pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Race

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-14

Verse 12a: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect…”

In our passage today, Paul uses the analogy of running a race. To run a race requires some practice and training if we are to run the race well. Paul is thinking in terms of a prize, so preparation is essential. When applied to our faith journey, the preparation required is a daily effort. We must spend time reading and studying our Bibles, praying,… each day. We cannot prepare every once in a while and expect to do well in our race. Our journey of faith is a daily race.

The race we run is not a 100-yard dash or a 1/4 mile race. It is not even a marathon. Our journey of faith is a race that encompasses a lifetime. Our race begins the day we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and it ends the day we draw our last breath. It is a long race. It is a hard race. But we do not race alone. First, Jesus Christ dwells in us as the Holy Spirit, leading and guiding, directing and correcting. Second, we run with others – our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, there is much encouragement to be had as we run our race.

Encouragement is important because the race is not always run on a perfectly flat track. Much of the race is run on a pretty steady course, but not all of it. At times our course will dip down into the valleys and we will have times when the path is quite rocky. We will also have moments when we find our path is atop The mountain and we feel like we are running on a cloud. The ups and downs are part of our race. We learn and grow, we discover more about God and ourselves, we persevere and develop trust. The Holy Spirit and the faithful remain present in the good and the bad. At times we too are blessed to be a brother or sister helping someone else along their race. We are all ever a work in progress. Paul puts it this way: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect…”. Yet he presses on.

Today is another day to run the race. As we live out our faith today, may we run the race well.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for all those times when you were there for me – to encourage me, to lift me up, to carry me. Open my eyes to see the opportunities you give me to help others on their races. Amen.

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Be Reconciled

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-21

Verse 18: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the mission of reconciliation”.

The church in Corinth was very diverse. There were former Jews and Gentiles, there were slaves and slave-owners, rich and poor, young and old… This diverse group of people was trying to figure out how to live together. They are struggling to live in a community together. In a lot of ways, our churches are like this. Some of the labels do not apply anymore, but some do. There are also new ways to identify how we are different from one another. Our challenge, therefore, is the same: to figure out how to live in Christian community.

Paul’s solution for the church in Corinth applies to us today. In the opening verse Paul writes, “From now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view”. He is saying to forget all those labels that come from the secular culture. He is saying for the rich and the poor to just see a fellow Christian. He is saying for the slave and the slave-owner to just see a fellow Christian. Simply being a follower of Jesus Christ is the only thing Paul wants them to identify with. That is the bottom line, the thing that brings them all together as equals in the body of Christ. Paul writes, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the mission of reconciliation”. We have been brought back into relationship with God through Christ Jesus. God has reconciled us to Himself. Paul is pleading with the Corinthians to be reconciled to one another.

Churches today are still pretty diverse lots. Within the four walls of the church there are many individuals. The Bible, our instruction book, contains about 31,000 verses, give or take, depending on your preferred translation. When I read a passage now that I read a year ago, sometimes it says something new or different to me. Sometimes I discover something I missed the last time. This informs my faith. Now multiply that idea by the number of verses and the number of people in the church. Like the church in Corinth, we will read and understand some things differently. Some things Joe thinks you should do or follow, Suzie doesn’t see that way. Same thing for Anthony and Molly. Same thing for Zoe and Stephen.

To the church in Corinth and to the church today, Paul calls us to be reconciled to Christ. He calls us to Jesus. Jesus is our model of how to live out God’s love. Jesus is our example of what it looks like to love God and neighbor. Jesus is the redeemer from sin. Jesus is our path to eternal life. Jesus is our all in all. Through Christ we are one body, reconciled to God and to one another, on a common mission to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. May it be so.

Prayer: God, help us to see with your eyes – not as all exactly the same but loved exactly the same by you. Help us to look past the smaller things and to see the only thing that matters: Jesus and His love. May I see well today. Amen.


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Turn to God

Reading: Psalm 63: 6-8

Verse 6: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”.

In his time out in the desert David appears to have some trouble sleeping. Verses 9 and 10 indicate that David is out in the desert because his enemies are pursuing him. Maybe this Psalm is written when King Saul was hunting him down or maybe it is later, perhaps when Absalom was leading a rebellion. Both were times when David fled into the desert or wilderness to find refuge. While none of us have probably fled because someone was trying to kill us, most of us have experienced trouble sleeping because of some trial or hardship or difficulty.

