pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Lord Is Near

Reading: Philippians 4: 1-9

Verse Five: Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.

Paul has just finished writing about pressing on towards the prize for which God calls us heavenward.  He has spoken about those who believe in Jesus having a citizenship in heaven.  Paul has written of the glorious transformation that will come – the one that He and other believers eagerly await.  Our passage today begins with Paul’s encouragement to “stand firm in the faith”.

Paul quickly shifts gears to plead with two people who appear to be fighting.  Paul asks others in the faith community to help them solve their differences and to “agree with each other in the Lord”.  Paul then again shifts gesrs, maybe giving evidence if why we should be of one mind.  In verse five he writes, “Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near”.  As we rejoice in the Lord, it really should be evident to all.  And when we feel anxious or begin to worry or doubt, Paul reminds us to take it to the Lord in prayer.  He is near so we should quickly go to Jesus in prayer.  When we do, we will find that peace which passes all understanding.  To summarize: stand firm, be of one mind, rejoice in the Lord, pray often, live in His peace.

Sounds like simple steps.  They can be.  But at times these simple steps can be so hard.  My mind easily returns to that pile of to-do on my desk, to that person I need to visit, to that uncomfortable conversation that needs to happen…  At the core of it all is trust.  Do I trust God to lead, to give me guidance, to give strength, to give all that is needed for what is at hand?  Paul’s advice is good advice: pray.  In all things, turn it over in prayer.  When I do, I find His peace.

Paul concludes today’s Word with things to fill our minds with that remind us that He is near.  These are things that keep us close to God and that keep our gladness evident.  Paul calls upon us to think of whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable…  He is calling us to think of God in Jesus Christ.  When we choose to keep our minds on Jesus, we are ever reminded that “the Lord is near”.  When Jesus Christ is near, peace and joy are close as well.  This day, may we rejoice in the Lord!

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One True God

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse One: When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming…

Over and over and over again, God has provided for and protected the Israelites.  Whether it was opposing armies or food or water or which way to go, God has been there.  Moses has been their leader through it all.  He has led by example and has always been faithful to the Lord God.

As we grow and mature in our faith, we come to trust in God and His presence and protection.  Our experiences when God had been there over and over builds our trust in Him and we come to believe that God will be there again and again.  But this can be such a fragile balance.  Something happens and doubt or fear or anxiety creeps in.  We turn to something other than God to curb our doubt…  we ignore what is going on… we cope in some unhealthy way.

We can relate to the Israelites’ choice in our passage today.  Moses has been gone a long time.  A LONG time.  They fear going into the presence of God.  They look up and see the “thick darkness” that Moses disappeared into.  We too can feel that our lives have slipped into such a place.  We can feel as if God were absent during these times.  But God is always present.  Like the Israelites, it is we who turn away.

In Moses’ absence, the people turn to Aaron.  He is #2 in command.  Aaron is a little less steady, a little less assured, a little less connected to God.  He wants to be a pleaser.  He fashions a golden calf to soothe the people’s fears and doubts.  The people willingly worship this idol – they are glad to be rid of their feelings of discomfort.  Our inner self can relate well.  Like Aaron, our inner self is willing to take over, to just do something to solve or at least alleviate our situation.  Like the people, our inner self is willing to do whatever to not feel those bad feelings.  We turn to other or self instead of turning to God and trusting in Him.

In our lives, when the storm clouds rise or when worry or doubt or… well up, may we turn to the only One who can save and protect – our One true God.  May we trust in God alone.


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Endless Pursuit

Reading: Exodus 20: 18-20

Verse 18: When the people saw the thunder and lightning… they trembled in fear.

