pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Receive God’s Grace

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse One: “As fellow workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain”.

When we look at Paul’s hardships listed in verses three through five, one might question taking up a life of faith. Yes, life itself will bring all of these hardships at times, but to choose a life’s journey that almost invites these seems like a tough choice to make. To be a Christian in today’s world is not an easy task. Our culture is not very well aligned to Christian values any longer.

As one moves on to verses four through six, it gets a little better but there are still undesirables on that list. In these verses Paul begins to paint the picture that this difficult journey is worth it. The Christian Life is a life of genuine love and fellowship, of eternal hope and real joy. Yet the world and our culture will say one can find love and joy and happiness without walking the narrow way of faith. Culture says there is an easier way.

All one has to do to find love and joy and happiness is to work a little harder and to be willing to take advantage or exploit another on occasion. Yes, a day of rest and time with God and family might be fun, but it will cost you. Come on, lots of people work on Sunday. You might miss a ball game or recital here and there or a birthday if the potential payoff is big. Don’t worry – there will be other events that you will be at. These are the lies of the world. These are the ways that we convince ourselves that it is okay to work on Sundays and evenings.

Paul opens today’s passage asking the Corinthians and us to “not to receive God’s grace in vain”. Receive it and allow it to change you. Receive it and pass it on to others. Receive it and gain a sense of hope that the world cannot give. Allow God to bring you hope in times of sorrow, peace in times of stress, joy in times of despair, and love in times of hate and anger. Receive God’s grace and allow it to open your heart wide. Walk the narrow and hard road of faith and find life. Amen and amen.

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Ring, Ring

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse Nine: “If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'”.

Today we have Samuel’s call story. Before he was born his mom dedicated him to the Lord. As soon as he was able he began serving in the temple. This life is really all Samuel has known for his twelve or thirteen years of life. I suppose he could have rebelled as a young boy, deciding this was not the life he wanted for himself. He wouldn’t be the first. Today people do this all the time – leaving one vocation for another or transferring to someplace else where it must be better.

Then one night God calls out to Samuel. Three times. It is only when old, wise Eli realizes that it was God calling did Samuel know to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”. Only with Eli’s help. This makes me think of my call story. God began to give a call to me way back when I began adult life as a middle school teacher in the early 1990s. As I grew in my own faith and became more involved at my church, volunteering in various capacities, the call grew louder. The voices of good friends and total strangers eventually joined the echoing of God’s call. Then, twenty-something years later, I accepted the call to full-time vocational ministry.

Although the span of time was much greater that Samuel’s, over and over I heard God calling. It was a long process convincing me that God was indeed calling. It was like a slow sunrise that quietly creeps across the landscape as God’s light spread more and more into my life. Certainly not all are called into vocational ministry. Most folks are called into a relationship with God that leads them to serve God in their daily lives as doctors or construction workers, as secretaries or teachers, … A few receive a lightning bolt call – one day an overwhelming voice or event catapults them into a relationship with God.

This all leads to the question: what is your call story? Or is God still calling you? We all have a story to tell. When someone asks, as one surely will, about this joy and peace that you have, what will you say? What is your story of faith? How will you explain how God has been and is at work in your life? When someone asks, how will you explain the call of God upon your life?


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The Spirit Prays

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”.

Prayer is our personal, frequent conversation with God. On most days we lift up our thanks, our joys, our concerns, and our requests to God. We have a real sense that supports what we read in the Bible – that God hears our prayers and desires for us to come to Him in prayer. Prayer is an intimate connection to God.

On occasion we also have seasons or days or moments where either we cannot pray or do not know what to pray for. At times in my life I have felt so hurt or have been so angry at God that I couldn’t quite form a prayer. The emotions were just too great. At other times I have been distant from God and did not even think about praying very often. Sometimes I’ve felt so lost that I could not even begin to formulate words for a prayer. The whirlwind around me made it difficult to lift up a prayer.

In all of these scenarios, even though I could not or did not pray, I still had a sense of God and His presence. I think this is like the inward groanings that Paul writes about in today’s passage. It is this guy level feeling or instinct to reach out to God. A part of us longs to connect with God, but we just can’t quite do it. But, thanks be to God, we are not alone.

In verse 26 we read, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In all the scenarios above, plus any other we can think of or experience, the Spirit helps us. Paul goes on to write, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”. In groans without words the Spirit prays for you and I. When we are angry, the Spirit prays for us. When we are hurting, the Spirit prays for us. When we wander away or when we fall into sin, the Spirit prays for us. The Spirit prays for us. All the time. Thanks be to God. Amen!