When I have had trouble sleeping, I have tried all sorts of remedies. I have tried, of course, counting sheep. I have read a book or played a game on my phone. I have tried listening to music. I have gone for a walk. In those times when a stressful decision lies ahead or when something else big is on my mind, I can turn to worry or fretting or… Today’s Psalm is a good reminder to me of what my first option should be: prayer. David writes to God, saying, “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”. David turns his thoughts to God. We do not know if he turned over his worry or if he sought God’s guidance or if he simply admitted his need for God’s help. But we do know that he went to God first in his time of need. It is a good reminder to us to seek God first and not as a last resort.

Because his trust is in God, David can rejoice. In the next two verses we read of how David sings to God and of how he feels upheld by God. When we turn to God we too will experience God as our help. Like David, this leads us to rejoice in the ways that God is and has been present in our lives. In future times of trial and distress we will more quickly turn to God as time after time we learn that God upholds us too. Our soul learns to first turn to and to cling to God in our times of need. God’s faithfulness and love and care build our trust in God.

On those nights when sleep evades us, may we turn to God first. If we cannot name the fear or worry or… to offer up a prayer, we can turn to the Bible to draw near to God. If we can name it, may we give it to God and trust that God will be present and will be our help.

Prayer: Lord, when the storms rage or when the attacks of fear or doubt or worry come, be my refuge. Draw me first to you. Remind me of David and his example that you would be my shelter in the shadows. Thank you God! Amen.


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Head Over Heels

Reading: Psalm 63: 1-5

Verse 1: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”.

In our Psalm today, David is in the desert and he is seeking God. He offers a prayer to God that gives thanks for God’s power and glory and love. In the desert, in “a dry and weary land”, David’s soul longs for God. In the opening verse we read, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”. David earnestly seeks God. This is not a casual search for God. It is a search filled with passion and a sense of commitment, maybe even with a little urgency added in.

Yesterday at noon I gathered around the table with the usual crew that makes up the noon Bible study. Earlier in the morning some men of the church gathered to work through our church’s Lenten study. This afternoon I’ll gather with the book club as we discuss our chapters for the book that we have been reading about prayer. Tonight I will gather with about 8 high school boys to talk about being a man of God. Then after that I’ll gather with a different group of men to work through our Lenten study. The people that make up these groups ranges from teenagers through those well into retirement. There are men and women, some single, some married, some divorced, some widowed. One of the beautiful things they have in common is the very thing that David writes about today: a thirst for God, a longing for God.

The teen boys are just beginning their journeys of faith and are just getting to know God. Many of the people I gather with have been walking with God longer than I have been alive. I often have said to the youth I work with that there is nothing much more beautiful to me than the 90-year-old still showing up for Bible study each week. This image reflects what all of our journeys of faith should look like.

When we are pursuing God, our thirst and longing for God is never quite satisfied. We study and learn more and more about God. We grasp a new truth and deepen our faith. But along the way we also see new areas of darkness in that corner of our life and we discover that we still have some work to do. Along the way we also come to new questions and to new places of understanding that call us on to more prayer, seeking, and study. Being in love with God draws us to want to know God more and more. As we continue to thirst and long for God, we find that our pursuit leads us to fall head over heels in love with God. When we seek God, we will find God, deepening our relationship with God. May it ever be so.

Prayer: God, thank you for the parts of yourself that you have revealed to me. What I have come to know draws me to want to know even more. Keep me ever hungry, ever seeking. Keep me hungry and thirsty for you, O God. May I never be satisfied but always want more of you. Always. Amen.


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Call Your Good Friend

Reading: Psalm 91: 2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”.

Our Psalm today reminds us of God’s constant presence with us. This Psalm and others like it always draw to my mind the poem, “Footsteps in the Sand”. There are two sets of footprints as a man looks back through most of his life. But in difficult times, he sees just one set of footprints. He asks why God would abandon him when life got hard. God replies that He did not leave the man, but carried him. Thus, one set of footprints. The psalmist speaks of God in this way, calling God our refuge and our fortress.

We will all have times of trial and testing, times when we too feel as if God is not present. It may be the loss of a job, a loved one, or a close friend. It may be caused by an illness or a relationship that is difficult but necessary. We might feel alone, but God is present. We just need to call out to God in prayer. We need to seek God out at times – not to bring God back, but to remind ourselves of God’s constant presence. And God will carry us too if we need that.

No one seeks out bad times or suffering, but both are a part of life. What sustains us most in these moments is the faith we practice in the relatively good days of life. When we walk daily with God, spending time in the Bible, in prayer, in conversation with God, then God feels like a close friend.

When trial or pain strikes, it is more natural to turn to our close friend. From our daily time with God we build a reservoir of faith and trust that we can draw on and from in the moments when life is hard. In the moment of need, it is easier to call upon a close friend. When we do, God is right there, very present to us.

