pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In Our Focus

Reading: Psalm 16: 8-11

Verses 8 & 11: “I have set the Lord always before me… You have made known to me the paths of life”.

Not too long after beginning to really follow Jesus, one learns that life is better with Christ. No, one’s troubles do not just go away but the presence of the Lord makes the journey better. Our faith brings us hope, comfort, strength, peace… Through these experiences we come to know one of the truths that David states: “You have made known to me the paths of life”. Through our own experiences we too come to believe that Jesus is the only way to live and to eternal life.

Yet even though we come to know this as we mature in our faith, the reality is that we must make an effort to keep our faith in focus. In verse 8 we read, “I have set the Lord always before me”. I think the key word here is “always”. That means 24/7. To keep God ever before us – 24/7 – takes a lot of effort and a lot of discipline.

The effort is shown in how we connect with God. In our prayer life it must be more than a quick ‘thank you God’ here and a table grace there. Daily prayer must be intentional and should include praise, thanksgiving, confession, and petition (asking). Our study of the Word must also be more than superficial. For example, when we read the Upper Room or some other devotional, do we read the passage or just the key verse listed at the top? Reading the passage will add depth to our understanding. We must turn to the Bible for guidance and for direction as well. Another practice that helps keep our faith in our focus is fellowship with other believers. That is certainly public worship but it is also in small group or Sunday school settings. Talking about our faith and learning together are great ways to expand our perspective and to deepen our understanding of God’s word.

And then there is discipline. The daily and intentional attention to the means of grace requires discipline. Discipline is essential to the life of a follower of Jesus. It is too easy to put off the prayer time or Bible study or small group. It is an easy excuse to say I’ll do it later or I’ll catch up tomorrow or I’ll start going again next week. How would we feel if we lifted up an earnest prayer and God responded with “I’ll try and get to that next week”? May we strive to keep the Lord ever before us and in our focus. May it be so.

Prayer: Thank you God for my routine. There is no better way to start my day! Thank you for the regular opportunities to engage with you and with other believers. Blessings upon blessings! Amen.


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Called to Go

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Verse 40: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

Today’s passage is an interesting one to begin the new year with. I think it is very appropriate. As we consider our year ahead, our faith should be our first consideration. Our faith calls us to follow Jesus and this passage speaks directly to what that looks like. He is the light and hope and love of the world. Matthew 25 challenges us to be all of these things. It especially calls us to the poor and to the marginalized.

In all of our cities, towns, communities, neighborhoods, and churches, we have folks who are hungry and thirsty – physically and spiritually and emotionally. To these, may we offer sustenance, God’s Word, and support and encouragement. We all have folks around us who are strangers or on the outside looking in. To these may we offer fellowship and belonging. We all know others who are lacking adequate clothing or other necessities. To these may we offer a coat or whatever else we can to meet their needs. We all know folks who are sick or who are incarcerated. To these may we offer our presence and our prayers. We can go and spend time, offering encouragement and the light of Jesus Christ.

For many of us, today is a day off. Who can we take a little time to bless today? Will it be one who is hungry or thirsty? Will it be one who is sick or imprisoned? Will it be one in need? It is to these that we are called to go. In going to these, we meet Jesus in their presence. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. May we do for Jesus today.

Prayer: Lord, put me where I can see you today. Lead me to those in need, to those on the edges. Amen.


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Let Us…

Reading: Hebrews 10: 19-25

Verse 21: “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God…”

Jesus opened the way for us – “a new and living way” – to enter into God’s presence. No longer is access limited to the one person chosen by lot to enter on everyone else’s behalf. “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God…” All who call on Jesus Christ as Lord can enter into God’s presence through Jesus.

In today’s reading there are four “Let us…” statements that are responses to the access provided by Jesus, our great high priest. They begin with “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart”. With an assurance that we are cleansed from our sins, we draw close to God. The second is “let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess”. We hold fast because God, the one who made the promise, is always faithful. The covenant to be our God and to always love us is neverending. We hold fast to our faith because we have the promise of God’s presence and love.

