pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Humble Submission

Reading: James 4: 7-8a

Verse 8a: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”.

In our short one and a half verses, James gives us three pieces of advice. In James 4 he has just finished quoting Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. When we are proud and allow pride to guide our words and thoughts, then we have trouble with today’s advice.

Most Christians are rule followers. In general. Sometimes we follow the rules because of circumstances. For example, in my old truck I do not drive 80 miles per hour on the interstate. 80 is the rule. I could physically drive 80 and the truck can too, but the gas mileage plummets and I am cheap. Most of the time, though, I do follow the rules because it is simply the right thing to do.

Sometimes rules do not make sense or we know they are wrong. In the cases when the rule does not make sense, we struggle to follow it. But when the rules are wrong, as Christians, we must take a stand. Such was the case back in the 1960s, when rules excluded or denied or segregated based on race. These rules were broken by and protested against by people, bringing reform to a bad system. Although it is sometimes long and hard, what is right usually wins out in the end.

Today, James is advising us to follow a rule that is both good for us and is in alignment with our faith. James says to submit to God. Tying in the verse from Proverbs, we are to humbly submit to God. Yes, it is good and right to do so. No, we cannot argue or protest against this rule. Yet at times we struggle to follow it. The devil is always at work, trying to tempt us. It is precisely then that we must over God. When we obey God, we are resisting the devil. When we obey God, the devil flees. And then we receive the promise: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”. Come to God and He’ll come to you. Draw near and rest in His presence. Connect with God and live in His light and love. How could life be any better?

O Lord, my God, in humble submission I draw near to you. In awe, I come into your presence. It is a good place to be. Fill me up with your love and grace and mercy and compassion. Fill me to overflowing, so that you can flow out of me and into the lives of those I meet today. Amen.

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The Good

Reading: James 3: 9-12

Verse 11: “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring”?

James wants us to be consistent in our Christian walk. He encourages us to be faithful all if our days. But this is not the behavior that he always sees exhibited. We too struggle with this so today’s passage applies well to life as a Christian in 2018. Truth be told, it applied well in 407, 1268, 2001… and will apply well in 2047, 2206…

James uses some good examples to follow up his main point. We do use the same tongue to praise God and to curse our fellow men – “who have been made in God’s image”. We cannot love the Creator and hate His creation. That is as crazy, James says, as expecting fresh water out of a salty spring or figs from a grapevine. If in nature none of this occurs, then how can it occurs in us, the masterpiece of God’s creation?

If we are striving to live a Christian life, I do not think we want to intentionally cause harm to others. We do not wake up in the morning looking to curse at and fight with others. But we are imperfect beings living in a broken world. We will cross paths with people who hurt or wrong us or others. Satan causes greed and jealousy and pride and… to drive a lot of people’s decisions. Into all of this we are called to be light and love. When we are hurt or wronged, we are to handle it with grace and love and forgiveness. When we stand against injustice or bias or prejudice… we are to do do with peace and understanding and empathy. We are called to walk alongside those who are hurting and broken, bringing a burst of joy and mercy and compassion.

Sometimes it is hard. In those moments we must really search deep within the other to find the Creator. We must be patient and must persevere to find that which God created and seek to draw that out. There is good within all of us, just as there is evil. As followers of Jesus Christ may we work to be and bring forth the good in us and in the world.

Lord, give me patience when I want to react and perseverance when I want to just give up. Give me mercy when I want to judge. Give me grace when you just want to condemn. Most of all, give me eyes to see you in all and a heart to love as you love. In His name, amen.


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Good Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 21: “Get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you”.

Our passage from James opens with a good reminder as we start our week. James reminds us that God gives us good and perfect gifts. The unchanging God who is from everlasting to everlasting has given us good gifts. When I think of the gifts that God has given us, I think of God himself. The greatest gifts that we have as human beings are God’s best attributes. “Created in His image” comes to mind. God loves us without fail, always forgives us, always reaches out to us, and always cares for us. These are the good gifts from above.

God uses the Word of truth, Jesus, to give us new birth. Through Jesus Christ we become new creations, born of the Spirit. It is through Jesus and His life that we truly see how to take these gifts of God – love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy… – and to use them in our lives and in the lives of others. This is how we are the “first fruits” that James speaks of. We bear fruit both when we live out and when we share these good gifts with others. This is how we live out our faith.

