pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Faithful Road

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verses 21 and 22: “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”.

In his closing Paul reminds the Thessalonians of some basics of the faith. In short order he gives them three: live with joy, pray always, and be thankful in all things. As we each consider this short list, we quickly recognize one or two, maybe three, as challenging. Living joyfully, for example, is pretty easy when things are good. But on a really bad day or during a season of loss, living with joy can be a real effort. Similarly, in difficult times it can be hard to give thanks. After we’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about someone or something, it can be trying to keep praying to a God who doesn’t seem to care enough to answer. Faith is not always easy. It was not meant to be easy. Jesus described the road as “narrow”. These are just some of the reasons we have company on the road.

In verse nineteen Paul warns us against putting out the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has always been represented as fire since that first Pentecost Sunday when “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came upon the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:3). The Holy Spirit is our main divine companion for our journey of faith. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ lives inside of us, leading and guiding, teaching and correcting. We also walk the road with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They help and encourage us, challenge and uplift us, teach and mentor us. And we do the same for others.

In verses 21 and 22 Paul tells us to “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”. We are to allow the Spirit to do its work, yes, but we too must be an active participant on our own journey of faith. We are called to test things and situations and people against the truths of God. When unsure on our own, we turn to prayer and to good Christian counsel. We must hold onto the good – keeping those things and practices and people that help us stay close to Jesus and on the path of following him, well, close to us. Paul also admonishes us to avoid evil – don’t go to those places, events, web sites… that cause temptation, don’t hang out with those folks who cause you to sin…

As he closes Paul prays that God would “sanctify” or make us holy and righteous, blameless on the day we stand before the risen Lord. It is the hope for us all. Our passage for today closes with these great words of encouragement: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”. God is faithful. He will sanctify the faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for these great reminders today. In the Spirit, walk with me day by day, being present until I meet you face to face. Amen.


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Living or Practicing?

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verse 36: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law”?

If one spends some time reading the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – one sees that the religious leaders and Jesus did not always see eye to eye. As the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others in the religious circles increases, these religious power holders begin to look for ways to discredit Jesus. As these attempts fail, they begin to plot to eliminate him. Today’s testing of Jesus begins with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law”?

Much like he did with last week’s question about paying taxes, Jesus gives two answers to this week’s question. Often we too ask pointed questions, ones worded just the right way to force the answer we want to hear. The religious leaders think they know the correct answer to their question. And, in fact, Jesus begins with their correct answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6, Jesus gives the #1 answer. From even the religious leaders perspective, keeping this commandment is essential to keeping all the rest. To possibly keep all 600+ commandments found in the law, one must love God with all of one’s being. To keep them all, of course, is impossible (except for Jesus). This aim or focus became the goal for the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees. It became so much their focus that Jesus had to add the second commandment to his answer.

Quoting from Leviticus 19, Jesus adds, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. This commandment takes the love of God and puts it into action, into motion, takes out into the world. Here we begin to see the source of the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders. They were all about knowing and following the laws. Jesus was all about knowing and applying or living out the law. Jesus chose not to live by the letter of the law but by the spirit of the law. He lived out his faith. The religious leaders practiced theirs. As we too face this decision, may we choose to allow the word of God to bring life and feet to our faith as we seek to model Jesus for others.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so much easier to just read and study and even to appreciate the life of Jesus rather than to strive to live it out. So much easier. It is safe and comfortable and warm here at my desk, just down the road at the church. Jesus’ road is hard, it is narrow. Guide my heart to that road. Amen.


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Anything

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 4: “Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What am I to do with these people'”?

As the people come to be in need of water, they come to Moses and they quarrel with him about it. He is their leader. There is no water. They want Moses to do something about it. Moses realizes that he cannot do anything about it so he turns to the one who can. Even though he was frustrated, Moses turns to God and God responds by providing water from a rock in the middle of the desert.

I cannot blame Moses for being a bit frustrated. Time and time again the people have quarreled and tested both Moses and God. So much so that Moses names the place of the miracle as such! Moses does what he should do – he goes to God. Unfortunately many of us do not follow this example, myself included, especially in my past. When something was wrong or needed taken care of, I fixed it or did it. That was my nature. I was a “doer”. So much so, when I was moved to my first church as the only pastor, I had to learn a couple of hard lessons. I was warned by my district superintendent not to just do everything. He made my natural leaning seem like a bad thing. Even though I was warned not to do everything, to allow others to do, I had a learning curve that proved the wisdom of his words.

Whether it is pride or the need to be in control that drives us to be a doer or if it is fear of failure or of disappointing others that drives us to get inaction, like Moses, a quick turn towards God should be our first step. And often our second and third and…

In our passage today, God pretty much ignored Moses’ frustration. God led Moses to a rock, which he struck, and water poured out. Read that again. Yes, water came from a rock in the middle of the desert. God can do anything. Anything. If we but turn. Like Moses, may our attitude be one of surrender and may our first steps be toward God. Then we too will see and experience the amazing power of God.

