pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Belonging in God

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 4-9

Verse 7: “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage for today and tomorrow begins with the elders of Israel coming to Samuel to request a king. In all of their history they have never had a king. They have always had a leader and some have been great ones: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Samuel. Yet even under these leaders God was clearly the one leading the people. The request for a king is driven by a few “concerns”.

The first concern is for their future. Samuel has led well. Next in line are his sons. But they are corrupt, evil. They “do not walk in your ways”. The elders recognize what a disaster it would be to have Joel and/or Abijah assume Samuel’s role. The second concern is a common human desire – to fit in, to be like others, to feel accepted. All the other nations have a king. The Israelites want one too. They want someone to fight their battles for them. Ironically, Samuel has just subdued the Philistines. The third concern centers on control. Samuel has kept the Israelites on the straight and narrow, best as he can. Samuel carries authority as the voice of God and God seems to just keep sending Samuel around. There is no wiggle room. A king would give them a little more breathing room, a bit of space between them and God. God recognizes this. In verse seven God says to Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

As I reflect on these concerns, I realize that they are our concerns too. We all want a good leader, be that a prophet, judge, king, pastor, boss, or political leader. We want to feel safe and secure yet want some freedom and sense of control too. We still want to fit in and to belong, to be accepted. We too can look around and want a new car too, a new job title or position, a fancy vacation experience, or even a pastor like that church down the street. We easily see how “different” we are or how green the grass looks over there – and we want to fix that. These two concerns boil down to the third one when we’re honest. For the Israelites they wanted the freedoms of the people living around them. At times we too feel that God has been holding our feet too close to the fire. We feel conviction instead of realizing that it is refinement and sanctification.

Instead of rejecting God (or our faith or our church) for any or all of these reasons, may we first find our belonging in God. We are each a beloved child of God. This is our identity, our place. That love is more than we will be able to comprehend until we see face to face. In that truth may we walk as a child of God, day by day trusting in God’s provision, content with his care. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes or heart strays, remind me of your love and care. Draw me back to the narrow way, to the only way. It is the best path to walk. May I faithfully follow in Jesus’ way each day. Amen.


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Is God the Focus?

Reading: 1st Corinthians 7: 29-31

Verses 29 and 31: “…the time is short… For this world in its present form is passing away”.

Paul writes today of the constant tension that Christians have and always will live in. Our passage today begins with “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short”. Here Paul is first thinking in terms of Jesus’ return. The first believers believed that his return was imminent. Paul is also thinking of our time here on earth. Our lives, even if we live into our eighties or nineties, is but a mist compared to eternity. Under both of these arguments, Paul is calling the Corinthians and all believers to really focus in on what matters most during our lives so that our eternity is spent in heaven with God.

In the body of this passage Paul tells his readers not to focus on family or on happiness or mourning or on the things we own. He warns us not to become too “engrossed” with the things of this world – status, wealth, titles, popularity… As folks who live in this day and age, we know the lures of this world quite well. Society and culture elevates these very things that Paul warns about as the meaning and purpose of life. Society and culture seek to tie our value and our identity and our “success” to what we own and to the power we have because of our title or position or wealth. According to Paul, all of these things are not to be our focus. He sums up our passage and his argument with these words: “For this world in its present form is passing away”. One day all of this will be no more. One day a new heaven and earth will be the reality. My house, my car, my bank account, my job, my titles, my accomplishments – all will be no more. And if I die before Jesus returns, I will not keep or take any of these things with me. They do not matter.

Paul reminds us today to focus on God as our first love, as our main connection, as the focal point in this life. The wisdom of the ages has taught us that where we spend our time and our money truly reveals what is most important to us. As you consider your allocation of these resources, do they reveal God as your focus? Is God your priority?

Prayer: Lord God, while I begin my day in time with you and while I “work” at a church, too often I am concerned with the things of this world. Draw me away from these concerns and desires and pull me deeper into love with you. Delve into my heart, be my all in all. Amen.


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Eternal

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-11 and 16

Verse 16: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me”.

