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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Who and Whose

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 1-2: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit… was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today and tomorrow we look at the temptation of Jesus found in Luke 4. Fresh off being baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus finds himself being led into the desert, into the wilderness. Rather than celebrating the amazing and powerful experience at the Jordan River by taking that energy and launching his ministry, instead Jesus is led away, alone, to prepare for a ministry that will be and look much different than expected.

When I struggle with temptation, at the core, it is a battle for who and whose I am. When I am drawn towards sin, it is almost always to please that fleshy part of me. Temptation never draws me initially to be more of who God created me to be. The pull is always to the ways and things of the world be they material, social, political, emotional or whatever.

The temptations that Satan or the devil places before Christ are much the same at their root. Be the Messiah that people are looking for Jesus. Wield great power in ways that look good on the surface – feed the hungry, take authority and rule wisely, use the power in miraculous and amazing ways. Use power as force, as intimidation, as warning against questioning your authority, as proof of who you are. Be and act as something you’re not Jesus, because that’s what the world is looking for. How easily we too can fall into this trap.

Jesus does have great power. He could have done all that the devil described without an iota of help from the devil or anyone or anything else. But Jesus knows who and whose he is. The great power of Jesus will be manifest in love and compassion, in mercy and justice, in forgiveness and restoration. At the tipping point in his life, it was this power that Jesus chose. In those moments of choice, may we too choose as Jesus chose, remembering who and whose we are.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love, your compassion, your mercy, your justice, your forgiveness, your restoration. Purge from me the versions of these that I twist, melding them into the world’s selfish version of these things. Keep me on Jesus’ path of humble service. Grow me to be more like him. Amen.


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Faith Over Fear, Trust Over Anger

Reading: Job 1:1

Verse 1: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”

Photo credit: Humble Lamb

Today we begin a brief tour through the book of Job. Over these next four weeks the lectionary touches on four sections of Job, inviting us into his story. As we will see, Job’s story is our story too. We all experience hardship, the testing or questioning of our faith, the realization of God’s power and might, and restoration and contentment through our relationship with the Almighty. Job is not an easy read – yet it invites us into a deeper faith in our loving, covenant God.

The prologue I opening section begins with these words: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Job was a person that we all want to be. As followers of Jesus Christ we all want to be blameless and we all want to live an upright life. As we consider these desires we must also acknowledge the reality of failing to always be these things. Job feared God – had a holy reverence for the Lord – and he shunned evil. Job worshipped God and did his best to avoid the evils of this world. We spend time each week worshipping God and we avoid those places and people that can lead to evil taking root and giving birth to sin in our lives. In these ways and others that we will find as we progress through these readings, we will come to see Job as an example of faith.

Job was also blessed – ten children, thousands of animals, many servants. He was watchful over his children and their behavior. In the remainder of chapter one Job faces his first test of faith. God allows Satan, the accuser, to test Job’s faith by affecting everything but Job’s life. All the animals are carried off or burned and then all of his children die in a violent wind. Job worships God, acknowledging God as the giver and taker and as the one worthy of his praise. He chooses not to blame God. Job chooses faith over fear, trust over anger. May we so grow in our faith that we can do the same when hardship and suffering visit our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, build up my faith day by day, establishing a firm foundation to stand upon when the trials and difficulties arise. Lead me to lean into you when I find myself in the valleys. Amen.


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Stand Firm with…

Reading: Ephesians 6: 14-17

Verse 14: “Stand firm with…”

Photo credit: Ivan Stern

In today’s passage Paul details the “armor” of God that we are to wear. Based on the gear that a Roman soldier would wear, these images paint a picture that illustrates how truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God protect us as we walk out our faith in the world. With the armor of God in place, we can stand firm in our faith, assured that God is with us in the battle for our souls.

Paul calls us to “stand firm with” the belt of truth. Truth comes from knowing Jesus’ teachings and his example. “Stand firm with” the breastplate of righteousness. Being righteous brings us integrity and honesty in all we do and it guards our relationships with God and with one another. “Stand firm with” the shoes of the gospel of peace. These shoes keep us ready the go share the good news of Jesus Christ, bringing his peace to others. “Stand firm with” the shield of faith. Our faith “extinguishes” all the fiery arrows that Satan flings at us. When Satan’s lies try to bring us down, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are beloved, worthy, a part of God’s family… “Stand firm with” the helmet of salvation, knowing we are saved and await an inheritance in heaven brings us hope and it also allows us to see the world in a more loving and generous way. Salvation is the foundation of our faith, our promise. “Wearing” this strengthens our daily walk and witness. “Stand firm with” the sword of the Spirit, the holy word of God. The Bible is our guide book, our instruction manual. The word of God contains answers, examples, encouragement, and more. It is the Holy Spirit’s weapon because the Spirit within us reminds us and teaches us about all that we read, study, and meditate upon in the word.

