pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Work in Progress

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Our passage for today begins with Jesus telling his disciples that he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed by the religious leaders. All is not to be lost, though. After three days he will rise again. These words must have been hard for the disciples to hear. But they are not totally shocking either. Jesus was often at odds with the religious leaders. Peter is the one to try and correct Jesus. He tries to tell Jesus that these things will never happen. He has to stay with them, he has to keep ministering to the people. It makes perfect sense that Peter is among those who will soon see Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

Jesus turns to Peter and says perhaps the harshest words to ever come from his lips: “Get behind me, Satan”! I imagine Peter fell back a step or two. This was the disciple who walked on water, who will pledge to die with Jesus, who will draw his sword to defend Jesus. Satan? This is also the disciple who chased the little children away, who will fall asleep in the garden, who will deny even knowing Jesus three times in the courtyard. Oh how I see myself in Peter. Do you?

In verse 33 Jesus lays this charge on Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”. It is so easy to become focused on what I think matters, on what I want to do (or not do), on what I feel like in that moment, on what I think is right. Jesus is speaking to me too. Yes, too often I am not thinking first of the things of God. I am thankful that just as Jesus did with Peter, he does with me. The Holy Spirit convicts me, yes, but then leads me deeper into relationship, deeper into my commitment to following Jesus, as I seek to ever walk in the light. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress. We are all growing closer to our Lord and Savior. Jesus never gives up on us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever at work in me. You are a loving but refining teacher. I so need both. Thank you for your patience and love, for your commitment and steadfastness. Amen.


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Wholeness and Unity

Reading: Philippians 4: 1-3

Verse 2: “I plead with ___ and ___ to agree with each other in the Lord”.

Paul is imprisoned in Rome as he writes these words. The man who founded many churches and who was a key figure in bringing many people into a saving faith in Jesus Christ has been imprisoned for preaching the gospel. Paul is highly respected in the Christian communities spread throughout the known world. His words and writings carry weight. As he sits under house arrest in Rome, word of a dispute in the church in Philippi comes to his attention. Philippi is about 800 miles from Rome. Word would be carried across land, then sea, then land again. As he closes the letter to the Philippians, Paul takes time to address the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche, two prominent women in the church. In the opening verse above I left two blank lines because for most churches today we could fill in the lines. The spat may be past tense in some of our churches, but it is alive and well in too many others.

The fact that two women are in a sharp enough disagreement to merit mentioning means that it had significance for that church. Such disagreements often do. We do not know the source or cause of the disagreement, we just know it was doing what these things do – causing division and hostility. Paul knows these are bad for relationships and for churches so he asks a third party, believed to by Syzygus, the “loyal yokefellow”, to mediate. Again, in our churches it could be Bob or Anne or anyone skilled at bringing reconciliation. This is often a necessary step.

Division in the body of Christ does harm in so many ways. When we dig in and hunker down and refuse to enter into dialogue, we allow division to exist. When we in the church allow this, Satan is winning the day. Our community is weakened and our witness to the world is lessened. Whether one person is wrong or if both are wrong or if neither is wrong, all parties had a hand in creating division. Understanding and healing and forgiveness and grace and reconciliation must be found. Just as Paul pleads for these people to “agree with each other in the Lord”, may that be the prayer that we lift whenever needed in our churches and communities of faith. May the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of our hearts bring wholeness and unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Father God, where there is division, bring me words of healing and peace. Where and when there are disagreements in the body of Christ, give me words of understanding and love, words of grace and forgiveness. When hearts are hard, lead me to foster openness and care for the other. God, draw churches of all flavors into the unified church that will better resemble eternity. Walk with me as I seek to lead in that direction. Amen.


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Pressing On

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

In today’s passage Jesus is preparing his disciples for a radical change – his death, followed by him being “raised to life”. The time the twelve have spent with Jesus must have been the best time of their lives. They have witnessed all kinds of miracles and have been a part of a few. They have been side by side with love lived out to the full. They have been blessed with the wisdom of God. If I could just have dinner with anyone in the world, far and away my choice would be Jesus.

