pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Called to Respond

Reading: Matthew 2: 13-23

Verse 13: “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”.

Jesus is born in a humble setting and receives some humble visitors – the shepherds who had been visited by the angel. Some time passes and the Magi arrive. They are well-educated men from the east, coming to worship the newborn. Along their journey Herod becomes aware of the new ruler. Power and authority have entered the story. Herod pretends to want to worship the one born in Bethlehem.

The Magi are warned in a dream and avoid Herod on their return trip. Our passage today begins with Joseph having another dream. The angel tells him, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”. God is acting to get Joseph and family out ahead of the coming storm. Right then, during the night, Joseph wakes his family and they flee to Egypt. In a fury over being tricked by the Magi, Herod has all the boys two and under living in and around Bethlehem killed. He does not want this newborn king to disrupt his reign. In the aftermath, there is the “weeping and mourning” of mothers refusing to be comforted.

After Herod dies the family slips back into Israel, settling in small and out of the way Nazareth. Joseph still fears what the new ruler, Herod’s son, might do. Archelaus is part of the same institution that Herod was part of. The same tendency to look out for oneself is probably still quite strong. Sadly, this remains true of many institutions and of the people of power within these institutions. We see it alive and well in businesses, in government, and often in churches. People with power continue to exert their will because they believe their way is the right way or the only way. Those hurt, like the mothers weeping in Ramah, are not of their concern. Greed and pride and arrogance drive these types of decisions in business and government. In churches, to these we add confused religious certainty to the mix. Toxic environments are created for all but the holders of power. They were already there.

In the story of Jesus’ life, the escape to Egypt and the accompanying slaughter of innocents is one of the sadder and violent chapters. Jesus will go on to challenge some in power – particularly those in the religious institution – showing that power is not always right. This too is our call. We are called to respond to the injustices and wrongs that we see, shining God’s light and love into the darkness. In the light, injustices and wrongs and abuses of power will be revealed for what they are. May it ever be so as we work our way through building God’s kingdom here on earth!

Prayer: God of light, shine into the dark and broken parts of my life and my world. Lead me to stand for you and for what is right, regardless of the price. Strengthen me for the road ahead. Amen.


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Resource Usage

Reading: Luke 16: 1-8

Verse 8: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”.

The dishonest manager is about to find himself unemployed. He surely knows why his boss is firing him. Instead of taking some time for introspection, he turns to more dishonesty as he adjusts the debts owed his boss. He takes from another to insure a better future for himself. In a turn that always surprises me, we read “the master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”. Instead of sulking or walking away mad, the manager does what he can to make the best of his situation. The master credits him as being shrewd.

When we read this story, it rubs most of us the wrong way. It goes against our sense of right and wrong. There is dishonest gain and it is commended. But we cannot get stuck here, in our indignation. If we do, we miss Jesus’ point. He too acknowledges that “the people of this world are far more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light”. Those who live in the world use the world and its ways to their advantage. As a man of the world, the master commended his ex-manager for playing the game so well.

Jesus is not encouraging us to be dishonest but to use the resources that we have been given shrewdly. We all have gifts and resources at our disposal. Maybe you have been blessed financially. Use that resource to do some of God’s work in the world. Maybe you have been blessed with mechanical ability. Use that resource to teach another a skill or use it to help out someone in need. We have all been given resources. We need to use the things of the world as we follow Jesus and as we seek to help others know him. We are to use the things of this world that we have been given wisely – to grow in the grace and love of God and to help others do so as well. Whatever resources God has blessed you with, engage the world as you use the resources well.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all that I have and am are yours. All of my gifts and talents, all of my possessions, all of my relationships are gifts from you. Show me how to use each of them well, building my faith and advancing your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Truths

Reading: Job 38: 34-41

Verse 35: “Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are'”?

