pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Poverty of Spirit

Reading: Matthew 5: 1-3

Verse 3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”.

Today we focus in on the first verses of the Beatitudes. Yesterday we read through verse twelve, hearing all of the Beatitudes. Verses one and two set up the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The basic idea here is that Jesus goes up a mountain and begins to teach. There is an implication in this that Jesus did not just go up a few feet, but went up a ways. If one wanted to hear Jesus teach, one had to exert a little effort and head up the mountain. Figuratively, this remains the case with our faith today. It does not come easily but requires some commitment on our part. This is especially true if we want to have a faith that grows and matures and deepens.

The one Beatitude that we have today is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”. Here Jesus follows a typical teaching style, beginning with the most important or critical and then unpacking from there. For example, in the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments begin this way. God begins by establishing the singular relationship – one God, one people. This is the hinge upon which all the others rest. To be poor in spirit does not mean having weak faith. It means recognizing our weakness. It means recognizing our need for God. To be poor in spirit requires humility and honesty. The process begins with recognizing our brokenness and our need for redemption. This leads to confession and repentance of our sins, an act that requires humility. No one in the world likes to admit they are wrong or have done wrong. A right relationship with God begins by admitting this and then yielding to God’s power to make us new again. To continue to live in this cycle requires honesty. To keep looking within, to keep acknowledging our sin, to keep asking for God’s help requires honesty. The battle with sin never ends so our need for forgiveness and renewal is neverending as well.

From a place of recognizing our utter reliance on God, the other Beatitudes unfold. Being meek, hungering for righteousness, being a peacemaker… – they come out of our poverty of spirit. May our daily walk ever be grounded in humility and honesty, in our deep need for God. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a will to keep trooping up the mountain to be in your presence. You’re always so willing to come down the mountain and into my valleys. Make me as willing to seek you humbly and honestly. Day by day, may my hunger and thirst for you grow. Fuel the fire, Lord, fuel the fire. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 26-31

Verse 30: “Christ Jesus… our righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Paul opens the passage today with a great challenge: “think of what you were when you were called”. Ponder that for a minute. Think back to who you were and what your life was like before you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior… While the “then” to “now” transformation is probably significant, the great truth of our journey is that the change continues. On our journey of faith we are never “there” so God is always at work, seeking to make us more and more like Jesus Christ.

Paul sees the church in Corinth just like most of us see our churches. Yes, we might have a few movers and shakers, but overall not many are wise, not many are influential, not many are of noble birth. Most of us are just regular people. All of us are just trying to be faithful and obedient in our daily walk. Paul speaks of God choosing the foolish and weak things – things we don’t usually like to associate too much with. Wise, influential, noble, foolish, weak – he is speaking in terms the world uses. Weakness, for example, is shunned in the world but in faith recognizing our weakness leads us to trust God more than in ourselves. If we are foolish in terms of our faith, we see that we cannot figure it all out on our own. Instead we turn to God for guidance and direction. When we know we need God, we do not boast in our own talents and abilities. Leaning into another for help and strength is not what people of the world do. That’s why the cross is foolishness to do many people living in the world.

As we continue our journeys of faith, as we walk more and more in faith, we live into verse 30 more and more. Verse 30 reminds us that Jesus Christ is our “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”. As we follow longer and closer, we live lives that are increasingly righteous and holy. We are not faultless, we still stumble from time to time. But we do walk better the longer and deeper we pursue Jesus Christ. And Jesus ever redeems us. In the day to day, he redeems us when we fail and when we stumble. Working ever towards perfection, we await the day of our final redemption – the day we stand in Jesus’ presence in glory. That’ll be the day! Until then may we walk out our faith day by day, bringing Jesus Christ and his love to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the long walk. Looking back at where the journey began, I can see the change you wrought in me. But it was not an A to B journey. There are moments day by day and in even smaller intervals – moments when I had to choose you over self and other interests. Even when I was selfish and disobedient, you have remained faithful. Thank you, God. Please continue to have me as one of your own. Lead and guide me always and forever. Thank you for being my all in all. Amen.


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Rooted in Love

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 25: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”.

The Corinthian church is struggling to understand Jesus. The Jews in the church want Jesus to have power and might – think of the God of the Old Testament who parted seas and destroyed enemies. The Greek part of the church wants Jesus to have great wisdom – think of a group of philosophers sitting around arguing about which god is smarter. Paul and other apostles came and preached Christ crucified. Those of faith saw the power and wisdom of God in the cross. To them, on the cross Jesus chose humility and love. This was all foolishness to those looking for a God of power or intelligence. But to those who believed, the cross was the power to save.

The world continues to look at the cross and at the one who died on it as foolishness. Just as it seemed so to the secular culture of Corinth, so it is today. The cross meant weakness and death and defeat and failure to the eyes of the world and to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. For the one who came to save the world, the Messiah, dying on a cross seemed like a foolish choice. How could you save anything or anyone if you were dead? To one looking at the whole thing without faith, it makes little sense. Success in the world means accumulating power and possessions and better and better titles. This is not the way of the cross.

