pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In Our Focus

Reading: Psalm 16: 8-11

Verses 8 & 11: “I have set the Lord always before me… You have made known to me the paths of life”.

Not too long after beginning to really follow Jesus, one learns that life is better with Christ. No, one’s troubles do not just go away but the presence of the Lord makes the journey better. Our faith brings us hope, comfort, strength, peace… Through these experiences we come to know one of the truths that David states: “You have made known to me the paths of life”. Through our own experiences we too come to believe that Jesus is the only way to live and to eternal life.

Yet even though we come to know this as we mature in our faith, the reality is that we must make an effort to keep our faith in focus. In verse 8 we read, “I have set the Lord always before me”. I think the key word here is “always”. That means 24/7. To keep God ever before us – 24/7 – takes a lot of effort and a lot of discipline.

The effort is shown in how we connect with God. In our prayer life it must be more than a quick ‘thank you God’ here and a table grace there. Daily prayer must be intentional and should include praise, thanksgiving, confession, and petition (asking). Our study of the Word must also be more than superficial. For example, when we read the Upper Room or some other devotional, do we read the passage or just the key verse listed at the top? Reading the passage will add depth to our understanding. We must turn to the Bible for guidance and for direction as well. Another practice that helps keep our faith in our focus is fellowship with other believers. That is certainly public worship but it is also in small group or Sunday school settings. Talking about our faith and learning together are great ways to expand our perspective and to deepen our understanding of God’s word.

And then there is discipline. The daily and intentional attention to the means of grace requires discipline. Discipline is essential to the life of a follower of Jesus. It is too easy to put off the prayer time or Bible study or small group. It is an easy excuse to say I’ll do it later or I’ll catch up tomorrow or I’ll start going again next week. How would we feel if we lifted up an earnest prayer and God responded with “I’ll try and get to that next week”? May we strive to keep the Lord ever before us and in our focus. May it be so.

Prayer: Thank you God for my routine. There is no better way to start my day! Thank you for the regular opportunities to engage with you and with other believers. Blessings upon blessings! Amen.

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The Holy Spirit

Reading: John 14: 25-29

Verse 26: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you”.

As Jesus is preparing His disciples for His departure, He speaks these words to them: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you”. He will not leave them alone or as orphans. In chapter 16 of John, Jesus will go on to tell them that it is good that He is going away – only then will the Holy Spirit come to each of them. This constant indwelling presence of the Spirit will be like Jesus Himself living in each of them. It will teach and remind them. It will bring them peace. Our passage concludes with Jesus telling them that He shares this now so that when it happens they will believe. He is predicting the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of His followers.

There are many names for the Holy Spirit. The original in Greek was “paraclete”. This word translates to “one who comes alongside”. This translation reminds one of a best friend who is always there for you. Other names include Counselor, Advocate, Guide, and Holy Ghost. The Spirit is the personal, intimate, continual presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts and minds. The Spirit works within us to draw us closer to God, to teach us the ways of God, to keep us on the right path, to remind us of how to follow Jesus. It also helps us to feel God’s peace, comfort, love, strength, grace, mercy, forgiveness… The Holy Spirit is a wonderful gift that comes when we confess Jesus as Lord. Thanks be to God for the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Giver of all good things, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit in my life. Thank you for how it encourages, strengthens, empowers, and leads me. Thank you for this wonderful gift in my life. Amen.


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Peace Be with You

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 19: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'”!

The disciples are gathered together, behind locked doors, mourning the loss of Jesus. When one of a close group dies, this is common behavior. There is comfort in grieving together, in knowing you are not alone. Others just outside the circle also come and visit, offering support and presence and love to the group. But the group of disciples are also afraid. They are hiding behind closed doors because they fear what the Jews might do to them. Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ and Peter has seen the empty tomb. What all this now means must still feel a bit unsettling to them. Life will not be the same for the disciples.

