pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Receive God’s Grace

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse One: “As fellow workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain”.

When we look at Paul’s hardships listed in verses three through five, one might question taking up a life of faith. Yes, life itself will bring all of these hardships at times, but to choose a life’s journey that almost invites these seems like a tough choice to make. To be a Christian in today’s world is not an easy task. Our culture is not very well aligned to Christian values any longer.

As one moves on to verses four through six, it gets a little better but there are still undesirables on that list. In these verses Paul begins to paint the picture that this difficult journey is worth it. The Christian Life is a life of genuine love and fellowship, of eternal hope and real joy. Yet the world and our culture will say one can find love and joy and happiness without walking the narrow way of faith. Culture says there is an easier way.

All one has to do to find love and joy and happiness is to work a little harder and to be willing to take advantage or exploit another on occasion. Yes, a day of rest and time with God and family might be fun, but it will cost you. Come on, lots of people work on Sunday. You might miss a ball game or recital here and there or a birthday if the potential payoff is big. Don’t worry – there will be other events that you will be at. These are the lies of the world. These are the ways that we convince ourselves that it is okay to work on Sundays and evenings.

Paul opens today’s passage asking the Corinthians and us to “not to receive God’s grace in vain”. Receive it and allow it to change you. Receive it and pass it on to others. Receive it and gain a sense of hope that the world cannot give. Allow God to bring you hope in times of sorrow, peace in times of stress, joy in times of despair, and love in times of hate and anger. Receive God’s grace and allow it to open your heart wide. Walk the narrow and hard road of faith and find life. Amen and amen.

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Saying “Yes”

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse Two: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

In some ways, Paul’s view of ministry differs from ours today. He lists a handful of things that are commendable: trouble, hardship, distress, imprisonment, sleepless nights, hunger. While we are sometimes willing to endure these things for our faith, we do not often intentionally put ourselves out there to experience these things. Yet many people do endure these things. Today we journey home from a mission trip where we met lots of folks who experience these things on a daily basis.

Paul also gives us another list. He offers commendation for purity, patience, kindness, love, and truthful speech. These are characteristics that we all want to possess and share with others. These are the traits that we want to be known for. Yet, as Paul also acknowledges, we most often find ourselves between these two lists.

Paul shares that we usually find ourselves between bad and good reports, between being seen as genuine and as imposters, between dying and living, as sorrowful yet rejoicing, and as having nothing yet possessing everything. We often did find ourselves in the middle, tending towards one end or the other. We seek to be living for God, yet when we are honest, we spend a lot of time pursuing what we want and desire. It is a battle.

In verse two Paul writes, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. The key word is ‘now’. It is an important word. On our mission trips we usually end up centering on a phrase or expression that seems to encapsulate the trip. This year what became our central thought was saying “yes” to those opportunities that God gives us, to answer when He calls. Many of our youth and adults had opportunity to do so this week. Great blessings were poured out from heaven upon both us and those we worked with because of the yeses.

The time is now. Today God wants to bless you with His favor. Today God wants you to experience His salvation. Today and each day may we ever be open to the opportunity that God provides – whether in hardship or joy, whether in sorrow or kindness. May we too be willing to say yes to God. Amen.


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Keep My Eyes

Reading: Mark 4: 35-41

Verse 41: “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him”!

One of the things Jesus taught about just before getting into the boat was about the lamp on a stand. He reminded the crowd (and the disciples) that faith was something that was put on a stand to bring out whatever was hidden in the dark corners and to open what is concealed there. Jesus concludes this teaching with the statement that whoever has faith will be given more and that whoever does not have faith, even what little they have will be lost.

As the seas got choppy and the water level in the boat began to rise, the disciples had a choice to make. They could turn their focus to God to seek His protection and help. Or they could keep their eyes on the storm and the wind and the rising water level in the boat. Often in our lives we come to the same point. Our decision is the same: do we turn to our own powers or do we allow fear to take over or do we simply give up?

