pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Round and Round

Reading: Romans 4: 13-16

Verse Sixteen: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”.

In our culture we generally like to feel we are at least ‘even’ with each other. If someone brings us a plate of cookies, for example, we feel we need to return the favor by bringing them a cake or plate of cookies or treats. If we ask someone to help us move, then we feel obliged to show up when they are moving. If wr have someone over for dinner they drive home contemplating when they can have us over for dinner. We go round and round.

Sometimes I think we feel faith is like this too. We try to do good things to gain or earn God’s favor. We pile on more when we have sinned and feel the guilt or shame. We try and check off all the boxes to meet what we think God and others expect of us to be considered ‘good’ Christians. So we go to church and to that pot luck and to the small group and to the rescue mission to help serve the meal and… We go round and round.

Lent is a good example of this idea. The concept behind a season of preparation for Easter is to be ready spiritually to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. What do we do to get ready? We give something up for Lent, wr join another Bible study, we go to that special Lenten small group, we read an extra devotional, we… Sometimes it feels like we are going round and round instead of connecting more deeply to God. But we can’t quite avoid it either. If I were to just say “Stop!” all this and just get closer to God, I would feel inclined to follow it up with advice to just pray more or to just read your Bible more. And we go round and round.

God knows. He knows. In verse sixteen we read,”Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”. We are saved by grace alone. No matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or don’t say, God’s grace is always sufficient. This removes our need to check boxes or to give up this or to add in that. This need is within us, in our minds, maybe even in our hearts. God says enough, my grace is enough. If abstaining from chocolate or whatever helps you feel closer to God, then do it. If reading an extra devotional or being in a small group helps you grow closer to God, then by all means enjoy your time. In the end, though, may we all rest upon the promise of salvation by faith alone. In this promise, grace is sufficient. It is all about God. This we know. May it be so.


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A Simple Thanks

Reading: 2nd Kings 2: 8-12

Verse Eleven: “As they were walking along and talking together…”

In one devotional I read today, it referred to the term “outlier”. Immediately my mind went back to many years teaching 7th grade math. We identified outliers when we were studying mean, median, and mode. An outlier in math is a piece of data that stands out from the other data. Outliers can really impact the mean, or the average. In its original content in the book my devotional referenced, an outlier was a regular person who practiced a skill or talent or job thousands and thousands of times. The result was extraordinary skill or proficiency at their chosen pursuit.

Using both of these understandings of outlier, the term pertains much to our faith. In today’s passage, Elijah is an outlier. He was a prophet who stood far outside the norm. At times, he was practically the last one standing for God. He spoke the truth no matter the risk, always being obedient to God. Accordingly, Elijah is widely accepted as the greatest Old Testament prophet. In our passage, Elisha shows the dogged persistence required to become an outlier. He has personally witnessed Elijah’s absolute faith in God and his total trust to go where God sent and to say what God said to say. It is something he wants for himself, so he follows closely as Elijah’s end draws near. Elisha’s persistence pays off as he sees Elijah taken, thus receiving the reward: a double portion of his spirit.

It is interesting to me that Elijah is taken not in some suspenseful moment but simply as they are “walking along and talking together…”. Elijah had just nonchalantly yet miraculously parted the Jordan so they could cross, allowing them to continue to simply walk and talk. These ideas remind me of our faith journey. We too walk and talk through life alongside God. Much of the time life is routine or normal. Yet by walking close and talking consistently, we grow deep in our relationship with God. And we do have moments, times God parts the waters, allowing us to safely pass through. Some of the time we do not even know God has intervened. Other times, it is right there for us to see. At times God gives us these moments that awe and uplift us. These too build our relationship.

As I ponder my daily walk with God, blessed here and there with those “God moments”, I am humbled and awed. I simply say: thank you God!


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Lenten Journey

Lent begins today!!  Lent is a season when we prepare ourselves for celebrating Easter, the day of Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin and death.  It is a season when we go to work so that we are ready to celebrate His victory.  Lent is a season when we look within more often.  We spend time in self-reflection to evaluate our faith.  In this process we repent of all that separates us from or keeps us from being closer to God.  We make sacrifices to draw closer to God.  Some fast to draw closer to God.  All of our practices in Lent must serve to draw us closer to God and to create in us that clean heart that will be acceptable in His sight.

The model we follow for Lent was established by Jesus.  At the beginning of His ministry, after being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness for a period of forty days.  In this time He fasted and prayed in order to prepare Himself for the testing that Satan would bring.  This period of prayer and fasting strengthened His faith and relationship with God so that He could withstand the temptations of the devil.  In our forty day journey to the cross, we too will be tempted.

In Isaiah 58 it speaks of fasting for the wrong reasons and lays out the correct reasons.  In Lent, each practice can be done for impure reasons.  All must be done to better connect to God and to prepare ourselves.  At the start of Lent we must examine our inner being to determine if there are things in our lives we need to repent of and let go.  In this period of self-reflection, sometimes we see that there is something we need to attend to more often as well.  Maybe this entails taking on a special Lenten devotional or prayer study.  Perhaps this means finding one more time to pray during each day.  Maybe it means fasting once a week during Lent.  Whether it is setting something aside or adding a new discipline, this sacrifice must draw us closer to God.

In Lent, as we go to work to draw closer to God, we must also draw closer to our fellow man.  It is an inevitable consequence of drawing closer to God.  As we grow in our love of God, our love of all He loves grows as well.  Isaiah 58 speaks much of loving those in need.  May our light too break forth as we seek to love those in need and to break the chains of oppression.  May we too be pleasing in His sight on our Lenten journeys.

Scripture reference: Isaiah 58: 1-12


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A Living Expression

Ezra and the Levites not only read the Word of God to the people, but they also explain the meaning.  In doing so, the people can do more than simply hear the Word read; they can gain an understanding of them and apply them to their lives.  In today’s passage, they were reading from the law.  Through the priests’ explanations, the people came to see that they were falling short and they mourned.

At times we too read the Bible or hear a sermon or read a devotional book and we experience conviction or motivation.  Maybe the passage is about loving our neighbor and we realize we have been less than loving to a coworker.  Maybe the message is about forgiveness and it leads us to reconcile with a friend.  Maybe the devotional for the day speaks of an act of generosity and we are inspired to clean out the closets so that we can donate some warm clothing to the local mission.  God’s Word is active and living.  When we spend time in the Word, reading or hearing it, it has to affect how we live our life as it builds our love for God.  Through the Word, we also come to know God’s love for us.

Ezra does not leave the people mourning though.  Instead he reminds them of the holiness of their gathering and of their ability to live out the Word.  He helps them to see that when they are together, it is a time of blessing.  The blessing is both from the time spent with God and from the time spent with each other as both build up their strength.  As he sends them out to the feast to celebrate, he reminds them to continue to care for one another and to be in community.  If a brother or sister is lacking, he reminds the people to provide for them so that they too can celebrate God’s presence and strength in their lives and in the community.

We too are called to hear and then doers of the Word.  May our lives each day be a living expression of all that God places upon our hearts and then calls us to do as we continue on our journey of faith.

Scripture reference: Nehemiah 8: 8-10