pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Into Our Hearts

Reading: Romans 5: 1-5

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Chapter 5 begins by reminding us of some truths of our faith: peace through justification, access to Jesus Christ through grace, and rejoicing in the glory of God. Walking in faith certainly fills this life with peace, grace, and joy. A life of faith, however, does not shield us from the hard or difficult side of life. Because we are humans, made of flesh and bone, we will experience times of illness and even death, times of trial and pain. Paul acknowledges that as Christians we will suffer. But he also points out that we do not suffer as the worldly suffer.

Just as your relationship with your spouse or family or a friend is strengthened when you go through something hard together, so too is our relationship with God strengthened when we walk through a trial with God. When we turn to God, when we lean into God, when we rely on God – we find that God is always right there. In verse five we read about the closeness of God. Here Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. The presence and strength and comfort and peace of God is right there within us as the Holy Spirit is “as close as our next breath”.

Paul walks us through the steps or progression of the deepening relationship that we experience as we continually walk with the Lord and Spirit. We first learn to persevere; this is built through Christ’s presence in previous trials. We next learn to maintain a Christly character; this is built both by walking with Christ in our trials and by reflecting on the ways that Jesus himself endured times of suffering. Lastly, we come to have a growing hope. This comes to pervade all of life, but is especially present in the trials. And Paul also reminds us that “hope does not disappoint”. If doubt or fear or anything else begins to creep in, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit whispers, “I am here”, reminding us once again of the Lord’s presence with us and within us. Thanks be to God for the closeness of Jesus Christ in our hearts. May you ever walk in his love, grace, and hope!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your constant presence in my life. I am so grateful for the ways that you surround me in the trials. Thank you for the Spirit that so often reminds me that I am not alone, that you are right there with me. All praise and glory and honor are yours, O God! Amen.


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Persevere

Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-3

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.

The book of Hebrews was written during a time of intense persecution for Christianity. Violence and torture and death were daily possibilities. In this section of the book the author takes some time to remind the Hebrews of the heroes of faith. In chapter ten he begins with Jesus Christ and then proceeds on to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, … in chapter eleven. He is reminding them of all those who have been faithful through challenges and sufferings and trials to encourage them to do the same. This is the “great cloud of witness” that is referred to in verse one of today’s passage. Almost 2,000 years later we all have names that have been added to the list. Some are famous and well-known but most are personal – parents and grandparents, mentors, fellow church goers…

The encouragement given today in our text is to throw off the things that hinder our race and to rid ourselves of those things that entangle us. For some it is fear or doubt or worry that hinders and entangles. For others it is pride or ego or selfishness. For others still it is status or position or possessions. The list of things that can hinder and entangle is long and varied. The writer of Hebrews understood this. So the first encouragement is to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. To persevere means to keep going no matter what. It means to keep at it even in the hardest and most difficult times. The next question that comes to mind, once for me and still for many, is this: what is the course we are to follow? We find the answer in verse two: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”. Jesus set the course. He marked the race. That is why he is the “author”. He is also the “perfecter”. He who was without sin gave us the example to persevere after. We are called to focus on Jesus so that we “will not grow weary and lose heart”. As we run our race today, may we keep our eyes and our heart on Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Lord, as I seek to run the race you lay out before me today, may I run faithfully and obediently. May I see as you see. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit this day. Amen.


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Seek

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 3: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”.

In our passage today Nicodemus is a seeker. He feels the pull of Jesus Christ on his heart. He senses that following this rabbi will change his life. And like most seekers, there is a thing or two that inhibits his seeking. The fact that Nicodemus comes at night indicates a struggle many have: he does not want to give up his position or status in life. Nicodemus occupies a place in Jewish society that affords the utmost respect. He has power and influence. To choose to follow Jesus would certainly cost him all of this. Today the idea of dying to self and asking Jesus to be Lord of our life calls us to make the same decisions.

Nicodemus wants to understand Jesus. He wants to know more, to go deeper. He has seen and/or heard enough to draw him in. He is curious. Nicodemus is able to go directly to the source. But even that is confusing for him. This can inhibit continued pursuit. Effort is required to persevere. Today many people turn to the Bible for understanding. The living word functions much like Jesus did. As one reads more and more the passages come to life and gain deeper meaning. A different story can shed light on another difficult passage, building on one’s understanding.

The longer into the night that Nicodemus and Jesus talked, the better Nicodemus’ understanding will become. The same is true for seekers who spend time reading and studying the Bible. The same is true for those a little further along on their journey. The more we read and study, the better we understand the story and message of the Bible. Like Nicodemus, may we invest in our relationship with Jesus. He will lead and guide us as we seek him and continue to mature in our faith. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me in more and more each day. Help me to dive down deep, growing closer to you day by day. Amen.


