pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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As One

Reading: John 17: 1-11

Verse 11: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”.

Sometimes people think a trial or time of hardship will draw a group closer together. Someone may cite a sacrifice made by someone to save a dear friend or fellow soldiers. Another may tell of how this church surrounded a family that experienced that traumatic event. While all of these things do occur, they are predicated on one fact: there was a bond or sense of team or family or community that had been built prior to the time of testing.

As Jesus prays for his disciples in today’s passage, he is asking God to watch over the bonds that he has built. Jesus knows that “the time has come” and that he will soon complete his work, bringing God the glory. He identifies what makes the disciples into a team or community: “they have obeyed your word” and they believe that Jesus and God are one. Faith in Jesus is what binds them together. Jesus closes the section of the prayer that we read today with these words: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”. Jesus knows that more trials are to come. He knows that the road ahead will be scattered with persecution and death, with rejection and alienation. So Jesus prays for his friends, for his followers. He prays for unity.

The unity Jesus asks God to give is twofold. First, he knows that they need to remain one with each other. If a group or team or community is not fully bonded to one another in love, then a trial can destroy the unity. Sometimes the group looks for a scapegoat or for someone to blame. Sometimes the group can take an “everyone for themselves” attitude. As this small group heads out to change the world, Jesus knows that they will need God’s protection to stay as one and to remain focused on the goal. The disciples must also remain one with Jesus. Jesus taught them often about the need to remain in him – the vine, the root, the cornerstone. This unity is paramount. In the trials that lay ahead, the disciples must remain one in Jesus Christ. He is their only hope. The same remains true for us. As followers of Jesus Christ we must do the same. May we seek to be one with each other as we are one in Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to yourself. You ever draw us in. We are not called alone though. Help us to see those around us who we can walk this journey with. May your love lead and guide us as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Verse 10: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan’! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'”.

After forty days of prayer and fasting Jesus is tempted by Satan. The tempting begins with the most immediate need: food. Not having eaten for a long time, Satan goes after the apparent weakness. We too face these attacks in our lives. For those living with hardships it can be easy to question God about how he is providing for food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. For those a little better off the new car or new home can be the provision that Satan dangles in front of the eyes. For some they may ask God why they only have a net worth of $3,000,000. Few are immune to the lures of want and greed. Contentment can be an elusive target.

Failing at the first attempt, Satan turns to testing Jesus’ relationship with God. Satan places Jesus in a position to throw himself off the tower. Let’s see if God will rescue you, Jesus. To turn away this temptation Jesus reminds Satan that we are not to test God. But oh how we can test God. Maybe it is with the crazy physical things we do. It could be reckless living or excessive consumption. It could be willful disobedience to see if God really loves us. At times this can also manifest itself in times of trial or grief. We ask or wonder why we are going through something; we wonder why it goes on and on. These thoughts are testing God or questioning God’s love for us, his plans for our lives.

When this does not work either, Satan offers Jesus the supreme enticement: power. Some crave all-out, total power over all aspects of life. Some just like to be in control of their own lives and decisions. Most of us fall somewhere in between. The lengths we will go to to attain or maintain our desired level of power can vary, but too often we can rationalize away whatever we seem necessary to reach that goal. Along the way we can bow down to any number of idols or false gods. In each case we are ultimately choosing to put self and our will ahead of God and his will. Jesus knew the only correct order: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.

The Christian journey is not easy. Satan is ever at work. To stay the course requires obedience, faith, and trust in God alone. May God ever be our companion on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you and your Spirit were with Jesus as he faced temptations, so too be with me. I am weak and Satan seems to know the chinks in my armor. Stand guard in those places, Lord. Be my shield and defender as I work to die to those sins. Build up my hope and faith in you alone. Amen.


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Straining, Straining, Straining

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-14

Verse 12b: “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.

Paul opens this section of Philippians with a long list of his accomplishments in his “past life”. At times we can do this. The “back in the good old days” stories can be fun to relive or they can be good reminders of what or who we used to be. For Paul, they are the latter. Before knowing Jesus, Paul was known as Saul. Saul was a very devout rule follower. Saul checked all the boxes of obedience to religion and was very respected among other rule followers. Saul and his fellow religious folks knew the Law inside out but did not follow the Law-giver. They had tons of head knowledge with no heart change.