The third statement is “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”. We begin by loving each other as Jesus first loved us. In this model, we will be people who go out and love others. Our good deeds are the vehicle to express that love. The fourth statement goes along with the third. “Let us encourage one another”. We do so by meeting together regularly – not just for Sunday morning worship but also for Bible study and prayer, for food and fellowship, and one on one to mentor and support.

These four statements are great reminders to us that we are in this together. They were given to a people living under pressure in an increasingly pagan world. This sounds familiar. In our post-Christian world, this day and each day may we cling to these “Let us…” statements. Amen.

Prayer: Lord God, today remind me of your promises and your love. Lead me to draw close in true faith, assured of your love. Help me to meet with and to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ so that we may encourage one another to be your hands and feet, your salt and light in a lost and hurting world. May it be so this day and every day. Amen.


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Be Filled!

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verses 18 and 19: “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”.

“Be filled with the Spirit”! What a positive thought. In all we do and say and think, allow the Spirit to not only lead and guide, but to overflow into other people’s lives as well. Be so filled that the Spirit is always flowing out into other people’s needs, situations, and circumstances. Be so filled that others experience God and His love just by being around you. What a way to live out and share our faith!

Let us consider what would be required of us to live such a life. The basic question to consider is this: how are we filled with the Holy Spirit? The start of the answer comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Once we declare and profess that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, then the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in our hearts. The rest of the answer to our basic question comes from what we do with the relationship once it is established. Do we do things that intensify the relationship and help it to grow both wider and deeper? Or do we allow it to just remain at the acquaintance stage?

To really know the Spirit we must know the source. To get to know Jesus, we must invest times and energy to know Jesus better and better by reading and studying and meditating upon the Word. The Bible reveals Jesus to us and strengthens our relationship with Him. To really know Jesus we must also know God. We too come to know God through the Word. We can also develop this relationship by communicating with God. We do this through prayer. Open and honest conversation with God will deepen and widen our relationship with God. It will grow it.

The last part to our answer to this basic question comes in today’s key verse: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. This is worship; this is small groups; this is doing service projects together; this is sharing a meal together. There are many ways that we can be in Christian fellowship with one another. All bind us closer to one another, growing closer as the family of God as we encourage, support, love, teach, and even hold one another accountable. All, in turn, build our relationships with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

If we practice these disciplines and habits each day, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit. As such, we will bless others as our faith overflows into their lives. Be filled with the Spirit! May it be so.


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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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Fruitful Practices

Reading: Acts 2: 42-47

Verse 42: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.

The early church practiced some things that made it a strong and vibrant church.  These practices helped those in the community of faith to grow stronger in their own faith and they also attracted others into the community.  They first devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.  In this the people got to know Jesus more and more.  They deepened their understanding of Christ and His call upon their lives.  We continue this practice to this day.  We gather in our places of worship to hear the Word proclaimed.  We also study our Bibles and read devotionals and books to deepen our personal relationship with Christ.

The early church also devoted themselves to fellowship.  They spent lots of time together discussing their faith and sharing their lives with one another.  It was a way to build relationships with each other and to support and encourage each other.  It was also a way to talk about their faith – both the challenges and what God was doing in their lives.  We continue these practices today as we gather after worship, as we meet together for coffee or lunch, as we come together in small groups to study and serve God.

Early followers of the Way often broke bread together.  The breaking of bread was partly meal, partly communion.  Only in the latter church would communion be separated out and come to resemble what we practice today.  The common meal together was like an old-fashioned pot luck.  All brought what they could to share with each other.  In this early setting, the church would also break bread to remember the gift of Jesus on the cross.  Many of us will do so today as well.

Lastly, the early followers prayed together regularly.  They would spend time together as a community in prayer.  They would know each other well from the times of worship and fellowship and meals.  So prayer time was intimately connected and very powerful.  We experience this at times in worship but most often experience it in our small groups that have developed a deeper level of care and trust.

“And daily the Lord added to their number those who were being saved”.  Through our practices of faith and because of our community of faith, may the Lord increase those who are being saved.


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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.