When I think about today’s passage, in my mind I see an old weathered home, just a skeleton of what once was. Scattered across the country side are farmstead homes and buildings long ago abandoned. They usually lean to one side. There are no shingles, paint, or window panes. These homes remind me of the things of this earth. They are temporary. David desires to build God a home. God does not need or want a home build of wood or stone. Yet God desires to build a home too.

The home that God builds does not consist of wood or stone or any other material found on the earth. All that is here will one day be no more. God builds a home that will outlast all the things of the earth. In verse eleven God says, “The Lord himself will establish a house for you”. Through Nathan, God said these words to David. Through faith, these words remain true for you and for me and for all who call on Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Through the lineage of David, God will build a home whose doors are open to all. In verse sixteen God explains: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me”. Forever. David’s house will include Joseph of Nazareth, the earthly father of Jesus, the Son of God. Through Jesus the family will grow. Faith in the Lord will move out beyond Israel and into all the world. Through the good news that is Jesus Christ, faith will go out to the ends of the earth. All are invited to become a part of God’s family, a part of his eternal home.

As I think more about that old tattered farmhouse, I think about that elderly man or woman, perhaps eighty or ninety years old. They too have been weathered by time; maybe they lean a bit to one side. Yet the faithful live day by day with an abiding trust in their Lord. When asked, they do not want to be remembered by the fancy car they drove or by the wealth or power that they accumulated. They want their family, friends, acquaintances to remember how much they loved, how they gave much more than they took, how others were blessed simply by being in their presence. They, above all else, want others to see what a life lived for Jesus Christ looks like. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, as I become more and more mature, seasoned – weathered – I desire more and more to be more and more like your Son. Guide me each of my days to be loving, kind, humble, generous, gracious. Use me day by day to reflect your Son out into the world. Amen.


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Deeper

Reading: 1st Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

In today’s passage, David is anointed to be the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul is the king. He is in good health and will remain the king for some time. David is going to learn and grow and mature before stepping into this role that God has selected him for. It is a process. The process will be guided by God. In verse thirteen we read, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David”. From God’s perspective this all made sense. After all, it is his plan.

From the human perspective, it was confusing at best. Once the hurdles were all crossed and Samuel is present with Jesse and most of his family, the parade of prospects begins. One by one Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, horn of oil at the ready. The oldest son is Eliab. Seeing him Samuel immediately thinks he is the one. Eliab must have been tall and handsome, muscular and refined. But God tells Samuel “no”. I imagine the horn of oil dropped a little bit just then, going further and further down as each son passes by, until at last it dangles by his side.

We too can fall into the trap that Samuel and Jesse and probably all the elders and sons fell into. We too judge by appearance. The appearance may be physical, it may be based on the college they attended, it may be by the car they drive or the home they occupy, it may be by the title that hangs outside their office door, it may be by the position they play on the team. These would be valid tools for judgment if all that mattered was their drive to get to the top. Sadly, though, when we judge by what we can first see, then we often fail to go any deeper. Too often that first judgment prevents us from going deeper and prevents us from seeing who and what someone really is. God had a word for us today when this is our first tendency: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

Tying this thought into the model set by the one we follow, we see what this good word from God looks like lived out in the world. Jesus never ever stopped at tax collector or Samaritan or woman or leper or prostitute or blind or possessed or… Jesus always pressed deeper, developing a relationship that went far beyond some surface-level label. Going deeper, the labels always fell away. May we too strive to go deeper, to go way past labels and first appearances. May we too strive to get to know the heart of each we meet, for there we begin to see as God sees. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, help me to practice you counter-cultural and counter-intuitive love today. Help me to see those needs that you place before me and to fill them with your love. 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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King

Reading: Psalm 132

Verses 3 and 5: “I will not enter my house or go to my bed – till I find a place for the Lord”.

David proclaims that he will not stop until he finds a place for God to dwell. He will not go home or to bed until he finds a place for God. David is operating under the assumption that God will dwell in a building. While God did reside the in the tabernacle or temple for a while, in general God is not found in one place.

