pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Wait

Reading: Psalm 27

Verse 14: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”.

Psalm 27 and its emotions look much like our life and the ups and downs we experience. Part of what I love about the Bible and about Psalms like this are the honesty. It is not all fairy tale – there is hurt and trial and pain and doubt and fear… David, the author of this Psalm, was a real person who struggled with real things. Because of this, the words written many years ago remain relevant.

David opens by sharing the confidence he has in the face of evil men and enemies. “My heart will not fear” speaks of his sure trust in God. He then writes of his desire to spend time in God’s house, the temple. David finds beauty and safety and can sing to and praise God. We go through much of life feeling like David does here in the first six verses. We live more good days than bad.

In my head at least, the tone changes in verse 7. I hear a more desperate voice in the next verses. The “hear me” sounds like a plea, the “do not hide” sounds like a sincere request, the “do not reject or forsake me” sounds like a wishful exhale. David comes to God in this manner for the same reason we do at times. Our human nature is to doubt, to wonder, to question if God will stand by us again.

Some of the time, at least, we question why God would “allow” this thing to happen. That leads us to question if God will be present. And sometimes we create our own trial or suffering by our decisions or because we chose to sin. Especially then we wonder if God will help us out again. David was in all these situations at times too. He questioned and wondered too. He turned to God in prayer for and he sought God in the scriptures. And God was always there. This too will be true for us. Our loving God will always be there.

The Psalm closes with these words: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”. Yes, it can be hard to wait. But at times we must wait and trust in the Lord. Sometimes there is a learning to be had, sometimes God’s plan is bigger than our limited vision or understanding. May we be strong in the waiting. May our hearts remain connected to our God. Wait for the Lord – God is faithful.

Prayer: Loving God, above all else you are faithful and loving. In my ups and downs, keep me ever cognizant of your presence. Thank you for your love that never fails. 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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Either Or

Reading: Psalm 1 and Luke 6: 22 and 26

Verses 1 and 2: “Blessed is the man… delight is in the law of the Lord… he meditates day and night”.

In both readings today there is a distinct “this or that” choice to make. There is no middle ground. According to the psalmist and according to Jesus in Luke’s gospel, you are blessed when your life is aligned with God. Conversely, you are not blessed when your life is not aligned with God. In both readings, the blessings are God’s blessings, not the world’s rewards.

The psalmist connects meditating on God’s word to being blessed. In the reading of scripture we come to know God and how God desires for us to live our lives. For the psalmist, the scriptures nourish the soul. The faithful follower is like a tree planted by the stream, growing and yielding fruit in season. Fruit is the work of God evident in one’s life. For the Jews, this would look like devout worship, giving to and caring for the needy, studying the law, teaching and modeling love for God to family and neighbor.

The inward change that comes with and through the daily study of scripture is then reflected in outward behavior. Inner change, drawing closer to God, causes us to change how we act. Loving God more necessarily leads to loving neighbor more. Luke picks up on this idea too. In our two verses from Luke, Jesus addressed that fact that these inner changes and outward manifestations do not always sit well with the world. In verse 22 we are reminded that at times our faith will draw persecution from the world. When we speak out against injustice and violence, when we speak up for equal treatment and just laws, then we can draw some negative attention. In verse 26 Jesus contrasts this with how the world treats us when we act like a false prophet – speaking the world instead of God. The world likes us then and speaks well of us. But inside we are far from the ways of God.

This faith thing is an either-or choice. We can strive to live for God or we can choose to live for self and the world. We might like to try, but we cannot walk the middle road. We cannot waver between discipleship and the ways of the world. We cannot love two masters – we will come to love one and hate the other (Matthew 6). This day and every day, may we choose to love God and to pursue God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord, give me a heart that loves you alone. Break me of my fleshy desires. Cast them out of me! Daily draw me more and more into your love. Amen.


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Worship God… with all our heart

Reading: Psalm 138: 1-3

Verse 1: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”.

Today’s three verses from Psalm 138 are about worshipping God because of and through our personal relationship with God. Like all relationships, this relationship resides in our heart. It is a relationship build upon love and faithfulness. God’s love and faithfulness is, of course, much more pure and constant than our fickle nature allows. But God does not let our nature deter His. God’s love and faithfulness are “no matter what” – God loves us and remains faithful to us regardless of what we do or do not do.

Our proper response is what David begins the Psalm with: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”. The competing interests of self and world make it pretty hard to love God with all of our heart. In our day to day living the voices to succeed and attain and to earn and to gather more and more are loud. To have a chance at loving God with all of our heart, this relationship requires what all relationships require: time. If we really want to love God fully, then our daily disciplines should reflect that. Our day should include both structured and spontaneous times of prayer. Our day should include some time set aside to read the Word and to meditate upon what God is saying to us through the Bible that day. If we give time and attention to prayer and the Word, then our relationship with God will grow and deepen. Yet there is one more thing.

If we are to really love God with all of our hearts, then we must also worship God daily. This type of worship in not necessarily or even often done in a church. Yes, a time of corporate worship done at least weekly is essential in our relationship with God. But intimate, close, personal heart worship is the key to loving God with all of our heart. Taking time each day to reflect on God’s blessings and presence in our lives each day is essential to building our love of and faithfulness to God. This can be done anywhere and at anytime, but, again, making this practice a part of our daily disciplines will help our love of God and our faithfulness to God to grow.