As we continue on in Job 38, we continue to see God pushing back against Job’s questioning. God asks, “Can you…”, “Who provides…”, and “Do you send the lightning bolts on way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are'”? In these questions we find answers that remind us of God’s love and care for the creatures and God’s dominion over nature. God is a God of power and at times this leads us to stand in awe of God. Until life turns south and we feel as if this God of power is absent. In the midst of a trial, when we feel all alone, we can doubt God’s power and presence. Through these experiences we can connect with Job.

We want a God that is loving, always swooping in to heal our hurts. We want a God of Justice who marches in to right the wrongs done to us. We want a God of knowledge and compassion, always seeing our needs and wants, always responding quickly to them. We want a God who empathizes with us when loss comes, walking tangibly at our side and even carrying us when needed. This is the God that Job had known and now longs for. Here too we can connect with Job.

As we journey in life we come to know God as the powerful creator of the universe. We come to know God as a personal and intimate God. Even though Job began to walk God as he struggled with his ongoing testing, Job held firm to these truths about God. These truths carried him through. They will carry us through as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Caring Father, I rejoice in the times when you have been so near I felt I could touch you. I marvel in awe when I see your finger prints on a newborn baby or in a beautiful sunset. Help me to cling to these things when I find myself in a trial, trusting in your plan, resting in the assurance of your love. Amen.


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Humble Submission

Reading: James 4: 7-8a

Verse 8a: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”.

In our short one and a half verses, James gives us three pieces of advice. In James 4 he has just finished quoting Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. When we are proud and allow pride to guide our words and thoughts, then we have trouble with today’s advice.

Most Christians are rule followers. In general. Sometimes we follow the rules because of circumstances. For example, in my old truck I do not drive 80 miles per hour on the interstate. 80 is the rule. I could physically drive 80 and the truck can too, but the gas mileage plummets and I am cheap. Most of the time, though, I do follow the rules because it is simply the right thing to do.

Sometimes rules do not make sense or we know they are wrong. In the cases when the rule does not make sense, we struggle to follow it. But when the rules are wrong, as Christians, we must take a stand. Such was the case back in the 1960s, when rules excluded or denied or segregated based on race. These rules were broken by and protested against by people, bringing reform to a bad system. Although it is sometimes long and hard, what is right usually wins out in the end.

Today, James is advising us to follow a rule that is both good for us and is in alignment with our faith. James says to submit to God. Tying in the verse from Proverbs, we are to humbly submit to God. Yes, it is good and right to do so. No, we cannot argue or protest against this rule. Yet at times we struggle to follow it. The devil is always at work, trying to tempt us. It is precisely then that we must over God. When we obey God, we are resisting the devil. When we obey God, the devil flees. And then we receive the promise: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”. Come to God and He’ll come to you. Draw near and rest in His presence. Connect with God and live in His light and love. How could life be any better?

O Lord, my God, in humble submission I draw near to you. In awe, I come into your presence. It is a good place to be. Fill me up with your love and grace and mercy and compassion. Fill me to overflowing, so that you can flow out of me and into the lives of those I meet today. Amen.


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The Good

Reading: James 3: 9-12

Verse 11: “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring”?

James wants us to be consistent in our Christian walk. He encourages us to be faithful all if our days. But this is not the behavior that he always sees exhibited. We too struggle with this so today’s passage applies well to life as a Christian in 2018. Truth be told, it applied well in 407, 1268, 2001… and will apply well in 2047, 2206…

James uses some good examples to follow up his main point. We do use the same tongue to praise God and to curse our fellow men – “who have been made in God’s image”. We cannot love the Creator and hate His creation. That is as crazy, James says, as expecting fresh water out of a salty spring or figs from a grapevine. If in nature none of this occurs, then how can it occurs in us, the masterpiece of God’s creation?

If we are striving to live a Christian life, I do not think we want to intentionally cause harm to others. We do not wake up in the morning looking to curse at and fight with others. But we are imperfect beings living in a broken world. We will cross paths with people who hurt or wrong us or others. Satan causes greed and jealousy and pride and… to drive a lot of people’s decisions. Into all of this we are called to be light and love. When we are hurt or wronged, we are to handle it with grace and love and forgiveness. When we stand against injustice or bias or prejudice… we are to do do with peace and understanding and empathy. We are called to walk alongside those who are hurting and broken, bringing a burst of joy and mercy and compassion.