When we speak of finding a place for God today, it is referring to a place in our hearts. There, in our heart, Jesus prefers to sit on the throne. I think that is where we want Jesus to be too. Yet we can sure struggle at times living with Jesus as the real Lord of our life. We find all sorts of idols to chase after and, in doing so, give them priority in our lives. Jesus is often dethroned while we pursue wealth or popularity or titles or other bright, shiny objects.

I am drawn to the “where would I be…” questions. Where would I be without that new car? Still driving that reliable older car. Where would I be without that extra $500 I worked so hard for? Still living a comfortable life. Where would I be without that title that took so much effort to attain? Still happily serving my church.

But then I get to question: where would I be without Jesus? I do not want to think about the answers to that question. It is then that I realize just how much I need Jesus to be the Lord of my life, to ever sit on the throne. How about you?

Prayer: Lord, you are all that really matters in my life. Be the king of my heart each and every day. I ask this humbly and knowing that I need you desperately. Jesus, be my king. 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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We Want a King

Reading: 1 Samuel 8: 19-20

Verse Nineteen: “But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us'”.

Can you remember times as a kid or young adult when you were really concerned with fitting in? Maybe you had to have the right brand of sneakers – those cheap store-brand shoes would just not do. Or maybe it was a brand of jeans or a certain hoodie or… Today, for many kids, it is having that cell phone or about using it to keep streaks going. As we grow older we continue to practice this comparing skill. We watch our friends to see when we should think about marrying and when we should start having a child. The Israelites look around and see kings ruling over the other nations and think, ‘where is our king’?

God must’ve thought, I’m right here. Remember how I just broke Pharaoh’s hard heart to spring you from Egypt? Remember how I parted the sea to provide you an escape route and then used it to wipe out the pursuing army? Remember how I brought you food and water in the desert? Remember, remember, remember…

As adults, we do this too. We mentally check to see if we fit in and to see if we are keeping up. We see the new car or boat in our neighbor’s driveway, envisioning one in our driveway. We hear a co-worker got a raise and we begin thinking about how we can drop hints when around the boss. And sometimes we even look around for good things. We notice how nicely our neighbor’s children play together and we ask for secret. Or we find a great mentor to help us grow in our faith or in our vocation.

Ultimately, as Christians, we should look at Christ and ask how we can be more like Him. How do I live my life in ways that best align with what I know of Jesus? That question leads us to delve deeper in our faith to really get to know Jesus more. When we focus in on Jesus and on following Him closely, we are saying to God, “I want a king over me. Please, Lord God, help me to make Jesus my King”. May it be so today and each day, Jesus my King.


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Consuming Fire

Reading: 1 Kings 18: 20-39

What a contrast we have in today’s story.  One team builds their altar and places the sacrifice on it.  They dance about the sacrifice, they pray and shout to their god.  Then they resort to cutting themselves and crying out more urgently to gain their god’s attention.  Their god does not answer.  Their god does not satisfy their pleas.  All is done in vain.

We scrape together our dollars to buy a bigger house or a fancier car.  We work late every day as the announcement date for who will be promoted or made partner draws near.  We show up early with our neatly dressed little family and sit in the front pew so everyone can see we are there again this Sunday.

Then the other team steps to center stage.  But instead of a team of 450 it is a one man show.  He builds the altar and places the sacrifice on it.  The audience has seen this show before.  But then he digs a big trench around that altar.  Interest rises.  Then he has people dump bucket after bucket of water on the sacrifice and altar.  The trench fills with water.  The audience slides up to the edges of their seats.  Then he simply asks for his god to make it known that He is the Lord God, the one and only true God.  He trusts that God will answer.  He knows this God.  And fire falls from heaven and consumes it all – the sacrifice, the wood, the altar stones, the water.  The fire of God consumes everything.

Maybe the house is a little small but we are comfortable.  Maybe the car isn’t shiny and new anymore but it runs well and is reliable.  Maybe that project can get done tomorrow.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Maybe we could trust this God with all we have.  Maybe He really is able to do all things.  Maybe He loves us unconditionally.  When we pursue and place our trust in the one true Lord of life, then the gods of this world have no sway in our lives.  When we seek first the things of God, we do not have any desires left for the things of this world for His fire consumes us.  Consume us today, O Lord our God.