At times of loss we too experience some of these same emotions and thoughts. While we may not fear other people, we may have a desire to hunker down and shut out the world. Sometimes there is a desire to visit familiar haunts or the scene of the tragedy. After a tragic loss in college I wanted to spend time at her house with her family. Then, after the funeral, I spent lots of time at the grave site. In those places I could feel a palpable desire to remain close. Even though I knew she was gone and life would never be the same, the desire was there. Being near brought a sense of comfort to my inner turmoil and unease over the future and my ‘now what?’ questions.

The disciples must have been feeling and thinking at least all of this when the risen Jesus appears among them. Jesus begins with some simple words: “Peace be with you”. Peace – that is the feeling needed in this situation. Peace – a sense of normalcy and an absence of worry and fear and doubt. Peace is surely what the disciples and followers of Jesus needed.

Jesus offers us the same thing. Whether the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or marriage, an unexpected move, a sudden illness, or many other possible scenarios, we can find ourselves driven to a place of sorrow or insecurity or discomfort. Into all that life can bring, Jesus desires to come and be present to us. There He will say, “Peace be with you”. When we need Jesus the most, He will be there most powerfully. In the hour of need, turn to Jesus and cry out to Him. He will bring you His peace.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my peace again and again. I can trust in you. Help me to be a vessel of your peace too – bringing your peace to those in need. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: John 12: 20-36

Verse 25: “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”.

Our passage today opens with some Greek Jews in town for the celebration of the Passover. They would like to meet this Jesus guy. We can only assume that they have heard something about Him. We do not know if news of Jesus has spread to where they live or if they have heard stories once they arrived in Jerusalem or if they were there for the triumphal entry and are curious.

Many people today are like these Greeks. They have heard of Jesus or have crossed paths with someone who follows Jesus and they’ve become curious. But often there is something else driving them to want to know more. Sometimes life takes a turn or twist and they are searching for understanding or peace or comfort or strength or… Sometimes one just arrives at a point where they realize that there must be more than “this”. For many other reasons, folks come looking for Jesus.

Jesus replies by saying that a seed must die in order to produce more seeds. This is a great analogy. If we remain centered on or just focused on ourselves, then we will remain just one seed. But if we are willing to surrender self, then we can live for much more. In verse 25 Jesus says, “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”. When we hold onto our earthly titles and possessions, then we love our life. When we do not cling to the things of this world then we focus in on eternal things and we find eternal life.

Jesus goes on to equate the idea if dying to self with serving and following Jesus. We must follow Jesus’example if we are to be a Christian, a disciple, a follower. Jesus’ example centered first on loving God with all of our being and, second, on loving others as He first loved us. Love was at the core of who Jesus was and it guided all of His decisions, words, and actions. The first question Jesus asked was: how can I love God fully today? The second was like it: how can I fully love all that I encounter today? Great questions to live by. May we do so this day and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me to love as you love. You are awesome and wonderful and loving and forgiving. You are easy to love. This day and every day, may that love grow. As I live out each day though, my struggle is in loving all I meet. Work on that in me, O God. Help me to die within to those things that limit my capacity and ability to love others as you love them. Day by day, make me more like Jesus. Amen.


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Light

Reading: Psalm 36: 5-10

Verses 7 and 9: “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings… in your light we see light”.

Where I live and in many parts of the world we are about half way through the season of darkness that comes every winter. The darkness builds to December 21 and then slowly recedes. We often go to work in the dark and come home from work in the dark. The dark affects us all – rich and poor, black and white, male and female. We long for more light.

We experience darkness in other ways too. Some of the time it is spiritual – sin has gotten ahold of us or we have become lazy in our spiritual disciplines and we feel as if the source of light and love in our lives is distant. Sometimes it is caused by life – the loss of a loved one puts us in a funk or illness runs us down and we pull into ourselves. In all these cases, we sense the darkness and we long for light.

The psalmist reminds us where to turn. He writes, “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”. Because we all experience seasons of darkness, both spiritually and physically, we all have times when we need the refuge found in God. It is offered to all – high and low, rich and poor, black and white, male and female. We are all God’s children and God loves us all deeply. God desires to be our refuge and more. God wants to be our peace, our hope, our strength, our comfort, our all.