The news Jesus delivers is hard to fathom. How could this even happen to the Messiah? How could that be the end of the story? There had to have been a personal side to the emotions the twelve felt too. Peter says, “Never, Lord”! This is the same Peter who was proclaimed the “rock” upon which Jesus would “build my church”. Following these new words from Peter, Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan”. Imagine how that must have stung Peter. The Lord has a way of keeping us humble. Peter is not thinking of the “things of God” – of the plan laid out for Jesus and for humankind. He is not thinking of the Messiah of love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Peter is thinking of what Peter wants – to just continue as it has been. We never want to lose someone or something we love.

Jesus then turns to all of the disciples and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. For Peter and probably for all of the disciples, the initial denial will be the desire for Jesus to stay with them. The death and resurrection are critical pieces of the plan. They will also be asked to deny self in many more ways as they follow the risen Lord. They will each take up the cross and sacrifice many things along the journey. Such is the cost of discipleship. It is a sobering thought.

Like the twelve, we prefer life to be good, to move along smoothly. It is well with our souls when we are surrounded by those we love, enjoying life, feeling closely connected to the Lord. But the storms of life come, we are drawn to crossroads, we too face death and loss. And at times we too must take up our faith, stand with or for Jesus, and count the cost. This is how we carry our cross. With God, it is always one we can bear, always a path we can tread. It is so because we do not walk alone. As we long for our reward, may we each press on toward the goal of heaven, trusting in God each step of the way.

Prayer: Redeeming and saving God, strengthen me for the journey ahead. Grant me the power to walk the path you place before me. Fill me with your love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Each day may I offer all that I am in service to you, my Lord and King. Amen.


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The Better Way

Reading: Matthew 13: 36-43

Verse 43: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father”.

As Jesus and the disciples return to the house once again they ask him to explain a parable. Jesus had just told a story about planting seeds and they needed help with the interpretation. Jesus explains that he is the sower, planting good seeds in people’s lives. He does this work in the world – everywhere he goes. At the same time, Satan is at work in the same world and even in the same people’s lives. Satan is planting seeds that grow into weeds. Each of us knows this very experience. Jesus plants seeds of love, hope, forgiveness… while Satan plants seeds of anger, jealousy, greed, hatred… Both are vying for control of the world and for every soul that inhabits the world. Both continue to till our soil, trying to secure our eternity.

Jesus reassures his followers that there is a plan. He, and probably they, already know that they are the servants – eager to be rid of all the evil in the world. So he first teaches patience and trust. God is in control. There will be a day when all is made right in the world. The final score will be God 1, Satan 0. Jesus explains that as he returns and makes all things new, the angels will come forth to harvest all the evil from the world. These will experience eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth in the fires of hell. And “then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father”. Those that have been faithful to Jesus Christ will dwell eternally with the Lord. They will live in his light and love, shining back Jesus’ light.

Sometimes it is difficult to see or live with the evils of the world. It is hard when evil people adversely impact our lives or the lives of those we love. Jesus dealt with and experienced evil during his time on earth. His interactions and clashes with non-believers and the religious leaders would be experiences setting an example for us. Jesus never retaliated or sought revenge or passed judgment. He offered love and sought understanding; he extended grace and worked to build relationship. As we seek to build the kingdom here on earth, may we be like Jesus, offering the better way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I encounter evil in whatever form it takes, may I be like Jesus. Guide me to first love and then to seek to build relationship and understanding. May I bear witness to my faith in Jesus Christ in all situations. Use me today to build your kingdom here. Amen.


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Always There

Reading: Romans 7: 15-25

Verse 21: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”.

Paul’s writing for today is a passage that we can all relate to. Created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within each of us – yet we struggle with sin. The human part of us is ever drawn to the desires, pleasures, and other trappings of this world. Inside each of us is both good and evil. A friend once described these as two twin wolves, each fighting for control. His advice was to feed the good wolf because the one you feed is the one that grows.

If this idea were true to the point of starving the evil to death, then eventually we would not sin. Anyone who has sought to walk faithfully with Christ for a number of years knows this is not really possible. As we mature both in age and in faith, yes, some of the sins change or lessen but the evil within never totally disappears. Lust, for example, does not quite have the grip on us at 70 or 80 that it had on us at 20 or 30. But others sins, like fear and worry and control, they seem to gain power as we mature. Even though our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Christ, Satan is ever at work in our lives. Good and evil will wage a battle for our hearts and souls until the day we die.

