pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Never Shaken

Reading: Psalm 15

The Psalm opens with a question and proceeds to answer the question.  The psalmist asks, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary”?  The writer then goes on to list a dozen things – some are what one should do and others are what one should not do – in answer to the question.  As one reads through the list of do’s and don’ts, there are none anyone should find objectionable.  In fact, someone seeking to live a “good life” would strive to live by these ideals.

Certainly someone who follows these dozen ideals would be living with God, right?  But what if one occasionally wrongs their neighbor or allows slander (or gossip) to slip from their lips?  Does that mean that now that person cannot dwell in the sanctuary of God?  Absolutely not!  This list, while a bit long, is by no means exhaustive and is certainly not comprehensive.  If one were to try and list all the possible do’s and don’ts, one would quickly surpass the 623 the Pharisees tried to live by.

Whether it is this list or the Ten Commandments or all the red letters in the New Testament, the way God calls us to live is our goal.  It is the mark.  But like the greatest archer that ever lived, we sometimes miss the mark.  We sometimes sin.  But the Psalm does not end with the list.  It ends with a promise: “He who does these things will never be shaken”.  When we make the commitment to walk with God in our daily lives, we are assured of God’s presence.  In this presence, we will never be shaken.  The promise to never leave us, to never forsake us remains no matter what we do or do not do.  God’s presence remains because of who God is.  God is faithful.

God’s presence is what keeps us grounded and is what allows us to try and walk blameless, to do what is right, to keep our word….  Alone we are never good enough, never strong enough, never determined enough… to live a flawless life.  Thankfully, God’s plan is not one of perfection but of redemption.  Despite our failures, God remains present, continues to love us, still offers us mercy and grace and forgiveness, and always seeks to restore us back into a right relationship.  This is why we are never shaken.  We are flawed, but we journey the path to eternal life with God at our side.  Thanks be to God for His unending love and constant presence.


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Right Relationship

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

God promises a new covenant.  God promises a covenant in which God’s ways will be on our minds and written on our hearts.  The faith will become something personal.  It will become something we live.  In stead of going to worship to simply get our fill or to be tuned up, our faith will be instilled within us all of the time.  It will be a faith based upon God’s love.  It will be a faith that does not carry the guilt and shame that many of the Israelites have been hauling around for years and years.

Verse 34 promises that God will forgive our sins and remember them no more.  Instead of bearing the shame of one parent’s or grandparent’s sins or fearing how your sins will forever taint your children’s or grandchildren’s lives, one will be able to be freed from one’s own sins and their consequences.  Through the new covenant, made real in Jesus Christ, faith will become personal and be between just God and you.  What a new covenant!

While the idea of our sins being our sins alone and the idea that God will remember our sins no more is wonderful news, it is also scary.  A distant, lived out through others faith is much easier in many ways.  Having God’s ways in our minds and on our hearts ups the ante.  When God is constantly with us doesn’t that increase the expectations?  If God is always near, doesn’t  that mean we always live and act as God would act?

These things are indeed the goal.  Of course, being human and far less than God, we are not perfect.  But when God forgives and remembers our sins no more, we are made new and are right back on track.  To receive this forgiveness, all we need to do is repent and ask.  Through our personal relationship with Jesus, His blood makes us new again.  Then we return instantly to a right relationship with God, loving God and neighbor as we are called to, bringing glory to the name of Jesus.


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New Creation 

Reading: Colossians 3: 1-11

Paul calls for a transformation from our old self that is of the world into a new self that is made in Christ’s image.  To accomplish this change we need the help of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot make this transition on our own.  It can be something we desire and even something we feel led to, but the power to transform human lives into eternal lives rests in God’s hands alone.

God’s love and grace are always reaching out to us, ever seeking to draw us closer to that love and grace.  We are born with an innate sense of God and good in us, with a spark of the divine, so to speak.  As we naturally see God’s love in the world, we do so through the spark of the divine that is within all humanity.

