pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Slaves to God

Reading: Romans 6: 15-23

Verse 22: Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

Paul begins by proposing the idea that we are either a slave to sin or a slave to God.  The slave analogy implies a complete obedience of free will.  Yes, we may choose to sin.  Or we may choose to be obedient to God.  But once the choice is made, we become as a slave – doing the total will of either sin or of God.  It is the first of two stark contrasts in today’s passage.

Paul continues on to share the results of our choice.  If we choose sin, then this choice leads to death.  If we choose God, then our choice leads to life.  This is a sharp contrast: life or death.  To help us in our decision, we are entrusted to teaching that helps us make the correct choice.  This is really what life is all about – we learn so that we can make an informed decision.  As we learn and grow in our faith the choice to be obedient to God becomes an easier choice in the daily decisions we face.  Paul rejoices in the result of good Christian teaching as he writes, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness”.

As our passage draws to a close, Paul writes of the reality we all deal with every day.  He writes that we are weak and that we used to be slaves to sin.  We are weak.  Each and every day we must choose to follow God.  However, it is not a choice we make one day and then never face again.  Each day and each hour and sometimes each second, Satan is right there pushing the choice to sin.  It is a constant battle.  In the big sense, though, our choice is life or death.  As Christians we have made the choice.  In verse 22 Paul writes, “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life”.  It is a wonderful gift of God.

This day may we each make the choice to be freed from sin, to be slaves to God, and to live a holy life which one day leads to eternal life.

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Bear Witness

Reading: Acts 7: 55-60

Verse 55: Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Stephen is certainly one filled with the Holy Spirit.  He has taught and performed miracles.  He stood in the Sanhedrin and successfully defended and explained the faith he professes.  He is so filled with the Holy Spirit that he even condemns the most powerful body of Jewish leaders for their role in the death of Christ.  This so outrages them that they are furious and gnash their teeth.  What happens next is today’s reading.

Stephen is a man who will stand up for his faith and belief in God no matter what.  He is a man who will speak the truth, even if it offends others a bit.  He is a man living life fully under the control of the Holy Spirit.  He is a man who trusts his very life to God’s plans and purposes.  All I can say is, “Wow”.  To look in the mirror and to see a slight reflection of who Stephen was would give me pause.

Who do you know that lives like Stephen?  Is there someone in your life that lives fully trusting God and fully obedient to God’s will?  These men and women are few and far between.  Most Christians, myself included, dabble with this type of faith.  We may step outside our routine or our comfort zones every once in a while to make an impact for God.  We may show a depth of faith that at times pleases God.

Just as they are preparing to drag him out to stone him, Stephen “full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God”.  God blesses him with this vision and the one to come next.  It strengthens Stephen.  It reassures him.  It affirms what he has spent his last years preaching and doing.  As they stone him, he calls for Jesus to receive his spirit and prays for those killing him.  He dies just as he lived – bearing witness to his God to the very end.  In doing so, Stephen continues to bring much glory to God.  May we go and do likewise today.


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Obedient Servant

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verse 5: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ.

Paul open this passage by admonishing us to have the same attitude as Christ had.  It is an attitude that Paul modeled and he is urging his readers to do the same.  This, of course, is the goal of our faith – to become more and more like Christ each day.

In the following verses Paul spells out what it looks like to have the attitude of Christ.  He does so by reminding us what Jesus himself was like.  Christ entered the world by making himself ‘nothing’, taking on the flesh and living as a humble servant.  At the end of a faithful and obedient life, Christ demonstrated the ultimate in obedience as He surrendered to death on a cross.  Because of Jesus’ obedience and faithfulness here on earth, God exulted Him to the highest place in heaven so that at the mention of His name all knees would bow.

Paul had the authority to write of these things and to call the Philippians to live this way because it was the life Paul himself also modeled.  Paul lived as a humble servant and poured himself out so that others could come to know Jesus.  Paul’s radical obedience to the gospel parallels Jesus’ radical obedience to God.  Paul walks the walk that he is calling us to walk.  Paul walked the walk even though he faced much persecution and abuse.  Paul has been ostracized, beaten, whipped, shipwrecked, and imprisoned.  Instead of abandoning or lessening his faith, the trials have strengthened Paul’s faith.  We too experience this same growth and transformation when we take on the attitude of Christ and live with a radical obedience and sure faith.

