pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Watch Out

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the law…”

Jesus is teaching a large crowd in the temple when He shares some observations about the religious leaders – the teachers of the law. This passage is one of several we find in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the appearance of these men and then contrasts it with what is actually inside of their hearts. In reality, this is an issue we all face.

The teachers love their positions and the cultural respect that comes with the title. The teachers of the law were the top of the social ladder. All young boys dreamed of becoming rabbis when they grew up. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for advanced study and from there only a portion would become a rabbi. One can work so hard to get ‘there’ that sometimes we forget why we were aiming at that goal.

Jesus observes that the teachers wear long robes to be noticed. They like people to see them and to call out to them. Today there are lots of people who dress a certain way to draw attention to themselves. The teachers like the important seats – again so that they will be noticed. Some today like to be front and center to be seen. The teachers “devour widow’s houses”, using their power and authority to take advantage of the elderly and the powerless. Today folks in power prey on the weak and defenseless, using their authority to manipulate and sometimes even to abuse.

While today’s passage speaks most directly to those of us who are pastors and priests, it applies to all people who have any degree of power or authority. When we allow the title or the recognition to be more important than loving and serving others, then we have lost sight of the #1 command to love God and neighbor. We must all remind ourselves over and over that this is our call. When temptation arises to use our power or authority for personal gain, we must repent of our sin immediately. In the battle with pride and ego and self, may we ever strive to remember that all we have and are is a gift and blessing from God Almighty. Ever and always, may all of our thoughts, words, and actions be pleasing in God’s sight.

Lord, each day may I seek to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with you, my Savior and King. Amen.

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Sing God’s Praises

Reading: Psalm 146

Verse 5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”.

The psalmist has chosen God. He will praise God and he will put his trust in God. In contrast to this, the psalmist addresses where many put their trust – in man. He writes, “Do not put your trust in mortal men, who cannot save”. They die and return to the earth; their plans end with them. We often extend this idea to the things of men. We place our trust in our possessions, in our wealth, in our titles, in ourselves. All of this is finite. None of this has the power to save. Only the Lord can save.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”. We can place our trust in God because God is the maker of all and because God “remains faithful forever”. This contrasts sharply with men and the things of man. God is also pure love and goodness. Because of who God is, because God is faithful to his children, the cause of the oppressed is upheld, food is given to the hungry, prisoners are set free, the blind receive sight, those who are down are lifted up, the alien is watched over, the orphan and the widow are sustained. God cares for and loves on the weak and powerless. God gives hope and strength to the least and the neediest. How does the God who dwells in heaven do all this? Through those who are faithful.

Remember where the Psalm began – with the rulers of the earth. Their plans cannot save, they fade. They are concerned with themselves and their things. Contrast this to the desires of God. The endless love of God is concerned with those who are in need. There is poverty and neglect in our cities. Many sit in prisons – some with bars and some without. Injustice and abuses of power splash across the headlines and our feeds. A stream of aliens, orphans, and widows nears the land of opportunity. As the people of God, how are we making God known in the midst of all this hurt and pain and sadness? How are we working alongside God to alleviate the affects of poverty and injustice and inequality and prejudice? When we enter into the places and into the lives of those affected by these things, we bring the hope and love of God with us. We are opening the door for them to know God, to know God’s endless love. One day they will also sing God’s praises. May the work of our hands and feet and the love in our hearts make it so.

Lord, make me an instrument of hope, love, and peace. Amen.


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Walking with God

Reading: Mark 10: 23-27

Verse 24: “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God”.

Today we continue in the aftermath of the young man walking away sad. Remember, a part of him ran to Jesus to find out how he could inherit eternal life. Probably as he can still be seen walking away, Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven”. We can be rich in many things and in many ways. For example, an abundance of pride can be a great barrier to the kingdom. Looked at another way, in America we are all rich when compared to most people around the world. In this instance Jesus is talking about material wealth. This is a topic that Jesus teaches on frequently. Wealth or possessions often are people’s idols, over and above their faith in God. Money or wealth isn’t our only idols. To this point, Jesus perhaps turns the situation more general, saying, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God”. It is indeed hard. The road is narrow and the choices are challenging; there is a cost to discipleship.

