us to be willing to give up all for him – “everything” is his word. We must surrender not only our will but our resources, our time, our possessions, our talents, our abilities… In doing so we will serve him well. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you ask a lot. Yet it is far less than Jesus gave on the cross. May I be faithful and true all of my days. Amen.


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Provider and Defender

Reading: Psalm 81: 15-16

Verse 16: “You would be fed with the finest wheat; with honey from the rock”.

Most of Psalm 81 laments Israel’s most recent choice to worship idols instead of the God who did so much for them. In today’s passage, the last two verses of the Psalm, we hear the “if only” of the writing. The enemies of Israel would cringe and receive punishment and the Israelites “would be fed with the finest wheat; with honey from the rock” if only the people would turn again to the Lord their God.

The Promised Land has always been that special place set aside for God’s people. Ever since Abraham received the promise, it has been seen as the “land flowing with milk and honey”. As the Israelites finally entered it at the end of the exodus, there was an abundance of crops and resources that simply became theirs to reap and harvest. The land could not have been any better for a people who had been roaming the desert for forty years.

The bounty of the land is just one symbolic way that shows God’s love for the Israelites. God’s offer to protect them from their enemies is one more example of God’s love and care. Many years later, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, these two ideas were included. Jesus taught to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread”. This reminds us that God is our provider. Later on in the prayer we pray, “and keep us from temptation”. Keep Satan, our biggest enemy, from us, O God. This reminds us that God is our defender.

We, like the Israelites, have our times when we wander off from God. Although it could be for forty years, let’s hope not. No matter how long it is or how quickly we seek to return to God, God is always there, always quick to grant mercy and to extend forgiveness. Some things never change – God still desires a personal relationship with each of us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord God, for being my provider and my defender. In all that life and the evil one brings, you are my only hope. Thank you for walking every day with me. You’re an awesome God! Amen.


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The Prayer

Reading: Luke 11: 1-4

Verse 1: “His disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray'”.

It was after the disciples again observed Jesus praying that one of them said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray”. The disciples wanted to be like the master. Jesus offers what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. While it is surely a prayer it is also guidance for how to live as a disciple in relationship with God and with one another.

The prayer begins by identifying God as our father. It reminds us that God is above us and that God loves us as his children. It also implies a relationship amongst us as fellow children of God. The fact that God is superior is reiterated by recognizing that God’s name, and therefore God, is holy. The prayer then asks that God’s kingdom would come and that God’s will would be done, here on earth too. Yes, we long for the day when God’s kingdom will reign again. Yes, we want to ever place God’s will before our own. In doing so we help to bring God’s kingdom to our world.

In verse 3 there is a slight shift. The prayer asks God to give us, to forgive us, and to deliver us. This connects to God’s role as father. First, we ask God to provide for our basic needs. If our basic needs are unmet, it is very difficult to focus on anything else beyond this. Second, we seek forgiveness. We need to be made right again with God after we have sinned. The idea of fixing our relationships applies to God as well as to our fellow children of God. We are to offer forgiveness to God just as God offers forgiveness to us. Lastly, we ask God to keep us from temptation and to deliver us from Satan. This last line acknowledges the difficulty of living in the world, where temptation is all around us. It also acknowledges that our only way out of temptation comes from God alone. We cannot win the battle on our own. We need God to deliver us from the times of temptation.

When we pray this prayer, may we pray it slowly and thoughtfully, engaging the meaning and the relationships within. May it be so today for you and for me.

Prayer: Father, thank you for choosing to be in relationship with me. May I live in a way today that brings the relationships with you and with others to a deeper place. Amen.


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Simply Be Conduit

Reading: Luke 10: 17-20

Verse 20: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”.

The 72 return to Jesus overjoyed with all they were able to accomplish. They could not wait to share with him the wonderful things they did – “even the demons submit to us”. Jesus was ready for this. He acknowledges that, yes, he “saw Satan falling like lightning”. He then quickly reminds them that he gave them the power and that he kept them safe and protected.

We can be like the disciples. When we have been faithful to the task that God has given us and when we experience “success”, we can quickly claim recognition or glory for ourselves. We can quickly fall into the “look what I did” trap. Like the disciples, we can get excited when our service leads people to responses of faith or to a commitment to Christ. We can forget that it was the Spirit that led us and that it was God within that gave us the words to speak or led us in the action we took. We too need reminded that only with Jesus and only when the Spirit is working in and through us do we accomplish great things for the kingdom.

Jesus said to the disciples, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”. The rejoicing comes in knowing that our prayers or words or actions had eternal kingdom consequences. Maybe the impact was someone moving closer to beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Maybe the consequence was God moving us deeper in our faith. Maybe it was both. When we are faithful and when we remain closely connected to God there is little doubt who has the power and the ability to do great things. It is all God. May we simply be the conduit through which God works today.

Prayer: Lord, may I be open to your Holy Spirit as it leads and guides me today. Draw me close to you, O Lord, so that all I do and say and think brings you glory. Amen.


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More Closely

Reading: John 10: 27-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”.

Today’s passage begins with “my sheep listen to me voice”. Jesus is implying that His disciples and followers listen well to His voice. Although at times we do, it can be a struggle to always listen to Jesus’ voice. On day one the sheep do not know the shepherd’s voice. Didn’t happen by day 2 either. But over time the sheep would come to know their shepherd’s voice. The sheep’s connection to their own shepherd’s voice would grow to the point that the shepherd could call his flock out from a pen of many flocks that had sheltered together for overnight protection. The sheep would come to him as he stood out in the gate and then would follow as he led them to pasture.

Just as it takes time and training for the sheep to know and trust the shepherd, so too does it take time for a believer to really know and trust the voice of Jesus. We can easily have an acquaintance with Jesus and can recognize Him in the stories we read in the Bible and hear about in church. Where it gets challenging is when we are in a world full of sheep from lots of different flocks. When the voices of all those other beliefs and systems start to clamour loudly, we can be distracted and we can struggle to hear Jesus’ voice. As if this were not bad enough, Satan’s voice joins in. The great deceiver can whisper lies that sound like truth. This can be the source of our greatest temptation. Between all of these things it is not always easy to discern and follow the voice of Jesus.

The key is found in the sheep and in the sheep pen. In the noisy pen, amidst all the bleating of the sheep and through the voices of many shepherds calling out, the sheep can detect and go to the voice of their shepherd. We too can develop this ability. We develop our ability by listening over and over to the voice. We do that in our quiet time, in worship, in small groups, in classes, in personal conversations… With each experience hearing Jesus’ voice not only does our knowledge and ability to discern it grow, so too does our trust in Him. This leads to the “I know them, and they follow me” part of today’s key verse. Each day may we seek to know Jesus more and more. As we do, He comes to know us more and we are able to follow more closely. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, help me to discern your voice above all the others – especially mine. As I spend time with you, may I follow ever more closely. Amen.