When we reach out to God our darkness fades. In our Psalm today we also read, “in your light we see light”. God relieves our darkness with His light. God’s light and love shines into our dark places. God’s light lifts us up and we begin to be the light, sharing the light with others. May we call and wait upon the source of light every day. May we then be filled by the light so that we can be the light for those struggling with or living in darkness. May it be so. Amen!

Prayer: Lord of light, may I walk in the light. You are the light. Draw me in as a moth to a flame. Draw me in with your love. May the light in me shine out, lighting the way for others. Amen.


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Blessings That Cannot Be Measured

Reading: Ephesians 3: 5-12

Verse 8: “This grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”.

Today’s passage centers on Paul’s role to preach the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Throughout his ministry, Jesus mainly taught and healed amongst the Jews. Jesus did occasionally encounter and minister to a non-Jew or Gentile. The earliest church struggled with the idea of going out beyond Israel with the good news. Soon enough though it was revealed to the church leaders – especially Peter and Paul – that the good news was for all people. Paul writes, “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel”. The circle of God’s love was expanded to include the entire world. All people everywhere could “share together in the promise in Jesus Christ”.

In verse 7 Paul acknowledges that he became a servant of the gospel through the gift of God’s grace. On that Damascus road Paul met the resurrected Jesus and was changed in an instant. Paul left his hatred of Jesus and the persecution of Christians behind him and allowed Jesus to make him into a new creation – an apostle to the Gentiles. He writes, “This grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”. In another translation unsearchable is rendered “boundless riches”. Better yet, in the CEV translation it reads, “blessings that cannot be measured”. This is what faith in Jesus brings us. Salvation, mercy, grace, hope, love, peace, contentment, assurance, comfort, presence… – a blessing that cannot be measured.

Later in Ephesians 3 Paul goes on to pray that the Ephesians may “grasp how long and wide and high and deep is the love of Christ”. It was a love that welcomed Paul into faith in Jesus Christ. It is a love that led to a 180° turn in Paul. It is a love that can overcome any sin, any barrier, and circumstance. Who do you know that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Share it with them today!

Prayer: Dear God, when I encounter one who needs to know your Son, give me the words to clearly communicate the good news to them. Help me to also search my own heart so that I can come to know you more. Amen.


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Clothe Yourselves

Reading: Colossians 3: 12-14

Verse 12: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”.

In these quiet and slow days between Christmas and New Years, we can either drift along or we can be anxious about the year to come. In both cases it can be a time when we lose sight of the birth of Jesus that we just celebrated. Today’s passage is a good connection back to the birth story.

Coming into the world as a helpless infant leaves one very vulnerable and dependent on others. When Jesus Christ entered the world, Mary took Him into her arms and wrapped Him securely in swaddling clothes. This replicates the feeling and safety of the womb, bringing comfort to the baby. Mary provided all the Jesus needed to survive and then to thrive. We find a parallel to this in today’s reading.

In Colossians, Paul encourages us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”. We are to wrap ourselves in these qualities so that we can best survive and thrive in the world. To help us understand what it looks like to live out these five qualities we need look no further than Jesus. Every day He modeled these qualities. It was how God designed us to live. When we follow Jesus and emulate the model He set, then we are living as God desires.

Paul then goes on to encourage us to “bear with one another” and to “forgive as the Lord forgave you”. These two practices acknowledge our imperfections and limitations. We are what we are – the imperfect striving after the perfect. So Paul encourages us to show one another grace and mercy. Our passage ends with Paul’s directive to “put on love” as the thing that covers all of these other qualities and in fact “binds them all together”. Like the swaddling clothes of baby Jesus, when we allow love to be our primary quality, when we allow love to cover all we say and do, then we find comfort, assurance, courage, and strength to live as His witness in the world.

As we go forth into the day ahead, may we be compassionate and kind, gentle and humble, patient and forgiving. And over and before all of these, may we love just as Jesus Christ first loved us. In doing so, we share Jesus with the world.

Prayer: God, in love may I be all these things to those I meet today, bearing witness to your Son, my hope and the hope of the world. Amen.