pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love and Grace

Reading: Philippians 3: 1-12

Verse 8: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”.

The title for today’s passage in my Bible is “No Confidence in the Flesh”. It is a good reminder. In verses four through six Paul reminds us of how we can trust in the old and in the things of this world. We may not connect circumcision or our tribe or our nation as sources of confidence. But we can count our position or title or status as things we place our confidence in. We may claim the tag “Christian” instead of Pharisee and we may go about persecuting all who don’t see or interpret things just as we do. Some even see their confidence in the two areas as just cause for their legalistic righteousness that is far from the love and grace that Jesus exemplifies. Paul sees this in his former life as Saul.

In verse seven there is a shift. All of this earthly confidence Paul now considers a loss for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ. He goes on to explain in the next verse, saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”. Paul willingly laid aside the titles… in exchange for coming to know the Savior. He calls all that earthly stuff “rubbish” as is willing to throw all that away so that he may “gain Christ”. It amazes me what a little encounter with Jesus did for and to Paul’s life. All that he had grown up knowing and believing and living – holding this above all else – was rubbish once he knew the love and grace of Christ. Today some continue to live out the law without knowing Christ. Some even live with the Christian tag and live a life that does not bear witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Instead of an earthly, human righteousness based upon the law and strict adherence to the rituals and practices, Paul has found a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus. It is not the high and mighty righteousness negatively associated with the super religious. It is a righteousness based partly on the resurrection of Jesus. It is also based on the love and grace that comes by “sharing in his sufferings”. In losing all the earthly trappings, through the grace he himself experienced in Christ, Paul was left with a love for Jesus and for all who did not know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We too can know this love and grace. Like Paul, may we know Christ crucified and risen. And may we share Christ with all we meet, seeking to work out our mandate to make disciples of all nations and peoples. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, at times I can be a bit like Saul – feeling good about my titles or position or religion. When I do, bring me face to face with the sufferings of Jesus, made real in the realities of a hurting and broken world. There, fill me with only grace and love, that I may represent you well in the world. Amen.


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Ever Before Me

Reading: Psalm 16

Verse 8: “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken”.

Psalm 16 is written by David and flows with confidence in God. For David, God is his refuge, his giver of good things, his counselor. David trusts that God is worthy of his praise and rejoicing. He also knows that God is always present. With confidence David writes, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken”. He chooses a daily relationship with God and upon that relationship he can stand firm.

In today’s Psalm, David is affirming and positive. But life is not always good. David, like us, certainly had days and seasons when life was hard and had times when sin created separation from God. Some of David’s Psalms reflect these valleys. It was in those lows that David learned that God never leaves him. We too experience this if our first action in the valley is to reach out to God. The Lord is always there, always by our side. Verse 8 is a great verse to memorize or to put on a note card or to highlight in our Bibles.

Psalm 16 closes with another promise that can sustain us and help us through a trial or time of grief or suffering. God shows us the “path of life” – the way to eternal life. David knows that one day he will be in God’s presence, enjoying “eternal pleasures” at God’s right hand. What a joy it will be! This promise is ours too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to daily walk with you. Keep me intimately connected so that I can stand firm in the trials and hard times. Thank you for always being present to me, O God. Amen.


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Cry Out

Reading: Psalm 130: 1-4

Verse One: “Out of the depths I cry out to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice”.

The psalmist writes of something familiar to us. At places in life we find ourselves in the depths of despair. Life wrings us out and we feel no other choice but to cry out to God. Yes, at times we arrive there quickly and unexpectedly. But more often than not, we cry out only after a time of trying to cope or solve or dealing with it on our own. We cry out only when we have done all we can do and see no other option. I think sometimes we find ourselves in the depths because we did not cry out on the downhill. We waited until we were at the bottom.

This is odd because we trust that God hears us when we cry out. We do trust that God is attentive to the needs of His children. And when we have cried out we have experienced God’s presence, guidance, peace, comfort, … So we cry out with some history that allows or helps us to have confidence in God’s response. Yet often we wait.

The psalmist shifts gears a bit in verse three. To us, it is also a recognition that we are all sinners saved by grace. To the psalmist though, they would have understood a connection between illness or suffering or trial to sin in their life. Sin brings with it punishment. The system of sacrifice that made atonement for sin was the mechanism to receive forgiveness. It cleared the record with God.

When we read these verses with our New Testament eyes, we think of Jesus our Lord, the one who died to pay the price of our sins. In our understanding, our sins are wiped away as soon as we confess and repent. At our best, we too know that without the forgiveness that comes through the blood of Jesus that we could not stand before God either. Verse four closes with “therefore you are feared”. In translation, some meaning is lost. The fear that the psalmist speaks of is not a fear of snakes or a fear of the dark. This fear is a healthy respect, a holy reverence for God. It is the reminder or acknowledgement that God is God.

As we journey through today, may we be quick to cry out to God, coming to the Lord before the depths entangle us. May we seek God’s presence and know His great love that makes us pure and holy in His sight.


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Day by Day

Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13 to 5:1

Verse Fourteen: “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us”.

Our passage today begins with Paul quoting from Psalm 116 – a great Psalm that praises God’s presence with and care for us. This Psalm is just one of many, many examples of God’s faithfulness to humanity. It is with confidence that Paul writes, “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us”. We too trust and live into God’s presence in our lives and into the love and compassion that find witness to in the scriptures and that we experience with our own lives.