Our pursuit of God is unlike our pursuit of money or status or popularity or anything else. With all the idols that we can pursue, the pursuit is intermittent. For example, we can work really hard for a time for that title that brings the recognition that we desire. Once we attain that, it only requires periodic maintenance. But in our relationship with God, our pursuit of God must be 24-7. We cannot take take away from being in a relationship with God to live as a person of the world for a time. God must be our sole focus, our sole purpose in life. The well-known ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD) question must be our filter for all decisions, situations, and experiences.

To pursue God 24-7 is difficult. The disciples were literslky with Jesus all the time yet knew struggle. They ask Jesus, “Who then can be saved”? It is a legitimate question. On our own we cannot be saved. Salvation is not about what we do. It is all about what Jesus had already done. Just as on our own we cannot be saved, on our own we cannot pursue God 24-7. There is hope though. Jesus speaks our hope today: “All things are possible with God”. With God we can do all things. If we are in a personal relationship with God, we can walk with God 24-7 because God is pursuing us too. God’s voice whispers out when we need a reminder, His Spirit prompts us when we need a nudge or a redirect. Walking with God all things are indeed possible. May we each walk with God today and every day.

Lord, I love you and want to walk with you always. In those moments when I am weak, I know you will be strong. Thank you Lord! Amen.


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Serving God, Serving Others

Reading: Mark 9: 33-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”.

The disciples are arguing about something we can argue about from time to time. As kids, we all argued with our siblings about who was our parents’ favorite. As we got a little older, we discussed who was the teacher’s or coach’s favorite. As we entered into adulthood, the discussion took place most often in our heads. Whenever we did voice our opinion concerning someone being the favorite, it was usually a manner of complaint or gossip.

Unfortunately, most people want to be #1. Some express this by being large and in charge. Some simply want to be the one others look to. Deep down, we all want to be important, to matter. Society teaches us that worth is in our possessions, our titles, our status. This equates out to being the greatest. Faith runs counter to these values and ideas. Knowing what the disciples were arguing about, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”. If you want to be the greatest in God’s kingdom, be the last to consider yourself, be the first to offer yourself in humble service to one and all. How counter-cultural this is. What a radical way to consider greatness.

To drive His point home, Jesus has a child stand among them. In His day, children were at the bottom of the social and familial ladder. Jesus tells His disciples that when we welcome one of these – the least – we welcome Jesus and we welcome God into our lives. When we feed the hungry, visit the sick and the lonely, clothe the naked… then we are serving our needs last, we are being the servant of all. In the process, we often see the face of God in those we meet.

Lord God, this day may I seek to be last instead of first. May I be a giver and not a taker. May I be a person of humble faith, not a person of aloof religion. In all I do and say, maybe serve you as I serve others. May it be so each day. Amen.


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Rooted and Established

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Verses 17 & 19: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power… to know this love that surpasses knowledge”.

In this life we can pursue many things. Even for those who know God, the things of this world can call out in loud and enticing voices. We can act as if we were in love with the things of this world and our behaviors can indicate that we are smitten. Bright and shiny things that we chase are easier to identify: a new car, a bigger home, the latest iPhone. Non-physical things can draw us in too: the promotion, the recognition, the applause. No matter what we are pursuing, if it is not God, we find that ultimately self is at the core of the pursuit. We chase after things to try and satisfy self. And at the center of self we find pride.

Even though it looks like love as we pursue these things, none of these things can love us back. The new phone does not love us and the new title hanging outside the door does not love us. These things cannot make others love us. So we keep pursuing to find love. And if we dig down deep to the heart of the matter, we find that pride does not love us. Pride is willing to do much to elevate self but never finds love because the car or the title or whatever are never enough. Pride never rests because there is no final satisfaction.