Ironically, Paul writes this letter calling us to take on and live out the attitude of Christ as a humble servant and obedient believer while sitting in prison.  He has been sent to a Roman prison on trumped up charges.  He sits in jail continuing to do what he does – calling for us to be humble servants and faithful disciples.  Paul sits in jail calling for obedience perhaps knowing full well that he will soon be martyred.  Paul is not afraid or discouraged.  He calls on all other followers of Jesus Christ to do just what he is doing himself – offer a radical way of life to the world as a witness to the Savior we love and follow.  May it be so for us today.


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Comfort and Assurance

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse 7: Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.

Israel has been in exile for almost seventy years.  They have been away from the Promised Land and the place they knew and loved lies in ruins.  There does not appear to be any hopes of returning as their time in exile does not have a foreseeable end.  They live in a foreign land among people who worship other gods.  It is easy to see why they might find comfort and assurance in these words from Isaiah.

In this section of Isaiah 50, we read of the presence of God in the servant’s life.  This servant endures suffering, yes, but remains steadfast to God.  This is a good reminder to the people in their situation.  The passage opens with God giving words of hope to the servant.  The word of God spoken to the people throughout their long history also offers hope and reminds the people of God’s love and care for them.  This is a good and timely reminder.  Just as the servant claims it for himself, so too can the people living in exile.  The servant also declares that he has not been rebellious, yet is beaten.  The generation that suffers in exile could relate well to this concept.  It was their ancestors who rebelled and it is now they who suffer.  To be reminded that they are not alone in their suffering brings them some comfort and peace.

The writing ends with a resolution to “set my face like flint”.  The servant knows God is near and he trusts God to vindicate him.  He knows that if God is on his side, in the end, he will not be put to shame.  There is great confidence in God’s power.  He knows that God is in control.  These words would bring hope to the exiles.  Even though they cannot see light or even the end of the tunnel, they are reminded that God has them too.

The people in exile were in need of this reminder of God’s love and care.  After these long years they must have questioned God a bit.  In the servant they are reminded by his example to remain faithful and obedient in spite of undeserved suffering.  Ultimately, they are also reminded of God’s power too.

As Christians reading this passage, one can see Jesus in the words of Isaiah.  Jesus embodied God’s love in human form.  He spoke words from the Father that brought healing to those who were broken and weary.  He was obedient and faithful, even to the point of death on the cross.  Just as the Jews in exile found comfort and assurance in the suffering servant, so too do we find comfort and assurance in Christ.  For His faithful witness that strengthens and encourages us each day, we say thanks be to God.


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Bow, Kneel

Reading: Psalm 95

Today’s Psalm is an encompassing passage.  It reminds us both of God’s gifts to us and of God’s power as well as reminding us of our human state – bowing to worship God at one moment, testing God at another.  The cycle of obedience and disobedience is common to the Israelites and it is common to us.

When the chosen people are being faithful and obedient, regular worship is at the core of their daily life.  They often walked in a close relationship with God.  God was their Rock and they came to offer their thanksgiving.  The people extolled God for creation and for the blessings in their lives.  In this place, they felt they were “the flock under his care”.  I feel the same way when my walk with God is faithful and obedient.  When I am daily in the Word and when I am praying prayers that offer my repentance and thanks and that seek God’s will for my life, then I too feel God’s love and care surrounding me.  When I am here, you’d think I’d stay forever.

Sheep tend to wander so they are a good choice.  In the Psalm, the author refers to one of the many, many times that the Israelites tested God, one of the many times they were not obedient and faithful.  This too is my pattern.  Although living within God’s presence and protection is where the Israelites wanted to be and where I want to be, sin creeps in.  We find ourselves testing and trying God.  As Paul wrote in Romans 7:15, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”.  The power of the flesh is strong.  It is a daily, and often hourly or minute by minute, battle to be obedient and faithful.  It is a battle that we cannot win on our own.  It is a battle that never ends.

