pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Perfection?

Reading: Psalm 25: 8-10

Verse 9: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His ways”.

Sometimes I wonder why God engages us. Over and over I sin – yet God continues to love me. The good words of the psalmist remind me of why. He begins with, “good and upright is the Lord”. God loves us because of who He is, not because of who we are. God keeps His promises. God promises to always engage us – God will be our God always; God will never leave or forsake us; God’s mercies will never end.

Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, God continually instructs the sinners. The Holy Spirit convicts us and leads us to repentance when we do sin. The Holy Spirit and God’s Word also work in us to teach us more about God and our faith, to do good works, to love our neighbors, to live faithfully. In verse 9 the psalmist writes, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His ways”. God guides the humble. If we think we know it all or if we are arrogant or, worse yet, if we think we have ‘arrived’ on our faith journey, then we are not humble. Humility is required for the continued walk of faith.

Our section of today’s Psalm closes by again reminding us that God is loving and faithful to those who obey. When we keep the commands of God, then we experience God’s love and faithfulness. God does not bless the wayward. God does help the prodigal to return home, to a right relationship with God, so that He can bless us. Thankfully, God is never done with us.

The process of God continuing to work in us to be more and more like Jesus Christ is called ‘sanctification’. This refining process draws us in and leads to our becoming more holy. John Wesley called this process “going on to perfection”. Jesus was perfect. The goal of our faith is to become more and more like Christ. I think we only become perfect when we stand beside Him in eternal glory. But for now, in this life, may we seek to draw ever closer to Jesus Christ, the perfector of our faith.

Prayer: Lord, even as I acknowledge my imperfections and admit my failures, I ask you to make me more and more like Jesus today. Make me a better witness, a deeper follower, a more willing servant. In all my seconds, minutes, and hours, may I shine your light. Amen.


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Good Advise

Reading: 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13

Verse 11: Aim for perfection… be of one mind… live in peace.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth to urge unity and cooperation and love in the church.  The church there is struggling with doing these things.  At times all churches, being filled with human beings with human egos and desires, can have some varied opinions and thoughts.  In Corinth, this has apparently gone beyond the typical disagreement over the carpet color.  Factions have been created and sides have been drawn up.  This can be an occurrence in today’s churches as well.

Paul’s words would have maybe drawn the same reactions​ today as I imagine they did back then.  First it was: who us?  We are getting along fine!  Then it was: get along with who?  Love who?  You’ve got to be kidding.  Paul clearly just did not understand how wrong “they” were.  Sometimes, and especially in the midst of conflict, it can be hard to give any ground or to begin to see the other side’s perspective.  But Paul is looking past the conflict to the bigger picture.  The church was not modeling the love of Christ to one another or to the people outside the church.  Worship as the one body of Christ was no longer occurring.  Times were tough.

Into this Paul writes, “aim for perfection”.  He does not mean for their opinion or argument to be perfect – he is calling them to be like Jesus Christ.  He was perfect in His love.  Paul is calling them to be like Christ.  He goes on to call them to “be of one mind”.  Take on the mind of Christ.  Love and see as Jesus loved and saw the world.  Lastly, also in verse 11, Paul calls on the church in Corinth to “live in peace”.  As Jesus was leaving this earth, He said to the disciples, “Peace be with you”.  In the midst of all they would face, Jesus offered them His peace – the peace that passes understanding.  This is the peace Paul is calling the church to live into.

Paul’s advice is good in conflict as well as in day to day life.  This day, may we each “aim for perfection… be of one mind… live in peace”.b


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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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The Journey On

Reading: Colossians 1: 15-20

Jesus, Paul declares, is the “firstborn of all creation”.  Since the beginning of time, Jesus has been the creator and the purpose for all that has been created.  He is therefore supreme over all.  Yet counter to all of this, Jesus is also the one who humbled Himself to death on a cross, becoming the “firstborn from among the dead”.  In doing so, Jesus became the way to true and eternal life.  Only through His blood can we be made righteous.

Jesus rule and example were so countercultural.  Jesus loved instead of conquered.  Jesus healed instead of killed.  Jesus forgave instead of holding grudges.  Jesus sacrificed instead of taking advantage.  Jesus offered compassion instead of judgment.  In all these ways, Jesus gave us an example we can each follow.  Love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, understanding, servant.  Jesus’ power comes from His heart, not from His brain or His brawn.  We are each born with the spark of the divine in our hearts.  We can thus all live a life that follows the ways of Jesus.  We were created in His image, intended to follow after Jesus as His disciples.

Next Sunday begins a new year in the church calendar as Advent begins.  Like the end of the calendar year, may it be a time when we pause and take stock of our journey of faith.  John Wesley called this life of faith a “journey towards perfection”.  It is a place we never reach, yet one we should always be arriving towards.  Jesus was the perfect example of God’s love lived out.  This week may we look at our journeys of faith – at both our times moving forward and at our times of failure.  May we each commit to a year of growth in our faith, seeking to ever become more and more like Jesus Christ, the one true King, the one and only Way.  May it be so.


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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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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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Mind on the Goal

Reading: Philippians 3: 13-14

Paul knew that forgetting was important.  He knew that if he were to continue to grow in his relationship with Christ, he must treat his failures like Christ treats our sin.  First, he must acknowledge that as we are human, we will sin and struggle with our sin.  Second, like Christ we must forget our stumbles and press on in our faith.  Mistakes so often teach us and we must be cognizant of what we can learn from our mistakes, but we cannot fall and remain down.  We must pick ourselves up, remember our guilt no more, and continue “on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Jesus Christ.”

Perfection is something only Christ attained.  So we can expect to have stumbles, setbacks, and even the occasional fall.  The way in which we choose to handle these inevitable occurrences is essential to a successful journey of faith.  One option is to collapse, to become paralyzed, to remain stuck.  We may have brief times here because of the enormity or sheer emotional weight of the trial.  But we cannot choose to remain here.  Even though sometimes this feels like the easy choice, it is not the best choice because in essence we are saying God cannot rescue us.

In the end we must make the choice to reach out, to take hold of His hand, and to begin to walk again.  We must lean into God and allow Him to carry us for a  bit.  We must walk with Him and share all of what we are going through and ask for what we need.  Above all else God loves us and seeks good for our lives.  Our bottom line is that we know the goal is assured because of Christ’s work on the cross.  No matter what life brings, may we always live with our mind on the goal to which we too are called heavenward.