pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Head Over Heels

Reading: Psalm 63: 1-5

Verse 1: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”.

In our Psalm today, David is in the desert and he is seeking God. He offers a prayer to God that gives thanks for God’s power and glory and love. In the desert, in “a dry and weary land”, David’s soul longs for God. In the opening verse we read, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”. David earnestly seeks God. This is not a casual search for God. It is a search filled with passion and a sense of commitment, maybe even with a little urgency added in.

Yesterday at noon I gathered around the table with the usual crew that makes up the noon Bible study. Earlier in the morning some men of the church gathered to work through our church’s Lenten study. This afternoon I’ll gather with the book club as we discuss our chapters for the book that we have been reading about prayer. Tonight I will gather with about 8 high school boys to talk about being a man of God. Then after that I’ll gather with a different group of men to work through our Lenten study. The people that make up these groups ranges from teenagers through those well into retirement. There are men and women, some single, some married, some divorced, some widowed. One of the beautiful things they have in common is the very thing that David writes about today: a thirst for God, a longing for God.

The teen boys are just beginning their journeys of faith and are just getting to know God. Many of the people I gather with have been walking with God longer than I have been alive. I often have said to the youth I work with that there is nothing much more beautiful to me than the 90-year-old still showing up for Bible study each week. This image reflects what all of our journeys of faith should look like.

When we are pursuing God, our thirst and longing for God is never quite satisfied. We study and learn more and more about God. We grasp a new truth and deepen our faith. But along the way we also see new areas of darkness in that corner of our life and we discover that we still have some work to do. Along the way we also come to new questions and to new places of understanding that call us on to more prayer, seeking, and study. Being in love with God draws us to want to know God more and more. As we continue to thirst and long for God, we find that our pursuit leads us to fall head over heels in love with God. When we seek God, we will find God, deepening our relationship with God. May it ever be so.

Prayer: God, thank you for the parts of yourself that you have revealed to me. What I have come to know draws me to want to know even more. Keep me ever hungry, ever seeking. Keep me hungry and thirsty for you, O God. May I never be satisfied but always want more of you. Always. Amen.


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Step Two

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”.

The early church fascinates me. All they knew was Jesus. They preached about salvation – the blessing that came with entering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They told others about how Jesus changed their lives and offered Him to them so that they too could be born anew. The early church lived out their faith boldly and as a witness to Jesus and His love. They lived out in and with the world, sharing the good news with any and all. In them we can see just how easy it is to share the good news – we just have to tell others what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives, opening their eyes to what Jesus can do in their lives.

The early church learns that some in Samaria have accepted the word of God and were baptized with water. The Spirit had not yet come. So Peter and John are sent to help these new believers through step two. There, in Samaria, “Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It was simply an invitation to go one step further, one step deeper – to not only be baptized into Jesus’ name, but to invite and accept into themselves Jesus’ living presence, the Holy Spirit. This second step brought the relationship with Jesus to fullness.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is still the second necessary step. One can come to understand that Jesus is the way, truth, and life. One can come to know that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. We can share Jesus and people can comprehend that Jesus is the Messiah. All of this is just head knowledge. Until they claim Jesus as their own and invite Him into their heart, to dwell in them, then Jesus is just head knowledge. This second step – inviting Jesus to be a daily presence – is essential. The invitation brings the daily guidance and presence of Jesus into a believer’s heart. Then Jesus becomes king not only of their mind but also if their heart. We can lead people to know who Jesus is and we can share the power He has to change lives, but only that person can invite Jesus into their heart.

Prayer: God, allow others to know Jesus through my life – my words, my actions, my teaching. Allow my witness to draw others closer to you so that they can invite indwelling presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, into their lives, making them fully yours. If I am but one step in their journey to you, thank you for allowing me to play that role too. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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18″ Journey

Reading: Job 42: 1-6

Verse 5: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you”.

In our passage today, for Job, God has made that 18″ journey. Previous to his great trials, Job was a righteous man. He was obedient in following the Law. He worshipped God on the Sabbath, he gave to his local synagogue, he spoke to God daily. In life, Job was an honest man, a hard worker, a person who could be counted on. Job lived a blessed life – a wife, lots of children, large herds and flocks, many servants, good friends. Job was blessed and saw God as the source of his blessings.

Then one horrible day the storm hit and Job’s world was rocked. It was not a doctor saying they had found cancer. It was not a spouse saying they were done with the marriage. It was not a boss handing him a pink slip. These are horrible things that we and those we love experience. For Job, it was losing all of his kids, flocks, herds, and servants. And then being covered in painful sores.

Job succeeded in two things during his trial: he knew that God was still with him and he knew that God was ultimately in control. Yes, Job questioned why all this was happening to him – much like we do in our trials. But Job held onto God. In the wrestling with and questioning of God, Job was transformed. Verse 5 speaks of this: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you”. Job knew who God was and he followed all His rules – because that is what you do. He knew who God was and he followed out of obedience. But then Job experienced God up close and personal. He got to know God because of and through the trial. God made that 18″ journey from head to heart. Job now had a personal relationship with God.

If God exists in your head, may the Lord bless you with a season of wrestling and questioning, drawing you into relationship. If God dwells in your heart, join me in rejoicing as we shout “thanks be to God”!