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Salt and Light

Reading: Matthew 5: 13-16

Verses 13 and 14: “You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world”.

In today’s reading we are called to affect our world. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world”. To understand what he means by this, let us look at each term as it applies to faith in the world.

Salt had two main functions in Jesus’ day. The first was to preserve. Salt was liberally applied to meat and fish to extend its useful life. It keep the food safe, preventing it from spoiling. When our faith is sprinkled throughout our life, it helps us to persevere and it keeps our walk ‘good’ – living in a way that is pleasing to God. Salt also flavors that which it touches. It brings out the flavor in foods. Our faith should flavor all we do and say as well as flavoring everyone we encounter. Our good should act to bring out the good in others, making their lives better.

Jesus also calls us to be light. Light illuminates things. Doing so it chases away darkness. Jesus encourages us to allow our faith to be light in the world, not just in our own private way. He says to treat it like a lamp, putting it “on a stand” – up high so that all can be affected by our faith. Faith as a light functions in at least three ways. First, it can be a light that reveals darkness (sin) in our own lives as well as in the lives of others. Second, our faith can be a light that guides our path as we as the path of others. And, third, our faith reveals God in us and can reveal God to others, working so that “they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”. When our faith is something good that others can see, it draws them in and makes them curious about what we have.

Each day we all have opportunities to be salt and light to the world. Sometimes these opportunities feel minor and sometimes we are challenged by the opportunity that God gives us. We are called to be salt and light. God promises to be with us, to go before us, to be present to us in all things. Accordingly, may we trust the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, using each of us to do God’s will as salt and light in the world.

Prayer: Father God, may all I do and say flavor and illuminate my walk and the walk of those I meet. Use me to connect others to you. Thank you too God for all who have been salt and light to me on my walk of faith. Praise God that they took the opportunity to walk with me! Amen.


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Merciful and Just

Reading: Luke 18:1-8

Verse 3: “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”.

Today Jesus teaches us to pray and not to give up. The scene in the parable begins with the one able to answer the request. The judge has the power but is not concerned with God or with men. He feels that his power has placed him above and out of the reach of anyone or anything. Any courtroom decision comes with a price – justice had very little to do with his courtroom proceedings.

Next we meet a woman who is about the exact opposite of the judge. She is powerless. She has no husband to speak for her and she lives in a society that does not value women. She operates on justice. In verse three they meet. Here we read, “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”. Right is right. That does not change tomorrow or any day to come. So she keeps coming at the judge day after day. Not right away, but after a while the judge gives in. The widow cannot pay him off yet he grants her justice. Why? So she will not wear him out.

The woman perseveres because she is right. She seeks justice. Even the corrupt judge recognizes this. Instead of barring her from court or refusing to acknowledge someone without means, he does what is right. Here we find our model of God – the one who always does what is right, the one who is on the side of justice and the weak and powerless. When our prayers are right and just and when we bring them to God over and over, our God hears and answers. God is merciful and just and loving. In our times of need, God draws near and is present to us. In our persistence we grow stronger and our faith grows deeper. As we bring holy and just prayers to our God, know that God hears and answers.

Prayer: Lord God, when my prayers align with your will and your way, they are just and right. When I cry out for your mercy and grace with a repentant heart, you are pleased. Thank you for being a God of both justice and mercy, of grace and love. You are an awesome God! Amen.


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The Good

Reading: James 3: 9-12

Verse 11: “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring”?

James wants us to be consistent in our Christian walk. He encourages us to be faithful all if our days. But this is not the behavior that he always sees exhibited. We too struggle with this so today’s passage applies well to life as a Christian in 2018. Truth be told, it applied well in 407, 1268, 2001… and will apply well in 2047, 2206…

James uses some good examples to follow up his main point. We do use the same tongue to praise God and to curse our fellow men – “who have been made in God’s image”. We cannot love the Creator and hate His creation. That is as crazy, James says, as expecting fresh water out of a salty spring or figs from a grapevine. If in nature none of this occurs, then how can it occurs in us, the masterpiece of God’s creation?

If we are striving to live a Christian life, I do not think we want to intentionally cause harm to others. We do not wake up in the morning looking to curse at and fight with others. But we are imperfect beings living in a broken world. We will cross paths with people who hurt or wrong us or others. Satan causes greed and jealousy and pride and… to drive a lot of people’s decisions. Into all of this we are called to be light and love. When we are hurt or wronged, we are to handle it with grace and love and forgiveness. When we stand against injustice or bias or prejudice… we are to do do with peace and understanding and empathy. We are called to walk alongside those who are hurting and broken, bringing a burst of joy and mercy and compassion.

Sometimes it is hard. In those moments we must really search deep within the other to find the Creator. We must be patient and must persevere to find that which God created and seek to draw that out. There is good within all of us, just as there is evil. As followers of Jesus Christ may we work to be and bring forth the good in us and in the world.