He was right there in the boat. I can envision sone of the disciples looking to Jesus and then to the waves, looking to Jesus asleep in the stern and then looking to the rising waves. With each glance away a bit of their faith ebbed away. With each longer gaze upon the rising waters, a bit more of their faith ebbed away. Again, so it is with us. If only we could look to Jesus at the first hint of rain and then keep our eyes on Him alone. If only we could choose to allow Him to be our all in all.

With just a few words Jesus banishes the fear and doubt and worry that had been building with each wave. An absence of faith, a moment of doubt – they allow the deceiver room to bring in thoughts of doubt and fear and worry. After being awakened and calming the storm, Jesus asks, “Do you still have no faith”? Instead of grasping the moment and allowing their faith to grow, the disciples ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him”! It can be easy to do. They are caught up in the miracle and not in the miracle-maker. It can be so easy to do. So we pray, Lord, keep my eyes focused on you and you alone. Help me to see you and not just the amazing things you do. Ground my faith in your love and care. Be my all in all today and each day. Amen.


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Trust in Him

Reading: Mark 4: 35-41

Verse 40: “He said to His disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith'”?

Today’s passage is a microcosm of our faith. We fluctuate between periods of doubt and faith just like the disciples did. They have just heard the parable of the mustard seed – how the smallest seed of faith can grow into this large plant. With this nugget in mind, they get into the boat and head over to the other side. Ah, a little peace and quiet for this busy crew. As they cross the lake, some time to ponder this journey with Jesus. Reflecting on His last few parables, the disciples must have felt safe and blessed.

Then a “furious squall came up”. A storm of life arises. Instead of trusting in their faith, doubt and fear creep in. How often this is the case with us as well. Life seems good, things are rolling along, we are settled in for the ride. Then suddenly a storm in around us. One of our children is in trouble or a health scare pops up for our spouse. Like the disciples, we feel “swamped”. Concern and doubt and fear rushes in. And Jesus sleeps quietly in the stern, ready in a moment’s notice, yet presently resting peacefully.

When they cannot take it any longer, the disciples awaken Jesus. He got up and rebuked the wind and calms the storm. In our journeys, when our storms begin to rage, we too do not turn to Jesus right away. We think we can handle it. Only when it gets to a certain point do we do what the disciples did: turn to Jesus. At that point He does the same thing for us: He calls our fears and our doubts, the waves of life.

I can picture Jesus taking a moment to look out over the calm waters before turning to the disciples and saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”? I think His voice was partly remorseful and partly compassionate. All this time with the disciples and so little faith. I imagine He thinks the same thing with us at times. As we journey with Jesus, may we walk more steadily with Him – through the calm and through the storms, trusting in His love and care. May we turn quickly to Him all of the time. May we trust in Him. Amen.


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Seek the Lord

Reading: Psalm 9: 9-20

Verse Ten: “Those who know your name will trust in you; for you, Lord, have never foresaken those who seek you”.

Today’s section from Psalm 9 begins by reminding us of God’s love and care for us. David begins by reminding us that God is a “refuge for the oppressed” and is a “stronghold in times of trouble”. At times in our lives, God has certainly been these things for us. We can each recall times when God walked through the valley with us or when God brought relief to our trials or persecutions. God has been our protector and our defender at times.

David goes on to write, “Those who know your name will trust in you; for you, Lord, have never foresaken those who seek you”. This is almost an if-then statement. Those who know God will trust in God. Those who seek God will find that God is right there. The first verse, verse nine, helps us to these if-then statements. When we recall experiences where God was our refuge or when God was our stronghold, then we are more likely to trust and to seek God in our times of trial and suffering. While no one desires or tries to find testing or hardship, they are part of life. It is in these valleys and dark times that our faith resolve grows and our walk with God gains strength.

In our Psalm we also see David’s response to these moments when God has been there for him. He sings praises to God and proclaims to the nations what God has done. Thanksgiving recognizes that it was God who brought us through and proclamation allows or helps others to know about this great God. Thanksgiving keeps us humble and proclamation models God’s love for others.