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Filled with Joy

Reading: John 15: 9-11

Verse Eleven: “…so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”.

Jesus loves you. Jesus loves me! He invites us to remain in His love. It is a wonderful place to be – in Jesus’ love. Jesus tells us that to remain in His love we must obey His commands. Jesus obeyed God’s commands and remained in God’s love. He invites us to do the same. Why is Jesus telling us this? “…so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”. Love brings joy. Jesus loves you and me.

Love brings joy primarily two ways. One way is by feeling loved. As children, when we felt especially loved by our parents, we felt joy in our hearts. The first time you kissed your first love, you felt joy in your heart. When we experience the love of God in the ways He interacts with and intercedes in our lives, we feel joy in our hearts. For example, today when we partake in communion and once again remember the love that Jesus poured out with His life, we will feel joy in our hearts.

The second way we can have our joy made complete is by being Jesus’ hands and feet, by bringing His light and love to others. When we take time to stop our busy lives to love and serve another in need, the Lord fills our hearts with joy. This happens frequently for me on mission trips. It can be through the changes I can see happening as God goes to work in that young person’s life. It can be in the absolute gratitude expressed by someone we have blessed with a handicap ramp or new roof. And sometimes this joy sneaks up on you. It happens when someone you have not seen in a while comes up to you and says, “Do you remember the time when…?” and goes on to tell you how much what you did or said meant to them. They say it made the difference. Your heart is suddenly filled with joy.

Jesus’ command was to love as I have loved you. His love was limitless and knew no bounds; it was given to all. Jesus loves you and me. May we go forth and love as He loves you and me. Amen and amen!


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Sing Out Loud

Reading: Psalm 98

Verse Nine: “He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity”.

Psalm 98 is a song of celebration. The Lord has made salvation known to the nations. The Psalm calls us to sing a new song and to shout for joy to the world. The psalmist even invites the sea and rivers and mountains to join in the celebration. The Psalm closes with this line: “He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity”.

It all sounds wonderful. There will be much joy and songs of praise when the Lord returns. If one is walking with the Lord. If. When one walks with the Lord, they will be singing and shouting for joy when He returns to make all things new. There is no fear of judgment because our faith brings us an assurance and a peace concerning the things to come. Those who live in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ may even look forward to what is unfolding in this Psalm. But we are the minority.

Most of the world will simply dismiss the Psalm at first reading. For the non-believer it is easier to not even think about it. Yet at times they do. Death is one of those things that no one can avoid so it comes to all of our minds now and then. Because most all non-believers sense that there must be “something more” after this life draws to a close, all people have at least a little willingness and some even have a desire to know more about this God who one day will judge.

So how do we help others to know the Lord? By sharing the story of how we know the Lord. Our Psalm opens with this line: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things”. Sing out loud so that others can hear your good news today. Sing out loud so that your voice plants seeds that God can water and the Spirit can nurture. Sing out loud today!


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Live in Love

Reading: 1st John 4: 13-21

Verse Sixteen: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in Him”.

In today’s passage there are a lot of references to “in”. The passage begins with “live in Him” and “He in us”, illustrating the connection we have between us and God. This connection is made through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Once we acknowledge Jesus as Savior, then this “in” relationship is established, allowing us to “know and rely on the love God has for us”.

This relationship is based upon love and the connection that being in love brings. In verse sixteen we read, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in Him”. It does not say ‘dabbles in love’ or ‘occasionally strays’ into love. Living in love connects us to God. The more time and energy we invest in love, the more that “love is made complete”. As we approach this completion, we also gain confidence in our eternity. John writes, “perfect love drives out fear”. Our love of God and God’s love in us assures us of our everlasting relationship with God.

To live in love requires a constant attention. This relationship is built and grows only through attention. Like all relationships, it will wither and fade if we neglect it. We must take the time to invest in our relationship with God. Verse nineteen does say, “we love because He first loved us”. It is also true that God will continue to love us no matter what because “God is love”. But the development of a relationship and the reciprocation of love requires our intent and our commitment. It is not enough to say that God first loved us. We must also return that love. In doing so we will be filled with love and as we begin to live in love, that love will naturally flow out to our brothers and sisters as well.

We build our love for God by spending time with God. In can be through time in prayer and reading and studying His Word in the quiet of the morning or in the stillness of the night. It can be time spent in joyful worship at church or in peaceful and still reflection beside flowing waters or in the beauty of the forest path. It can be in a conversation with God during the commute to school or work or in the few moments we steal away waiting in line at the store or in traffic. There are many ways to connect to God to build our love. May we each find many today.