pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Enduring Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”.

Patience, patience, patience. Patience is such a tough thing to practice, especially when the situation is difficult. The difficulty can come from a variety of angles. For the brothers and sisters in Christ that James is writing to, the difficulty comes from the persecution and suffering that they are enduring. When we have been experiencing times of stress or distress, we have known how hard it is to patiently endure. This is what James is addressing in our passage today.

James turns to a familiar test of patience. He encourages them to consider the farmer. The farmer sows the seeds and then he patiently waits. With the sun and the rain that will surely come, he waits, trusting that the land will “yield its valuable crop”. It can be hard to have patience when growing crops. I have had a home garden for many years now. As I reflect back on each season I can now remember a familiar scene playing out. We would plant carrots, lettuce, and so on. Then about a week later I would go out to the garden, sometimes multiple times each day, checking to see if those little green shoots had popped up yet. Soon it became a practice in patience. Early in my gardening career my mind would question or doubt if the shoots took a little too much time to come up.

Our faith is a lot like that too. When the first trials or seasons of suffering come along, we do not have much patience. We quickly cry out, “How long, O God”? But as we spend a few more seasons in the valleys, experiencing God’s presence and strength and guidance… over and over again, we begin to build trust in God. Our doubts and questions and fears ebb away. We soon see these seasons as times of growth and maturing.

In verse eight James writes, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”. Be like the farmer, trust in God. For all who are struggling in the trial right now, cling to these words of hope and promise. To do so yields an unshakable belief that becomes your rock. As the faithful Christian endures the storms with patience and faith, we do come to know the truth of Jesus coming near. He never leaves us or forsakes us, especially in the trials. Be near to us, Lord Jesus, this we pray.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my anchor in every stormy gale. In the lows and in the highs and everywhere in between, your Holy Spirit is ever present. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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God Radar

Reading: Acts 5: 27-32

Verse 29: “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men'”.

Emboldened by seeing the risen Christ several times and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the apostles go forth and proclaim the good news with the people. They are preaching that Jesus has been resurrected and that He “gives repentance and forgiveness of sins” to all of Israel. They are preaching in the temple when the religious authorities come to arrest them. Brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, the high priest reminds them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in His name”. He also reveals a concern – that their teaching makes the council appear guilty of shedding Jesus’ blood. The Sanhedrin’s attempt to silence Jesus has spawned more voices proclaiming His message.

Peter, who is becoming the leader of the group, speaks on behalf of all the apostles, saying, “We must obey God rather than men”. It is a hard claim to argue against – especially when the ones saying it believe it with all of their heart. They are 100% sure that Jesus is alive and risen. No matter what anyone else says and no matter what they might do to the apostles, their belief in Jesus Christ will not change. They know the power of Jesus in them through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This presence keeps their witness strong and powerful. It will be what propels the early church across the known world.

The basic conflict in today’s passage remains a conflict for Christians today. There will always be times when the ways of God conflict with the ways of the world. There will always be times when our “God radar” goes off and we know in our heart and mind that something is not right. On the big stage, the Nazi assault on the Jews comes to mind. The government went about a process and people knew it was wrong and some stood up against it. More recently we can observe people who refused service based on their religious convictions. What is “right” in the world’s eyes is not always “right” when seen through the lens of faith.

In our own lives we will also experience moments when our “God radar” leads us to stand up for our faith. Sometimes it is to speak for someone who is without voice. Sometimes it is to step in to stop an unjust situation on behalf of someone without power. Sometimes it is to defend someone who is powerless against another in authority. Sometimes it is to love someone whom others cannot or will not love. When, like the apostles, we trust in God and bear witness to His light and love, we will find that God goes with us too. God will lead and guide when we are willing to trust in our faith and in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It will be so. God is faithful.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see the places and times that I can be a voice for the other, that I can serve the one in need. Grant me the courage to not only see but to act as well. Amen.


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Strong in the Lord

Reading: Ephesians 6: 10-20

Verse 12: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood… but against the powers of this dark world”.

In our passage, Paul is clearly stating that we are in a battle. As Christians, we must be aware of this. We do have hope and we can stand against the enemy because we do not fight alone. We begin the battle with verse ten: “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power”. God is on our side. Next, Paul encourages us to “put on the full armor of God”. Paul is using militaristic terms to reinforce the fact that we are in a battle for our souls.

Verse twelve indentifies the enemy. Paul writes, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood… but against the powers of this dark world”. We do not fight for our souls against earthly enemies but against Satan and his spiritual forces. Satan’s ways are clever and his attacks come from many angles, so the full armor protects us so that we can “stand our ground” and so that we can “stand firm”. Standing our ground and standing firm entails holding onto our beliefs and faith in God – standing solidly on our firm foundation.

The armor Paul lists is both offensive and defensive. He calls for us to use truth and righteousness and faith and salvation and the Spirit and the gospel to defend ourselves and to remind us of the power we do have when we are strong in the Lord. He encourages us to be offensive at times, taking the gospel to others and to use the Word of God as a sword, defeating the enemy’s attacks just as Jesus did when tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

Paul closes with perhaps our greatest weapon: prayer. He reminds us to connect to God “on all occasions” and by using “all kinds of prayers”. When we are connected to God, Satan flees. When we are connected to God then we are strong in the Lord. May we be strong today, praying always to stand against the powers of evil, rejoicing in our strong defender and our eternal hope, Jesus Christ.


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Testify

Reading: 1st John 5: 6-13

Verse Eleven: “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son”.

John writes of testimony today. He is not writing of the kind of testimony someone gives in court, but more of a testimony or accounting of an event that we would give our friends. Court is concerned with the hard, cold facts. John is writing about the testimony that we can “feel” and “know” in our hearts. In verse ten John writes of the testimony concerning Jesus: “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart”. Although we still have not gotten to the testimony itself, John makes an important point: we must believe in Jesus to have this truth.

