pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Lord of Life

Reading: Galatians 6: 11-16

Verses 14-15: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… What counts is a new creation”.

I am a rule follower by nature. Yes, I may stretch the speed limit by a few mph, but I won’t intentionally run a red light or drive the wrong way on a one-way street. I’m not saying I’ve never done these two things either. But when I did, I felt guilty because I did something wrong and wouldn’t have been upset if I received a consequence for my error. Most people feel like following the rules is a good and right thing to do, especially when the rule has been around for a long time.

Paul comes to battle this idea in Galatia. When he came there on his missionary journey, he started a church there. He taught them that faith in Christ alone was the priority. They were to learn to be like and to follow Jesus. This was the practice until some came and began to teach otherwise. Confusion arose. It would be like me standing up next Sunday and quoting an Old Testament verse and proclaiming that all must follow this to belong to the church. No more shellfish (Leviticus 11:9)!! For Paul’s audience, the practice of being circumcised was more serious. This action physically identified or set apart God’s people. The new teachers were circumcised and wanted all in the church to be circumcised. Some questioned this demand. The people did not know what rule to follow. People in the church who were Jews wanted to go back to the old Torah law. Non-Jews questioned it because Paul had said nothing about this. Now he must address it. Paul reiterates that following Christ is most important. In verse 14 he says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The people were allowing circumcision to be a higher sign of belonging. Paul wants to refocus them on Jesus Christ. Circumcision was not essential. Paul goes on to state, “What counts is a new creation”. Being made new in Jesus Christ is the sign of belonging. Being made into a new spiritual creation is the physical sign of faith. Declaring and living with Jesus as the Lord of your life is the priority. It was for Paul and he wanted it to be so for those in the Galatian church. May it be our priority as well!

Prayer: Dear God, may Jesus ever be my first, my last, my all. May following your son be my only priority. Amen.

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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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Live Up

Reading: Psalm 8

Verse 5: “You made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”.

The psalmist begins and ends with the same line: “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth”! It is a good reminder of who God is and of our proper response – to praise God. In accordance, as the Psalm unfolds, the writer marvels at God’s handiwork that is evident in the heavens, stars, and moon. It leads him to questioning God being mindful of humanity. Compared to the vastness and immensity of creation, mankind can seem insignificant. We are but one small piece of the created order.

Humanity is one small but very important piece of the creation. In verse 5 we read, “You made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”. We are each made in the image of God. We are the “closest” to God in all of the created order. In the next verses we are reminded that God made humanity the “ruler” over the works of his hand. This idea of being a little lower than God can be both good and bad.

The idea is good when we read “ruler” as steward or caretaker of the earth and creation. The image we get of God is one of loving father, doing what is best for his children, even if it is sometimes hard. When God created, all was good. This remains God’s bent, for good to reign. But at times we can read “ruler” and think we can do or say anything we want. Our will and our desires can become the only thing that matter and the results are usually not for good.

When we consider this awesome responsibility, our place in the created order, we must remember that we are not God but are made in the image of God. Yes, we are called to be like him, but not to be him. When we see ourselves as “a little lower” than God we are less likely to be prideful and arrogant and self-serving. It does say “a little lower” so we must also seek to live up to that concept. In living up we remember our sacred worth and to live that out so that the Lord our God delights in us. The psalmist calls us to a high standard, one guided by love and care for the created world. May we live in a way that is pleasing to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to a great standard – living in your image. Jesus lived that image well. He modeled a life filled with grace and mercy and love and service. May I follow him well this day, caring well for all that you place in my hands today. Amen.


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Relationship

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 15: “They prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit”.

As we become better and better friends with another we can get to the point of being able to finish their sentences. After being married or after being best friends for a long while you even get to the place of knowing what they’re thinking. This deep connection forms a very special bond. But just how does this bond develop? Certainly an important element is time. Spending time with someone allows you the opportunity to get to know them. Time alone won’t do it though. One could spend a lifetime in a 6×12 prison cell with someone and never get to know them very well. One must also make an effort. One must invest in the relationship. This speaks of commitment.

In our passage today some folks hear the words that Philip shared and they come to believe in Jesus name. They do not receive the Holy Spirit so Peter and John are sent. Once they arrive, “they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit”. Why? Because the indwelling presence of the Spirit can be the beginning of a deeply personal relationship. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit does not take you to “finish their sentence” status automatically though. It is the beginning of a relationship. In many the relationship begins “on fire” – you want to get to know that person more and more. Soon enough though, like with all relationships, it gets to a point where you ask yourself if you want the relationship to continue to grow or not. Usually there is a pinch point of some type. With the Holy Spirit it is usually that point where we realize it will require a full surrender of our will and our desires to the will and desires of God. It is a hard moment. Some choose to slow things down and keep the relationship on the “acquaintance” level. But if one chooses to go all in with their relationship with Jesus Christ, then one can get to the point of finishing sentences and knowing what the Holy Spirit is thinking before it whispers or nudges.

If one chooses to surrender, it is not a one time decision either. There is a reason Jesus said we must pick up our cross daily to follow Him. It is a daily surrender. In general, the cross becomes lighter and easier to pick up each day as the joy of the relationship makes it so. Yes, there are days or even seasons when self rears its ugly head. But the time and commitment that God has in the relationship always seeks to draw us back in, to restore us to right relationship. On our own the relationship would be in trouble. But we are not alone. God is fully committed to us. God alone makes our relationship possible. Thanks be to God for the amazing love that desires a relationship with each of us.

Prayer: Lord, when I look hard in the mirror, I am amazed that we are still great friends. Thank you for still loving imperfect and sinful me. You are an awesome God. Amen.