Moses has come full circle.  It was on this mountain that God gave Moses his call to go to Pharaoh to free the Israelites.  The Lord God had “heard their cries” and responded.  The plagues in Egypt were powerful displays of God’s might, but they were directed at someone else.  Since they have been freed, the Israelites have grumbled and complained, questioning both Moses and God all along the way.  And now Moses calls them to this mountain.  We hear the people’s reaction: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning… they trembled in fear”.  This God who passed over their first born, who parted the sea, who brought quail and manna and water – now He looks a bit angry stop that mountain.  They have grumbled and questioned all along.  It is not surprising that they are afraid and want to keep their distance.

Moses calls the people to the mountain to hear a word from God.  The people fear that they will die if God speaks directly to them, so they ask Moses to be the messenger.  Really, they are asking Moses to once again stand between them and God.  Through their fearful eyes all they can see is the smoke and thunder and lightning.  To them, the desert and even this mountain are a vast wasteland.  There is nothing there, yet they have survived.  Over and over and over again God has provided and led and protected them.  They have missed the lessons along the way: trust in God, keep the faith, live into being the chosen people, and, most importantly, God loves you.  Lost in their fear and negative attitude, they cannot see God for who and what God is.

At times we walk this road too.  We become so stuck in our situation or in the past that we cannot hear God’s word for us.  The word may be grace or love or forgiveness or peace or strength or hope.  Just as with the Israelites, though, God never gives up.  God keeps on pursuing us no matter what.  Thanks be to God for the endless pursuit of each of us, deeply rooted in His love.  Thanks be to God.


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Kneel and Confess

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-13

Verses 9-11: Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place… every knee shall bow… every tongue confess…

Today’s passage begins with a reminder of how Christ “made himself nothing” and became a servant, made in human likeness.  It still amazes me that He would love us so much that He would become like us.  In the end, this love was demonstrated in humility – becoming obedient to death on the cross.  But the story did not end there.  “God exalted him to the highest place”.  Praise be to God!

God exalted Jesus to the highest place.  Our response to this?  “That every knee shall bow” and “every tongue confess” that Jesus Christ is Lord.  According to our passage today, this is the first task we have as Christians: to sing and offer our praises to the glory of God.  How lucky we are!  Today is Sunday and we will have the opportunity to do just this with the body of Christ!

From this place of praise and worship we are to go out and live with the attitude of Christ – live humbly, serve others, love God – all for the same purpose: to bring glory to God.  Paul writes of this, saying, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.  To do so, we live our lives in response to our faith.  In faith we kneel and witness that Jesus is Lord.  In daily life we go out and live that faith.  All we do and say seeks to reflect Jesus to the world as we bring God glory through the living out of our faith.

We do this with “fear and trembling”.  This is not a “scared of the dark” fear but a fear that is like holy reverence.  It is God – the creator of the universe, the one who us all-knowing and all-seeing – “who works in us to will and act according to His good purpose”.  Again I return to humility here.  This vast and amazing God chooses to be at work in me, a sinner.  It brings me to a place of fear and trembling to realize that kind of love.  Once here I am led to kneel and confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  And my response?  To praise His holy name!  This day and every day, may my life be an act of praise.


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Worthy Conduct

Reading: Philippians 1: 27-30

Verse 27: Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

In today’s passage, Paul encourages the church in Philippi to talk the talk and to walk the walk that Paul himself has talked and walked.  This is, of course, to follow Jesus – the original model.  Paul’s opening line today is both challenging and inspiring: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.  What a charge Paul gives to the Philippians and to all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

Over the next few verses, Paul unpacks what it looks like to live this life worthy of Christ.  The first step is to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man”.  Paul wants them to be unified under Christ and to hold fast to Jesus’ teaching and example.  He knows they are stronger together than as individuals so Paul encourages unity.  Next Paul tells them not to be frightened by those who oppose them.  In this world trouble will come.  In fact, Paul is writing them from prison.  He is under arrest for spreading the gospel.  Just as Paul’s trusts in and rests in God, he is encouraging the Philippians to do the same.