Lord, give me patience when I want to react and perseverance when I want to just give up. Give me mercy when I want to judge. Give me grace when you just want to condemn. Most of all, give me eyes to see you in all and a heart to love as you love. In His name, amen.


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Circle

Reading: Psalm 123

Verse Two: “Our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us His mercy.”

There is a perseverance in today’s Psalm that we would do well to model.  There is a confidence in God that we would do well to emulate.  There is a deep trust in God’s faithfulness that we would do well to hold fast to.  There is a humble plea for God’s mercy that we would do well to lift up over and over each day.

A circle shows unity, wholeness, togetherness, belonging.  When one sits in the circle in certain communities, one has voice, standing, worth in that community.  As we gather around a person in need of prayer and lay hands upon them, they are surrounded by the circle yet in it as we connect through our touch.  As we circle around a loved one in the hospital bed as they cross over to Jesus, we circle them in prayer and hold hands to connect together in love, support, and prayer.  In youth group and other gatherings at the church, we form a circle, hold hands, and lift our communal prayers to God.  In the circle, we are one with each another and one with God.

We can also draw circles around things.  We circle dates on the calendar that are significant and important.  We circle things in ads at Christmas time, indicating what we would value as gifts.  We can also circle God in our prayers.  This is what the psalmist means when he writes,  “Our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us His mercy.”  Just as the slave looks to the master and the maid looks to her mistress, we too lift our prayers and fix our gaze on the One who is our God and King.  We too look to God and circle Him with our prayers.  We pray over and over and over as we circle God with our prayers for mercy or healing or guidance or forgiveness or…

As we circle God with our prayers, we are seeking unity and connection.  As we circle God with our prayers, we are persevering in what we desire; we are trusting in God’s love and mercy and care.  This day may we pray through as we circle God with our prayers, becoming one with God as we pray.


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In Peace

Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1: 1-4

“Grace and peace to you” is how Paul begins his second letter to the Thessalonians.  In our churches, during our worship services, many of our congregations practice something similar in our times of greeting or the passing of the peace.  We are reminded, through these practices, of our love and fellowship with each other and with Christ.

At the time Paul wrote this letter, the church was growing.  But is was also facing persecution and abuse from the much larger, non-Christian, segment of Thessaloniki.  Hence, Paul’s words of encouragement to persevere.  Persecution and abuse may not be the words we would use today, but there is definite conflict with the larger society outside the church.  The messages of the world and the messages of the church often run head-on into each other.  At times this means saying “No!” to or disagreeing with the messages of the world.  Inadvertently, at times this will draw negative attention and sometimes it will draw conflict.

We usually end our services by sending forth the congregation with a blessing of peace and some words of encouragement as we go back out into the world.  Often these words include reminders to share it bring Christ’s love out there with us.  As we bring our faith out into the world, God’s peace is a good thing to bring along.  As we ourselves face trial or persecution, it is a good thing to have along.  As we enter alongside another struggling in life, it is a good thing to share.

Paul notes that the church is growing.  A church in the midst of a culture that was largely non-Christian is growing.  It was growing because the believers were living out their faith in the world outside the walls of their church.  The same principle works today.  Christ’s love is attractional.  It draws us in.  It will draw others in as well.  So go forth in peace, being the light and love of Jesus Christ in a broken world.  Go forth to love and serve the Lord.


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Persistence

Reading: Luke 18: 1-8

Persistence is almost a lost art.  Society is so fast-paced and we desire instant gratification.  We have information at our fingertips that comes as soon as we type into our smart phone’s search engine.  We can watch the television show or movie of our choice practically anywhere at any time.  We can call or text or message someone whenever no matter where they are around the world.  Now, now, now.

Yet at times we do demonstrate perseverance and persistence.  If it is something we really want.  When I was in high school and wanted a guitar, I saved and saved, persistently, until I had enough to buy that guitar.  I did the same thing, sacrificing along the way, so I could buy that engagement ring.  People will still persevere today if it is for something they really want.

These things are true in our prayer life as well. We can be as persistent as the widow if it is something very important to us.  We can pray and pray and pray for that new job or that acceptance to that college or for the healing for ourselves or someone near and dear to us.  We can pray like the widow when we find ourselves or someone we love in an ‘unjust’ situation.  Yet in all of these things, we still want God to act quickly.  But we will persevere in some of our prayers.

When we are persistent in our prayers, it builds up our faith.  Persistent prayer reminds us of our reliance and dependence on God.  It reminds us of God’s sovereignty over all of creation.  But our persistent prayer should not be just for the really big things.  Yes, we should pray fervently for the desires of our hearts and for justice, nut we should persistently lift all thing, big and small, to God.  There is nothing too small and nothing too big for God!  May we pray all things into God’s presence.