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Open and Obedient

Reading: Acts 16: 9-10

Verses 9-10: “Paul had a vision… ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’… We got ready at once”.

The book of Acts is the story of the growth and building of the early church. In today’s passage Paul receives a vision from God, calling him to go to Macedonia. The man asks him to come and “help us”. Paul is an apostle who preaches the good news of Jesus Christ. He is also a tent maker who practices his trade to support his missionary efforts. When Paul receives a call from God, it is not to make tents or to mow lawns or to paint houses or to fix roofs or to sort clothing. Paul is sent to do what he does best – to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

You and I probably won’t have such visions. We might. But we are more likely to be nudged or whispered to by the Holy Spirit. God remains just as active today as He was in Paul’s day. God continues to lead and guide His people to humbly share the good news and to serve others. It might be to mow a lawn or to paint a house or to fix a roof or to sort some clothing. The way God nudges or whispers can also come in many forms. It can be in a conversation with another, in an observation as we pass by or consider a situation, in an invitation from a stranger or friend to help them with an opportunity to serve.

After Paul receives his vision, “we got ready at once”. There was no delaying, there was no procrastination, there was no fear or doubt. “We got ready at once”. God called, they responded. Immediately. They were ready to fulfill the mission that God had given them. Paul and his companions began the journey to Macedonia so that they could “preach the gospel to them”.

Paul’s vision and our nudges… have some common threads. First, it is a call from God to share His love. Second, it is God asking us to respond as a humble servant, seeking to bring God glory and to make His name known. To accomplish the mission, we, like Paul, must be open to hearing God (or feeling the nudge…). Then we must be obedient to respond in faith and in trust. When we step out in faith we find that, like Paul, God will lead and guide us well, walking step by step with us. May we be open to God’s call and obedient to follow. May both be true each day.

Prayer: Jehovah God, you provide over and over. This day, when I feel the nudge or hear the call, may I respond faithfully and obediently. May I step forward, trusting in your love and care. Amen.


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More Closely

Reading: John 10: 27-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”.

Today’s passage begins with “my sheep listen to me voice”. Jesus is implying that His disciples and followers listen well to His voice. Although at times we do, it can be a struggle to always listen to Jesus’ voice. On day one the sheep do not know the shepherd’s voice. Didn’t happen by day 2 either. But over time the sheep would come to know their shepherd’s voice. The sheep’s connection to their own shepherd’s voice would grow to the point that the shepherd could call his flock out from a pen of many flocks that had sheltered together for overnight protection. The sheep would come to him as he stood out in the gate and then would follow as he led them to pasture.

Just as it takes time and training for the sheep to know and trust the shepherd, so too does it take time for a believer to really know and trust the voice of Jesus. We can easily have an acquaintance with Jesus and can recognize Him in the stories we read in the Bible and hear about in church. Where it gets challenging is when we are in a world full of sheep from lots of different flocks. When the voices of all those other beliefs and systems start to clamour loudly, we can be distracted and we can struggle to hear Jesus’ voice. As if this were not bad enough, Satan’s voice joins in. The great deceiver can whisper lies that sound like truth. This can be the source of our greatest temptation. Between all of these things it is not always easy to discern and follow the voice of Jesus.

The key is found in the sheep and in the sheep pen. In the noisy pen, amidst all the bleating of the sheep and through the voices of many shepherds calling out, the sheep can detect and go to the voice of their shepherd. We too can develop this ability. We develop our ability by listening over and over to the voice. We do that in our quiet time, in worship, in small groups, in classes, in personal conversations… With each experience hearing Jesus’ voice not only does our knowledge and ability to discern it grow, so too does our trust in Him. This leads to the “I know them, and they follow me” part of today’s key verse. Each day may we seek to know Jesus more and more. As we do, He comes to know us more and we are able to follow more closely. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, help me to discern your voice above all the others – especially mine. As I spend time with you, may I follow ever more closely. Amen.


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Certainties

Reading: John 10: 22-26

Verse 24: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

The Jews had a clear idea in their minds of who and what the Messiah would be. They were certain that the Messiah would restore Israel to its full glory. Jesus did not match the vision that they were certain of in their heads. But they were so certain of it that they could not see Jesus for who He was – the Messiah. In today’s passage they say to Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

I too struggle with certainty. At times I have been certain of how God should answer this prayer or open that door or close this one. At times I have been certain of the plan I have made or of the direction I think we should go. At times I have been certain that this action or that thought or those words were justified. In almost all of these cases, my certainty has gotten me in trouble and has melted away before the power of God.

Jesus’ response is sure and is straight forward. Jesus reminds them that He did tell them who He is. His claims of divinity brought anger and words like blasphemy. Jesus also reminds them of the miracles that they have witnessed. It is between two certainties that the Jews are caught. They are certain that God would not come in the flesh like this and they are certain that the miracles reveal divine power. Jesus then connects back to what He was talking about recently. We find this conversation at the beginning of John 10. It is about the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus explained the loving and caring relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. Jesus speaks of being the gate – both into the pen and into eternal life. He also reminds them that He will lay down His life for His sheep. Jesus returns to these ideas in today’s passage. He bluntly tells them “you are not my sheep”. This is why they do not believe even though they have seen the miracles. Their certainty is the barrier that prevents faith in Christ.

My certainty has done this too. Whenever I place my will and my wants before God’s will and His plan, I am trying to live by the ways of man. Over and over I have found that this is not the best path. I find the best path when I listen to the voice of the Shepherd, when I follow the voice I know. I plainly see that Jesus is the Christ. It is by faith alone that I must follow. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the only sure thing. In you alone can I truly trust, in you alone do I find hope and meaning and purpose. Step by step may I walk in faith, trusting you with all that I am. Strengthen me to follow closely. Amen.