Sometimes it is hard. In those moments we must really search deep within the other to find the Creator. We must be patient and must persevere to find that which God created and seek to draw that out. There is good within all of us, just as there is evil. As followers of Jesus Christ may we work to be and bring forth the good in us and in the world.

Lord, give me patience when I want to react and perseverance when I want to just give up. Give me mercy when I want to judge. Give me grace when you just want to condemn. Most of all, give me eyes to see you in all and a heart to love as you love. In His name, amen.


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Solomon’s Request

Reading: 1 Kings 3: 3-14

Verse 5: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”.

Solomon is now King Solomon. He is the ruler of the nation of Israel. He inherits the kingdom from his father David. Israel has enjoyed a recent period of peace and prosperity under David’s leadership. Often, with a new king, the competing and rival nations around him want to test him and see if he really can lead. And although Solomon has worked hard to eliminate all possible and known enemies or threats within, one never knows who amongst your “friends” might be eyeing power. So when God comes and tells Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”, he could have easily and naturally asked to be king for “x” years or to have rest from his enemies.

Kings also often like to look “kingly” so Solomon could have asked for people to admire him. Or he could have asked for more wealth or a bigger kingdom… But Solomon does not ask for any of these worldly trappings. In essence, he asks for more of what it appears he already has. Solomon’s response to God’s offer: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”. This is such an interesting response!

First, notice how Solomon identifies himself: your servant. He is acknowledging God’s supremacy and defining his preferred role in their relationship. Solomon shows both great faith and also deep humility. Second, he asks for a “discerning heart”. Solomon is asking for eyes to see and a heart to feel. This is different from knowing. To know means that 2+2=4. This is a fact that we can know. Discernment is deeper – it adds the ‘why’ to the knowing. Third, Solomon asks for the ability to distinguish right from wrong. We cannot miss why this is important. This request applies on two levels: as a leader of Israel and as a follower of God. Not only does Solomon desire to lead the nation well, but he also wants to walk upright before the Lord. Verse 10 tells us, “This pleased the Lord”. God not only granted Solomon’s request, but He also blessed him in many other ways as well.

When we come to God with our requests, may we be as wise and humble and faithful as Solomon, seeking ever to please God, to bring God the glory, and to walk in His ways. Amen.


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Speak

Reading: 1 Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse One: “In those days, the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions”.

As Eli aged the word of the Lord was not often heard.  Eli had chosen to ignore the immoral actions of his sons in the temple, thereby allowing them to continue to sin against God.  Ultimately God will not forget – there will be a consequence to pay for their actions.  I wonder if this is how God looks at us and at our world from time to time.  As a whole, Christianity is not the voice that rises up against obvious wrongs or injustices.  Does God think we too often sit silent when we should speak?

It can be difficult to speak out, especially when it seems to go against the norm or the popular or accepted thought of the day.  Even within our communities of faith, it can be difficult to hold one another accountable without seeming like we are being judgmental.  But if we are open to it and seek to hear what God is saying to us, like Samuel, we too can receive guidance and instruction from the Lord.

All it takes for God to speak is one receptive ear.  Our passage today tells us, “In those days, the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions”.  Eli had turned a deaf ear to the messages about his sons.  So God turned to Samuel.  But Samuel was young and Eli was still seen as the prophet of God.  It took a few times, but Eli did realize that God was calling out to Samuel.  Eli must have realized that this signaled a changing of the guard as well.  Perhaps this is why Eli pushes Samuel to tell him what God revealed to him.  Eli appears to know that the bad news pertains to him and his household.

How receptive are we to the voice of God in our lives?  Do we create time and space for His voice to be heard?  Do we try and discern if God is speaking into our life or into a situation in our life or in our world?  God desires to be active and involved in our lives.  May we be receptive to our God and His word.  Like Samuel, may we too say, “Speak, for your servant is listening”.