pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Go, Trust, Hear

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 3: “When I called, you answered me”.

Photo credit: Alex Woods

David begins Psalm 138 with a declaration of praise. He will praise God with all of his heart and will sing of God before the “gods”. Even in David’s day there were many gods – the false gods of the pagan people all around Israel as well as the gods of this world that the Israelites chased: power, wealth, recognition. To declare one’s allegiance to God in the face of all these other gods is an important statement to make. David goes on to identify God’s love and faithfulness as the focus of his praise. These characteristics of God drive his relationship with God and will drive ours as well.

In verse three David gives us an example of how he experiences these two characteristics. Here he writes, “When I called, you answered me”. When David turned to God in prayer, God was there, God responded. This too is driven by love and faithfulness – both in David’s prayer and in God’s connection with David. We too can experience this intimacy with God. We too can turn to God and enter into his presence. We too can receive answers from God.

In the remainder of verse three we see the result of this intimate connection with God: “you made me bold and stouthearted”. David’s faith grew, deepened, was strengthened. As David did, may we also go to God in prayer, trusting in God’s love and faithfulness, waiting upon his presence. May we have ears to listen and hearts to perceive God’s response.

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, I praise you this day! You are ever attentive, always present. Continue to strengthen and deepen my relationship with you and my walk of faith. Give me patience to trust into your love, to lean into your presence. Amen.


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Audience of 1

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 5: “Everything they do is done for me to see”.

Yesterday we looked at the warning to do as the scribes and Pharisees teach, not as they do. There is a disconnect between what they preach to the people and how they themselves are living their lives. The middle section in our reading today begins with verse five. Here we read, “Everything they do is done for me to see”. This can be a trap we too fall into. Being human, we like recognition. When we do something “good” and no one notices, we feel hurt or let down or we can even question why we did it. Some of the time, we can also be like these religious leaders, waiting for an audience before we do our good deed, insuring publicity or recognition for our actions.

The scribes and Pharisees loved to be seen and recognized. It reinforced both their authority and their ego. They wore large phylacteries and long tassels – two symbols of their deep connection to God. Today, one may give a large donation, thinking the size of the gift will reflect the depth of their faith for others. Some will want it announced in church or published in the bulletin or will want a plaque placed on the item so that all will know of their good and generous gift. The scribes and Pharisees wanted the best seats or places at events or in worship. This prime real estate is where others will notice they are there. In a similar way, they loved to be called ‘rabbi’ – a title that was revered, respected, honored. It pumped up the ego to see all bow a bit as the people acknowledged the religious leaders. The title separated them from the rest of society. It also insulated them from those outside of their religious circles.

Today, some still like to have a title connected to their name – doctor, professor, reverend, pastor, officer… Titles convey power and authority. These titles can be used to gain admittance and to avoid consequences. It is a good thing, for example, when the pastor title gains entry to pray with a dying person during these pandemic restrictions. Yet it would be a bad thing, for example, to pull out my pastor ID card first, instead of my driver’s license, if pulled over for speeding. Titles can be abused, they can separate, they can be used to manipulate, they can be used for personal gain. Jesus is warning us against such things, to check our egos, and to be aware of our motives and intentions.

When we practice our faith, when we offer acts of kindness, may it always be for an audience of one – for the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord, when I am tempted to shine the light on me, remind me of the call to humble service. When I want others to notice or see what I’m doing, check my pride and remind me of humble service. When I’m drawn to playing the pastor card, remind me of the call to humble service. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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We Wait

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7 and 17-19

Verse 3: “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

The psalmist is crying out to God. He is pleading for an end to their suffering. You can feel the emotion in the psalmist’s words in verse two: “Awaken your might; come and save us”. The psalmist knows that God can come and relieve their suffering. He also knows that God has not come yet. Advent is very much the season of the now and not yet. This Psalm has that same quality to it as well. This comes across in verse four.

“How long?” is a familiar question when one is in the midst of a time of suffering. The psalmist wants to know how long God’s anger will smolder. There is a recognition of the people’s sin and that it connects to their present circumstances. Yet even then we come to the point of asking, “How long”? It is a question we too ask when living out the consequences of our sin. We can be forgiven by God and even by those we hurt, but sometimes there is an earthly consequence or impact of our sin. Often we want that to end sooner than it does. Even though we too may cry out to God, we recognize why we are where we are.

In just over a week we will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The light is coming into the world. This too is the now and not yet. We long, but we wait. May we join the psalmist as we wait, crying out to God, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

Prayer: Lord, I wait. I know the light and love is already here. Yet I wait. Join me in the waiting as we walk towards the night that we celebrate the birth. Be with me, O God. This I pray. Amen.