Early on life, God’s grace begins working in our lives.  John Wesley would call this prevenient grace, the grace that comes before.  It’s that grace on the doorstep of our life, inviting us into a relationship with God.  As we step through that door and begin to grow in our faith, this grace becomes justifying grace – that grace that helps us see the world as God sees it and to live our lives by God’s ways and will.  As we mature in our faith, God’s sanctifying grace begins to work in our lives, drawing us ever closer to Jesus, ever closer to perfection.  Although we never reach perfection in our earthly bodies, it is ever the goal.

To accomplish all this, Paul calls us to “put to death” all that is inside of us that does not draw us closer to God.  It is emotions, desires, drives, idols, friends, places, habits, … all that stands between us and God.  It is through faith in God and through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives that we continue on our journey of faith, step by step, ever drawing closer to our Lord.  May God strengthen us all on our journey.


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Growing in Faith

Will the year ahead be significantly different than the year that just ended?  Or will it be much of the same?  Depending on where you are at in life, the answers to these questions can be very different.  But for almost everyone, we begin the new year with the hope that 2016 will be better than 2015.

For some, there will be changes that are big – some will graduate from high school or college; some will get married or have a child; some will lose a parent or a spouse; some will start or change careers; and some will move to a new home or community.  For others, the changes will be less significant but could still be impactful.

For all people of faith, our 2016 hope should be to see growth in our relationship with God.  As we enter the new year, no one hopes to see their relationship with God be stagnant or to diminish.  Growth and development should be the goal of all of our relationships.  To see growth, however, requires some work on our part.  Some of this ‘work’ can be thrust upon us by one of the life changes listed above, but our growth often comes as a result of choices we make.

One area that can see growth is our personal ministries.  For example, I can come alongside a couple of the Youth who are struggling with their faith or with life in general to mentor and encourage them just a little bit extra.  Or at the place I volunteer I could develop a deeper connection with a few of the clients.  In each of these areas it is putting just a little more effort in to positively impact another’s life.  Yet in the offering of self in the name of Christ, our own relationship with God will grow as well.  In the coming year, may we all bear a little more fruit as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with God.

Scripture reference: Revelation 21: 1-6a


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Wrestling Towards Perfection

When we question things, sometimes the answers we find surprise us.  Sometimes the answer forces us to wrestle with something and perhaps this, in turn, causes us to grow.  The question that the scribe asks Jesus is a genuine and deep question.  Jesus’ answer is direct and forces the scribe to wrestle a bit.  In the end, he at least considers a new reality and that is good.

At times we too must wrestle with our faith.  It is essential at times to reflect on how our walk with God is, on how sin is affecting our life, and on our dedication and service to God.  Questions about how closely we are following and if we are giving enough of ourselves are great questions to wrestle with.

Jesus’ answer to the scribe made him question his definition of loving neighbors, and, in particular, about not exploiting them.  It would not have been very hard for the scribe to see all the ways exploitation was occurring.  The big question is did it bring about change in behavior.

The same is generally true for us.  If we really spend time wrestling with where we are in our faith and with being the hands and feet of Christ, then we often see how we could be or do more.  In living a faith that follows Jesus Christ, we are ever on a road towards perfection.  Like Paul, may we too press on toward the goal to win the prize of eternal life.

Scripture reference: Mark 12: 28-34


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Day by Day

Have you ever faced a task that seemed monumental or so large that you didn’t even  know where to begin?  Maybe it was a huge pile of dirt or rock or wood that needed to be moved.  Maybe it was 30 years worth of pictures that needed sorting and organizing.  Sometimes it is hard to get started and sometimes we even want to give up in the middle.  Yet when we step back and look, we can see that the pile is smaller or that things are starting to take shape.

In our faith journey, that perfection in Christ that we are called to can seem monumental or huge.  At times we feel lost in the race, unsure of our footing, not quite able to see around the next curve.  Sometimes we feel that there are more questions than answers.  But we do not lose hope.

Paul knew the goal and the call of God heavenward through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Paul also knew the journey was made day by day, step by step.  Our journey is the same – day by day and step by step.  On this journey too, we can step back and see progress and growth.  In this we find the encouragement to continue to fight the good fight, to pursue the prize of our own call heavenward.  And day by day we draw ever nearer.

Scripture reference: Philippians 3: 12-14