pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Consuming Fire

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-18

Verse 17: “The glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire”.

Fire is often associated with God. As Moses ascends the mountain in response to God’s call, he walks into the fire. In verse seventeen we read, “The glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire”. The consuming fire is not destructive or life-taking. God’s fire is transforming and life-giving. In this sense it is like a forest fire. Fire is nature’s way of renewing and sustaining life in the forest. Fire consumes all the old, dead wood, allowing space for new growth. Fire also causes some seeds to germinate, bringing new life. At times, God’s fire is also like a forest fire in another way. It may run wild through our lives, moving quickly and powerfully, burning up the old and dead parts of us, leaving us prepared for renewal.

Fire is also a refining tool. In the world of precious metals fire is used to burn off impurities, leaving behind something much more valuable. God’s fire also works this way in the life of a believer, consuming all of our sins and selfish ways, leaving us more like the Lord. By removing our impurities, God is making us more into his image. Even the “small” sins that we hold onto as immature Christians are touched by the power of God’s fire. The fire changes us from within, reshaping our hearts, over and over, each time making us more like our Lord.

Moses walked up the mountain without fear. He knew the fire to be an extension of God’s love. Entering into God’s presence always resulted in positive change in his life. In our humanity we sometimes are reluctant to enter into God’s fire. Quite bluntly, at times we like to hold onto our sin. Yet we too are called to walk into the fire. As God’s love grows within us, we mature in the faith and become willing to place ourselves within God’s consuming and refining fire. We come to know that there we are made into someone better. There we are made new again. There our old ways are consumed and we are able to be filled with even more of God’s love. In this process, we are made more like him, coming to shine a little brighter, to bring more glory to God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, may your fire burn hot in me, consuming all of me that is not pleasing to you. Consume the chaff, the sins, the selfishness, the pride – all that needs to go. May your fire purify me, each time leaving behind something more and more useful in your kingdom. May the fire of your love burn strongly within me. Amen.


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Enduring Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”.

Patience, patience, patience. Patience is such a tough thing to practice, especially when the situation is difficult. The difficulty can come from a variety of angles. For the brothers and sisters in Christ that James is writing to, the difficulty comes from the persecution and suffering that they are enduring. When we have been experiencing times of stress or distress, we have known how hard it is to patiently endure. This is what James is addressing in our passage today.

James turns to a familiar test of patience. He encourages them to consider the farmer. The farmer sows the seeds and then he patiently waits. With the sun and the rain that will surely come, he waits, trusting that the land will “yield its valuable crop”. It can be hard to have patience when growing crops. I have had a home garden for many years now. As I reflect back on each season I can now remember a familiar scene playing out. We would plant carrots, lettuce, and so on. Then about a week later I would go out to the garden, sometimes multiple times each day, checking to see if those little green shoots had popped up yet. Soon it became a practice in patience. Early in my gardening career my mind would question or doubt if the shoots took a little too much time to come up.

Our faith is a lot like that too. When the first trials or seasons of suffering come along, we do not have much patience. We quickly cry out, “How long, O God”? But as we spend a few more seasons in the valleys, experiencing God’s presence and strength and guidance… over and over again, we begin to build trust in God. Our doubts and questions and fears ebb away. We soon see these seasons as times of growth and maturing.

In verse eight James writes, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”. Be like the farmer, trust in God. For all who are struggling in the trial right now, cling to these words of hope and promise. To do so yields an unshakable belief that becomes your rock. As the faithful Christian endures the storms with patience and faith, we do come to know the truth of Jesus coming near. He never leaves us or forsakes us, especially in the trials. Be near to us, Lord Jesus, this we pray.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my anchor in every stormy gale. In the lows and in the highs and everywhere in between, your Holy Spirit is ever present. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Prepare… Patience

Reading: Matthew 24:42 – “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day our Lord will come”.

Precision, order, attention to details. These things we like. When the pizza or package with that special item does not arrive when we thought it would… You know that feeling. We all know that feeling. We know absolutely nothing about the delay but we do manage to feel personally injured by it. Or so we think.

Then my mind goes to God in this verse. Precision, order, attention to details. Fits God to a tee. Knowing this about God I can’t imagine what my life and decisions have caused God to feel. I wonder if God is frustrated that I did not quite read that situation correctly and missed a great growth opportunity. Did all those times I went this way when God’s perfect plan had me going that way test God? I realize how limited I am and how often I make poor choices. Yet God still loves me and still remains very much present and at work in my life. This makes me think of God’s patience.