In verse 19 we shift to some practical advise on how to best live in relationship with others. James tells us to listen, listen, listen. And, then, we are to listen some more. “Be quick to listen”. Why? So that we are slow to speak. Hear the other person. Really understand what they are saying and feeling. Being slow to speak begins with listening and then by not thinking of our reply or response until after the other is done speaking. When we practice these two ideas, it really is amazing how it affects James’ next piece of advice.

James advises us to also be slow to anger. When we have really listened to and understood the other, then anger is harder to muster up. When we do allow anger into our hearts, we are far from righteousness. To help with our anger management, James suggests that we first “get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent”. Thinking of myself, I easily think of ego, pride, the need to be in control, judging others as the filth and evil that must go. Perhaps you too struggle with these or maybe you have others. Whatever the case, may we also follow James advice in the second half of the verse too: “humbly accept the Word planted in you”. We do know how and why God wants us to live as first fruits of His grace, love, mercy, forgiveness… This is how we share the good news with others.

In humility, I bow and ask you, O Lord, to purge me of all evil and wickedness. Fill me with your good gifts and use me to share these with others. May I be a first fruit today, bringing you and your good gifts to all I meet today. Amen.


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Good Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 21: “Get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you”.

Our passage from James opens with a good reminder as we start our week. James reminds us that God gives us good and perfect gifts. The unchanging God who is from everlasting to everlasting has given us good gifts. When I think of the gifts that God has given us, I think of God himself. The greatest gifts that we have as human beings are God’s best attributes. “Created in His image” comes to mind. God loves us without fail, always forgives us, always reaches out to us, and always cares for us. These are the good gifts from above.

God uses the Word of truth, Jesus, to give us new birth. Through Jesus Christ we become new creations, born of the Spirit. It is through Jesus and His life that we truly see how to take these gifts of God – love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy… – and to use them in our lives and in the lives of others. This is how we are the “first fruits” that James speaks of. We bear fruit both when we live out and when we share these good gifts with others. This is how we live out our faith.

In verse 19 we shift to some practical advise on how to best live in relationship with others. James tells us to listen, listen, listen. And, then, we are to listen some more. “Be quick to listen”. Why? So that we are slow to speak. Hear the other person. Really understand what they are saying and feeling. Being slow to speak begins with listening and then by not thinking of our reply or response until after the other is done speaking. When we practice these two ideas, it really is amazing how it affects James’ next piece of advice.

James advises us to also be slow to anger. When we have really listened to and understood the other, then anger is harder to muster up. When we do allow anger into our hearts, we are far from righteousness. To help with our anger management, James suggests that we first “get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent”. Thinking of myself, I easily think of ego, pride, the need to be in control, judging others as the filth and evil that must go. Perhaps you too struggle with these or maybe you have others. Whatever the case, may we also follow James advice in the second half of the verse too: “humbly accept the Word planted in you”. We do know how and why God wants us to live as first fruits of His grace, love, mercy, forgiveness… This is how we share the good news with others.

In humility, I bow and ask you, O Lord, to purge me of all evil and wickedness. Fill me with your good gifts and use me to share these with others. May I be a first fruit today, bringing you and your good gifts to all I meet today. Amen.


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Fear the Lord

Reading: Psalm 111:10

Verse 10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.

To a degree we are all guided by fear. Fear helps us make many of our decisions. Sometimes fear is healthy. If I see a bear off in the distance when I am hiking, I will choose another path. If I fear high places, maybe I keep myself a little safer. If I fear failing my classes, I will make the choice to do my work and to study. In these cases, fear helps us avoid bad or harmful consequences. Fear can also do the opposite. Memories of my parents saying, “If your friend jumped off a bridge…”. Peer pressure is often driven by fears of rejection or being left out.

Verse ten reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. On the surface level, it seems odd to tie fearing God to gaining wisdom. The fear of God is not like a fear of spiders, where we avoid them at all costs. A fear of God is a healthy thing. Often in life we choose to face our fears because of our faith in God. For example, I can choose to do the right thing and possibly lose a friend or a client because I fear denying my faith when I cheat or lie or when I avoid speaking a difficult truth. I may choose to risk loving the other even though I fear being hurt or getting into a relationship that requires much energy and time. I do so because I fear what life would be like without love. Or I fear what will happen to that marginalized person if I remain silent more than I fear the consequences of speaking out against injustice or abuse. In each case, my fear of denying the nudges and whispers of God’s Spirit outweigh or override my personal fears.

