pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Prioritizing God

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 6-7: “I will give you all authority and splendor… if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Photo credit: Giuseppe Famiani

Today in Luke’s gospel we read about three temptations. All of these are common to us all and they are all interconnected. At times we all worry about having enough. This can lead us to store up and store up for ourselves. At times we all test God – either by doing things we know to be dangerous (or at least unwise) and by bartering with God, praying those if-then prayers. We combine these two temptations, for example, by praying for “x” amount in our 401-k – then we’ll feel secure and quit worrying about money, that all too common idol.

The middle temptation feels like the one I struggle with the most. Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says, “I will give you all authority and splendor… if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Maybe Satan doesn’t offer me kingdoms, but there is plenty on the list. In my world, there isn’t just one idol or even a few. While your idols might be different than mine, I think we all have lots of things that we are tempted to place before God. The question for us in this season of Lent is this: what idol do I allow time on the throne of my heart? Sometimes it is the illusion of success, sometimes it is that ideal vacation. Sometimes it is the desire to be in control, sometimes it is…

Quoting from Deuteronomy 6 Jesus replies, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” When I chase after things or idols, I am really worshipping them, I am serving them. When I am tempted to allow other things to be my focus, placing God at least second, may I remember Jesus’ example, prioritizing God as the #1 in my life. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, when I feel the pull towards something else, gently call my name. When the pull becomes a tug, nudge me back in your direction. When it rises to a temptation, may the Holy Spirit be my shield and defender. Amen.


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Great in Love, Rich in Mercy

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-5

Verse 4: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Today’s passage is all about the change that God has made in us. Before Christ we were as Paul writes: “dead in our transgressions and sins”. We lived a life focused on self and on doing whatever we wanted to please self and our earthly desires. We lived according to the “ways of the world” and we were “disobedient” to God. For many of us older folks that meant distancing ourselves from the faith of our childhood and from the faith of our parents. For the younger readers, a larger segment grew up without a childhood church or faith. For all who came to faith the realization came that the things of this world are temporary. They never really satisfy or bring meaning and purpose to this life. Peace, contentment, joy… only come through the eternal relationship that we find in Jesus Christ.

Why didn’t God leave us there, dead in our sin? Why did God continue to pursue us even when we were running from him? We find our answer in verse four: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God’s love is greater than our sin. We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. God calls and woos and chases us until we make the choice to invite him into our hearts or until we draw our last earthly breath. Faith, however, does not stop at our decision for Christ. Once we accept Christ we are not finished. It is just the beginning of our faith journey. We are not suddenly sinless. Satan continues to pursue us, often with renewed passion, enticing and tempting the flesh still within us. Yet the battle is different, it is changed. The field is no longer level. With Christ alive in us, we do not fight alone. The Holy Spirit leads and guides, convicts and corrects, ever helping us to choose Christ over the world, good over evil, light over darkness.

Lent is a season that reminds us of this battle, that draws us into combat. In Lent we are called again and again to look within, to seek out the parts of us that still need to yield to Christ’s authority and reign. In this seeking and yielding it is grace and mercy that provide the way. In love it is God’s grace and mercy that say our past doesn’t matter, that our selfishness or pride or fear doesn’t control us anymore, that we are loved just as we are. In the season of Lent and in the hard work that we are called to, this is the good news: we are loved, we are forgiven, we are saved by grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love that is so deep that I cannot ever reach the bottom. Thank you for your love that is so wide that I cannot ever see the other side. Thank you for your love that always surrounds me, even when I stumble and fall. What great love. Amen.


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Who and What?

Reading: Matthew 22: 15-22

Verse 20: “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription”?

As the end of Jesus’ ministry draws to a close, the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders has escalated. Early in the final week of his life the Pharisees send some folks to test Jesus, to try and trap him. Even when they are flattering Jesus to soften him up, their words have truth in them. The words of these envoys belie their dilemma. Jesus is a man of integrity – so why are they trying to trap him? Jesus is one who teaches the truth – so why begin with words that are not believed by the ones that sent them? Jesus is not swayed by men – so why try to trap him with a political and religious question? Because Jesus is all of these things, to find or catch him sinning is not possible. So the religious leaders distress to trickery.

After calling out the hypocrisy, Jesus asks for a coin to use in his answer to their question: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not”? A “yes” would anger many Jews. They resent the Romans and their oppressive taxes. A “no” would be seen as treason by the Romans. Jesus chooses a better answer than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. After receiving a denarius, he asks the questions, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription”? Before going on to hear Jesus’ answer to the original question (that is for Sunday), let us apply these questions to ourselves.

If our lives were held up for all to see and examine, what would be the answer to the question of whose image we bear? This question gets at the root or core of who we really are. When others look at us, do they see the image of Jesus Christ? Do they see one who has integrity, who speaks truth, who is not swayed by the things of the world? Or do they see one who is willing to be a little immoral at times, one who will occasionally bend the truth, one who sometimes does chase after the things of the world, or one who does all three?