Lord, I thank you for dwelling in my heart. I thank you for such a great love that loves even me. I pray for my fellow brothers and sisters who have begun their journey but gave yet to surrender their heart. Move in them, Lord, to become the king of the throne of their heart as well. May it be so. Amen.


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In Love

Reading: Ephesians 4: 15-16

Verse 15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”.

Words are powerful. James compares our tongues to the rudder of a giant ship. This small piece of equipment can easily direct a huge ship. He also compares the tongue to a spark – with just a quick flash it can set a whole forest on fire. Perhaps like me you too have said a word or two in anger or in the heat of the moment and have just been engulfed in a firestorm. Words are powerful.

In today’s passage Paul advises us to “speak the truth in love”. There are two parts to this statement. The first is to speak the truth. We have all been in situations where this is hard. We will all encounter times and situations when truth needs to be spoken. Perhaps a child has gone a little astray or a brother or sister in Christ is struggling with some poor choices. They need us to be prophets, reminding them of God’s ways and to call them back to faithful living.

The second half of Paul’s advise is to speak the truth in love. Yes, at times it is harder to speak in love. Yes, at times it is downright challenging. Yet it is still what we are called to do. This may require taking a deep breath or even stepping away for a little while. It will definitely include swallowing our pride or our inclination to judge or condemn now and then. In spite of the difficulties, we can make the choice to speak truth in love. In the Gospels we have a wonderful example to follow: Jesus Christ. He is also the “why” behind speaking the truth in love.

The rest of verse 15 reads, “We will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”. When we practice Paul’s advise, we will grow in all things to be more and more like Jesus Christ. That is ever our goal on this journey of faith. Our short passage today concludes with this: “From Him the whole body grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work”. Each of us – each of us – doing our part, helps to build up the whole body. May we each be connected to Him, the head. May we each allow His Holy Spirit to lead and guide our words and actions today so that they will build up our family of faith. Amen.


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Grow

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”.

Our goal in life is to grow. As little children we dream about what we will be – a firefighter, a football player, and eventually a teacher then a pastor. Even once we settle into our “career” for life, the desire to grow remains in us. We do not just want to be a ___, but we want to be the best ___ that we can be. To do so we must continue to read and study and go to conferences…

These same ideas are true of our faith journey. And God has a plan for this! In verse 11 Paul tells us that God created some people to be apostles and some to be prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. At different times in our journey we need people to play these various roles so that we can continue to grow. For example, when we were young we relied on our teachers to plant the stories of faith in us. As we move into our adult years we continue to need teachers to grow in our faith but also find a need for pastors to shepherd and guide us. All of these roles are intended for the same purpose: “so that the body of Christ may be built up”.

Paul tells us why – so that we are no longer “infants”. When we are infants we are not sure of our faith so we are easily influenced and we are more susceptible to temptation and sin. This is a place we can choose to remain and some do. Paul wants more for us. We should each want more for ourselves too. To this, Paul writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”. Sometimes this truth is hard to hear. Accountability is a necessary part of the maturation process. We must be willing to accept “the truth in love” to move into spiritual maturity.

Our goal as faithful followers of Jesus Christ is to attain the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. Although we will never be perfect as Christ was perfect, the goal remains to grow more and more into Christ. As we each play the role that God has blessed us with, the body of Christ, the church, “grows and builds itself up in love”. The question for today is this: how will you help another to grow in faith?


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In Christ Alone

Reading: Colossians 2: 6-19

In order to both stay strong and to grow in our faith, we must be well connected to Christ.  We accomplish this by being in a close personal relationship with Him.  As God incarnate, Christ came to earth and lived among us so that we could better relate to Him and could better connect to His example and teachings.

Today’s reading gives us three ways to see our connection to Christ.  The first is that of a tree.  Christ is the soil that nourishes our faith and allows us to grow in Him.  We, like a tree, need to sink down deep roots.  The winds of life will try and blow us this way and that.  If we are not deeply rooted in Christ, we can be easily swayed and perhaps could even topple over.  When we are deeply rooted, we can pull from deep within ourselves to withstand what life brings.

The second metaphor is that of a house.  In this example, Christ is our strong foundation.  Christ and His teachings are the solid rock upon which we build our lives.  The solid foundation of our faith keeps us anchored when the storms of life come.  The trials and struggles will surely come.  But when we are rock solid in our faith and our foundation is built on Christ alone, then we can handle the things that happen that will test our faith.

Christ as the head is the third way we need to connect to Him.  In our own bodies the brain controls everything.  The brain controls all function and thought.  The brain is the complete control center.  We do not do anything without impulses, thoughts, and decisions passing through our brains.  In our lives, Christ needs to function in the same way.  All we do and say and think needs to come through Christ dwelling in us.  All must be filtered through the ‘what would Jesus do’ question.

Each day we need to be in the Word, to spend time in prayer, and to reflect on God’s will and direction for our lives.  Each day we need to take His teachings and go forth to be the light and love our world so needs.  Each day may we be firmly rooted in Christ, standing strong upon the foundation He provides, so that we may humbly and faithfully be His hands and feet in the world.