pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Praise and Exalt

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 & 19-29

Verse 27: “The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine upon us”.

The section of Psalm 118 that we read today is full of joy over being connected to God. Verse one is used in a popular praise and worship song. I can’t but help singing, “Give thanks to the Lord, our God and King, His love endures forever”. In our church and in many others we will sing this song on Sunday morning. The song and this Psalm are just part of the excitement of Palm Sunday.

The Psalm was a well-known Psalm so Jesus would have been familiar with it. These words probably encouraged Him as He turned and made His way to Jerusalem one last time. He knew well what lay ahead so the reminders that God is good and that His love endures forever would have brought Jesus comfort and strength. In recalling verse 22, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone”, Jesus would have found affirmation in the mission that lie ahead.

As we read this Psalm ourselves, we can also find encouragement and strength. On our paths through life we too encounter times of trial and testing. To remember “I will give thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation” places us firmly in God’s family both now and into eternity. In seeing the bigger picture, we are better able to walk through the trials. To remember “The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine upon us”, reminds us of God’s ever-present light that guides and blesses us, especially in those trials.

Almost at the end of the Psalm we read these wonderful words of thanksgiving and praise: “You are my God, and I will give you thanks; You are my God, and I will exalt you”. Yes, indeed, you are our God. For that we lift our thanksgiving and praise today! Your love endures forever, always a sign of your goodness. Thanks be to God! Amen.


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All in All

Reading: Philippians 3: 10-14

Verse 12: I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

There is great power in today’s passage.  There is great hope.  There is great promise.  There is great encouragement.  Pail is fully rooted in Christ and in His love.  He has given his all for the gospel and is willing to suffer and even give his life if that will advance the gospel and bring glory to God.  Paul opens today with a clarion call for all believers: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection”.  Like Paul, we also want to know these two things.  We want to know Christ for this earthly life so that we can love and serve others as Jesus did.  We want to know the power of His resurrection for this life and the life to come.  In this life, the power of Jesus’ resurrection brings us victory over sin.  Jesus’ resurrection power defeats the guilt and shame and chains of sin so that we can be made holy and pure in this life.  It is a power we call on again and again.  Jesus’ resurrection power also looks to the future – His resurrection power enables us to defeat death and to live eternally with Jesus in heaven.

Knowing all of this is what allowed Paul to be sold out for Jesus and the gospel.  It is what allows us to have the faith and the courage to live as sold out, all in Christians.  If we believe in the power of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, we too can live as Paul did: willing to do anything and willing to face anything to advance the kingdom here on earth.  This is what Paul is talking about when he writes, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.  Christ took hold of Paul to give him a hope, a love, a promise, a future.  Paul did not take hold of all this and sit on it to keep ut for himself.  He gave his all and eventually his life so others would gain it too.

Paul concludes today with these words: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.  Hear these words – straining ahead, pressing on, the prize, called, in Christ Jesus.  Paul’s life reflected the fact that Jesus Christ was his all in all.  May our lives and faith reflect this as well, all for God’s glory and the building of His kingdom here on earth.


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Journey

Reading: Philippians 2: 1-5

Verse Two: Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

If you think back to when you were young, perhaps you can think of someone you wanted to be like.  Maybe it was one if your parents or maybe it was a grandparent.  Maybe it was an older brother or sister.  Maybe it was an older student on the team or in the choir or band.  Whatever the case, you looked up to that person for the qualities you admired in them.  They were qualities you wanted to have or practice as well.  As we mature in life, we often have mentors who help us along at work or in our faith or in our marriages…  They are usually more experienced and are “successful” and are willing to pour into us to make us ‘better’.

In today’s passage, Paul wants us to recall how Jesus brings us encouragement, comfort, compassion, love, tenderness, and fellowship.  He then says, “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose”.  Paul is asking us to look to the ultimate role model and to emulate Jesus.  Do to others what Jesus does for us.  Jesus set aside selfish ambition and conceit.  Paul says for us to do the same.  Jesus chose humility – looking at others needs before His own.  Paul says for us to do the same.  Delve into the Word, understand what Jesus is really all about.  Get to know Him so well that you can emulate Him well.  But do not do this for just a day or even a week.  Keep reading, keep deepening your connection.  This is a lifetime project.

If we make Jesus Christ our role model, we still need mentors.  The journey of faith is not easy and it does take some experience.  It is far better to have wise counsel than it is to stumble along on our own.  Each Christian should seek out a wiser, more mature Christian as a mentor.  To be able to tap into and to learn from one who has walked where we want to walk is essential to our journey of faith.  May we each reflect on our journey to date and seek God’s direction on how and with whom to continue our path to being one in mind and spirit with Christ.


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Be Holy

Reading: Leviticus 19: 1-2

It is tough to be holy, yet God calls us to be just that.  To be in the most intimate relationship possible, we must be as like God as we can be.  Holiness is one characteristic of God that seems hard to fully grasp, nevermind live out each day of our lives.  More often than not, we are not capable of being holy on our own.  By ourselves we simply are not capable of being holy all the time.  We can freely share our money and possessions with those we love, but we struggle with giving to the stranger.  We can love those who love us, but it is another story with ‘him’ or with ‘her’ – those we do not like even slightly.  On our own, our holiness only goes so far.  We know that God’s holiness has no end and no boundaries.  This is the holiness we are called to.

