pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Finding Peace

Reading: Philippians 4: 4-9

Verse 8: “Whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable… excellent… praise-worthy – think about such things”.

Yesterday, in the opening verses of this week’s passage from Philippians 4, Paul encourages the resolution of a disagreement in the church. Today Paul works out ways to be unified and at peace within our lives and within our churches.

To be at peace within Paul calls us to first rejoice in the Lord. When we are grateful daily for God’s presence and blessings in our lives, our outlook is changed. We become more positive, even concerning the challenges we face. Paul next reminds us to be gentle. It is a disposition we do not often think of. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, put it this way: “do no harm”. Paul goes on to offer an alternative to our anxious spirits – take everything to God in prayer. Be thankful for the good, be honest and forthright with our requests. From this place of prayer, Paul tells us that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. This peace of God will guard us against worry and anxiety and fear and doubt and stress and… once we trust these things to God in prayer. Giving them up, acknowledging God’s love and power and control, will bring us peace.

To be at peace in our lives and in the church, Paul gives us a list of what to focus on. In verse eight he directs our thoughts to focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praise-worthy. In short, focus on Jesus. Jesus is all these things and more. This is what Paul strived to live out, to model, and what he taught. Continuing on in verse nine, he encourages us to take all of these things and to “put it into practice”. Live out there traits of Jesus and we will find peace in our lives and in our churches. May it be so for us all.

Lord God, guide me in all these things – truth, being noble, righteousness… Focus me in always on the things of Christ, not of the world, not of my inner self. Form me more and more into one who dwells in your peace. Build up the unity in the body of Christ as we all seek to walk in the way of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Testing the Lord

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-4

Verse 2: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”?

Somewhere along the line I once heard that it takes ten positives to overcome one negative. For example, at a dinner party I would need to receive ten positive comments to balance out or get past one negative comment. While the 10:1 ratio varies from person to person, it does illustrate the power of our words. Kind words build others up and unkind words tear others down. As followers of the Lord of love, we need to be speakers of kindness and love.

As the Israelites continue on their journey in the desert they camp at Rephidim, near Horeb. There was no water there so the people begin to quarrel with Moses. The whole conversation is a familiar refrain. We can read this into Moses’ words as he responds to their quarreling by saying, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”? Moses is really questioning their trust in God. Do the people still not trust that God is in control and that God loves them? How many signs must you see? Clearly they have forgotten the parting of the sea and the bitter water becoming good and the quail and manna from heaven. All that God has done for them – it is now like none of that happened.

At that hypothetical dinner party the guests could rave about the appetizers and the starter salad, about the main dish and various sides, and so on. It is all wonderful until the “I didn’t like the ___” comes. All else is forgotten like it was never said. We are like this with God too. Our faith life can be great. Our daily time with God and our worship can lead us to feel that our faith is strong and that our relationship with God is really solid. We feel loved and we know our place as a child of God. And then something negative happens or a challenge arises. It doesn’t even have to rise to the level of losing a job or a loved one. It can be a smaller thing – like someone else getting the promotion or not making the team. Suddenly we are questioning God and his love and care for us. We quickly forget all the other blessings and ask, “Why all these good days, only to endure this”? Oh, how we too must test the Lord our God at times.

In those moments, may the Holy Spirit remind us of God’s abiding and deep love for each of us. May we trust that the sea will part, that the water will come from the rock, that God will provide. In faith may we walk with the Lord day by day. Amen.


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God of Patience

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21

Verse 10: “She said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son'”.

Several years after Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands, preempting God’s plan, God fulfills his promise to them. Ishmael had been born several years ago and he is now a young boy at the time that Isaac is born. In the story that we read today and tomorrow, there are a lot of emotions flying around. As we have observed over the last few months, this isn’t always the best thing. Emotions can be such a two-edged sword. If allowed to guide the way 100%, it can spell disaster. But emotions are also great fuel to drive action and change in a positive direction.

As our story opens today, Sarah realizes that she has created a bad situation. Part of her had to realize that she found herself where she did because she chose to manipulate the situation instead of allowing God to be in control. This is certainly a familiar scenario for many of us. It is for me. We decide God is taking too long and we decide to take charge and we plunge forward, thinking we can fix or remedy or correct a situation. Often we end up where Sarah does – in a far worse position. To make matters worse, instead of turning to God this time, she again plunges ahead, telling Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son”. But oh how God is patient. Ishmael’s father, Abraham, is greatly distressed by this directive. He has grown to love Ishmael over these years. He has been and still is his son.

