pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Do Not Be Afraid

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verse 28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”.

In our passage for today and tomorrow, Jesus is about to send out the twelve disciples. He reminds them in our section for today that a servant and master should be more alike one another than different. Yes, one might be in charge, but both should treat the other with respect, honor, … There should also be a similarity in their character. In the context of this passage, Jesus is saying that the disciples will go forth and do what Jesus did – teach and heal. These practices remain the core habits of disciples.

Jesus sends them out with eyes wide open. He tells the disciples not to be afraid but to “proclaim from the roofs” the things he has taught and the things “whispered in your ear” by the Holy Spirit. Both of these will lead and guide them. They do not go alone. Nor do we. In verse 28 he reminds them of the higher purpose of the mission and of the ultimate outcome for the faithful. Here Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”. This life is only a mist in comparison to eternity. That is what matters most for the lost. In his words, Jesus assures and empowers, strengthens and builds up the disciples as they prepare to go out to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need. Not all will hear the good news; some will reject and even heap abuse on the twelve. This too can be our experience. When this happens we too must remember our call and we must be assured that they cannot kill the soul. That belongs to the Lord. Forever. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, in times of trial and testing, you stood firm. Teach me to do the same, trusting in the Holy Spirit and in your word. This day and every day, may I serve you well. Amen.


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Into Our Hearts

Reading: Romans 5: 1-5

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Chapter 5 begins by reminding us of some truths of our faith: peace through justification, access to Jesus Christ through grace, and rejoicing in the glory of God. Walking in faith certainly fills this life with peace, grace, and joy. A life of faith, however, does not shield us from the hard or difficult side of life. Because we are humans, made of flesh and bone, we will experience times of illness and even death, times of trial and pain. Paul acknowledges that as Christians we will suffer. But he also points out that we do not suffer as the worldly suffer.

Just as your relationship with your spouse or family or a friend is strengthened when you go through something hard together, so too is our relationship with God strengthened when we walk through a trial with God. When we turn to God, when we lean into God, when we rely on God – we find that God is always right there. In verse five we read about the closeness of God. Here Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. The presence and strength and comfort and peace of God is right there within us as the Holy Spirit is “as close as our next breath”.

Paul walks us through the steps or progression of the deepening relationship that we experience as we continually walk with the Lord and Spirit. We first learn to persevere; this is built through Christ’s presence in previous trials. We next learn to maintain a Christly character; this is built both by walking with Christ in our trials and by reflecting on the ways that Jesus himself endured times of suffering. Lastly, we come to have a growing hope. This comes to pervade all of life, but is especially present in the trials. And Paul also reminds us that “hope does not disappoint”. If doubt or fear or anything else begins to creep in, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit whispers, “I am here”, reminding us once again of the Lord’s presence with us and within us. Thanks be to God for the closeness of Jesus Christ in our hearts. May you ever walk in his love, grace, and hope!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your constant presence in my life. I am so grateful for the ways that you surround me in the trials. Thank you for the Spirit that so often reminds me that I am not alone, that you are right there with me. All praise and glory and honor are yours, O God! Amen.


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For You and Me

Reading: Romans 5: 1-11

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul begins chapter five by reminding the Romans and us that because we have been justified by faith (made right with God), we have peace, joy, and hope. As the saved, we stand within Jesus’ grace and within the glory of God. Paul also acknowledges that at times the place we stand will bring a degree of suffering. I love the progression that Paul details in verses three and four. If we keep the faith, suffering will produce perseverance, which will produce character, which will produces hope. Paul concludes his opening thoughts with these words: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. Over and in and through all of this, God pours his love into us. God does so by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s living presence within us. Becoming incarnate and living among humanity for 30+ years was a wonderful gift. Becoming the constant indwelling presence in our hearts: amazing!

Earlier this week we looked at Moses and the Israelites out in the wilderness. Their suffering did not lead to perseverance. Instead, remember how quickly they forgot all that God had done for them very recently and how they turned to grumbling? We too can do this. When trial or suffering or unwanted change comes, we too can lose sight of our faith and seek to work things out on our own. Taught to be independent and self-sufficient, our instinct isn’t always to turn to God first. Even though our own faith journey has taught us that God can and will be present to us and will see us through the valleys, sometimes we forget. In these times, the gift of the Holy Spirit is so important.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s love – that love that has been poured into our hearts. The Holy Spirit calls us back to trusting in God, to seeking that peace, joy, and hope once again. The Holy Spirit calls to mind both the Biblical narrative and our own encounters with our loving and gracious God. And in verse eight we also find a powerful reminder: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Jesus Christ died to justify us, to save us from our sins, to reconcile us to God. It came at a cost. God gave his only Son so that the rest of his children could be saved. God did this for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, as I ponder the depth and breadth of your love, I can barely begin to wrap my head around it. But this love is a matter of the heart, not the head. Your love fills my heart. Grant me opportunities today to shed that love abroad. Amen.


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Merciful Forever

Reading: Luke 1: 46-55

Verses 48-49: “All generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me”.