Prayer: Lord God, continue to mold and shape me into who you intend me to be. I am grateful for the journey so far, and I know there is far to go. I am even thankful for the times you’ve had to squash the clay, to begin almost from scratch – painful but necessary steps in my process. Day by day, lead and guide me, shape and form me, O God. Amen.


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Testing the Lord

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-4

Verse 2: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”?

Somewhere along the line I once heard that it takes ten positives to overcome one negative. For example, at a dinner party I would need to receive ten positive comments to balance out or get past one negative comment. While the 10:1 ratio varies from person to person, it does illustrate the power of our words. Kind words build others up and unkind words tear others down. As followers of the Lord of love, we need to be speakers of kindness and love.

As the Israelites continue on their journey in the desert they camp at Rephidim, near Horeb. There was no water there so the people begin to quarrel with Moses. The whole conversation is a familiar refrain. We can read this into Moses’ words as he responds to their quarreling by saying, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”? Moses is really questioning their trust in God. Do the people still not trust that God is in control and that God loves them? How many signs must you see? Clearly they have forgotten the parting of the sea and the bitter water becoming good and the quail and manna from heaven. All that God has done for them – it is now like none of that happened.

At that hypothetical dinner party the guests could rave about the appetizers and the starter salad, about the main dish and various sides, and so on. It is all wonderful until the “I didn’t like the ___” comes. All else is forgotten like it was never said. We are like this with God too. Our faith life can be great. Our daily time with God and our worship can lead us to feel that our faith is strong and that our relationship with God is really solid. We feel loved and we know our place as a child of God. And then something negative happens or a challenge arises. It doesn’t even have to rise to the level of losing a job or a loved one. It can be a smaller thing – like someone else getting the promotion or not making the team. Suddenly we are questioning God and his love and care for us. We quickly forget all the other blessings and ask, “Why all these good days, only to endure this”? Oh, how we too must test the Lord our God at times.

In those moments, may the Holy Spirit remind us of God’s abiding and deep love for each of us. May we trust that the sea will part, that the water will come from the rock, that God will provide. In faith may we walk with the Lord day by day. Amen.


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Refined and Reshaped

Reading: Exodus 16: 2-8

Verse 3: “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”.

As the nation of Israel travels in the desert it is a time of testing and refining and reshaping. The journey began with a great freeing miracle in the Passover. The possibility of new life lay ahead as they exited Egypt. They were no longer slaves living in a foreign land. Shortly after leaving God again intervened on their behalf, providing a way through the sea. They were spared a return to slavery. But the experience of these powerful miracles soon gave way to the reality of their situation. The first grumbling for water was satisfied but it came with the first warning to “listen carefully to the voice of the Lord”.

About 45 days after leaving Egypt, the nation has now run low on food. Water and food are essential to life. The people begin to once again grumble against Moses and Aaron. Remembering the good old days – the days when they sat around pots of food as SLAVES – they say to them, “If only we had died at the hand of the Lord in Egypt”. Continuing on, the Israelites say, “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”. They are once again testing God. When they feared dying when trapped against the sea, they complained and God provided the way. When they complained about the bitter water, again God provided the way. God will respond. God’s intent was not to bring his nation out of slavery just to die in the desert. But there are provisions this time. It will be necessary to begin listening to that voice of the Lord. As Moses speaks God’s commands, they must begin to listen. God is beginning to refine and shape their obedience. They are being readied for what lies ahead.

Our journeys with God include similar elements. There are times in our lives when needs are not being met. After one too many nights of Ramen noodles, it can be easy to slip into grumbling or complaining or having a “woe is me” attitude. We also have experiences where God provides a way – literally sending food our way or opening a door at other times. Like the parting of the sea and like water from the rock, as God reigns down food from heaven, it will reassure the people, it will refine their faith, it will begin to shape them into obedient people. Even so, the Israelites will again doubt, will again turn to fear instead of trust. We too are a work in progress. Our faith journey has its share of times when we need refined and reshaped too. We all need reminded from time to time that God is faithful and that God loves us dearly. Each time we are drawn a little closer, we are more assured of his love, and we emerge walking a bit closer, more obediently. May our loving and faithful God continue the good work that he has begun in each of us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your continual work in my life. There was that time in the hospital when you were tangibly present. And there was that time when you opened a door when I couldn’t see a way. And, and, and… Through my doubt and worry, through my questioning and even anger, you provided the way. Thank you, God. 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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A Sign

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-14

Verse 12: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”.

King Ahaz is an ungodly king who has tried to solve the issues facing him with his own power and intelligence. Ahaz thought himself capable of protecting himself and Judah against the coming tide of Assyria. In spite of his arrogance and disobedience, God still reaches out to him. Out of the depths of his love for this lost soul and for Judah, the remnant of his chosen people, God offers himself to Ahaz. The Lord encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign, indicating that God is still ready to act.