Perhaps you too have done what Sarah does. Realizing that you have gone far astray of God’s plan, instead of now turning to God, you try to re-correct what you failed at in attempt #1. God remains patient with Sarah just as he does with us. God continues to work with the situation, telling Abraham that all will be just fine with Ishmael. Content in God’s words, Abraham does send Hagar and Ishmael away.

The big picture is that God will watch over us as well. God will work in and through our messes and God will be with us when we have to step out into the wilderness. It is all part of our story as well. More on that tomorrow!

Prayer: God of patience, I marvel at how you work good out of situation after situation. I so often wander off on my own but you always work me back around to your will and your ways. Thank you for your faithfulness. Amen.


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Trust and Pray – Part 2

Reading: Acts 1: 6-14

Verse 14: “They all joined together constantly in prayer”.

After Jesus makes his ascension into heaven, the angels lift the spirits of the followers standing there by telling them that Jesus will return. Greatly encouraged they return to Jerusalem and gather together – all eleven disciples, the women who were part of the regular group of followers, and Jesus’ mother and brothers. The angels’ encouragement became the fuel of their prayers. In verse fourteen we read, “They all joined together constantly in prayer”.

I imagine their prayers were a mix of thanksgiving and anticipation. Thanks for the news that Jesus would return and anticipation asking for it to come soon. There must have been a ton of positive energy and emotion poured into their prayers. Just ten days later their prayers will be answered. Jesus will return. It will be in the form of the Holy Spirit. Just as he had promised, it would be better that he left so that the gift could be sent. Instead of the physical Jesus being present with a group here and then there, the Spirit of Jesus would be present with all believers everywhere at the same time. As this group prayed, all must have thought that Jesus coming back as he was before would be the best thing ever. But it wasn’t. God’s plan was better. It always is.

As we turn to God in our prayers, may we make our humble and honest petitions known to God. But may we also trust that God will work in the way that is best. God will do with our lives what he did for the early church. Again, if we will but trust and pray.

Prayer: God of all, thank you that you are so much more than we can imagine. In the Holy Spirit you sent an amazing gift. In our lives you shower us with blessings. Thank you so much. Amen.


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Fellowship with Christ

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 1-9

Verse 5: “In him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge”.

Paul begins his letter to the church in Corinth with some positives. He thanks God for the grace given them in Jesus Christ. He reminds them that they have been blessed with many spiritual gifts. He reminds them that they will be strengthened by God as they eagerly await Christ’s return. He reminds them that God is faithful. Paul reminds them that in Christ they have been “enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge”. All of this is true – or can be – in the church in Corinth and in every church. As the letter to the Corinthian church unfolds Paul addresses their failures to live into these positives and the consequential division that has occurred in the church.

When a church loses focus on the main thing, division is inevitable. If following Jesus becomes secondary, then division is sure to occur. When Jesus is secondary, self has become first. The core of the gospel is that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected to save us and to heal a broken world. He lived so that we can know what God’s love looks like lived out upon this earth. Jesus died to defeat the power of sin – taking upon himself all the sin of the world, dying as the perfect atoning sacrifice – once for all. In the resurrection Jesus defeats death, showing us the way we too can live eternally with God in heaven. If Jesus is primary, a church will live and love as Jesus did, hoping and trusting in Christ alone for their example, salvation, and redemption, as they seek to draw others into a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

When a Christian or a church loses this focus, individual voices begin to speak and to elevate other “knowledge” to primacy. This can happen in many ways. If one cannot honestly say that the agenda they are driving glorifies God and elevates Jesus, then a reordering of focus is necessary. There are a host of secondary focuses that can lead to disunity and division. When we allow ourselves to get there, we are weakening the power to save.

Paul closes the section for today by reminding the church that God has called them and us into fellowship with Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Sandwiched around this idea is the truth and promise: “God is faithful”. May we trust this truth, walking together in fellowship with Christ and with one another, glorifying and praising Jesus Christ in all our words and actions.