To this endless cycle and for the rest of our souls, Paul offers this prayer: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power… to know this love that surpasses knowledge”. It begins with where we are rooted and established. Instead of being driving by pride, God invited us to be rooted and established in His love. Paul prays for us to have the power know God’s love because it is a love that brings peace and joy and contentment to our souls. It is not based on this world or on the things of this world. It is an eternal love. It is an unending love.

When we know and are rooted and established in God’s love, our focus shifts outward from self. We pursue God and the things of God as we reciprocate His great love. We begin to see as God sees, finding worth and value in all people. As this occurs, the things of this world grow dim. Relationships with God and each other become our pursuits. These have true value. Here we find a love that surpasses even knowledge. This day and every day may we be rooted and established in God’s love.


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Ruling Over All

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-24

Verse 21: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning”?

Is turning to God your first instinct in all situations? Do you naturally seek out God in times of need or trial? Before anyone else, do you first thank God for the blessings and successes you experience daily? If not, you are like many of us. We are much like the exiles to whom Isaiah writes.

The idea of bringing all things to God is well-supported in scripture. It is found throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is what Paul is thinking when he calls us to pray without ceasing in 1st Thessalonians. For some of us, the reality is we earnestly come to God in prayer when we are getting desperate or when something really amazing happens. We know in our hearts and souls that God can do anything, but we tend not to seek Him first in all things.

Isaiah is writing to a people in exile who are getting back around to God. God is responding with words of comfort as chapter forty opens. In our verses today, Isaiah reminds them of God’s ever present nature. He writes, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning”? It is a way of saying that since God is always here, we should go to God always. The current Babylonian rulers are the exiles’ concern at present, so Isaiah reminds the people that rulers are soon swept away by God too. They come and go as God sees fit. They are temporal. Their power lasts but for a moment in God’s grand scheme.

Rulers are like all other things on this earth: they are temporary and limited. Despite this fact, we often turn first to ourselves and then to other people and things to find help or guidance or relief or a way out. We turn to people with titles and positions, we turn to institutions, we turn to our family and friends. None are inherently evil or are bad choices. They just should not be our first choice. The One who created all is still ruling over all. Our God can still do all things and anything. All else will fade. Only God will remain. May we ever turn to God, He who ever sits “enthroned above the circle of the earth”, ruling over all.


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Child of God

In our land of abundance, it can be easy to link our happiness to what we have or to what our job title is.  These things can too easily define us and our happiness  rises and falls with our relative perception of these criteria.  The more one ties their identity to possessions and titles, the further they move from their true identity.

When one identifies as a child of God first and foremost, our identity is secure no matter what physical or emotional changes come our way.  Our relationship with God always remains secure because His love never changes or fails.  No matter what things we have or what title we have, His love and presence in our lives does not change one bit.  And no matter what we say or do, He always seeks to remain in relationship with us.  When ‘child of God’ is our bedrock identity this world holds little sway over us.

At times I marvel at the faith of people living daily in conditions of poverty, violence, disease, and injustice.  The world they live in seems to offer so little hope or the chance at a better life.  Yet daily they exhibit hope through a solid faith in God.  They have allowed God’s joy to overcome the adversity that they face on a daily basis.  They live content in His love.

Living as a child of God draws us to this same place of love and contentment and trust.  Giving it all to God allows us to live in and experience His joy as well.  Life is not then about the here and now only, but also about our eternal life.  When we see and live as a child of God, we truly begin to store up treasures in heaven because that is where our heart is.  This is a treasure nothing on this earth can destroy or steal.  As the things of this world lessen, the things of His kingdom increase.  May we each walk this day as a child of God, living and trusting in Him.

Scripture reference: Matthew 6: 16-21