The promise of eternal life that we read of in verse seventeen is a wonderful promise. At times, it brings us comfort and strength. At times, this promise brings great hope. While all of this is true and the promise remains for a who have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, we live now in the present. Paul goes on to write of the grace that is causing joy to overflow. This is what we experience from the promise in our day to day lives. We receive strength in the trial, comfort in the pain, course for the journey, redemption after the stumbles, forgiveness to share with others. All of these and more are the ways we experience God’s living presence with us in the daily walk of life. Paul speaks of this, writing, “Therefore we do not lose heart”. God is always with us. We do not lose heart.

The last section in today’s passage does remind us of our mortality. Paul concedes that “outwardly we are wasting away” and we are. But we also know the second half of the sentence to be true: “yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”. Each and every day God is with us, renewing us. Therefore we fix our eyes on the unseen, on Jesus. He is the eternal. He is our hope. He is our salvation. His living Spirit is with us all the time. Jesus is our all in all. Thanks be to God for His love revealed to us in and through the life of Jesus, the model of faith that we follow. Each day may He renew our body, mind, and spirit so that we can faithfully walk in God’s abiding presence. Amen.


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Relationship

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

The Psalm opens with a wonderful truth: “O Lord, you have searched me and know me”.  The God who wove us together in the womb continues to know us inside and out.  There is nothing we can hide from God although we often act as if we can.  Like a trusted friend, the psalmist recognizes that God knows our next words even before they are formed on our tongues.  It is an intimate and deep knowledge of each of us that God possesses.

There can be such comfort and ease in this type of relationship.  As the depth of knowledge between two people grows, the level of trust and confidence rises to new heights.  Think of that best friend that you can tell anything to without fear of judgment or embarrassment or condemnation.  This is the type of relationship that God desires to have with us.

While God may know us inside out, our knowledge of God is often limited.  We often feel there are things and words we cannot bring to God.  We do not treat God like a best friend.  This is mainly due to a shortage of time with God.  Although God is always present, if we do not engage God, then God is like a wallflower, silent in the corner.

To develop and to continue a deep personal relationship with God requires us to get to know God well.  We do so in worship, in prayer, in reading and meditating on God’s Word.  We do so by being open and taking everything to God.  The more we put into our relationship with God, the deeper it becomes.  The deeper our relationship with God becomes, the more we learn about ourselves as well.  God teaches us as we grow and this process reveals and shapes us.  It is a wonderful process.  May we seek to always grow in our relationship with God, being ever blessed.


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Step Out

Reading: Acts 16: 9-12

When was the last time you felt God calling you to do something or when you felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit?  Depending on how in tune we are to our relationship with God, the guidance and nudges and whispers can come frequently.  These connections are like everything else in our lives: the more we try and allow ourselves to hear and sense God, the better we become at sensing and hearing His presence and guidance in our lives.

In the text today, Paul has a vision calling him to a new place of ministry.  He had been struggling with where to go next so this vision would have been like an answer to prayer.  For Paul the call was clear as day.  They get up in the morning, pack up, and head out for Macedonia.  New place, new people, new challenges.  Lots of unknowns.  Paul did not hesitate.  As one deeply in tune with God and the Spirit, God spoke and Paul went.

God sometimes calls us in a similar way.  He puts a call upon our heart and we feel the tugs to respond.  Or maybe it comes in an almost audible whisper from the Holy Spirit or in a nudge we can almost physically feel.  There is no denying that we all sense, feel, hear God’s calling and leading.  And there is no denying that at times we ignore, dismiss, … this call and leading.  We allow the fears, doubts, and unknowns to keep us in our safe, comfortable, easy place.  Step out.  We need to step out in faith and with the confidence that God goes before and that the Spirit walks alongside us.

We were each created to be used by God.  Each of us was created with our own gifts and talents for a purpose.  As we allow God and the Spirit to move in our lives, we are freed to experience and share the amazing power of God transforming our lives and the lives of those around us.  Step out and step into God’s plan for your life.


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Never Lets Go

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse four reads, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.”  In my mind this triggers a song that uses this line.  The song refers to God’s perfect love casting out fear.  The pre-chorus begins with “And I will fear no evil” and goes on with, ‘because my God is with me’ then poses the question” ‘whom then shall I fear?’

In life we certainly have times when we do walk in the shadow of death.  The ‘death’ may be a physical loss of a dear friend or loved one, but it can also include the loss of a friendship or the end of a job, the end of a marriage or moving to a new town.  Some of these losses are new beginnings in life so there is joy as well, but we must also acknowledge the sadness of what is no more.

In Psalm 23 we get a palpable sense of loss for David.  We also get a real sense of his confidence that God will always be there.  David has experienced his share of dark times and has learned that God continues to remain present through these times as well.

This is something we tend to learn the hard way.  We tend to be individualistic and to try and do things on our own.  Too often we turn to God only when all of our own efforts have failed.  But as we do this over and over, we come to realize our need for God sooner and sooner and we turn to Him quicker and quicker.  We come to learn what David learned: God is always there.

The chorus to the song rings out, ‘Oh no, you never let go; in every high and every low; oh no, you never let go; Lord, you never let go of me.’  In every high and especially in every low, may we always remember that God never lets go of us.  May we cling to Him, for He is always present, always seeking to hold us close.