My friends, may we put on the full armor of God, being equipped to withstand the attacks of Satan, being made able to stand firm in our faith. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, fill my life with your truth and righteousness. Plant the word deep in my soul as you pour into me the good news of Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit ever be my shield and my guide, leading me out to bear witness to the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ. In faith, use my witness to lead others towards a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Standing Firm

Reading: Ephesians 6: 10-13

Verse 11: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”.

Photo credit: Nathan Dumloa

In his conclusion of the letter to the churches in and around Ephasus, Paul begins by addressing the forces of evil that assail the believers, the churches, and the world around them. He begins with a word of encouragement: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”. As Paul prepares to detail the battle, he begins by reminding the believers that relying on God and divine power is the only place to begin the battle. Step two, then, is to “put on the full armor of God”. Heading into battle there are many pieces of equipment that are needed to protect oneself. Could you imagine entering deadly combat with three out of the seven available pieces of equipment? In the spiritual battle for our souls, our churches, and our world, the same idea applies. We need to put on the full armor of God. Tomorrow we will look at all of the armor.

Paul knows firsthand that the evil one works in many ways. He has experienced many attacks and lives daily with a “thorn in my side” that reminds him of his need to rely on God. He encourages the believers to put in the full armor of God “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”. In verse twelve Paul states that our battle is not primarily with “flesh and blood” but is with the “spiritual forces of evil” fighting both here on earth and “in the heavenly realms”. Satan works the way into men’s and women’s hearts, leading them to say and do atrocious, vile, and evil things. We are called to stand against the devil’s of our world. God’s armor will help protect us in these battles. These same spiritual forces of evil work to enter our hearts and minds – whispering lies, telling half-truths, raising up feelings of envy, greed, jealousy, judging… Satan and the forces of the evil one work the hardest in the lives of the believers. We are the threat to his power and dominion in this world.

With this in mind, may we each be strong in the Lord and may we put on the full armor of God so that we may “be able to stand our ground”. Only through and with the power and presence of the Lord will the victory be ours. May it be so for you and for me!

Prayer: Lord God, the battle is fierce and the attacks frequent. With the smallest of cracks the enemy sees an opportunity and surges in. Be my guard and my defender, O Lord. Raise up the voice and power of the Holy Spirit to stand with and for me against every assault. Enable me to stand firm and strong today and every day. Amen


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Closely Guard Our Hearts

Reading: Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

Verses 25 and 27: “Put off falsehood and speak truthfully… do not give the devil a foothold”.

Photo credit: Tom Swinnen

Shifting gears from last week’s passage in Ephesians about all the ways that build up unity in the body of Christ, Paul turns to the one thing that destroys unity quicker than anything else: our words. Encouraging us to live as children of the light (or of God), Paul writes, “Put off falsehood and speak truthfully… do not give the devil a foothold”. Throughout the passage Paul unpacks this statement concerning our words. This will be our focus tomorrow. Today we will focus on verse 27 – the source of our evil words.

“Do not let the devil get a foothold”. Our journey of faith is one of constant battles in the spiritual realm. At times we do not realize this. Satan is always at work, trying to pull us away from our faith and off the path of following Jesus Christ. The battles begin with our thoughts. Satan is forever planting seeds that raise fear, doubt, jealousy, anxiety, envy, pride, anger, lust… These little lies are whispered over and over again. On our good days we dismiss these lies quickly as our faith holds firm. The Holy Spirit quenches these evil thoughts. But when we’re down or when we’re feeling worn out, then the Spirit isn’t as audible. That evil seed takes root and begins to grow, to fester, to agitate. Soon a word is spoken. Damage or harm is done. Satan celebrates. Almost always we regret it quickly – but it is too late. All of us have experienced this. For this reason may we closely guard our thoughts, the source of our words.

Prayer: Lord God, raise up the voice of the Holy Spirit in me! When Satan comes round, make me quickly aware of his presence and keenly aware of his tricks. Guard my heart, O Lord. Amen.


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For This Reason

Reading: John 12: 27-33

Verse 27: “Now my heart is troubled… It was for this very reason I came to this hour”.

In our passage for today we see a mingling of the human and the divine. The human part of Jesus says, “Now my heart is troubled”. He knows what lies ahead. Jesus is well aware of the events that will unfold. The betrayal. The beating. The nails. The agony. The pain and then the last breath. My heart would be greatly troubled too. This side of Jesus ponders asking God to “save me from this hour”.