Lastly Paul says that it has been “granted” to them not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer for the gospel.  He says they do so “on behalf of Christ”.  Any and all suffering done on behalf of Jesus is a glorious witness to their faith in Christ.  It reflects the promise that He and we will overcome the world.  Just as Jesus willingly suffered on the cross for us, Paul gladly suffers for the sake of the gospel.  He encourages the Philippians and us to do the same.

These few verses pack a lot.  They are a great reminder of what worthy conduct looks like as we respond to our call to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To summarize: stand firm, do not fear, be a suffering servant.  All were modeled by Jesus.  May we go and do likewise.


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Present

Reading: Exodus 14: 19-31

Verse 31: When the people saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people put their trust in Him.

In today’s passage the Israelites experience the final detachment from Pharaoh and his army.  Fear and doubt has again suddenly consumed the Israelites.  They even uttered to Moses, “It would have been better for us to serve in Egypt than to die in the desert” (Exodus 14:12).  Moses told them to stand firm and see the deliverance of the Lord.  Trust – trust in God.

God does indeed deliver Israel!  The angel and pillar of cloud form a protective barrier and God parts the sea.  The Israelites cross over on dry land but when the Egyptians follow God stalls them out and the waters return.  Verse 21 records, “Not one of them survived”.  What the people saw as a huge situation that quickly led to doubt and fear, God saw as an opportunity to deliver His people.  God intervened on their behalf to save His chosen people, whom He dearly loves.

God had led them out of slavery and had even blessed their exit.  He had guided them to this point, yet fear and doubt rose up quickly.  God’s mighty act of deliverance in the Passover was still very fresh in their minds, yet they quickly abandoned their faith.  We too can be much like the Israelites.  We can walk in close connection with God for days and days or even for years and something arises that makes us question or doubt and our faith almost evaporates.  The doubt or fear or anxiety or whatever quickly dominates our thoughts.  And then God still steps in and begins to work in our situation and delivers us too.  We look back and wonder why we ever questioned, why we doubted, why we didn’t just continue to rely on God.

The Israelites are delivered!  It was a powerful experience of God’s might.  Verse 31 tells us, “When the people saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people put their trust in Him”.  This too is an experience like the Passover, one they will tell over and over down through the generations.  Our experiences with God delivering us can be such moments as well.  May we also remember when God was present and acted in our lives, so we can retell and retell the story so that our faith and trust grows and grows.  God is ever present in our lives.  May we live into this more and more each day.


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His Strength

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-23

Verse 23: You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.

Jesus is preparing the disciples for what is to come in Jerusalem.  In today’s passage He plainly tells them what is about to happen.  Soon enough Jesus will be crucified, glorified, and resurrected.  This is great news from our vantage point, but from the immediate audience’s perspective, this is not good news.  Peter pulls Jesus aside and behind to rebuke Him.  “Never, Lord!” Peter says.  Then the one who had just gotten the gold star for declaring Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” now hears, “Get behind me, Satan”!  Head of the class to under the bus in short order!

What led Peter to try and rebuke Jesus?  What led him to try and tell Jesus that God’s plan should not happen?  Mostly fear.  The one who they gave up all for and have lived with for three years and have grown to love deeply has told them that soon He will die.  None of the disciples want to consider life without Jesus.  Peter is just the one to voice it.  Just like all of the disciples we too have felt the fear that rises up from the unknown that lies just ahead.  We have certainly faced it with the loss if one we love but the fear can also come equally in lesser situations.

Fear is one of Satan’s greatest weapons.  Go and share my faith with him?  But what if he rejects me or ridicules me or asks me a hard question?  Bring a meal to that family?  But what if they break down or if their pain causes them to lash out?  Help with Sunday School?  But what if the students are unruly or if they do not like me?

Jesus says to Peter, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.  Fear is not from God.  Into our fears and doubts, God promises to always be with us.  He says to trust in Him.  God is always preparing us and is always giving us opportunities to keep the things of God on our hearts and minds.  May we ever seek His presence and step out in God’s grace and love, allowing His strength to lead us into ministry to others and to our world.  Trust in His strength.