pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Process

Reading: 1st John 5: 1-6

Verse One: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well”.

Some view religion as a list of rules that one must follow. They see obedience as a burden. In today’s passage, John uses father-son language. When we look at the obedience that occurs in a parent-child relationship I think we get a good look at how mature obedience is a process that must be carefully developed.

Through early childhood the child looks up to the parents and behaves as a means to please their parents. This is mirrored in early faith as well as they join in table graces and bedtime prayers. Their faith is the faith of their parents. As a child grows and develops a sense of Independence, boundaries get pushed. There are an important set of years where skilled parents still exert some control yet begin to meter out more and more decision-making to their teenager. While this is rarely a smooth and gradual shift of the locus of control, when done ‘well’ the teen eventually learns good inner self-control and learns to take responsibility for one’s own actions and decisions.

A similar process occurs as the faith of the parents becomes a faith of their own. As a young person’s faith matures, they gain a sense of a personal faith that centers around a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The stories of Sunday school and vacation Bible School begin to take on a personal meaning and application. This too is a time of questioning and redefining boundaries and understandings that usually occurs during the teen years. When one professes faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, the love of God takes on a whole new meaning. As verse one states, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well”. When one comes to understand love and our faith this way, there is a shift in the locus of obedience. One moved from “having” to love God and neighbor to “wanting” to love God and neighbor. This becomes more like sharing a wonderful gift than carrying a heavy burden. This owning and living out of one’s faith is a process and can take many years.

Jesus is also involved in a process. He is in the process of conquering the world through love. He invited us to join him in this process of overcoming hate and sin with love. Each day may we join Jesus in the process. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.

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Simply a Gift

Reading: Ephesians 2: 4-10

Verse Eight: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and is it not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”.

In the grand scheme of our faith, being saved into eternal life is the hope we have in this world. To draw near to the end of life knowing one is destined for eternal glory brings comfort and assurance that is hard to describe. The opposite end of the spectrum, life without hope, brings despair and a “what now?” feeling of helplessness and finality. It is hard for me to imagine living without hope, yet some do.

Once we make the choice to enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, we see and experience life differently. Our connection to God and His love journeys with us both in the joys and in the trials of life. We have a definite sense that we are not alone. In those times of joy we know that God’s hand is at work, bringing us blessing. In times of trial, we can feel God’s hand upon us, guiding and supporting us. The one who created all things created us and desires to journey through life with us. All we need to do is invite Him in.

As we get to know Jesus, we begin to live into the “immeasurable riches of grace” that Paul writes of in verse seven. As we live into His grace, we begin to understand the nature of these riches. As we do so, we soon come to learn two things. First, God’s grace is unlimited and always available. Second, it is not earned or gotten somehow by us – it is a free gift. In verse eight Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and is it not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”. Saved through faith by grace. Simply a gift. Oh what love! Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Reclaim

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-10

Verse Four: “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Shows on TV that take old houses in Detroit or rural Mississippi and turn them into beautiful homes really draw my attention. The home is rundown, is sometimes abandoned, and is left to fall apart. But then someone sees the potential in the old bones of the house and they dive in and bring it new life. What it was and what it becomes is amazing.

In a similar way, in today’s passage, Paul writes of us: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins”. We were falling apart on the inside, we were destined for destruction, we were objects of God’s wrath. This is the path we walk when left on our own. It is the natural order of the world: decay. But we are not of the world. Just as that home rehab expert the beauty that is possible, so too does God with us. Paul writes, “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God reclaims us, taking away all that is sinful, making us one with Christ.

In the same way that a house in Detroit or Laura is claimed, we too are claimed by God. God knows the potential in each of us, the potential that He created us with, and He desires to free us to begin living out that potential. God makes us beautiful from the inside out so that we can be good in the world. Paul writes in verse ten that we are “God’s workmanship” and that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. Through our rehab process we are made new again so that we can be His light and love in the world.

The claim that God lays upon us is eternal. Once we enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, then our ‘status’ is saved. Yes, we may stumble now and then, but we always remain a sinner saved by grace alone. So that we cannot boast, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith”. It is the free gift of God’s love that saves us. Thanks be to our God who reclaims us from our brokenness and our mess, restoring us to new life in Christ. Thank you God! Amen.


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Narrow and Hard

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s passage is all about commitment, dedication, obedience, discipline, and, ultimately, transformation. This call to discipleship is hard. That is why Jesus said the way is narrow in Matthew 7. Faith is just like all other things of great value – it requires a great deal of effort to attain our goal.

Jesus begins today’s key verse with, “if anyone would come after me”. He is implying the first thing about faith is a choice. All people everywhere have a sense of God one way or another. Some sense a higher power, some sense God in the created world, some sense God in the “there must be more to life than this” feelings. Faith begins with the inner urge to live for and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Beginning a relationship is the first step.

Next Jesus turns to those big words I opened with, saying, “he must deny himself”. Denying self and our own wants and desires is the beginning of living out our faith. When asked, Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. When we truly do this, there is little room for self. In denying self, the transformation process also gets under way. The study and practice of our faith through prayer, worship, Bible study, … is what begins to transform our hearts and minds so that we begin to see and feel and think as Christ did.

Then Jesus turns to our calling. He next instructs us to “take up his cross”. As we are transformed more and more into His image, we come to discover that special blessing or talent or gift that God has given us to serve His will. Some teach, some preach, some feed, some clothe, some visit, some sing, some clean, some sew, some lead, some transport, some… The cross represents Jesus and our gift or talent is how we share Jesus with others. Our “cross” is what helps others to connect to Jesus.