Just as it was with Ahaz, sin separates us from God and from one another. Even when our sin is relatively “short term” we can stay away from or can be reluctant to go to God. Our guilt or shame makes us feel unworthy. When our sin has become a habit or has slid into a season in life, then our alienation grows stronger, the separation deeper. Ahaz has walked disobediently for a while. In his mind maybe he thinks he does not deserve to ask God a question. Or maybe he fears God’s answer. Maybe, just maybe, he does not want to ask because he believes he can still figure it all out.

These possible scenarios might sound familiar. It was not hard for me to imagine why Ahaz might have responded as he did, saying, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”. We have all been there. Yet in spite of the long disobedience, in spite of refusing to humble himself in God’s presence, in spite of it all, God still reaches out. What a loving God. What an amazing God.

The sign God gives is a sign of hope and promise. In spite of all that Ahaz and Judah have done (and not done), God promises a son, born of a virgin, to be Immanuel – God with us. This sign, this hope, this promise will be much more than God simply reaching out through a prophet. The sign, hope, and promise came and dwelt among us. Thanks be to God. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is often hard to really understand. Whether it is a little stumble or something more major, your love and grace and mercy are always there, ready to be poured out upon me. It is a love that is hard to comprehend. Even so, it is a love you offer, time and again. Thank you so much for loving a sinner like me. Amen.


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Prepare… Patience

Reading: Matthew 24:42 – “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day our Lord will come”.

Precision, order, attention to details. These things we like. When the pizza or package with that special item does not arrive when we thought it would… You know that feeling. We all know that feeling. We know absolutely nothing about the delay but we do manage to feel personally injured by it. Or so we think.

Then my mind goes to God in this verse. Precision, order, attention to details. Fits God to a tee. Knowing this about God I can’t imagine what my life and decisions have caused God to feel. I wonder if God is frustrated that I did not quite read that situation correctly and missed a great growth opportunity. Did all those times I went this way when God’s perfect plan had me going that way test God? I realize how limited I am and how often I make poor choices. Yet God still loves me and still remains very much present and at work in my life. This makes me think of God’s patience.

Today’s verse reads “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day our Lord will come”. This verse is directed at us. Jesus wants us to be a faithful follower 24/7/365, not just an hour or two here and there. Jesus wants us to ever be prepared to meet him face to face. He may come in final glory or he may come to call us home. In either case, the call remains the same: be prepared. Keep faithful. Seek those growth opportunities. Discern God’s will and strive to walk that path, not our own. Be a follower, not a fan. Be an altogether Christian, not an almost Christian. Be all in, not lukewarm. Make Jesus #1 in your life, not a distant third or fourth. Keep watch, be prepared, walk the walk of faith every second of every hour of every day of…

The verse for today again draws me back to God’s patience. God could have been done with me, with all of f us, with all of this world long ago. Jesus could have returned hundreds of years ago. God is patient. Yes, God wants us to be prepared, but there are many who have not heard the gospel. There are many more who can come into a saving relationship. We still have much work to do. Thank you, God, for your patience.

Prayer: Lord God, this day, may I be one who helps others to know you. Maybe it will be to know you more. Maybe it will be an introduction. In all I do, say, and think, may Jesus shine through. 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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Absolute Love

Reading: Hosea 11: 1-4

Verse 4: “I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love”.

In the opening four verses of Hosea 11 we hear from God as loving father. It is a role that we have all played as a mother or father and that we will continue to play if we have children, no matter how old they are. God begins by remembering the wonderful start of the relationship. When Israel was just a child, oh how God loved them. God, in love, rescued them from Egypt. But how soon Israel turned to Baal worship and to bowing before carved images. It did not take long for Israel to forget God’s love.

As parents we have experienced similar rebellion. We pour all we have into raising our children and suddenly one day they test their independence, they say they do not need us. We too are hurt and we wonder, how could they do this to us? We love them so deeply and we give them all we can. And then we are rejected, thought useless. Yet we still love our children dearly. It is the model we’ve learned from our God.

In verse three God returns to how love was shown, both directly and indirectly. God taught them to walk. Through great leaders and through the prophets, God taught Israel how to walk in covenant relationship with their God. At times, God even healed them without them knowing it. As parents we too make behind-the-scenes sacrifices and efforts for our children. Often they too are not aware of all that is done for them. In verse four we see again the heart of God. We read, “I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love”. Even though their arms were flailing against God, they were gently drawn back in. Even though their rebellion was still fresh, God drew them in with love. God took the yoke away, giving them freedom again. Lastly, God “stooped down and fed them”. When they could not do for themselves, God did. God loved them through their rebellion. God’s love continued to pour out upon the defiant children. All that could be done was done.

God continues in the role of loving parent. Today God loves you and I this same way. In spite of our sin and rebellion and independence, God still loves us absolutely. It is hard to fathom, but it is certainly true. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I look back and see how very far from you my path has been. Yet as I look back I can see those people and those events that drew me back to you. Thank you for your ever present love that always reaches out and draws me in, over and over. You are an awesome and good God. Amen.