Then Saul met Jesus one day and had a radical change of heart. In an instant he knew all of those past accomplishments we’re “rubbish”. He came to understand that righteousness comes not from following the letter of the Law – from checking off the boxes – but from faith in Christ alone. Saul took the Gentile-based version of his name and, as Paul, set about introducing as many people to Jesus as he possibly could. Knowing Christ and helping others to know Christ became Paul’s only goal, no matter the cost. He writes the letter we read from today while he is in prison. Where he is does not matter to Paul. His focus remains the same. Even as Paul sits in chains he writes, “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. Yes, his freedom has been taken, he is barred from speaking in the square and the synagogue, but Paul still writes to encourage the church in Philippi and churches ever since. His words are of great encouragement today.

Paul’s words can become our words. In verse 13 he speaks of “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. I love his choice of “straining”! In spite of opposition or trial or suffering or cost, with all that he is Paul is giving everything he has to spread Jesus’ name so that all can know the good news. Paul strains for the same reason we should strain: the goal, the prize “for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. May we keep our focus on the goal too, straining ahead, straining to share Jesus Christ with as many as we can.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to strain more often. Push me a bit more out of my safe, comfortable places. Amen.


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Blameless, Upright

Reading: Job 1:1

Verse 1: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”.

Today we begin a short journey with Job. For the month of October we will read a selection from Job each week. It will be, of course, just a small sampling of who Job was and what his story teaches us. Even so, the passages will reveal much to us about ourselves and our faith journey.

Job was a man who lived in Ur, a city far outside of Israel. He worshipped God in a foreign land in a culture that often counter to God and God’s ways. We find ourselves in a similar position today. In our time culture and society in general is ambivalent to matters of faith, even clashing with our beliefs and practices from time to time. The values and priorities of modern culture in the western world do not align well with the values and priorities that God calls us to practice and live out.

Verse one tells us, “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”. Job is an early example of faith. On our best days we might be blameless and upright for periods of time. While this is our goal, it is not very often our reality for long stretches of time. But because it is our goal, like Job, we too must deal regularly with the attacks of the enemy. Because we are seeking to live and walk out a life of faith, Satan is ever on the lookout for ways to lead us into sin.

Job also feared God and shunned evil. These qualities of Job are much more realistic for us. Job’s fear was not a fear of ghosts or spiders type of fear. It was more of a reverence or healthy respect of God. To have this, one must have an intimate relationship with and knowledge of God. For Job, it came from having a deep and personal connection to God. Because of this, Job shunned evil. When we love God deeply, we too will shun evil. When our love of God is strong, we desire to please God. This leads us to shun evil and therefore to avoid sin, the thing that separates us from God.

As we live out our faith, being blameless and upright are worthy goals. Fortunately, they are not one and done goals. If we stumble or even if we fail, God’s love and mercy allow us to reset our goals and to begin anew. May we strive to grow closer each day, fearing God and shunning evil in all its forms. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit may it be so for me and for you.

God of Job, God of all people, God of me, pour out the power of your Holy Spirit on me today. Help me to be blameless and to live out an upright faith. Amen.


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Refuge and Strength

Reading: Psalm 34: 1-8

Verse 4: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears”.

In our verses from Psalm 34, it seems as if David trusted in God 100% of the time, always turning to God in all situations. Yet even though he was known as “a man after God’s own heart”, we know that David had his bouts with sin and had his seasons when he was distant from God. Most of our lives are the same – we pursue God and our relationship with God most of the time. But we also have moments or days or seasons when the world or life gets the best of us and our faith. To me, these verses are the ideal, the goal.

In times of trial we naturally seek the Lord. Whether it is an emotional or physical or spiritual trial, we turn to God for direction, relief, discernment, healing… Much of the time we can reflect and give voice to this statement from David: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears”. God is faithful. When we seek God, we usually find God. And like David, this leads us to thank and praise God.

The day to day is where we can struggle. When life is good, and especially when life is good and life is busy, we can slip away on God. When we feel no pressing need to make sure we honor our quiet time or to remain dedicated to our daily prayers, then it can become easy to just put them off until “later”. Suddenly a few days later we realize that we have not read our Bible or have not really prayed in a while. Often we notice then too that things are not really going so well.

For me this is the encouragement from today’s Word: “blessed is the man who takes refuge in the Lord”. When we choose to daily take refuge in the Lord, we begin to truly live out and into the first half of verse 8: “Taste and see that the Lord is good”. In all things and at all times – good and bad and in between – may we seek the Lord our God, our refuge and our strength. Amen.


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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