Jesus is not only human. There is a connection to the divine too. He is God incarnate, God in the flesh. The divine within triumphs as he says, “It was for this very reason I came to this hour”. Yes, Jesus came to show us what it looks like to obediently live out God’s love in the world. Even more, though, he came to defeat the powers of sin and death – humanity’s two great enemies. In defeating the two main weapons of Satan, Jesus glorifies God. God has the final word. This small victory is a taste of the final victory that will come when Jesus returns at the end of this age. In this moment, God speaks from heaven, affirming Jesus’desire to glorify God through the cross.

Our passage closes with Jesus pointing towards the other side of the cross. In verse 32 he says, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men [and women] to myself”. When he is resurrected the chains of sin and death will be forever broken. Freeing humanity from that which binds us to the earth, Jesus draws us to himself, to the eternal. There is more, though. Jesus does not wait for us to die to draw us to himself. As we live out our earthly lives the Spirit draws us into Jesus’ love, peace, grace, strength, beauty, joy, hope, forgiveness… as we live as a child of God. In Spirit, Jesus walks this life with us through the highs and lows and every place in between.

One day we will be lifted up and will experience the full glory of God in eternity. Day by day we experience Jesus’ presence in all of life. As we do so, may we seek to help draw others to Christ, bringing God the glory in all we do and say and think. This is the reason that we exist too. May we draw others to Jesus, sharing his love with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, your son gave all for me. In your great love for us you gave him up to the powers of this world. Thank you. Guide me, O God, to give all for you. Use me as you will. Pour me out for others. Amen.


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Both… And

Reading: John 3: 19-21

Verse 19: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness”.

Today’s verses from John 3 speak of light and darkness. John uses the analogy that has been used since the creation story found in Genesis 1. From the dark and chaotic God brought forth light and called it “good”. Since the beginning, light has stood for God and goodness, dark for Satan and evil. Often in scripture this tension is represented as an either/or proposition. Our reality is that it is both/and.

In verse nineteen John writes, “This is the verdict”. There is an implied choice here. Choices have been weighed on a balance. John observes that men prefer the darkness. Humanity is by nature selfish, concerned with success and pleasure. If left without God it is hard to imagine what the world and humanity would degenerate into. We are not left without God. At the very minimum, all are born with the spark of the divine within. In some folks that is snuffed out and in others it us pushed so far down that it appears to be non-existent. In most of humanity the light of God remains present. And in most of us, the light of God is ever competing with the darkness of the world. This is the both/and reality that Christians live in.

In the season of Lent we are invited to look within, to see and root out the darkness in our hearts and in our lives. We are called to bring the sinful or evil parts into the light. There we see ourselves as we truly are. Depending on where we are on the light-darkness spectrum we either drag them into Christ’s presence and we seek to die to self or we quietly slide that part of us back into a dark corner so that the flesh can visit it again.

Light and dark exist in all of us. Deepening our faith and our connection to God draws us increasingly into the light. This is the hopeful final destination of our journey of faith. As we continue to seek to be in the light may we rejoice in verse 21. May we each “see plainly that what has been done has been done through God”. All that we are in Christ has and will be done through God alone. It is not through our own efforts or by our works. Faith is a gift from God. Thanks be to God for this gift.

Prayer: Lord God, each day we find ourselves at places along the spectrum of light and darkness. At times pride or some other manifestation of self rises up, drawing me towards the darkness. In those times, send the Spirit of truth, calling me back towards the light. Help me to walk each day more in the light. 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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Walking God’s Way

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verses 12-13: “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”.

In today’s reading David begins by reminding us of the beauty of God’s laws. In verses seven through ten David praises God for his laws, statutes, precepts, commands, and ordinances. Taken as a whole and commonly known as the Law, these ways of God lead and guide the faithful. David rejoices in the law, naming it as perfect, trustworthy, pure, right, radiant, and sure. To illustrate how much he values the law, David notes that it is more precious than “much pure gold”. Reading Psalms like this draw us into studying and learning about God’s ways. For David, and for followers today, the law both “warns” and also yields “great reward”. Understanding and living God’s ways is the path to true life now and one day in eternity.

Walking God’s path is not always easy. In verses twelve and thirteen David writes, “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”. At times we all suddenly think things in our hearts that we should not. These hidden sins feel private but are known by God. Even though committed in secret, we must confess them to God. We are also tempted on a regular basis. Satan is ever on the prowl, ever seeking to lead us to step off the path, ever enticing us to satisfy self. These are the sins that we have a choice in. The seed is planted and sometimes we allow it to grow and take root. When we allow this to continue to fruition, we commit a willful sin. These too must be confessed to the Lord.

Just as God’s ways are beautiful and life-giving, so too is his mercy and grace. Unlike the law, we are at times imperfect, impure, unjust, unrighteous. God forgives. God cleanses. God restores. As David prays, so too may we pray: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight”.

Prayer: God of mercy and love, guide me this day to walk in your ways, doing what is right and what is pleasing to you. Thank you for the love that always brings me back when I stumble. Amen.