pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Better Way

Reading: Matthew 13: 36-43

Verse 43: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father”.

As Jesus and the disciples return to the house once again they ask him to explain a parable. Jesus had just told a story about planting seeds and they needed help with the interpretation. Jesus explains that he is the sower, planting good seeds in people’s lives. He does this work in the world – everywhere he goes. At the same time, Satan is at work in the same world and even in the same people’s lives. Satan is planting seeds that grow into weeds. Each of us knows this very experience. Jesus plants seeds of love, hope, forgiveness… while Satan plants seeds of anger, jealousy, greed, hatred… Both are vying for control of the world and for every soul that inhabits the world. Both continue to till our soil, trying to secure our eternity.

Jesus reassures his followers that there is a plan. He, and probably they, already know that they are the servants – eager to be rid of all the evil in the world. So he first teaches patience and trust. God is in control. There will be a day when all is made right in the world. The final score will be God 1, Satan 0. Jesus explains that as he returns and makes all things new, the angels will come forth to harvest all the evil from the world. These will experience eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth in the fires of hell. And “then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father”. Those that have been faithful to Jesus Christ will dwell eternally with the Lord. They will live in his light and love, shining back Jesus’ light.

Sometimes it is difficult to see or live with the evils of the world. It is hard when evil people adversely impact our lives or the lives of those we love. Jesus dealt with and experienced evil during his time on earth. His interactions and clashes with non-believers and the religious leaders would be experiences setting an example for us. Jesus never retaliated or sought revenge or passed judgment. He offered love and sought understanding; he extended grace and worked to build relationship. As we seek to build the kingdom here on earth, may we be like Jesus, offering the better way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I encounter evil in whatever form it takes, may I be like Jesus. Guide me to first love and then to seek to build relationship and understanding. May I bear witness to my faith in Jesus Christ in all situations. Use me today to build your kingdom here. Amen.


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Always There

Reading: Romans 7: 15-25

Verse 21: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”.

Paul’s writing for today is a passage that we can all relate to. Created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within each of us – yet we struggle with sin. The human part of us is ever drawn to the desires, pleasures, and other trappings of this world. Inside each of us is both good and evil. A friend once described these as two twin wolves, each fighting for control. His advice was to feed the good wolf because the one you feed is the one that grows.

If this idea were true to the point of starving the evil to death, then eventually we would not sin. Anyone who has sought to walk faithfully with Christ for a number of years knows this is not really possible. As we mature both in age and in faith, yes, some of the sins change or lessen but the evil within never totally disappears. Lust, for example, does not quite have the grip on us at 70 or 80 that it had on us at 20 or 30. But others sins, like fear and worry and control, they seem to gain power as we mature. Even though our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Christ, Satan is ever at work in our lives. Good and evil will wage a battle for our hearts and souls until the day we die.

Paul explains his own inner, constant battle in today’s passage. In verse 21 he shares this truth that we all live daily: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”. As inherently good and loving creations of God, we do want to do good in the world, we do want to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we do want to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Yet evil is always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for that sliver of fear, that crack of doubt, that fleeting thought of jealousy or anger or envy or pride. Satan is just waiting to take advantage of our weakness.

Paul admits that he is a “wretched man”. We too all feel that way when we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As one reads Paul’s words today, there is an undercurrent of hopelessness in Paul’s battle. We too are hopeless in our own battle with sin. We alone cannot defeat or overcome sin. On our own we cannot rid ourselves of the sun or of the guilt and shame that makes us feel wretched and unworthy. Yet into our hopeless and powerless situation steps Jesus Christ. Jesus has the power. He defeated both sin and death. In and through him we find forgiveness and grace, mercy and power. We too can join Paul in rejoicing in God’s gift of Christ. Through Jesus our Lord we can be made new again over and over. Sin never has the last word. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Dear Lord, Paul’s words echo as truth in my life. It seems that an evil thought or an unkind word slips out more often than it should. Gird me up with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Fill me with a firm foundation of faith for the daily battle ahead each day. Walk with me Lord Jesus. Amen.


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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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The Day of Salvation

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Verse 20: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

Our passage today opens with Paul’s appeal for us to be reconciled to God. He explains how Jesus took on our sin so that we might become the “righteousness of God”. As he continues into chapter six Paul proclaims, “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. We continue to live in the time of God’s favor and Jesus Christ’s salvation is both in the here and now as well as eternity.

The second half of today’s reading is entitled “Paul’s Hardships” in the Bible I keep on my desk at home. He begins by sharing how as “servants of God” they worked to commend themselves to the world. Through the troubles and the beatings thru showed great endurance. Paul and his companions worked hard, even when hungry and sleepless. In all times they strove to remain pure, patient, kind, honest, and loving. They saw themselves with heavenly eyes while the world just saw them from an earthly point of view. Paul and friends lived as beloved children of God, reconciled to him. They saw the world through God’s eyes, not the other way around.

We too strive to live lives that are reconciled to God. In the times we struggle to do so it is because we’ve begun to see with worldly eyes. Our challenge as Christians living in the world is to stay oriented towards Jesus Christ. Satan is regularly on the move, always seeking to get us off track. So we must be diligent and focused too.

We must be attentive to both the Holy Spirit and to our own spiritual disciplines. These two things work hand in hand to fend off the enemy. As Satan is constant, so too must we be constant. This season of the Christian year focuses us in on the habits of discernment and introspection, of confession and repentance. May we make the intentional choice to live in God’s favor and to proclaim with our lives that the day of salvation is at hand.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for your willingness to reconcile with me over and over. Strengthen me each day, both as I look within and as I live out my faith. Build me up and pour me out; help me to be more like your son today. Amen.


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Know Jesus Well

Reading: Luke 21: 5-8

Verse 8: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”.

Jesus knows that the end of his time on earth is drawing near. A large part of his ministry has been preparing the disciples to be ready and to be able to carry on the work. Jesus knows that the road will not always be easy. Yes, there will be times when God and the Spirit will do amazing things and the disciples will be filled with awe and wonder. But there will also be persecution and trial and even death. These will be some of the things that will test their faith.

The passage today opens with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple. Some there that day will surely witness this and will recall Jesus’ words. According to Jewish understanding, God resides in the temple. The disciples equate the destruction of the temple to the end of the world as they know it. But it will not be so. Because he knows this, Jesus goes on to give them a warning.

In verse eight he says, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”. Jesus knows that much will unfold before the new heaven and earth are established. In the interim Jesus also knows that the deceivers pose one of the greatest threats to the disciples and to the early church. The gospel itself is a pretty simple message. The call to follow Jesus is fairly easy to understand. But because we live in a world with many other philosophies and religions and in a world where Satan is at work, being a disciple is challenging. Those that Jesus is speaking to face these same challenges. Jesus tells them, “Do not follow them”. The disciples know Jesus well. If they remain connected to Jesus and to his teachings and example, then they will easily see the deceptions. The same is true for us.

If we will invest in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ, we will know him well. If we are committed to knowing and living out our calling, we will be strong in the faith. Then we too will discern false teaching and will reject the false prophets and the deceivers. May we ever cling to Jesus, the good news, and the example that he lived out for us to follow.

Prayer: Father God, draw me in more and more. Deepen my connection to you. Amidst the storms and trials, may I turn to you alone. Amen.


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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.