Paul’s message does not end at the cross. The story did not start there either. For three years before the cross Jesus taught a message of love. Key to that message was the idea of loving God and others more than oneself. This agape love was revealed by being a humble servant to all. Jesus lived out his love and service on the cross. There, in love, he bore and defeated the power of the sins of the world, performing a final act of service for all of humanity. Then the crucified body was laid in the grave. The story appeared to be finished. But in three days, God revealed true power as Jesus emerged from the grave, defeating the power of death.

On and through the cross Jesus would defeat the two things that all the power and possessions and titles in the world cannot defeat – sin and death. This is foolishness to the world but is the power to save for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. For those who do believe, we know and live this truth: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you revealed yourself through Jesus in ways that many do not understand. Even for the faithful, at times your ways are still higher than our ways. I sometimes fail to understand. But the cross and what it is rooted in – love – is easy to understand. It’s not always easy to walk it out, but love is easy to understand. So I pray that I may too be love in the world, revealing Jesus to others, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to do the deep and real work. May it be so, O Lord. Amen.


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Best of All…

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 11-14

Verse 13: “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow”.

Verse eleven opens with God’s promise to ransom and redeem his children from “the hand of those stronger than they”. These words remind me of our daily battle with evil and the other lures of the world. Although God is way stronger, in our human weakness sometimes it feels like we are weaker. Paul wrote of this in Romans 7. We too do what we do not want to do and we fail to do what we want to do. We are ever wrestling with sin. The good news for us is that hundreds of years after Jeremiah gave this promise, God did ransom us with Jesus’ life.

Verse twelve turns to the peoples’ response. With shouts of joy the people celebrated the Lord’s bounty. They felt like a “well-watered garden” and they enjoyed the provision of God. Each of us is also blessed. There are so many things that I can count as blessings, but none more important than my relationship with Jesus Christ. As modern day Christians, we are so blessed. We too can join the Israelites in joyfully thanking God for the bounty we receive. In verse thirteen’s opening line dancing follows joy. Go ahead and dance if so inclined!

In the second half of verse thirteen we read, “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow”. This continues to be God’s promise. In this life we will have our times or even seasons of mourning. God’s promise still remains – to give us comfort and joy. God’s love never fails. It continues to wash over us, even in times of sorrow, when we are willing to receive his love.

As we enter 2020 today, these words of the prophet Jeremiah are great reminders. The general tone reminds me of John Wesley’s dying words: “Best of all, God is with us”. Yes, God is. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I begin 2020, I rejoice that I am yours and that you are mine. In the coming year, use me as you will. Lead and guide me, strengthen and encourage me. Walk with me into a world in need. Amen.


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Lifting and Filling?

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-53: “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”.

On Monday one of the members of the church stopped in to the office. We chatted for a little while. Part of the conversation was about context. She was curious about how the Bible can be so applicable thousands of years later. How we read a passage or interpret or even apply it can vary greatly over the ages and even within our own personal faith. On a personal level, for example, a passage can say something totally different to me today compared to when I read it ten years ago. The physical letters on the page have not changed at all. The context in which I read them has changed. Similarly, in applying the text, an illustration I use in a rural, small town congregation would not make sense in an urban setting and vice versa. And that context might affect how a hearer applies the message and passage to their life and faith.

In our passage today, Mary responds to God in a song. She has learned that she will be the mother of the Messiah, of the Savior of the world. Mary is a young teenage girl from a very poor family. She is engaged but not married. This is her context as she receives this news from God. Because of her context, she recognizes that this is all on God. She is powerless and must rely on God. In an outpouring of faith, Mary recognizes that God “has done great things for me” and that God’s mercy “extends to those who fear him”. God chose Mary because of her faith and because of her context. Mary goes on to sing, “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”. Mary connects to her context. She is humble. She is hungry. God has lifted her up and filled her with an amazingly good thing – Jesus.

God had and has always used the unlikely, the weak, the poor, the powerless. Mary is but one example of many. She recognizes this. Story after story in the Bible is about God using people like Mary to bring care to the poor, the marginalized… Jesus’ ministry was very much about and with this demographic of society. In fact, when Jesus speaks of who will inherit eternal life in Matthew 25, it is those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner who are identified as righteous and as those who will be welcomed into heaven. As we think about our personal ministries and about the ministries of our churches, do we join God in lifting up and filling our fellow children of God?

Prayer: God of all, your love is certainly not limited to just the poor or just to the rich, to just those in the church or to those outside the church. You are the God of all who loves all. Yet not all have access to that love. Many do not know of your love. Some even feel outside of or unworthy of your love. Help all of that to change. Each day, O Lord, use me as you will. Use me as you desire. To the mighty or to the low, in the halls of power or in the poorest neighborhood, use me today, O God. 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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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.