Thanks be to God that He is faithful and that His love and mercy never fail.  “Come, let us bow down in worship”.  Let us confess our sins with our lips and find God’s forgiveness in our hearts.  Let us offer our praise and thanksgiving!  “Let us kneel before the Lord our maker”.  In humble submission we bow, admitting our weakness, calling on God’s strength.  We kneel before our God, grateful to be in God’s love and care, for we too are the sheep of His pasture.


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Prone

Reading: Genesis 3: 1-7

The story of sin in our passage today is repeated each day in our lives.  While we do not eat the forbidden fruit, we partake and indulge and rationalize and justify and blame any number of times each day in our lives.  Maybe it is an unkind word to our spouse, maybe it is a little gossip, maybe it is one too many treats, maybe, maybe, maybe.  The list is long.

For Adam and Eve it appears that just one thing draws them away from following God’s instructions.  But I do not think the serpent’s whisper was the first time they thought about the tree.  They have probably wondered ‘why’ ever since God said, “don’t eat”.  Adam and Eve have always obeyed God up to this point.  That is why it has been a wonderful relationship.  They walk and talk each day.  The serpent tells Eve that she will not die if she eats the forbidden fruit.  The serpent also plants the ‘real’ reason God does not want them to partake.  Later, when Adam and Eve are at the tree, she sees the fruit is appealing and good to eat, when she remembers that what God said isn’t ‘true’, she eats.  She indulges.  She justifies what she knows she shouldn’t.  And Adam is right there with her.

Sitting in the break room, the conversation begins.  It is so hard not to join in or at least listen to the gossip and silently judge.  TV show isn’t quite over and there are some chips left in the bag.  It is so easy just to finish them off.  It was a hard and stressful day at work and emotions are tense.  Something is not quite right with dinner or the kids are a bit rambunctious, so you let someone have it.  It is so easy to slip into sin.  We like to think those listed here and others like them are relatively ‘harmless’, but each sin comes with a cost, a price, a consequence.  A relationship is damaged or broken.  Maybe it is repairable, but should we ever get to the point of having to repair our relationships?

We all know the answer is ‘no’ but it is easier said than done.  We are, by nature, prone to sin.  God works all the time, most often through the presence of the Holy Spirit, to turn us from temptation and sin.  Merciful redeemer, when we do sin, make us humble in seeking forgiveness.  O Lord our God, strengthen and encourage us today for the trial and temptations that surely lie ahead, so that we may walk as faithful disciples this day.


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Mountain Top

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-14

God and mountains seem to go together.  It was on the mountain that Moses first heard God’s call and it was on another mountain that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  It was on the mountain that God passed by Elijah and whispered in that still, small voice. It was on the mountain that Jesus rejected Satan’s temptation and it was later on another mountain that Jesus was transfigured.  It is later that Jesus pleads with His Father on the Mount of Olives.

Many believers have also had their own ‘mountaintop’ experiences.  Some have happened while physically on a mountain.  Bishop Hartwell climbed the mountain in Zimbabwe to seek God’s direction.  On the mountaintop, God gave him a vision that led to the founding of Africa University.  For others, their mountaintop experience is not literally on a mountain, but it feels as if they were on top of the world.  In that place, one experiences God in a way that is amazing and life-changing.  For many, it is the pinnacle or touchstone moment of their faith.

To be on the mountaintop is often to be alone with God.  To physically stand atop Mount Everest or Mount McKinley or Storm Mountain feels as if you were next to God.  There is something about the isolation, something about the height above all else, something about the beauty seen all around you.  In the ruggedness it can feel as if God himself has walked there.  Then when one looks down, the world lays out before you.  This too is a moving experience.  To see all of God’s handiwork laid out in its beauty and splendor creates a feeling of closeness to the Creator.

Our lives themselves can also have mountaintop experiences, and not just the one the first time we met God.  God calls us over and over and over to the mountaintop.  God wants us to experience His power and majesty and wonder over and over again.  Our question is: will we respond to God’s call?  Furthermore, will we obediently go where God leads, will we allow God to be fully in control of our lives?  When our answers to these questions are ‘yes’, then God will bring us to the mountaintop over and over, again and again.  In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.  Do we desire life to the full?  If so, may we trust in God and allow Him to take us to the mountain today.