Prayer: Lord God, bring healing to your church and to your world. Where there is division, lead us to see how secondary it is compared to walking faithfully in Jesus Christ. Focus us in on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The gospel is the power to save. May I stand on this alone. Amen.


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Ever Before Me

Reading: Psalm 16

Verse 8: “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken”.

Psalm 16 is written by David and flows with confidence in God. For David, God is his refuge, his giver of good things, his counselor. David trusts that God is worthy of his praise and rejoicing. He also knows that God is always present. With confidence David writes, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken”. He chooses a daily relationship with God and upon that relationship he can stand firm.

In today’s Psalm, David is affirming and positive. But life is not always good. David, like us, certainly had days and seasons when life was hard and had times when sin created separation from God. Some of David’s Psalms reflect these valleys. It was in those lows that David learned that God never leaves him. We too experience this if our first action in the valley is to reach out to God. The Lord is always there, always by our side. Verse 8 is a great verse to memorize or to put on a note card or to highlight in our Bibles.

Psalm 16 closes with another promise that can sustain us and help us through a trial or time of grief or suffering. God shows us the “path of life” – the way to eternal life. David knows that one day he will be in God’s presence, enjoying “eternal pleasures” at God’s right hand. What a joy it will be! This promise is ours too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to daily walk with you. Keep me intimately connected so that I can stand firm in the trials and hard times. Thank you for always being present to me, O God. Amen.


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Positive Results

Reading: Luke 18: 1-8

When we learn to stick to something, we find we get better at it.  A player who shoots free throw after free throw improves their percentage.  An aspiring writer who writes and rewrites and edits and rewrites again becomes a better writer.  A chef who nuances a dish over and over and over eventually comes to the exact balance of flavors desired for the dish.  If we are willing to invest our time and energy in a concentrated and focused manner, we will see positive results.

The widow in our story is willing to stick up for herself.  She is willing to go against social norms.  Above all else is a sense of being wronged and her driving need for justice.  As the widow went to the unjust judge day after day, I imagine she tried a variety of approaches.  I cannot imagine her showing up day after day issuing the same request.  She worked a variety of angles and applied a variety of reasons to show that she deserved justice from the judge.

Our prayer life is something like these two scenarios.  We latch onto something we desire from God and we begin to pray for it.  Early on we are like the player or writer or chef, seeking to craft just the prayer that will draw the response we desire.  As our prayer is offered up day after day we refine and shape it.  Eventually we fall into the widow’s pattern as we apply various reasons why God should answer our prayer.  Sometimes we even get to the “if, then” praying.  If you will ___ God, then I will ___.  

Through our begging, our pleading, our bartering, God is at work.  If we remain persistent in our prayers, we will often find that it is us or our faith that changes.  For example, in praying for “that” person or situation, our approach or view or understanding is often changed so we become more loving, more compassionate, more accepting.  If we are willing to invest time and energy in our prayers, we will experience God at work in our lives.  The results will be positive.  We may not always receive the answer we began praying for, but God will always be present, always working, always shaping us through our prayers to be the Christian we need to be.


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Bold as Peter

Reading: Acts 5: 27-32

In life we often face decision points.  One choice leads to this outcome and the other choice leads to that outcome.  This choice may anger or alienate or negatively impact this person or group and that choice will do the same for that person or group.  Even though in our heart and mind we come to what we think or feel is the ‘right’ choice, not everyone will necessarily agree.

Often these choices are not big and impactful, but at times they are.  In these situations, the pressure to make the ‘right’ decision can be huge.  This is especially true when both choices have a number of positives and negatives.  But in some cases there is a clear correct choice.  Yet even these are not always free of possible consequences.  Such was the case when the apostles were again called before the Sanhedrin.

The apostles had been instructed to stop teaching in the name of Jesus.  What they were teaching did not please the Jewish religious authorities because it was a way different from their way.  The apostles were drawing people to Christ instead of to Judaism.  Peter’s response is awesome: “we must obey God rather than men”. What a tough statement to argue against!  Who could know more than or argue against God?!

The obvious answer to this question is one we must remind ourselves of when the voice of the world or the voice of self competes with the voice of God.  In these times that will surely happen, we must trust in the voice of the Holy Spirit, in what we read in the Bible, and in the promises of God to love and protect and bless us.  May we be as bold as Peter.  May we obey God.