pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Free to Love

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 13-15

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”.

Paul speaks a lot of freedom. While it is true that in Christ we find much freedom, it is a freedom that is bound by love. We are free to live a full and wonderful life, but Paul is clear that there are lines that we are not to cross. In Paul’s way of thinking, we are free to love others. Paul describes the love we are to have for one another as “becoming slaves to one another”. That means we place the needs of others far ahead of our own needs.

In verse 14 Paul makes an important statement. He writes, “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”. This is a big and bold statement. As Saul, he would have never made this statement. The law and keeping every letter of the law was very important to the former Pharisee. For most Jews, the law was a key focus and was the underpinning of life. Paul has come to understand what Jesus meant when he talked about love. It was a complete and sacrificial love that gave all for the other.

When we are willing to live out this sacrificial love for the other, we are building up or pouring into the other. Instead of giving ourselves away and emptying ourselves, we find that we too are filled up and we feel more freedom to love others. As we give ourselves away, we gain more and more. Our freedom in Christ abounds!

Prayer: God, grant me the opportunity to pour into another today. As I do so, thank you for your giving love that overflows my heart. Amen.

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Close to a Big God

Reading: Mark 10: 35-40

Verse 37: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”.

James and John’s request can be heard two ways. Their bold request is generally viewed as over the line when one includes the reaction of the other ten disciples. When James and John say to Jesus, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”, it can be seen as trying to elevate themselves over the other disciples. James and John have clearly heard that Jesus will soon return to His place beside God in heaven and they want to secure their places too. On the right and left would be two pretty good places. Jesus then asks them if they think they can walk the path that He will walk and they respond affirmatively. Jesus acknowledges that they will walk the path but concedes that it is God who has determined who will sit at the right and left.

Perhaps, though, James and John are not asking for selfish purposes. What if they are asking simply because they have heard Jesus’ plan and have caught His portrayal of heaven? What if they are just asking to go with Jesus when He goes, rather than to remain on earth? Maybe staying close to Jesus is their focus. Maybe Jesus’ answer to them is affirming the desire to remain with Him with a bit of “not yet” added on. Jesus does indicate that James and John will remain faithful and will indeed suffer for their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Whichever was the case, whatever the motivation was that led to the request, James and John wanted to remain close to Jesus, no matter the cost. They were bold enough to ask a big thing of Jesus. May these be the examples we take from our passage today. First, may our primary focus be on remaining close to Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Second, may we have a faith big enough to ask bold things of God. James and John were bold for their faith. Let us follow their example as we walk out our journey of faith.

Lord God, help me to always seek your presence, to always be willing to walk closely with you in this life. And when I drift, may the Spirit’s voice be loud and insistent. Open my eyes to see you as you are – almighty, without limit, fully able. May my walk and my faith reflect who and what you are. Amen.


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Life of Praise

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse One: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; before the ‘gods’ I will praise your name”.

Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise. Praising God is an important part of our faith life. It keeps our relationship in perspective and it also reminds us of our need to rely on God. The psalmist begins by saying we praise with all of our heart. Less than all in is simply not authentic worship of God.

I love the use of the words “gods” in parentheses. It is saying in a fun way that God must be first. Yes, our reality is that at times we can place other gods before the one true God. The world has a long list of things that really matter and we all chase after them at times. Said another way, David is saying that he will praise God right in the face of all of these other idols. David recognizes that God’s name is to be exalted far above any other name.

It gets personal in verse three. David writes, “When I called, you answered me”. Yes, this God whose name is exalted above all other names is personally committed to David and to each of us. We do not worship and enter into a personal relationship with a distant or arrogant God. We do so with a God who walks personally with each of us. For David, this makes him bold and stout-hearted.

God offers us this same personal, intimate, loving relationship so that we too can live a life of praise that glorifies and exalts God in all we do. May it be so today.


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Into the Cloud

Reading: Exodus 24: 15-18

Many years ago my wife and I were in Switzerland.  One day we planned to go up into the Alps to see Jungfrau up close and personal.  Jungfrau is a rugged and beautiful mountain.  So we found the little mountain train and rode up the line.  It was a glorious summer day in June.  However, when we got to the small town nestled high up in the Alps, the clouds had settled in around Jungfrau.  I have a lovely picture of a very thick cloud to show what Jungfrau looked like that day.

In our passage today, Moses is not on vacation but is answering God’s call to ‘come up the mountain’.  Aaron and Hur are appointed to settle disputes while Moses and Joshua are gone.  The elders are told to wait for Moses to return.  A cloud descends on the mountain as Moses heads up.  On the seventh day God calls Moses into the cloud.  Stepping into the cloud, Moses enters into God’s presence.  Moses converses with God for a period of forty days and forty nights.  Moses emerges from the cloud filled with knowledge and empowered to lead.

