pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Our Shepherd(s)

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

Psalm 23 is probably the best known Psalm. Simply reading verse one triggers our memories and, for some, we can recite the remaining words. It is like saying, “Our Father who art…”. Like the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23 is a powerful reminder of God’s love and care for us. David uses a metaphor that was very familiar to his audience: God as shepherd and us as sheep. As this metaphor is used throughout the Bible, we too are familiar with it.

The opening three verses pour out God’s love and care. The shepherd provided all that was needed for the sheep. They had no sense of want. That too can be our experience when we trust fully in God. Living in trust we become content with our lives and with our daily portion. A good shepherd worked hard to find water and green pastures each day for his or her sheep. They also found a safe place for the sheep each night, enabling them to find rest and renewal for the day ahead. Our loving and caring God does all of this for us too when we trust in his love and care. When we wander off like a sheep, when we start seeing a greener pasture over yonder, when we think maybe we should be the shepherd – then we begin to experience feelings of unease and stress and anxiety. These feelings remind us to return to our proper place, to our right place, in our relationship with God.

That is what the second half of verse three is all about. When we allow God to lead, when we bow and let God be in control, then we are guided to walk the “path of righteousness for his name’s sake”. When we walk as God intends us to walk, we glorify God. Adding a New Testament lens to this classic Old Testament writing, we follow Jesus as his disciples, walking out our faith as we follow in the footsteps of our good shepherd. Doing so we bring glory to his name. In all we do and say and think today, may we bring him the glory.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for always leading and guiding me. Your ways are fulfilling and peaceful, restorative and righteous. Lead me each day to walk faithfully with you. 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 Footstool and the Mountain

Reading: Psalm 99

Verse 5: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”.

Psalm 99 establishes that God reigns over all the earth and is to be worshipped by all the nations. Above all, God is holy. Because of this God loves justice and equity. God answers prayers. The Lord is pleased with Moses, Aaron, Samuel, and others who have walked faithfully. When one such as these calls on the Lord “he answers them”. All this leads the people to praise God. Verses five and nine speak of this and are almost identical. Verse five reads, “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”. Verse nine just substitutes “holy mountain” for “footstool”. The affect is the same.

The call to walk faithfully and to worship God is a call that we hear well. When we consider the presence of God in our lives and the contentment, peace, joy, hope… that God brings us, our responses are to keep walking and worshipping. Even though we know these practices to be true and right and worthy of our time, we can also struggle to always be obedient.

Being fully human we desire to walk our own way at times. We want what we want. Our selfishness seizes control and we claim to know better than God. As we begin down this road we find other idols to worship. They can be the common and obvious ones: possessions, status, or power. Or they can be the ones harder to see from the outside: pride, ego, jealousy, envy, gossip, anger… When we get off track come to the point where we find ourselves far from God.

When we are reawakened by the call or the nudge of the Holy Spirit, we can again seek to be faithful and obedient. In his great love and mercy, God welcomes us back. From this place of humility we bow and worship God at his footstool. God does not leave us there long. In that same great love and mercy God lifts us up. He restores us to fullness of life once again and we worship him as Moses did – on God’s holy mountain. Praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, you are rich in mercy and abundant in love. Your grace washes away my failures and your light guides me back to the path of faithful obedience once again. Thank you for always seeking me out by the power of your Holy Spirit. May my life be one of worship and praise, bringing others into your love and grace. Amen.


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Servant?

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Verse 1: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”.

Paul begins his letter to the Roman church by first identifying himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ”. Pause for a moment and consider what that word really means – servant. In Paul’s time a servant was totally subservient to the master. As such, their whole life was wrapped up in doing things for the master. They would go where told, would do whatever they were told to do. Their own will, desires, wants, thoughts, feelings were rarely considered. Paul sought to be a servant of Jesus Christ.

Today titles are important. Back in Paul’s day family names and birth places were important – Jesus of Nazareth, the sons of Zebedee… These adjectives described someone. Today we are first identified by our occupation. Meeting someone new, the first question is usually ‘What do you do’? When asked, I tell people that I am a Methodist pastor. Our own self-identity is very much wrapped up in what we do. So imagine, for a moment, the reactions and responses I would get if I answered as Paul did, telling others that I am a servant of Jesus Christ. You too can imagine the responses that this answer would draw.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are supposed to be servants of our Lord and King. Jesus himself came to be a humble servant and called us to follow his example. Because we do not first self-identity as a servant of Jesus Christ, there are two truths we must wrestle with. These truths are at the core of why we do not identify this way. Perhaps we are unwilling to really assume this role. We are reluctant to make all of our desires and all of our will subservient to Christ. We are OK with “most”. The second truth is the reality that would come with claiming such a title. To say we are a servant of Jesus implies quite a commitment. In the Advent series at our church we have been talking about what it would mean to be an “altogether Christian”. Such a person is a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul is making a high claim in his title of “servant”. Are we willing to do the same?

Prayer: God, the journey has been one of committing more and more to you and to doing your will. Even then, though, I know I am just “mostly” committed. Help me to move closer to “all in”, closer to loving and serving you with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. May it be so. Lord, may it be so. Amen.