Belief is an important part of faith. It is even an important part of receiving someone’s testimony in court. If, for whatever reason, we do not believe the testimony of a witness, it does not matter how many titles or accolades come attached to their name. Much of our life and decisions and relationships are based on a degree of how we “feel” it what we “sense” about something or someone.

In verse eleven, John reveals the testimony for us, writing, “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son”. God’s free gift is eternal life through the Son. It is a wonderful gift. One finds this eternal life in a relationship with Jesus. When one comes to faith in Jesus, this testimony is “known” in the heart. John goes on to write, “He who had the Son has life”. Belief in Jesus comes with trust that He conquered sin and death. Jesus’ victory over the grave allows us to claim eternal life, just as He did. Jesus’ victory over sin allows us to claim redemption and new life each day. In these claims we find courage to face each day and the hope that allows us to live without fear of death. We begin to truly live life when we know that Jesus leads us through this life and calls us to life beyond our earthly existence.

Once we know the Son, we too can testify to these truths so that all can live in Jesus’ light and love. May we share what we know in our hearts with those living in darkness and despair, so that all can know the hope of His Son.


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Unity or Less?

Reading: Romans 14: 10-12

Verse 11: Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.

Paul continues his conversation about diversity in the body of Christ.  He emphasized that most of us are at differing spots in our faith journeys and that we come to the church with our own unique backgrounds and traditions.  Therefore unity must come in and through Christ.  Christ must be the one thing that unites the church.  Jesus is our “bottom line” so to speak – He is Lord of all.

Paul asks why we must judge or look down on our brother or sister in Christ who does not do exactly as we do.  When we choose to judge or condemn or belittle another’s faith or their practices of faith, we are putting ourselves in a place we should not go to.  For example, just because I prefer to read and study and pray in the early morning and another prefers the quiet of the evening does not make one of us “right” or “better” than the other.  If one church uses bread and another crackers, one communion is not better or more acceptable than the other.

The time or particular way we practice our faith are small details we use to accomplish the same goal – to grow closer to Christ as we seek to become more like Him.  This is the goal for all Christians – to become more like Christ.  But at times we fail, so Paul includes a warning, quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God”.  He will not only want to know what we did with the least and the lost, but also how we treated all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Did we practice unity and did we work to bring harmony to the whole body of Christ?  Or did we remain divided, allowing it to be less?


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Assurance 

Reading: Hebrews 11: 1-3

Anselm, a Benedictine monk, once said, “I believe in order that I may understand”.  This seems so backwards in the world of logic.  But in the world of faith it makes perfect sense.  God acts and is present in so many amazing ways.  We cannot deny this because of our own personal experience.  Yet we cannot always understand how or why.  A part of faith is always mystery.  Our faith is something we cannot prove scientifically, but one cannot deny that God exists.  We live with a conviction that God is all around us.

At times we have personal experiences with God’s presence.  These moments of divine presence in our own lives brings assurance to our belief.  In the Bible we find many accounts of God’s interaction with humanity.  In our lives we continue to hear and read testimonies of people who experienced God in their lives.  All of this builds our assurance and then our belief.

Our faith rests upon who God is.  Throughout the pages of scripture, in the lives and witness of all the saints who have gone before, and in our own lives we see a God who is always present, is always faithful, and is always just.  God does not slumber or sleep.  God does not go on vacation.  No matter when we call or where we are at, when we seek God or call on God’s presence, God is right there.  The promises God made to Adam, Abraham, Moses, … remain true to this day.  Because of who God is, we rest assured in our faith.  For this we say thanks be to God.


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Like Abraham 

Reading: Hebrews 11: 8-16

Too often we are deaf to God’s voice.  Like with Abraham, God is seeking to bless us and to do great things in our lives.  Throughout our day God seeks to connect to us, to draw us into relationship, to allow us to experience the presence of the Spirit in our life.  Too often we miss these chances.

Most of us have had significant encounters with God.  Maybe they were during a retreat or when we were at camp.  Maybe they were in a deep valley where our sense of God’s presence became very real at the low point of a trial or struggle.  Maybe it was during a special worship service or when we were on a mission project.  At certain times we are particularly open to hearing God’s voice or experiencing God in our midst.  But God desires this to be our frequent experience throughout our day.

The ‘God moments’ we have experienced are powerful and meaningful.  So this leads us to seek out why we do not have these times more often in our day to day living.  In Abraham’s story we find some clues.  First, he was open to hearing God.  At times God’s voice will boom into our lives.  But Abraham had his ear ever tuned to God and had his spirit focused on God.  We too can do this by being intentional in inviting God into our daily lives and by being cognizant of the opportunities God places in our lives.  These may come in the wise words of a friend, in the face of the one in need we encounter on the sidewalk, or in the still small voice of the Holy Spirit whispering into our heart.  Second, when Abraham felt God’s presence or heard the voice, he listened and was honest.  If he did not understand or felt doubt or fear, he was honest with God about these things.  God did not walk away, but responded.  Through faith Abraham heard and obeyed God and was credited as righteous.

Life can consume us.  Life can swirl around us.  The noise and busyness can obscure God’s voice and the encounters sent our way.  When we allow these things to occur, our relationship with God suffers.  Our soul is poorer for having missed out.  Our faith is not as strong as it could have been had we experienced God’s presence.  We, like Abraham, can hear God’s voice often.  We, like Abraham, can become attuned to that voice, lifting it above the daily hum.  The more we hear the voice, the better we listen. And we, like Abraham, can and will experience God’s presence and blessings when we slow down and focus on our faith.  May we learn to be like Abraham so that we can receive the promises, blessings, and power of God in our lives, daily and often.