Mary’s song is so full of joy and faith. The opening line, “my soul glorifies the Lord”, sets the tone for the rest of the song. Mary is both elated and humbled that God has chosen her for this special task. As she sings “All generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me” she shows that she understands the magnitude of what is happening. As the song unfolds she shares God’s character from the point of view that comes from the bottom looking up. Mary feels blessed to be a part of God’s family.

As Jesus’ life would unfold, and especially in its culmination, I wonder if Mary would continue to sing the same song. Would she still sing this song as a teenage Jesus claimed the temple as his true home and later as he said his real family were those who were a part of his ministry? Would the song’s words echo in her mind as she stood in the courtyard and then at the foot of the cross? I think Mary would still sing this song even then.

Mary’s words about God would be lived out by her son. Jesus would give mercy and offer mighty deeds as a witness to God’s love and power. Jesus would scatter the proud and lift up the humble. He would feed the hungry… Mary understood her role in all of this coming to be. She also would grow to understand who and what Jesus was. Mary would know that the cross was the only way that her son could be the Savior of the world. It is the way that Jesus would be “merciful to Abraham’s descendants forever”. As one of those descendants, I say thanks be to God his mercy.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of Jesus. In him you were more fully revealed. Most of all, thank you for being willing to die for my life. What a wonderful gift. Your love never ceases to amaze me. I praise your holy name! Amen.


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Poured Into Us

Reading: Romans 5: 3-5

Verse 5: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul begins our passage today by stating that we rejoice in our suffering. Taken by itself many would question this statement. For those outside the faith it sounds a bit crazy. Why would anyone rejoice in suffering? After the fact one can often look back on an experience and see that they did grow or did learn something. Even so, most folks would rather learn or grow in a way that did not involve suffering.

Paul bases his statement on a believer’s hope and faith. When a believer knows God’s presence in the midst of suffering, there is a strength that one finds. When a believer holds onto hope because of a trust in God’s plan, then there is a power that is present. Here Paul is connecting back to verses 1 and 2. God’s strength and power in us is what leads to perseverance. When God has been present in our suffering, we trust that God will be there again and again, building our ability to persevere. This, in turn, builds our character – we gain confidence in God and in God’s plans. We can trust God through the suffering.

Running in and through this all is one common thread: God’s love. It is a love that wants to be there, to be present, to carry us at times. In verse 5 Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. Because we have God’s presence in us through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a faith and hope that is rooted deeply in us, that is always there to draw upon. God’s love is a part of us. For this, we rejoice and praise the Lord our God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your constant and abiding presence in my life. Continue to lead and guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Heart for God

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse Seven: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

Today’s passage is a good reminder of how different we are from God. When hiring for a new opening, we consider different things than God does, depending on the position. If we are looking for a new nuclear engineer there are certain educational qualifications needed. If we are looking for a new starting point guard, there are certain physical attributes we may look for. If we are hiring a new youth director, there are specific tangibles we would have on that list. For each job, there are specific and unique criteria that must be met.

In our passage today, Samuel goes into the interview process to find a new king with certain thoughts in mind. His ideal king would be tall and strong, great in battle, brave and courageous. He would have good leadership skills. As the oldest son, Eliab, passes before him, Samuel thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord”. Not this big, strong man. One by one they pass by and God rejects all seven. Very soon into the process, Samuel gets this reminder from God: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. God is saying we must look deeper than the surface. It is the condition of the heart that matters foremost to God.

When we are hiring for our companies (or for our churches), we do try and look beyond the degrees or the work experience of the individual. We also want to know about their work ethic, if they are honest and reliable, and so on. We too dig a little deeper when something important is on the line. After all, we do not want to hire just any engineer or any point guard or any youth director – we want to hire the best one we can.

When hiring for the next king, God began His search deep within the candidates – looking first at the condition of their heart. That was the top of the list. It is usually a bit farther down our hiring lists. But this makes me wonder – if God were hiring a new leader today and He looked at the condition of my heart, would I be hired or would I be passed by? Am I a follower of Jesus whose whole heart is God’s alone? This is what God really desires of us – a heart that belongs to God. May our walk today be faithful to God, loving God with all that we are. May it be so day by day. Amen.


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Out of Love

Reading: Matthew 16: 16-20

Verse 16: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

As we continue along on our faith journey, we come to know Jesus Christ more and more as our faith develops and matures.  We come to know Jesus in various dimensions: friend, shepherd, redeemer, healer, restorer, protector, and so on.  He comes to be all things to each believer.  The longer we walk with Jesus, the longer our list becomes.  If we were asked the question “Who do you say I am?” today and then again in a month, our answer might be different.  Yet no matter our need or where we are at in life, ultimately our answers all tie back to Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.

As the Son of the living God, Jesus embodies God’s character.  Central to that character is love.  Above all else, love arches over everything.  It is God’s unending love for you and me that first drew us into relationship with Him.  It is through this love that we experience grace.  Grace is God’s undeserved, unmerited free gift of forgiveness.  Because grace is built upon God’s love it is also unending.  Love is at the core of all Jesus is for us.  He guides us out of love.  He redeems us out of love.  He heals us out of love.  He ___ out of love…

Once we begin to understand the depth of Jesus’ love for us, we begin to sense the call to share this gift with others.  As we go forth and share this love, it grows in us.  So this day, whether in word or action or deed, may each of our lives join Peter in declaring Jesus Christ the Son of the living God.