Today’s verse reads “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day our Lord will come”. This verse is directed at us. Jesus wants us to be a faithful follower 24/7/365, not just an hour or two here and there. Jesus wants us to ever be prepared to meet him face to face. He may come in final glory or he may come to call us home. In either case, the call remains the same: be prepared. Keep faithful. Seek those growth opportunities. Discern God’s will and strive to walk that path, not our own. Be a follower, not a fan. Be an altogether Christian, not an almost Christian. Be all in, not lukewarm. Make Jesus #1 in your life, not a distant third or fourth. Keep watch, be prepared, walk the walk of faith every second of every hour of every day of…

The verse for today again draws me back to God’s patience. God could have been done with me, with all of f us, with all of this world long ago. Jesus could have returned hundreds of years ago. God is patient. Yes, God wants us to be prepared, but there are many who have not heard the gospel. There are many more who can come into a saving relationship. We still have much work to do. Thank you, God, for your patience.

Prayer: Lord God, this day, may I be one who helps others to know you. Maybe it will be to know you more. Maybe it will be an introduction. In all I do, say, and think, may Jesus shine through. Amen.


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An Honest Look

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

A new covenant. A new promise. Hope. Opportunity. How we sometimes long for a fresh or new start. For the Israelites long in captivity in Babylon this word from Jeremiah had to bring great hope. Suddenly there was possibility and hope ahead again. They must have certainly felt like the old covenant was a thing of the past. They were living without a temple and without the systems that had connected them to God. Oddly enough they saw change as a good thing. They did not simply want a return to the way things were. Where they were spiritually and relationally was broken and needed changed. They were full of joy to hear, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

Today we can find ourselves here too. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere. For example, one day we find out that our job has been eliminated or that our spouse is asking for divorce. These types of disruptions are forced upon us and we have no choice but to adapt. But sometimes it is a slow creep instead. This happens in life sometimes. We look up and suddenly realize where we’ve gotten to and know in an instant that something must change. Sometimes this can happen in our institutions as well. Our church that used to have hundreds in worship and dozens in Sunday school suddenly seems a bit empty and without much life. At this point, whether personally or institutionally, we can look for and seek for God to do a new thing or we can continue the slow fade. Sometimes this is the easier choice.

We are still in Lent, so I challenge you to look within – to both yourself and to your church. Do you see growth and movement forward or do you see plateau or regression, complacency or death? These are hard questions to consider. Take an honest look within and go to God accordingly.


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Patience on the Journey

Reading: 1 Timothy 1: 15-17

Paul is very grateful for Christ’s patience with him.  It took many years of being Saul to shape Paul into who he was for Christ.  Paul describes himself as the “worst of sinners” and describes Jesus’ patience as “unlimited”.  I am reminded of the stories of grandmas who prayed and prayed for wayward grandsons for years and years and years.  Then one day, often late in life, the grandson came to know Jesus Christ.  The patience paid off.  In both of these cases, grandma and Jesus had a love that was unending.  Both had a patience that did not waver.

Patience is sometimes a struggle.  We do not like to sit too long in a state of not knowing or when things are in limbo.  When an issue or problem arises we want a solution right away.  Fix it quick so that we can get on with life.  I think this is why I struggle so when I get a cold or catch the flu.  It has to run its course and it really tests my patience.  Waiting for the results of a medical tests is the worst!

Our culture does not value patience in general.  In our instant gratification society we want success right now.  If something is broken, let’s change it right now.  Often we would rather just go buy new than to take the time to repair what we have.  When we take on a project, our first question is, “How long will this take”?  Our eat-on-the-run, fast food society typifies the premium we place on our time.

And then… and then there is our journey of faith.  It is something that never ends.  For many this is quite a challenge to our ‘just tell me what I need to know now’  mentality.  We can all look back to where we became a Christian, to that point when we claimed a personal relationship with Jesus for ourselves.  We can also look at our faith now and see how we have matured in our faith over the years.  We still have days or times when God reminds us that we still have some growing to do.  We manage to get back on track and we thank God for the patience that is shown each of us over and over again.

John Wesley called our journey of faith the “journey towards perfection”.  Perfection is a place we probably will never reach in this place, but may each day we live take us one step closer to Jesus Christ, the perfector of our faith.


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Refuge

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-6

The psalmist is experiencing a rough season.  The writer desires to seek refuge in God and to find a place away from their attackers.  There are pleas for God to rescue and deliver, to save.  The psalmist turns to God for help.

At times in life we may also feel like we are under assault.  We may feel like things are stacked against us or that life is a lot uphill lately.  When this is just a day or maybe a few days in a row, we can usually lean on God to help push us through.  Soon enough we see daylight and are thankful for God’s presence and strength that helped us endure and remain faithful.  But what about those times when a few days turns into a few weeks, maybe longer?  It is in this place that we find the psalmist.

We can relate to the psalmist.  It feels as if attackers and other negative people are all around us.  We think we are remaining faithful and obedient to serving God.  So why the conflict?  Why the opposition?  It seems unfair and unjust.  It becomes a tipping point.