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Even Then

Reading: Luke 17: 11-19

Verse 15: “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice”.

Ten are healed of their disease and are able to return to their families and to society. Ten are cured of the physical separation that they have endured. Only one finds a wholeness that extends beyond the physical. Only one connects back to the Lord Jesus, the One who healed his physical disease. He is the only one who really knows that his healing can lead to being made truly whole. Only one stops to acknowledge and worship the one who restored him to full life.

When we experience God’s hand at work in similar big ways, we likely take the time to pause and praise the Lord for what he has done. But what about the smaller things? Are we grateful and praising each day for the small blessings of yesterday? Do we truly thank God for all of the ways that our lives are blessed?

And how is our faith when the answer that we want does not come? Some of us live with an illness or infirmity for all of our lives or for the last portion of our life. Some of us live with a relationship that is broken. Some of us struggle with a grief that never goes away. Some of the time our loved ones do not get better. Each of these trials persist in spite of our prayers. What do we do when the leprosy remains?

Can we still live in our illness or brokenness within God’s love and care? Yes! We are promised the loving and caring presence of the Lord in the midst of our exile. He walks with us through the valley of the shadows. Like with Paul, that thorn in our side reminds us of our need for a strength that we do not have on our own. Even then – even in our illness and brokenness, we still find hope and life in the Lord Jesus Christ. May we fully trust in the Lord, finding new life and wholeness in him even on the toughest of days.

Prayer: Lord, you have walked with me through the valleys. You have even carried me at times. Help me to trust in your purposes and plans each time I experience a trial or am suffering. I know you are a good, good God. Thank you for always loving even me. Amen.


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Godly Living

Reading: 1st Timothy 6: 6-19

Verses 11-12: “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith”.

Paul speaks to us today about the focus of our lives. Will the focus be on God or will it be on the things of this world? This battle is very real and is fought out throughout our lives. It is a temporal versus eternal battle. The world and Satan try and tell us that we find our happiness and joy in the material and in the pleasures of this world. The material can be possessions or money in the bank. The pleasures can be an extravagant vacation or prostitutes. It can be drugs or it can be in image enhancement surgery. All of these things require money. The pursuit of money to fuel our desires and pleasures can easily become “a root of all kinds of evil”.

Advising his young friend Timothy, Paul speaks against the pursuit of money… Our passage today begins with “godliness with contentment is great gain”. When our focus is on godly living we trust that God is good and that God provides all that we need. In this mindset we find real contentment. Paul points out the obvious – we take nothing with us when we leave this world. So why waste time chasing after these things? When we do we find that we do “wander from the faith” and we are “pierced with many griefs”. When our love is focused on money… it is not focused on God.

Instead, Paul encourages Timothy and us to “flee from all of this” and to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness”. When we do this, then we “fight the good fight of faith”. When we pursue these godly ways, then our focus shifts. Instead of focusing on ourselves and on our wants, we can see the other and their needs. It helps us to look outward in love instead looking inward in greed. It is a trust in God alone instead of a reliance on the next “thing” to bring us happiness that does not last.

The passage closes with some commands: do good, be rich in good deeds, be generous and willing to share. All of these come naturally when God is leading our lives. To cede that control is the first step of faith that leads to godly living. Once we take those first steps, we begin to build our lives upon the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. On that journey of faith we “take hold of the life that is truly life”.

Prayer: Dear God, stuff. Does stuff really matter? Well, no. But oh how I can chase after it sometimes. Turn my selfish desires away and build up in me more of a heart for others. Help me to trust in you alone. Be my all in all. Amen.


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Dying Inside

Reading: Psalm 14

Verses 2-3: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men… all have turned aside”.

It would be easy to read today’s Psalm with an air of superiority or arrogance. We could easily think, “Oh, those poor unsaved people” or worse as we quietly relish our place in the family of God. We can choose to play the role of righteous church goer as we look down upon the masses. We can smile inside as we reflect on all those we know who fit these words from the Psalm: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men… all have turned aside”. It is easy to judge the other, isn’t it?

It is harder to read Psalm 14 and to honesty consider when we have been foolish and said, “There is no God”. Now, we may not voice or even think these words, but we certainly act at times as if there was no God. Maybe more precisely, we acts as if we were the gods. (If the sarcasm of the opening paragraph slipped by, read it again). At times we do loose sight of the whole love God, love neighbor thing. We instead live very self-centered lives. We focus on our wants and desires instead of seeking to meet the needs of the other. We fail to do good.

In those moments or in those seasons, God must look down from heaven to see if we are understanding His ways and seeking Him above all else. If I am honest, God stands a pretty good chance of looking down and finding me doing my own thing or going my own way. Yes, there are moments when God would look down and be pleased. But those moments could be more often. My faithful steps could fall more often.

So I pray… Lord God, help me to be a more faithful follower and a more regular witness to your love and your ways. Help me to die inside of me so that you can become more. May it be so today and every day. Amen.