Paul explains his own inner, constant battle in today’s passage. In verse 21 he shares this truth that we all live daily: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”. As inherently good and loving creations of God, we do want to do good in the world, we do want to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we do want to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Yet evil is always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for that sliver of fear, that crack of doubt, that fleeting thought of jealousy or anger or envy or pride. Satan is just waiting to take advantage of our weakness.

Paul admits that he is a “wretched man”. We too all feel that way when we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As one reads Paul’s words today, there is an undercurrent of hopelessness in Paul’s battle. We too are hopeless in our own battle with sin. We alone cannot defeat or overcome sin. On our own we cannot rid ourselves of the sun or of the guilt and shame that makes us feel wretched and unworthy. Yet into our hopeless and powerless situation steps Jesus Christ. Jesus has the power. He defeated both sin and death. In and through him we find forgiveness and grace, mercy and power. We too can join Paul in rejoicing in God’s gift of Christ. Through Jesus our Lord we can be made new again over and over. Sin never has the last word. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Dear Lord, Paul’s words echo as truth in my life. It seems that an evil thought or an unkind word slips out more often than it should. Gird me up with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Fill me with a firm foundation of faith for the daily battle ahead each day. Walk with me Lord Jesus. 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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The Day of Salvation

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Verse 20: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

Our passage today opens with Paul’s appeal for us to be reconciled to God. He explains how Jesus took on our sin so that we might become the “righteousness of God”. As he continues into chapter six Paul proclaims, “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. We continue to live in the time of God’s favor and Jesus Christ’s salvation is both in the here and now as well as eternity.

The second half of today’s reading is entitled “Paul’s Hardships” in the Bible I keep on my desk at home. He begins by sharing how as “servants of God” they worked to commend themselves to the world. Through the troubles and the beatings thru showed great endurance. Paul and his companions worked hard, even when hungry and sleepless. In all times they strove to remain pure, patient, kind, honest, and loving. They saw themselves with heavenly eyes while the world just saw them from an earthly point of view. Paul and friends lived as beloved children of God, reconciled to him. They saw the world through God’s eyes, not the other way around.

We too strive to live lives that are reconciled to God. In the times we struggle to do so it is because we’ve begun to see with worldly eyes. Our challenge as Christians living in the world is to stay oriented towards Jesus Christ. Satan is regularly on the move, always seeking to get us off track. So we must be diligent and focused too.

We must be attentive to both the Holy Spirit and to our own spiritual disciplines. These two things work hand in hand to fend off the enemy. As Satan is constant, so too must we be constant. This season of the Christian year focuses us in on the habits of discernment and introspection, of confession and repentance. May we make the intentional choice to live in God’s favor and to proclaim with our lives that the day of salvation is at hand.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for your willingness to reconcile with me over and over. Strengthen me each day, both as I look within and as I live out my faith. Build me up and pour me out; help me to be more like your son today. Amen.


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Know Jesus Well

Reading: Luke 21: 5-8

Verse 8: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”.

Jesus knows that the end of his time on earth is drawing near. A large part of his ministry has been preparing the disciples to be ready and to be able to carry on the work. Jesus knows that the road will not always be easy. Yes, there will be times when God and the Spirit will do amazing things and the disciples will be filled with awe and wonder. But there will also be persecution and trial and even death. These will be some of the things that will test their faith.

The passage today opens with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple. Some there that day will surely witness this and will recall Jesus’ words. According to Jewish understanding, God resides in the temple. The disciples equate the destruction of the temple to the end of the world as they know it. But it will not be so. Because he knows this, Jesus goes on to give them a warning.

In verse eight he says, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”. Jesus knows that much will unfold before the new heaven and earth are established. In the interim Jesus also knows that the deceivers pose one of the greatest threats to the disciples and to the early church. The gospel itself is a pretty simple message. The call to follow Jesus is fairly easy to understand. But because we live in a world with many other philosophies and religions and in a world where Satan is at work, being a disciple is challenging. Those that Jesus is speaking to face these same challenges. Jesus tells them, “Do not follow them”. The disciples know Jesus well. If they remain connected to Jesus and to his teachings and example, then they will easily see the deceptions. The same is true for us.