Maybe we have stepped where we shouldn’t.  Maybe we have followed our own plans instead of God’s.  So maybe the opposition is calling us into check, back into alignment with God.  Maybe the trial is to refine or define or purify our faith.  When we are deep in a time of trial the temptation can be to turn away from God and to run to something else.  So maybe the discomfort forces us to really look at our faith, to define or refine our trust in God, or to deepen our faith.  It may be a season that yields growth.

There will be times of conflict and opposition when we serve God.  It is Satan’s best trick – doubt, questioning, fear.  It is his attempt to derail us.  The psalmist wrote, “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”.  May the Lord our God always be our rock of refuge.  In God we can trust.


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Patience and Endurance 

Reading: Colossians 1: 9-14

The Colossian church is doing well.  Paul recognizes the growth of their faith and how this is leading to a growth in numbers.  He is proud of this little church that he planted that is continuing to share the gospel.  Paul also hopes and prays for more.  His prayer for them is that they continue to grow in knowledge, that they find strength in God, and that they would have great endurance and patience.

The things Paul hopes and prays for the church in Colosse are the same things we should all pray for for all of our churches.  All churches should be sharing the gospel with the lost in their community to help more and more people to come to know Jesus Christ.  All churches should be filled with members living lives worthy of the Lord, loving and serving all their neighbors.  All churches should be leading their members in spiritual growth.

But in reality, to constantly be focusing on evangelism and growth is difficult.  Sometimes it seems like we are not making any progress.  Sometimes it seems like there is no end to the road.  This is precisely why Paul prays for great endurance and patience.  Paul has been out on the road for a long time, constantly going from one place to the next.  He knows the need for patience and endurance for the long haul.  So he names this need and lifts it in prayer.  It is our need as well.

For the person we have been reaching out to who has not quite said ‘yes’ to Jesus, for the person who seems to desire a relationship with Jesus yet keeps sliding back to old habits, and for the many others who do not have a relationship with Jesus for one reason or another, may we continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them.  May the Lord our God fill us with great endurance and with great patience, so that all may come to know the redeeming love found in Christ. 


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Fruitful Witness 

Reading: Colossians 1: 1-8

The Bible is full of stories of the Word bearing fruit.  The parable of the sower is perhaps the best know story of fruitfulness as it tells of the witness of the believer producing a crop 30, 60, or 100 fold.  In the great commission Jesus compels all disciples to go forth to make disciples of all nations, to grow fruit everywhere we go to spread the kingdom of God.  The Word also speaks of the fruit of our faith in our own lives: peace, joy, patience, kindness,…

Paul opens his letter to the Colossians by commending them for the ways they are being fruitful.  He comments them for their strong faith in Jesus Christ and for the love for one another that grows out of their faith.  Then Paul notes that this love and faith is bearing fruit and growing as others in their community experience these things.  In turn, they are coming to know Christ through the faithful witness of this congregation.  How the Holy Spirit takes the witness to the love and truth of Jesus Christ and causes it to become faith in an unbeliever is one of the great works of God.  There is much rejoicing in heaven each time another accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior!

God’s call to churches everywhere is still the same as we see here in Colossians.  He calls upon us to continue to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.  This includes the corners as well: the neighbor next door, the coworker one cubicle over, the classmate across the lab table…  As we bear witness to our faith in our every day lives we are living out the Gospel and we are planting seeds.  As we practice justice, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and love we are bearing witness to Jesus.  As we allow the Gospel to bear fruit in our lives we are planting seeds of faith in other’s lives.  May we be fruitful today in our witness and may the Holy Spirit move powerfully in people’s hearts.  May our witness come to bear much fruit for the kingdom of God.


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Discipleship

Reading: Luke 9: 51-62

Growth does not often occur on the mountaintops.  It most often occurs in the valleys, in the hard times of life.  In today’s story Jesus is heading for His final trip to Jerusalem.  He is heading there to die.  His fate may be some cause for their foul mood.  After being rejected by a village, James and John want to call fire down from heaven.  It is certainly not their first taste of rejection, so the reaction probably comes from their bad mood over what they know lies ahead.  Sometimes we are this way as well.

As they continue, people approach Jesus wanting to follow Him.  Each man has a ‘but first…’ to their request.  One is concerned with shelter, one with burying his father, and another with having a proper goodbye with his family.  Each turns away as Jesus harshly addresses their lack of commitment to placing Him first.  Each of these ‘but first’ commitments resonate with us.

I will give of my time and resources Lord, but first let me set aside enough for all of my bills.  I will serve you Lord, but first let me go take care of all these other responsibilities.  I will be faithful to my prayer, Bible study, and worship disciplines, but first let me get in these activities and commitments.  I will, I will, I will… but, but, but.

The life if disciple of Christ is difficult.  The choice to place God first requires all else to get in line behind this commitment to our faith.  It is a difficult commitment that daily requires setting aside self and saying, “Here I am Lord, use me”.  It is truly a daily struggle, but may we struggle well this day and each day.