Whether now or at some other point in the day, take some set aside time to worship God with your thanksgiving and praise. Thank God for being present in this situation or for guidance in that project or relationship. Worship God for the ways you saw God in your child or spouse or co-worker. Take some set aside time and grow more in love with God. Be faithful to God today. And then… do it again tomorrow and the day after that and…

Prayer: Lord of Lords, I marvel at how your love and faithfulness are always present, both revealed in so many ways. I praise you for the small and the big ways that you are present to me in and throughout each day. You are the creator and the God of the entire universe, yet you are also my God. All praise to you, O God. Amen.


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Love First

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse Eight: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”.

Each day and each encounter provides us with an opportunity to draw close to God, to worship God. Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise from King David. It praises God for His love and faithfulness. It encourages us to “sing of the ways of the Lord”. It speaks of God preserving our lives when we walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalm is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, His dear children.

These few days at Annual Conference have been filled with worship. Sometimes the songs and worship have been slow and reflective. Sometimes the songs have been upbeat and energetic. Sometimes the music has been loud and passionate. Our worship has also included much besides music. We have shared scripture and been blessed by the proclamation of the Word by several gifted pastors. Through each of the messages and the conference itself, the idea of “love first” has been the focus. To me, this is what our worship should do. In all of our styles and in all if the components of worship, our worship should first express our love of God.

Verse eight today reads, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”. When we offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God’s love, then we experience a love that lasts forever. When we surrender our lives to God, we begin to live into and to live out an everlasting love. In doing so, we discover the first half of our verse: our purpose. We are all created to love as Jesus first loved us: fully and completely. There is no greater love than the love we see modeled by Jesus. May our lives today be living acts of worship, overflowing with the grace and mercy of God, as we seek to love first. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.


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Spirit of Truth

Reading: John 16: 4b-15

Verse Thirteen: “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”.

In a lot of ways, our faith journey is much like the disciples’ faith journeys. At some point we too heard Jesus calling us, saying, “Come, follow me”. Maybe right then, maybe a bit later, we accepted the call. As we began to walk through life with Jesus, we too came to a point of saying, like Peter, “You are the Messiah” and we confessed Jesus as the Lord of our life. Then the journey really began.

In today’s passage, Jesus tells the disciples, those who have been with Him for three years, that He has much to share with them – “more than you can now bear”. This is not the first time that Jesus had to meter out a concept or skills to these men. At times, after teaching to a group or crowd, Jesus would have to explain the teaching to the disciples. In other cases, they take in the words, only to get the meaning later. Such was the case when He spoke of His death and resurrection, for example.

We too experience these things. We can read a Bible passage for the tenth time and suddenly God speaks a new truth to us. The other nine times we read it, those same words were there. We just were not open to or ready for that truth yet. Other times we take in the words and then later, in a different setting, suddenly the meaning springs to life. That voice that speaks to us is the same voice that Jesus promised the disciples in today’s passage. In verse thirteen Jesus says, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”. The same Holy Spirit reveals new truths and brings life-giving meaning to us as we read or meditate on scripture.

Jesus also speaks of the Holy Spirit convicting the world of its sin. We still experience this gift of the Spirit of truth in our lives. This is part of the guiding us to live in the truth. The Spirit redirects us when we’ve gone astray, convicts us when we sin and when we miss opportunities, reminds us when we forget, teaches us when we don’t quite get it, and nudges us when we need prompting or a push. I am grateful for the gift of the Holy Spirit in my life. Thanks be to God for this gift of constant presence. Amen.


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Strange Things

Reading: Luke 24: 41-48

Verses 47 and 48: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations… You are witnesses of these things”.

In our passage today the disciples encounter the risen Lord. Even after He shows them His hands and feet they still do not believe. He eats a piece of food in their presence. Surely a ghost would not eat. This very human gesture must have calmed the disciples, because then Jesus begins to teach them. It still amazes me that these closest of Jesus’ friends so struggle to connect what He told them when He was alive to what is happening now. Being scared and frightened does strange things to the mind.

Although none of us lived with Jesus for three years, seeing Him teach and heal and set the example of how to love, we do have many more ways to connect with Jesus than those first disciples had. We have our Bibles. When we wonder about something or have a question, we can turn to the Word and re-read a passage or look something up. We have millions of books and articles at our fingertips, hundreds of which address even the smallest question we could have. We gather weekly for worship where scripture and songs remind us of Jesus and our faith. In worship we also pray and hear the Word proclaimed. Many of us also go to a small group or study group where we go deeper in our faith development or understanding. Yet with all of this even the smallest storm in life can make us ask, “Jesus who”? Being scared and frightened does strange things to the mind.

Jesus meets the disciples in today’s passage right where they are at. He once again reminds them of all that had been written of Him in the scriptures. He showed them how He was the fulfillment of the Law and prophets. He summarized the last few days and then said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations… You are witnesses of these things”. Jesus gave the disciples new purpose and direction. They were to bear witness.

Jesus seeks to meet us right where we are at. When we are scared and frightened, Jesus calls to us, He calms our hearts and minds. When we are confused and quite cannot remember, He whispers in our ear. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, Jesus remains very much alive. Our purpose and direction remains the same as it was with the disciples: we are witnesses. May we go forth each day, telling the story of repentance and forgiveness of sins.