pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Present to Us

Readings: Psalm 31: 9-16 and Philippians 2: 9-11

Verse Sixteen: “Let your face shine on your servant and save me in your unfailing love”.

The readings today begin in the Psalm. Verses nine through thirteen speak of sufferings and trials. There is weakness and anguish and contempt and brokenness and slander and conspiring. For David, the author, it seems as if he has hit a pretty rough stretch. At times we can relate to what David is expressing. Life is not always easy and we sure can find ourselves tossed about.

In verse fourteen the Psalm takes a turn as David writes, “I trust in you, O Lord”. There is an assurance that God is near. The psalmist then writes, “my times are in your hands”, illustrating a deep trust in God. The section of the Psalm that we read today concludes with, “Let your face shine on your servant and save me in your unfailing love”. In the these words is a quiet confidence that God will always be present.

As we shift forward several hundred years, we find Paul writing about Jesus in Philippians. In the verses proceeding verse nine Paul has acknowledged Jesus’ humility and obedience as well as His servant’s attitude. In these characteristics we also see the trust and confidence in God’s presence that came out in Psalm 31.

For both David and Jesus, although great men, they suffered at times in this life. It was through these experiences that they came to truly look to God. By doing so, they came to have this deep and abiding trust that God would be present and that God would carry them through, that He would save them. As we journey through life we too can trust that God will always be present and that He will always carry us through. As we do this more and more we will come to that place of living with God ever-present to us. May we trust and lean into God this day and every day. Amen.


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Hope

Reading: Isaiah 40: 27-31

Verses 29 and 31: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”.

Our section today opens with the people complaining that God is disregarding their cause. The people feel hidden from God. At times, we find ourselves here, don’t we? We too can feel apart from God or as if God does not care about what is happening in our life. We think that if God loved and cared for us, that He would do something – right?

To us and to the Israelites, Isaiah says, “Have you not heard? Have you not seen”? Isaiah is saying, with all of your experience with God and with all you’ve read and heard about God, how can you say this about God? How can you question? This line of thought, this logic, makes sense to us in the good times of life. Yes, God has been there for us over and over. But when we have been in the trial for a while, the illogical rises up. We begin to doubt, we begin to feel abandoned, we begin to question. It is then that we must remember the words of Isaiah: “The Lord is the everlasting God”. Our God is a forever God, a God that never grows tired or weary.

Isaiah then adds some wonderful reminders about how God loves and cares for each of us. Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”. When we are weary, God wants to give us strength. When we are weak, God wants to give us power. But we also have a part. When our hope rests fully on God, we will be renewed. Sometimes it is hard to hold onto and to live into this hope. Sometimes life brings a lot at us. No matter what, though, when we turn to God in hope, He will lift us up. May we ever cling to our hope, to the Lord our God.


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Whole

Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11 & 20

Verse Eleven: “The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love”.

The theme of a mighty and powerful and compassionate creator is continued from our reading in Isaiah 40 into today’s reading from Psalm 147. The psalmist’s initial response is to sing praises to God. The themes of caring for His people and healing and caring for the broken continue to resound in our passage today. In power and might God again counts and names the stars. The psalmist connects this action to God’s great understanding that has no limits. It is out of this understanding that the power and might of God remains a good thing, sustaining the humble and casting the wicked to the ground.

The idea of caring for the broken and sustaining the humble runs against the cultural norms of the day. In today’s secular world you must be bright and shiny and polished to be seen as successful or as having worth. Broken? In today’s secular culture being humble gets you nowhere. At least that’s what we’re told. Success and power in the world only comes from dominating those around you, doing whatever is necessary to ascend the ladder, and being proud of your success. Humble?

Yet we see in today’s Psalm that power and might can be present as we respond to our call as a child of God. It begins with our own experiences. From those times when God has come alongside or carried us we learn that true power and might is shown in caring for the broken and the weak. This also brings humility as we learn to do for others what God has done for us. It is a compassionate love brought in the name of our mighty and powerful God.

“The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love”. Through the ups and downs of our life we experience God’s faithfulness. Learning that God is the only one in control brings us a reverent fear of God. In humility we bow down and worship our God – so powerful yet attentive to each of His children. It is so because God desires wholeness in each of us. May we trust into God’s power and might to bring us a wholeness that rests upon hope. In response may our lives be living praise to the Lord our God.


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Stumble Behaviors

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 1-13

Verse One: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”.

Paul is dealing with a controversy in the church in Corinth. Because of their life experiences, one group in the church feels that eating meat sacrificed to idols is sinful. To them it has been tainted, so it should not be eaten. But to others in the church, they do not think there are other gods than God himself. Therefore, they see meat sacrificed to gods that do not exist as being okay to eat. These two groups are at odds.

Paul opens our passage today with these words: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”. He is referring to those who know it is okay to eat the meat as being ‘puffed up’ or arrogant in their stance. Instead of looking down on those struggling with this issue, those Paul calls ‘weak’ or who are less mature believers, Paul encourages them to choose love instead. Paul goes on to acknowledge that idols are “nothing at all” yet reminds the puffed up believers that some are still so accustomed to idols that eating this meat defiles them. Paul then asks the mature believers to abstain from eating such meat because it has become a stumbling block to the less mature Christians. Paul even goes so far as to call it a sin when they intentionally do something that is not a sin if that causes another believer to stumble.

We do not eat food sacrificed to idols today, but we do practice behaviors that cause others to stumble. Imagine the impact on one considering a walk with Christ if they see you regularly joining the office gossip circle or if they hear you harshly judging a fellow worker. Imagine the effect of a Christian using unethical business practices or acting in immoral ways concerning their marriage. Imagine the consequences of making your children go to youth group or Sunday school when you use the same hour to grab a coffee or to do the grocery shopping. As the world witnesses the words and actions of Christians, they can draw others to Christ or they can lead them away from Christ. Through and through we must reflect the love of Jesus Christ first and foremost. We must be diligent in our walk with Jesus, guarding our words and our actions so that we always build one another up. May it be so today and every day.


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Are We Willing?

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.

Ezekiel is writing to a people who are discouraged and downtrodden.  They feel like the sheep he is describing who are lean, weak, and driven away.  The Israelites have been in exile for many years.  The years have separated them from each other and many of them from their faith.  Even those who did not go into exile have become mixed in with the people living around them.  Ezekiel looks at the people and sees their deep need for a shepherd to rise up who will gather the scattered flock, protecting the weak and poor among them while ruling with justice, compassion, and love.

The need for a good shepherd is very real today.  On a personal level, we need one to walk the walk of faith.  Our inner bent towards sin is in almost constant need of the voice of the good shepherd to guide is on the right path and to keep us from wandering off of the narrow way.  We also need the good shepherd to lead us where we should go at times – to those green pastures.  As we follow Jesus and His teachings and example, we are following the one true good shepherd.  As we follow, we in turn open ourselves up more and more to the voice of the good shepherd as we feel the nudges and hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

This voice calls us to the least and the lost.  It calls us to those who do not know the good shepherd.  The lost are wandering around in the darkness, going from one thing to another, never finding what they truly need.  Others are marginalized and struggle in the simple day to day of life.  The Holy Spirit calls us to them as well.  The least often cannot begin to hear the voice of the good shepherd calling out to them until their basic needs are met.  The need for shelter, food, and safety must be met before there is space for the good shepherd to speak into their lives.

The Good Shepherd says, “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.  He says this to us in our times of need and encouragement.  He calls us to help bring this message to those who are hurting and broken and lost and discouraged.  Are we willing?