If we will invest in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ, we will know him well. If we are committed to knowing and living out our calling, we will be strong in the faith. Then we too will discern false teaching and will reject the false prophets and the deceivers. May we ever cling to Jesus, the good news, and the example that he lived out for us to follow.

Prayer: Father God, draw me in more and more. Deepen my connection to you. Amidst the storms and trials, may I turn to you alone. Amen.


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Hard Decisions, Challenging Steps

Reading: Psalm 79: 1-4

Verse 4: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors”.

The Babylonians invaded Israel and left a wake of death and destruction in their path. In Jerusalem, the city walls were destroyed and the temple was leveled. For the Babylonians this was just one more nation to conquer. But for the Israelites, the killing was the murder of God’s chosen people and the destruction of the temple was the defilement of God’s home. What is left is not a pretty sight. “They have poured out blood like water” paints a grim picture. To add insult to injury, “we are objects of reproach to our neighbors”. The tribes around them mock what is left of Israel.

As people of God living in an increasingly non-Christian world, we can have similar experiences and emotions. In parts of our world Christians face persecution and even death. In most of our lives, however, persecution does not rise nearly to that level. Yet being a Christian is not always easy in our modern, secular world. Many of the more recent cultural norms are decidedly anti-Christian. The rugged individualism of the past and the me-first attitude of today combine to make being a humble servant countercultural and difficult. To think less of yourself and more of others can lead to questioning and ridicule. To refuse to be immoral or unethical at work can cost one promotions and can draw the ire of those above you.

Satan works in these and in many other ways to draw us away from God and into the ways of the world. It can be hard to look at what your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are doing and to not want to go along. Inside we all have a strong desire to fit in, to belong, to be liked. At times our faith will deny us these things. Something else inside of us – the Holy Spirit – is also at work to lead and guide us to be faithful and true to the Lord our God. One day we too will be poured out and will breathe our last. But between now and then may we make the hard decisions and take the challenging steps to walk as a child of the light in a world of darkness. May we live a life worthy of the one who called us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Guiding God, sometimes it can be tempting to go along with the crowd or to say what pleases. Keep me ever focused on your will and your ways in my life. Hold my hand as I try to walk as a humble servant today. Amen.


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Salvation Has Come!

Reading: Psalm 14

Verses 5-6: “God is present in the company of the righteous… the Lord is their refuge”.

As we read Psalm 14 there are some similarities and connections to the passage from Jeremiah 4 that we read yesterday. The opening verse – “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” – echoes Jeremiah 4:22, which reads, “My people are fools; they do not know me”. As God looks down on the earth all have turned aside and have become corrupt. Through the words of David, God laments, “there is no one who does good, not even one”. The state of affairs is not good.

Yet, as we turn to verses five and six, we begin to find hope. David notes that the “evildoers” devour God’s people. In the midst of this, though, we are reminded that “God is present in the company of the righteous… the Lord is their refuge”. God continues to be present to those who still follow God and still seek to obey God’s ways. Even though evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, God is with them as their refuge. Not all is lost. As we read in Jeremiah 4 yesterday, there is still a remnant that are faithful and obedient to God. The Lord our God remains faithful to these.

Today we can feel like a remnant. The church and the followers of Jesus Christ can feel like these righteous people that David is writing about in Psalm 14. The ways of the world and the lures of Satan – wealth, possessions, popularity, beauty – continue to challenge the walk of the faithful. In our workplaces, our schools, and in other settings we can feel frustrated by the plans of the evildoers of the world. Like the righteous and the poor in Psalm 14, we too need the Lord to be our refuge.

Just like the faithful of David’s day, we too persevere and endure suffering because we trust in God’s plans. Verse seven reminds us of this truth. Here we read, “O, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion”! About 1,000 years after these words were written, the Messiah did come out of Zion. Jesus was born to bring salvation to all who call on him as Lord and Savior. Even though we face trial and temptation, we can rejoice and be glad because Jesus reigns. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being with us, especially in the times when we feel like a small island in the storm. Be our refuge and our strength as we seek to walk faithfully with you. Thank you most for Jesus, our only hope and our salvation. Be with us today, O God. Amen.