God knew from the beginning that we are not capable of always being holy.  God began with the law, a set of guidelines on how to live in relationship with God and with each other.  The Ten Commandments grew over time to be a huge list – but they were more do’s and don’ts than a way to be holy.  In time, God sent Jesus to show  humanity how to live a holy life.  Jesus gave us the example of what God’s love and holiness look like lived out every day.  But the example is not enough.  To help us in our daily walk with Jesus, God sends us the Holy Spirit – the constant presence that helps us to be holy, the constant presence that helps us care for the needy, to love the stranger, to offer mercy and forgiveness to all who wrong us.  With the power and presence of Holy Spirit, we begin to be holy as God is holy.

We cannot, however, simply rely on the Holy Spirit.  We too must play a role. We too must put in the work because it is hard to be holy.  We must commit to our own spiritual growth.  We must spend time in prayer and in the Word each day.  We must be in community to worship the Lord our God and to offer one another fellowship and encouragement.  We must daily confess our sins, repent, and seek His renewing touch.  It is through all of these means of grace that we can draw near to a God who is holy, becoming more like Him ourselves.


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Each Day

Reading: Romans 13: 11-14

Paul writes to the church in Rome with some urgency.  As time has elapsed since Jesus’ resurrection, they need some encouragement.  Early believers thought Jesus would return soon – surely in their lifetimes.  But as year after year ticks by, their mindset began to change.  For many, “when” became “will” Jesus return?  Some in the church in Rome have begun to drift.  Paul’s words to “wake up” reflect this idea.  Paul writes, “our salvation in nearer that when we first believed”.  While is is true for the Roman church, it is also true for us.

Paul calls the church in Rome to faithful living each day.  “The night is nearly over” implies again that again that Christ is coming soon.  Or at least that they should return to living that way.  He urges them to put aside sin and to “put on the armor of light”.  The people must have been straying a but from the faith.  The list of actions Paul mentions are things more common to secular Roman culture.  Paul is calling the church away from this lifestyle and back to following Christ faithfully each day.

Living today we too have much that we can turn to for pleasure and gratification.  Just like the Romans, we too can engage in wild living and a loose lifestyle.  The more modern temptations of the TV screen and internet are readily available and offer a degree of privacy.  Even more private are our thoughts of jealousy and judgment and envy and freed that can so easily pop up and cause us to sin in our hearts.  Our focus on faithful living day by day can be quite a challenge.

So, Paul’s words speak to us as well.  We must constantly be aware of the efforts of Satan and work daily to stay out of “darkness”.  We must always be ready, always seeking ways to be in the “light” instead.  It is a daily battle.  It is a daily choice.  Each day, may we also “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”.  If we begin each day in Christ, our hearts and minds are better prepared to meet the assaults of the day.  We are better prepared to honor God with our choices and decisions.  Strengthen and encourage us each day, O Lord our God.


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The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Reading: Romans 8: 14-17

At Pentecost the gift of the Holy Spirit changes us in two ways.  First, with the daily presence of the Spirit in our lives, the connection to God is constant and direct.  It allows the Spirit of Jesus to be in each of us all of the time.  So as He was in the Father and the Father was in Him, so are we in the Father and the Father is in us.  It is because of this new connection that we live as heirs in the kingdom and, as such, are now God’s children.  As Christ’s brothers and sisters, we are now able to share both in His glory and in His suffering.  Our identity is now in Christ.  We become bound to Him, not to the things of this world.  We pursue Christ, not power or wealth or fame.

The second change is in our connection to one another.  With the daily presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are connected to one another as well.  We are brothers and sisters together in Christ.  The importance of this relationship cannot be overstated.  As we continue on our journey of faith, we walk together.  Instead of feeling alone, isolated, or scared, we feel fellowship, bonds of love, and encouragement.  Instead of stumbling in our sin and wondering how we will get back into a right relationship with God, there is a hand of a brother or sister reaching out to help us to get back on track.  Instead of looking around and worrying about what others think of us, we are surrounded by the community of the faithful, who know we are all broken and sinful, yet love us unconditionally anyway.

Once we enter into the family of God, our future is secure.  We no longer worry about the things of this world.  We no longer chase after things that do not last.  Our goal and our focus become growing in our faith and in our relationships, both with Christ and with one another.  Each day becomes a gift back to God, seeking to honor and bless Him in all we do.


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The Gift of Music

Have you ever heard a song and continued with the words or the tune long after it stopped playing?  Ever had a song come to mind as you were praying over a concern or trouble?  Music has a way of soothing and also a way of encouraging.

Psalm 124 is believed to be a call and response song often sung as people made their way up to the temple for worship.  The content of the song recalls how God has intervened in the past to save Israel from its enemies.  It was a concrete reminder of how God is always present to protect the people, always there to preserve at lead a remnant.  As Psalm 124 was sung, it also reminded the people of their dependence on God.

We too are often blessed by God’s hand and are often living under His protection.  The words of songs or hymns that we know can remind us of these gifts.  Their words can also encourage and lift us up in times of need.  Music can be powerful.

Psalm 124 prepared the people for worship as they made their way to the temple.  It put them in the right frame of mind.  I imagine at times people would sing or hum the song as they went through the ups and downs of their daily lives.  Music serves to connect us to God as well, reminding us of who God is and of how we are in relationship with God.  May we too find encouragement and strength when needed and may we offer up our praise and thanksgiving as well through the gift of music each day.

Scripture reference: Psalm 124