pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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. 


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The Message

Reading: Galatians 1: 6-12

Paul opens his letter to the Galatians with some strong language and some hard words.  His words carry some emotion and urgency.  The church he founded there has begun to drift away from its origins and he does not like the change.  Paul taught them the gospel he received directly in a revelation from Jesus and it is important to him that the Galatians continue to hold dearly to the original message.  Paul knows that the message does not have to change much to really affect their faith.

All that Jesus taught and did in the Gospels can be boiled down to a few essentials.  First, love God completely.  Recognize Him as supreme, as Lord, as king of kings.  Second, love neighbor as Jesus first loved us.  His sacrifice on the cross let us know how much He loves us.  Now Jesus tells us to go and do the same: put others and their needs first no matter the cost to us.  Third, grace wins.  God’s love and His mercies never fail, making all who call on Him as Lord and Savior new creations every morning.  Our grateful response to this amazing love and mercy is to offer our lives daily in service to God.

Paul knew how essential the pure message of the gospel was.  He knew that our faith would lead to action.  He knew if the gospel message was changed or distorted, we would begin to follow our own way more than Jesus’ way.  Our belief really does lead to action.  When our belief is correctly rooted in the message of Jesus Christ, then our lives bear fruit according to this message.  May we cling tightly to the truth found in Jesus Christ, living daily as authentic witnesses to His light and love.


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New Jerusalem

Reading: Revelation 21: 10 & 22-27

In our community, and perhaps in yours, there is a large diversity of places of worship.  There are not only a variety of Christian denominations but other faiths as well.  In a smaller community the diversity is probably less and in a larger city the diversity is probably greater.  Diversity implies a positive.  Diversity adds variety.  Diversity can also bring out our differences and can create divides.  Yet we must remember that our call is to go out and make new disciples of all nations.  When we do this, we must do this in love.

Today’s passage speaks of a time when all will worship God alone.  When the new Jerusalem comes down, it will be heaven here on earth.  There will be no places of worship because all everywhere will worship God alone.  His glory will light up the city all the time; there will be no night.  In God there is no darkness.  The city’s gates will never be closed.  The text says that nothing impure will enter the city.  All in the new Jerusalem will be holy as He is holy.

One of my favorite parts of confirmation every year is our trip to a large city.  We visit a mosque, a synagogue, and an Orthodox Church.  At each house of worship we meet with the leader who shares about their faith and answers any questions we have.  Each visit builds our understanding of others who are not like us in our beliefs.  It also offers us an opportunity to talk to about why we believe what we believe.  It is a great experience that enriches my life and my faith every year.  After each stop I pray for God’s word in Christ to one day be revealed to them. Knowing God’s plan for eternity, may we pray for all not on a journey towards the new Jerusalem to join us on our walk as God calls all of us heavenward.