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Big Plan

Reading: Exodus 2: 1-10

Verse Three: But when she could hide him no longer…

Today’s passage has lots of characters who are all just part of God’s big plan.  Each is playing a role unsuspectingly.  If each were to be told the plan ahead of time and then we’re asked to go out and perform their part, the odds of success would have dropped.  We are much the same when it comes to living out our faith and the plans God has for us.  This is partially because our vision is so limited compared to God’s plans and partially because we too easily allow fear and doubt to whisper in our ear.  And God’s plans require trust too.

The edict to kill all make Hebrew babies had been given.  Our first character today ignores this and keeps her baby.  “But when she could hide him no longer..” she fashions a boat out of a basket and places him in the river.  The older sister decides to stand off at a distance to watch the basket.  Pharaoh’s daughter comes to the river to bathe and notices the basket.  A slave girl is sent to fetch it.  Pharaoh’s daughter knows it is a Hebrew baby and decides to keep it anyway.  The sister reconnects baby and mother for a time and then Moses grows up in Pharaoh’s home.  It is a plan none could have dreamed up and one that none would willingly have participated in.

Yet character after character plays their role in God’s big plan.  One day this baby will lead the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness.  At the time, none knew this.  But something told the mother to keep the baby and then to place it in the river.  Something told the sister to watch and then to approach Pharaoh’s daughter.  Something told her to fetch the basket and then to keep the baby that should have been killed.  Something will whisper into our heart today.  When God whispers, will we hear and respond, playing our role in God’s big plan?


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Hope

Reading: Roman 5: 1-5

Verse Five: God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Chapter Five opens with Paul’s declaration that we can claim peace with God through Jesus Christ because we are made right through our faith.  It is a bold statement but one we live into every day as Christians.  Our faith in Jesus Christ brings us into God’s grace, the unmerited gift of forgiveness that washes away our sins so that we can stand before God holy and pure.  It is an amazing love that makes us righteous day after day after day, sin after sin after sin.  It is a love without limit.  It is indeed the hope of the glory of God which leads Paul to rejoice.  May we rejoice as well!

In verse three Paul shifts directions but not end results.  Not only do we enjoy a peace with God that leads us to rejoice, but Paul also encourages us to rejoice in our sufferings as well.  Being made right through God’s grace allows us to have hope in our future.  For Paul, he saw this same hope as the end result of our suffering.  For Paul, suffering was a necessary part of our Christian journey.  As Saul the Pharisee he certainly had inflicted much suffering on Christians and as Paul the Apostle he definitely endured his share of suffering and persecution.

For Paul, he rejoiced in the sufferings because he knew it would lead to a deepening of his faith.  Paul had learned that in suffering righteously one learns perseverance.  When we lean into God and endure with the power and hope that Jesus Christ offers, then through the power of the Holy Spirit we can persevere.  As we trust in God and live within His presence, that develops our Christian character.  Our hope in God’s glory grows as we experience the power and strength of God carrying us through our trials.  We begin to see these earthly troubles as bumps along the way to experiencing God’s eternal glory.  This in turns leads to an ever growing hope.  It is a hope that is everlasting.  It is the hope that will not disappoint or fade.  It is the hope that thieves cannot steal and moths cannot destroy.  It is the hope we come to know beyond the shadow of a doubt because we come to fully know that “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

As Christians we face each new day with God’s love deep in our hearts.  May we walk in faith and hope this day and every day, trusting in the God who loves us beyond all measure.


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Love and Redemption

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 7: Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption.

Central to Psalm 130 are God’s unfailing love and His endless mercy.  These two characteristics of God are essential to our faith as well.  As the psalmist does, so too must we cry out to God in order to experience and receive His love and mercy.  It is in prayer that we seek these things.  It is through experiencing them in our lives that our relationship with God deepens.

The psalmist first cries out for forgiveness.  In repenting of our sins we come to realize that God offers forgiveness over and over and over.  The fact that no records are kept indicates the unlimited nature of God’s mercy.  It is new every moment.  In experiencing this is our relationship with God, it becomes a part of who we are and it becomes a practice in our lives.  We pray for this each time we pray, “…And forgive us our trespasses (or debts)…”

The psalmist also writes about the next step God takes.  Not only does God forgive us our transgressions, but also redeems us.  The price or cost of our sins is paid for by God.  We do not have to offer up a dove or a young goat.  We do not have to do anything – God simply redeems us through the power of Jesus’ blood.  Like His mercies being new every morning, we too are made new – pure and holy – through His redemption.  We also take this practice and make it part of our life.  We too love one another in this model, keeping no record of wrongs, wiping the slate clean, forgiving 70 times 7 times.

The key to living in God’s unfailing love and full redemption is our response.  Do we simply enjoy these blessings or do we go forth into the world to share them with others?  As we experience these two great characteristics of God, may we go forth with God’s character as our character, extending love and mercy and forgiveness and redemption to all we meet.  In this way, others will be drawn to the source of these things in us.