There will be times in our lives when we feel as if God were in a cloud.  In the ordinary days of our faith, we can sense that God is near and in those sacred moments can feel as if we were in the palm of God’s hand.  But at times we feel as if God were distant or were shrouded in a cloud.  In these times, there is a scariness about stepping into the cloud, into the unknown or unseen.  But just as God called Moses, He too calls us to trust in Him and to faithfully walk forward in faith, knowing that God will guide our steps.  Of course, we know that God is never distant or gone.  It is only that at times we feel this way.  In those times of doubt and fear and uncertainty, may we step boldly into God’s presence, as Moses did, trusting God to transform and empower us as well.


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Bold Trust

Reading: Jeremiah 32: 6-15

Shelter is one of our most basic needs.  To have a place to call home provides stability and a sense of well-being.  Your day is different when you know you have a place of refuge and a place to lay your head down at the end of the day.  As the Babylonians assaulted the city, the words of Jeremiah’s prophecy echo in their heads.  They know they will be defeated and carried off into exile in Babylon.  The Israelites future is scary and full of unknowns.

Into this scene steps Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel.  God has told Jeremiah that Hanamel is coming to sell him some family land in his hometown.  Buying land seems an odd choice when they about to be uprooted and carried off to a foreign land.  But God had told Jeremiah about Hanamel’s visit so he goes ahead and buys the land.  Most of us would have said, “Let’s just wait and see how this thing with the Babylonians turns out”.

But Jeremiah is banking on God’s promises.  He knows that the Israelites are God’s chosen people and always will be.  He knows God’s promise that one day “houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in the land”.  It may be ten years or four hundred years.  It does not matter because God’s word is good.  One day God will restore Israel.

At times God will ask us to step out into a place where we must trust what we know about God.  Perhaps God is asking you to do so right now in your life.  If not now, know that God will.  This is because trust is an essential element in our relationship with God.  In this place of trust we begin to say “your will” instead of “my will”.  As we sense God’s call to step out in faith may we each do so, boldly trusting in God alobe.


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Bold as Nicodemus

Reading: John 19: 38-42

Jesus has died and His body hung on the cross.  The other two who had been crucified with Jesus have also died.  The excitement of the crucifixions is over so the jeering crowds, the curious onlookers, and the followers who loved Jesus have all drifted away.  The three bodies hang on the crosses.  It is a desolate image.  It is a hard reality to envision this image.  It seems a time without hope.

It is at this point that Nicodemus steps once again into the story.  He goes to Pilate and asks for Jesus’ body.  This seems an odd choice for a Pharisee and a member of the ruling council.  But it is evidence of Nicodemus’ growing faith and belief in Jesus.  We recall first meeting Nicodemus in John 3 when he went under cover of night to talk with Jesus.  Here he hears the message that he must be born again.  A few chapters later Nicodemus utters a brief and almost half-hearted defense of Jesus as the chief priests and Pharisees debate what to do with this Jesus.  Perhaps Nicodemus was one of those cheering on the parade route a few days earlier and then was among the crowd a few days later that shouted, “Crucify Him”! Through all of this we see Nicodemus’ faith growing, his love deepening, to the point he is willing to go to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body.

But perhaps Nicodemus’ story is not so unfamiliar to us.  We can all think back to the first times we really wondered who this Jesus was.  Was He more than the Bible stories?  Could I really have a personal relationship with Jesus?  So we began to question and to seek answers.  As we learned more and came to love Him more, we too came to a point of timidly defending Jesus and our faith in Him.  It may have seemed unimportant at the time, but upon reflection we are it as another turning point on our journey of faith.  And then we get to the point in our faith where we find Nicodemus at in today’s story: willing to stand and be counted as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  This day may we be as bold as Nicodemus, declaring our faith in Jesus Christ to any and all.


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Be Like Paul

Paul went to Corinth to share the gospel with any who would hear it.  He adapted his approach to the audience he was working with at that time.  The message or central truths did not change, but his techniques, styles, and approaches did.  He became like his audience each time to best reach them.

Paul also chose to not receive a salary for his apostolic efforts, instead laboring as a ten maker to pay his way.  By choosing to do this he was free to preach how he wanted and to whom he wanted.  This approach allowed him to be all things to all people so all could best hear the gospel. Paul only answered to God.

One of the old pastors at church liked to go to bars to shoot pool with the regulars.  As they shot pool he’d drink a Coke and they would talk about God and faith.  He did this on his “day off.”  Even then some in the congregation questioned it. I think that is sad.  Maybe you do too.

But… how often do you choose not to engage someone in a faith conversation or choose not to go ‘there’ because of what others might think or say?  We too mush be like Paul – totally unashamed of the gospel and willing to share it on their level and in their place with whomever we meet.  May we too be so bold for the gospel!!

Scripture reference: 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23