Once we have been drawn into relationship, once we have been transformed to love God and others more than self, once we have found our niche in serving God, then and only then can we say we follow Jesus. May we all choose the hard and narrow way of Jesus today. It is through the Lord that we find the life truly worth living. Blessings on your journey.


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Sharing the Good News

Reading: 1st Corinthians 9: 16-23

Verse 22: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some”.

Paul had a very strong commitment to the gospel. He felt an amazing drive to share the good news of Jesus Christ with as many as he could. In today’s passage we get a glimpse of his commitment and drive. Paul opens by sharing why he preached the gospel. He is “compelled” to preach because he was personally chosen by Jesus. Paul even says, “work to me if I do not preach”. He has been entrusted with this wonderful gift and he almost cannot comprehend what it would be like to not preach Jesus. He even sees his reward for following his call to preach as the opportunity to continue to preach. In Paul preaching the gospel we find a man doing a “job” that he absolutely loves.

Paul transitions in verse nineteen to the “how” he preaches the gospel. He opens by saying that he became a “slave to everyone”. In a time when a slave was totally bound to ones owner, this was a big statement. But this is how Paul saw himself and his commitment to share the gospel. In the same way that Jesus met people right where they were at to minister to them, so too does Paul. To the Jew, he preached like a Jew. To the gentile, he preached like a gentile. To those who are weak, he became weak. Paul used words and illustrations that were familiar to whatever person or audience he was preaching to so that they could better connect to his message. In the same way, Jesus often used parables centered around sheep, fishing, and farming because they were the primary economic activities of Israel.

Paul draws to a close with this statement: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some”. Paul is willing to do anything for the chance to share the gospel. You and I might not be the evangelist that Paul was, but each of us has been gifted by God with experiences that we can share and use to help bring others to Jesus Christ. How have you been uniquely gifted to share the good news? Paul concludes our passage today with these words: “I do all the this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in it’s blessings”. We too will be blessed when we share the good news of Jesus Christ. May we each find opportunities today to bring Jesus to another.


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The Call

Reading: Mark 1: 19-20

Verse 20: “Without delay He called them, and they left… and followed Him”.

I can remember times as a kid when I was out in the yard playing and a friend would ride up on his bike and tell me he was going someplace. I’d hop on my bike and off we’d go. Later in life I’d be sitting in my dorm room studying and some friends would be heading off to play soccer or basketball and I’d jump up and go with them. We’ve all had experiences where we have left what we were doing to go and do something else.

In today’s passage we have James and John doing a similar thing. As they sit in the boats working on the nets Jesus happens by and invites them to come along. In that culture the invitation to follow another would have meant more than my riding off on my bike. All rabbis had followers, so James and John would have understood that this call was a great commitment. It also meant that Jesus saw something in them that merited a call to follow. Usually a rabbi’s call followed years of competitive schooling and evidence of some solid gifts and talents. The most respected rabbis always got the best students as followers.

So here sits a couple of fishermen. For a spiritual call they do not appear to have any special gifts or talents. James and John were out of rabbi school long ago. Yet Jesus comes to them and invites them to become one of His followers. What was it about them that led Jesus to call them? By profession they are hard workers and ply their craft in all kinds of conditions. Fishing is a hard way of life and if they have hired hands they appear to be successful at their jobs. Commitment, hard work, the ability to persevere – sounds like disciple material.

We were all somewhere when Jesus met us where we were at and called us to follow Him. What we left behind was not everything, but it was our old self and our life of sin. We went through a transformation after we responded to the call. As we have journeyed with Jesus we have had experiences that allow us to help others hear Jesus’ call and to answer the call of Jesus on their lives. Like the Master, may we too meet people where they are as we seek to make disciples for the transformation of the world.


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All Things New

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-6

Verse Five: “I am making everything new”.

Welcome to 2018!  The passage of time rolls on.  At this time of the year we naturally reflect on our past year and the passing of time.  It is an opportunity to live for a moment in the space between the past and the future.  This helps us remember that time is temporal.  All that was in 2017 does not necessarily have to be in 2018.  This is one gift of time.

Time keeps us moving forward.  Our sense of time always being in motion does not allow us get stuck.  Yes, we can procrastinate, but we still have this sense that things are moving forward anyway.  On the positive side, this sense also brings us an awareness of new possibilities and allows us to look forward to the next thing that God may bring our way.  What may this be for you in 2018?

Thinking about time also allows us to consider what has been and what is.  Within these considerations we find opportunities for fresh starts and for dreaming.  In these considerations we can also choose to change things or to make efforts to correct or fix things – relationships, choices, habits…  Just as our God is the God of second chances, a new year is also a time for us to make amends and to chart a new course as we enter a new year.  It is in this space that we must pay attention to the Holy Spirit.  Where in our lives is the Holy Spirit bringing conviction?  Where in our lives is the Holy Spirit nudging us to step out in faith or to tiptoe outside of our comfort zones?

In our passage, Jesus says, “I am making everything new”.  This is both a present and a future reality.  Yes, one day Revelation 21 will occur as God returns to dwell among mankind once again.  All will be healed and restored.  Let us not lose the present reality though.  Jesus will make us new every day as well.  He will dwell with us now in Spirit and will restore and redeem all things each day.  Yes, He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.  But He is the Lord of today as well.  This day and every day of 2018, may we call upon Jesus to make us a new creation, holy and perfect in God’s sight, ready to go out to be the hands and feet and love of Christ in the world.  Blessings to all!