The fear of God can help us correctly prioritize our lives. In our first fear is denying God, then our life will look robustly faithful. Our words and actions will be on the side of love and mercy and compassion and justice and forgiveness and the like. Understanding that God and the witness to our faith is our purpose in life is the beginning of wisdom. This day may we decide for God and His love. Amen.


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Kind, Compassionate, Forgiving

Reading: Ephesians 4:30-5:2

Verse 32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you”.

“Live a life of love” is Paul’s advice in Ephesians 5:2. He explains that this means to love as Christ loved. Paul also reminds us of the way Jesus ultimately demonstrated the depth of His love for us. Paul reminds us that Jesus “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice”. That is a pretty big love. But Jesus did not save up His love so that He could show it all at once on the cross. Rather, He lived it out each and every day, each and every moment, often one person at a time. Perhaps, for you and I, this is a greater demonstration of love because we can model and practice this love too.

In verse 32 Paul writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you”. There are three key words in this verse: kind, compassionate, and forgiving. All of these are driven by love. All three of these are important marks of a Christian.

Being kind goes a long way in our world and in our relationships. If you do not think so, try being as kind as you can to the first few grumpy people you meet today. Being kind does things like bringing a smile to someone’s face, lifting a spirit, reminding someone that they are valued and loved. Being kind can remove tension and anxiety and can build a sense of belonging. It can change attitudes and outlooks.

Being compassionate opens our eyes and hearts to seeing others and the needs that they have. Being compassionate tilts us towards stopping and engaging the other instead of passing them by. Compassion leads us to get to know them and their story, beginning to form a relationship with them.

Practicing forgiveness is a two-way street. Jesus reminded us in Luke 11 that to be forgiven we must be willing to forgive others. The same is true in the forgiveness that we share with each other. Forgiveness acknowledges that we are all human, that we all make mistakes. Practicing forgiveness also reminds us of God’s covenant with humanity – the one that says I will love you no matter what. When we practice forgiveness we are modeling Jesus’ love. It is what the cross was all about.

Be kind to one another. Forgive those who hurt and wrong you. Seek forgiveness when you have hurt or wronged another. See and feel with eyes and a heart of compassion. Model Jesus to others. Living as Jesus lived and loving as Jesus loved, we will be truly blessed.


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Who and What

Reading: John 6: 1-21

Verse 2: “A great crowd of people followed Him because they saw the miraculous signs He had performed on the sick”.

The crowds came. They came not to hear Jesus preach but to be touched, to be healed by Jesus. Today we read, “A great crowd of people followed Him because they saw the miraculous signs He had performed on the sick”. They came in droves for the miracles. After briefly testing a few of the disciples, Jesus has the people sit down and then He proceeds to turn five loaves and two fish into enough to feed thousands. And almost as a witness to His power, the disciples collect twelve baskets full of leftover bread. Not only can Jesus heal the sick and injured, He can also produce food. It is no wonder that they wanted to make Jesus be their king. What a king He’d be!

But Jesus is not this kind of king, so He withdraws from them. Yes, the miracles are evidence of Jesus’ power, but the miracles themselves are not the essence of who and what Jesus is. He did not come to conquer an occupying army and to restore Israel to power. Jesus came to conquer our hearts, one person at a time, to build a new kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom of love and compassion and mercy and grace. It is a much different kingdom than the politically oppressed were looking for. So Jesus withdrew.

This passage makes me wonder how often I try and make Jesus something He is not. How often do I try and fit Jesus into the mold I need at the time because it suits my needs or desires? One does not have to ponder very long to find examples where this has been the case. I suppose to fully know who and what Jesus is would require fuller surrender on my part. I would have to kill the miracle-seeking and accept who and what Jesus really was – love lived out in the world.

Jesus was love of God and love of other lived out on a daily basis. May this be my purpose too, day in and day out. Through His power and presence, may it be so.