Psalm 9 ends with a reality check of sorts. “Arise, O Lord, let not man triumph”. David knows our tendency towards being independent and self-sufficient. He closes with, “let the nations know that they are but men”. We are only human and God is God. It is a good reminder. This day may we who are powerless and weak turn quickly to our God who can do all things and whose strength is beyond measure. May we seek the Lord our God today and may we share the good news with all we meet!


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In the Lord Almighty

Reading: 1 Samuel 17: 19-23 & 32-49

Verse 47: “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s”.

In some ways, today’s scenario is a bit comical. For days now this scene has unfolded: get up, cook some breakfast, get dressed for battle, form up in battle lines, shout challenges and curses at your enemy, hear Goliath’s challenge, stand there all day. At the end of the day they return to camp and get up to do it all over again. Each day a giant comes forth and requests a one-on-one battle to end this silly “charade” – I mean “war”. Goliath himself is comically large – over nine feet tall, intimidating, powerful. Goliath’s bravado causes the Israelites and their king, Saul, to become silent. None of them can even imagine going out to face the giant. Day after day this scenario plays out.

Goliath is representative of some if the people we meet. In their own minds they are larger than life. They see themselves as vastly superior in their chosen field. They look down with disdain on all other human beings who are clearly less. They rely on their own strength or abilities or intelligence or expertise. They fully trust in themselves alone.

In our silly story, David is the clueless outsider. He happily wanders into camp and hears something different in Goliath’s challenge. David hears Goliath challenging God. In David’s mind, it would not matter if Goliath was nine feet tall or ninety feet tall. For David, you don’t mess with God. David trusts not in himself or in the five smooth stones in his pouch. He remembers how God saved him from the lion and the bear – two that should have devoured this little shepherd boy. Just as with them David comes against Goliath in the name of the Lord. Demonstrating his faith in God alone, David says, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s”. Nine foot tall giant? Just watch what God can do!

This too should be our battle cry. The world will and does bring many giants and obstacles into our lives. On our own, they can seem insurmountable. To each we face, may we too say to them, “I come against you in the name of the Almighty Lord”. May we fully trust in our God who can do all things. Then our giants will fall facedown on the ground too. May it be so. Amen.


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Call Out

Reading: 1 Samuel 17: 1-11

Verses ten and eleven: “This day I defy the ranks of Israel… Saul and all the Israelites we’re dismayed and terrified”.

Today’s passage is the beginning of a familiar story. The Philistines and Israelites, long-time enemies, are drawn up for battle. In our lives, those one or two sins that always seem to pop up are like these two armies – always just about ready to do battle. In this occasion though, the Philistines have a “champion”. In reality, this is someone who you think can whip anyone the other side sends out. In hockey, this would be the enforcer – the big guy you have to deal with if you get a little too rough with the other team’s star. In our childhood days, this was that really big kid you wanted to pick for your team. Unless the other side got to pick first – then he was called a bully or worse.

What is your persistent sin? What are the two or three things that you always wrestle with? Is it pride or ego or the need to be in control? Those are mine. Is it the tendency to judge or to compare yourself with others? Mine too. Is it something else? We all have these sins that bully us, that seem to always be right there on the front line, ready to do battle with our inner compass, the Holy Spirit.

Goliath steps up to the battle line and says, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel… Saul and all the Israelites we’re dismayed and terrified”. The people of God, the atmy of the chosen people, hear this challenge and stare at the ground. Instead of calling on God and going out to face this bully, they cower. We sometimes act the same way with our sins. Instead of turning to scripture or going to God in prayer at first temptation, we look away. We pretend the sin isn’t lurking. But the temptation is still there. It calls out over and over and eventually we give in, we sin.

If there is a giant calling out to you today, may you call on the name of the Lord, trusting in the One who can defeat anything. Call out! When you do, Satan will flee. May it be so today. Amen.