Verse 14 reads, “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”. Yes, God will rescue us and protect us and answer us and deliver us. God loves each of us dearly. Therefore we do not need to be afraid. God is with us. Call upon God, our strength, our refuge, our fortress.

Prayer: Lord, may I know you more and more each day. May each day bring me closer to you. May I be sensitive to the indwelling presence of the Spirit. In the good and the bad, may you be my first call. Amen.


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Connection

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 7-8 and Psalm 1: 1-3

Verse 7: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

In both Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 we read about being connected to God. It is a connection that helps us avoid those who are wicked and who are sinners. It is a connection that lessens our fears and worries. In Jeremiah 17:7 we read of the benefits of staying connected to God: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

The psalmist identifies the connection point. When we delight in the law and when we meditate on it, we are blessed. When we read our Bibles and when we meditate on what we read – seeking understanding and application for our lives – then we are blessed. For the psalmist, this is the source that is like water to the roots of a tree. Water is essential for life. It nourishes the tree. In time, the tree produces fruit. Its leaves do not wither, it prospers. So it is with us when we sink our roots down into the Word, delving into our Bibles, soaking up God’s word.

Jeremiah also speaks of blessing when we are connected to God. When ‘heat’ comes we do not fear and when hard times come we do not worry. If our roots are connected to God, then we can rest in God’s presence and peace. The things of this world do not consume us. In those times when life ramps up and we feel the heat, we can turn to God for assurance and refuge. When we face difficult situations, instead of worrying, we can turn to God and place our lives in His hands, trusting in His love.

This metaphor is also picked up in the New Testament. Just yesterday I shared a message from John 15. In the first five verses, Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches. Jesus emphasizes our absolute need for connection too. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. And just as Jeremiah and the psalmist speak of bearing fruit, so too does Jesus. In verse 4 Jesus shares the key to bearing fruit: “remain in me and I will remain in you”. We do this by spending time in our Bibles and by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In these ways we remain connected to the true vine – Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus, our commission is to make disciples. By sharing the good news of Jesus and by telling the story of what He has done in our lives we help others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. As others come to know and accept Jesus as Lord, our lives are bearing fruit. In John 15, Jesus tells us that when we remain connected to Him we will bear much fruit.

This day and every day may we connect to our Bibles, drinking deeply from the connection that we find in Jesus. May this be the source of life that we share with the world!

Prayer: God of all creation, help me to know you more intimately today. Strengthen my connection with you, build up our relationship. Fill me with you so that all I do and say brings you glory. Amen.


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Worship God… with all our heart

Reading: Psalm 138: 1-3

Verse 1: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”.

Today’s three verses from Psalm 138 are about worshipping God because of and through our personal relationship with God. Like all relationships, this relationship resides in our heart. It is a relationship build upon love and faithfulness. God’s love and faithfulness is, of course, much more pure and constant than our fickle nature allows. But God does not let our nature deter His. God’s love and faithfulness are “no matter what” – God loves us and remains faithful to us regardless of what we do or do not do.

Our proper response is what David begins the Psalm with: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”. The competing interests of self and world make it pretty hard to love God with all of our heart. In our day to day living the voices to succeed and attain and to earn and to gather more and more are loud. To have a chance at loving God with all of our heart, this relationship requires what all relationships require: time. If we really want to love God fully, then our daily disciplines should reflect that. Our day should include both structured and spontaneous times of prayer. Our day should include some time set aside to read the Word and to meditate upon what God is saying to us through the Bible that day. If we give time and attention to prayer and the Word, then our relationship with God will grow and deepen. Yet there is one more thing.

If we are to really love God with all of our hearts, then we must also worship God daily. This type of worship in not necessarily or even often done in a church. Yes, a time of corporate worship done at least weekly is essential in our relationship with God. But intimate, close, personal heart worship is the key to loving God with all of our heart. Taking time each day to reflect on God’s blessings and presence in our lives each day is essential to building our love of and faithfulness to God. This can be done anywhere and at anytime, but, again, making this practice a part of our daily disciplines will help our love of God and our faithfulness to God to grow.

Whether now or at some other point in the day, take some set aside time to worship God with your thanksgiving and praise. Thank God for being present in this situation or for guidance in that project or relationship. Worship God for the ways you saw God in your child or spouse or co-worker. Take some set aside time and grow more in love with God. Be faithful to God today. And then… do it again tomorrow and the day after that and…

Prayer: Lord of Lords, I marvel at how your love and faithfulness are always present, both revealed in so many ways. I praise you for the small and the big ways that you are present to me in and throughout each day. You are the creator and the God of the entire universe, yet you are also my God. All praise to you, O God. Amen.