Who and what we are matters. It matters to God and it matters to the witness that we have to the world. Who we are, and, more importantly, whose we are really are great things to consider. May our reflection today upon these questions lead us closer to living in the image of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord of all people and of all the earth, in each of my words, in each of my actions, in each of my thoughts, may I bring you the glory. May all that is selfish and prideful and sinful be laid aside in the pursuit of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Standing Firm

Reading: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13

Verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall”.

Paul begins today’s passage by reviewing the years after the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. The people were all “under the cloud” – the pillars that were God’s constant presence with the people. They all experienced the miracles of God – the manna and quail, the water from the rock. Even with God’s presence day and night and even with the miracles that all saw, they slipped into sin often. They fell to idol worship, sexual immorality, and they tested God over and over. Paul concludes verses 1 through 10 with the reminder that this history is an example and a warning to them.

As I think back over my years, I think Paul would easily find several examples of times when my story has been similar. There are plenty of times I have chased after the things of this world or have acted in ways much less than pleasing to God. There are ample choices for examples of grumbling at, complaining to, and testing God. In my life are also times when I have felt the tangible presence of God and scores of times when God has guided me or answered prayers or has provided for me or has guided me through a trial. In many ways I am much like the Israelites. If we are honest, these truths – these goods and bads – are a part of all of our journeys of faith.

Paul, in verse 12, gives us this warning: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall”. Satan is ever on the prowl, always looking for the next opportunity to try and lead us astray. If we are not aware of this fact, we are more likely to fall. Then, in verse 13, we find hope.

Paul first reminds us that being tempted is a common thing. We all face temptation. Some of what it is may vary from person to person, but we all face it. And then Paul offers this great line: “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear”. God protects us. Like with the Israelites in the desert, God watches out for us. We, through Jesus Christ, have what it takes to stand firm. Our passage concludes with the reassurance that God will always provide the way out of or the way past temptation. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, when the temptations come, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Remind me of your promises in the Word and of my experiences with you as my savior and rescuer. Help me to stand firm. Amen.


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Stop, Trust, Believe

Reading: Matthew 6: 25-33

Verse 33: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

“I tell you, do not worry about your life… about what you will eat, drink, wear…”. Jesus is telling us not to worry. This is a bit like Jesus telling us to be obedient – yes, we want to but it can be so hard. He is calling us to walk closely with God.

Jesus gives us two examples that illustrate why we should not worry. God feeds the birds if the air, which are much less valuable than us. God will feed us too. God makes the lillies beautiful, even though they last only a short time. Imagine how much more care goes into clothing us then! Jesus even goes so far as to point out that the pagans chase after these things. The pagans – certainly we are not like them. Alas, we are. We don’t trust that God will provide or we are not content with what God does provide, so we take matters into our own hands and we chase after these things.

Instead of chasing, Jesus invites us to stop. Instead of worrying, Jesus invites us to trust. Instead of wondering about the what-ifs, Jesus says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. Stop, trust, believe – and God will take care of you. All will be given to those who seek God first. Seek first God.

This day, may we rejoice in the many blessings that God has given us as we offer our thanksgivings for them, one by one. May the Lord our God bless you and yours this Thanksgiving!

Prayer: Lord, thank you so much for all the ways that you bless me – my family, my friends, the basic necessities, my church, and most of all you! Thank you Lord! 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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Choose

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3a and 14-25

Verse 14: Now choose the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness.

Joshua comes to the people and asks them to choose who they will serve.  He asks them three times, each time reminding them of the temptations of other gods.  Joshua has seen the people go astray and God lets him know that this will continue to be the challenge.  Their forefathers worshiped other gods in the past, they experienced the worship of other gods in Egypt, and they even made a golden calf to worship while Moses was up on the mountain talking with God.

Joshua asks three times and the people respond three times that they will worship God alone.  Joshua reminds them that God is a jealous and holy God.  Three times, just to make sure.  This battle to choose God over idols continues to this very day.  Each day we must choose which God or many gods we will serve.  It is a daily battle that begins as we awaken each day.  Prayers for God to lead and guide us only begins the battle.  Throughout the day the Holy Spirit is praying for us, reminding us, convicting us.  We cannot remain faithful to God without the help of the Holy Spirit.

The temptations and other gods are many.  We can chase after money or possessions, popularity or recognition, status or position, beauty or knowledge.  We can get caught up in envy, gossip, greed, gossip, gluttony, fear, doubt, worry.  We are in no shortage of things or idols to tempt, lure, and pull us away from God.  The enemy is powerful.  But God is greater.  Through the Word, prayer, worship, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we can walk faithful and holy lives.  May all that is at God’s disposal work in us this day to be the witnesses of His love and truth in our daily walk, bringing glory to God alone.