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Recognition

Reading: Luke 14: 1 and 7-14

Verse 11: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

As Jesus arrives at a Pharisees’ house, he notices how the guests pick their seats. The order at the table was very important in Jesus’ day. The honored guest would sit at the center seat of the head table. The next most important persons would sit on the right and left of center and so on down the line. The furthest seat away from the honored guest would be the one with the least honor. Just like in the culture of our day, most folks want to be closest to the honored guest. Jesus observes people trying to ascertain where they rank amongst the other guests. Some people, of course, are filling in the important seats near the prime seat.

In the parable, Jesus warns against taking too “high” a seat, lest more important people arrive, forcing the host to move you to a lower seat. That would be humiliating and shameful. Jesus is speaking against arrogance and against judging. He is reminding his audience and his readers today that being humble is the correct course. If one is humble, choosing a lower seat, then the host might move you up some seats, exalting you in the process. We may not pick seats at tables anymore, but there is no shortage of ways that we can try to toot our own horn. Sometimes the ways are public, using different means to draw attention to ourselves and our accomplishments. For some of us, like me, it is usually a more private thing. I wonder why others don’t notice this or that and wish they did. Jesus would probably condemn this fake humility much more than he does the jostling over seats.

However and whenever we allow pride, arrogance, judging, and ego to control our lives and our thoughts, then we are not walking in Jesus’ footsteps. Each time we seek to bring honor for ourselves are instances when we do not bring honor to Jesus. In a similar way, when we seek to draw recognition ourselves, there is a piece of us that does not fully trust God. Humility links us to the belief that God is enough. Recognition does not need to come here and now. Simply living a life that is pleasing and honoring to God is more than enough. May we rest in that today.

Prayer: Lord, it can be tempting to want to be seen and known for doing great things. Yet serving you is all that matters. Remind me of this over and over again. Thank you, God. Amen.


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He Provides

Reading: Psalm 127

Verse 2: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for while they sleep He provides for those He loves”.

We can build our own lives. We can labor to build our city or our business or our personal wealth or possessions. But unless God is involved, all is done in vain. If not us, we certainly know folks who rise early and work late, trying to get ahead. They toil for many different reasons and for many different things. But all is in vain unless God is with them.

The passage today is not saying that laboring or working is in vain. It can be in vain, but scripture is pretty clear on the subject – if able, we are to work. Our labor can be in vain for at least two reasons. First, if our work is given to bring us recognition or if it is done to amass wealth or possessions, then it is vanity. In this case, we want the light to shine on us. The second reason that our labor is in vain when we work without God is that none of our earthly stuff will leave this earth. If our life here is simply about amassing stuff, the our stuff becomes our idols.

When we labor with God – following His plans and His ways for our life – then it is not in vain. When our focus is on shining the light on God, then there is no human vanity. When we labor with God, then the rewards or stuff is not found here on earth. Tje treasure we store up is treasure in heaven. Life is good when lived with God. Our passage says, “for while they sleep He provides for those He loves”. God loves and cares for and provides for those that walk with God, those who love God. For the love and care in the here and now and fir the eternal life one day, we rejoice and shout out, thanks be to God!

Lord, keep me humble and focused on you. Keep me in tune with working with you rather than trying to make my own way and my own decisions. Thank you. 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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On the Throne

Reading: 1 Samuel 8: 4-20

Verse Seven: And the Lord told him… “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

The Israelites come to Samuel with a request: give us a king. The people want a king to lead them. A king rallies the troops and goes out in battle before the army. A king can negotiate with the nations around them. The people say, “then we will be like other nations”. But this is not God’s plan. This was not God’s intent for the chosen people.

Samuel senses right away that their request is a bad idea. Their request displeased Samuel. But God says to him, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”. Yes, Samuel is God’s voice as the prophet, but it is ultimately God that they are rejecting as their leader. The Israelites are creating a system that we ourselves know is difficult to follow. One cannot serve two masters. One cannot chose both God and the world.

Samuel gives the people a litany of ways that a king will use his power to take their sons and daughters, their crops and livestock, and even some of them as slaves. The people do not heed the warning. They simply say again, ‘give us a king – we want to be like all the other nations around us’.

We too can sense the danger in this line of thinking. We question the logic. But how often do we choose other ‘kings’ over our relationship with the one true King? The primary king we often choose is self, placing ourselves on the throne of our heart. When we do do we soon are like the Israelites, focusing on the other things of the world in pretty short order: power, possessions, status, recognition, popularity… We top it off by justifying it, saying we’re just like all the other people around us. This too is a rejection of God. But God will never force or coerce us into loving or obeying. God is a true King.

When we are tempted to follow anyone or anything other than God, may we remember the cost of that choice. May we also remember the awesome place we find ourselves when we keep God on the throne of our hearts.