pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Path of Life

Reading: Acts 2:28

Verse 28: “You have made known to me the paths of life: you will fill me with joy in your presence”.

Today’s reading was just one verse. It has two parts which are interrelated. The first half of the verse centers on the “paths of life”. What does David mean by this phrase? Just as it was for David, so it was for the man quoting him in this verse. Peter was a man who was a work in progress as he learned the path of following Jesus. That path, after all, is the path of life. Like David and Peter, we too are a work in progress. As Methodism founder John Wesley put it, we are on a “journey to perfection”. What he meant by this is that faith is an ongoing journey to become more and more like the perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ.

Also like David and Peter, we too have failures in our walk with the Lord. Our failures might not reach the level of adultery and murder or of total denial of our faith, but in our own ways we break our relationship with the Lord. Whether that comes a million times through what we think are “small” sins that we struggle with or through a season pursuing the things of this world or caught up in an addiction that feels like a “big” sin, it does not matter. All sin separates us from God. The path of sin is not the path of life. The Lord never gave up on David or on Peter. He will not ever give up on you or me either.

The second half of the verse today centers on joy. Joy and happiness are not the same thing. The world wants us to be happy. We think possessions or titles or popularity will bring us joy. Pursuit and attainment of these earthly things does make us feel good. But the feeling does not last. There is no joy in things. As we study and learn the ways of Jesus, we see that his life revolved around serving others, sharing a relationship with others, healing the brokenness and isolation of others, forgiving other’s sins. His life as a loving and humble servant is our model. We will find what he found when we walk his path. When we give ourselves away, we do not lose but we gain. When we humbly serve God and others, we are filled with a joy that is everlasting. This is the path of life. May we give of ourselves freely and generously today, in whatever form that may be.

Prayer: Father God, help me to walk on the path of your son, Jesus Christ. Help me to love extravagantly today. May I be poured out in service to you and to all I meet today. 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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Grace and Peace

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Verse 7: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ”.

The letter to the Romans opens with a greeting. After establishing the authorship, Paul ends the greeting with words of grace and peace. Living within a pagan culture that brought persecution and oppression, having grace and peace were essential. One could argue the culture around the early Christians was “religious”. They worshipped the Caesar as a god and their homes and other places were filled with hundreds of idols. But no matter how grand the worship, no matter how volumnous the sacrifices, no matter how lengthy the prayer, these small gods never brought grace or peace. Strangely, many still practice a similar religion today. They have only replaced Caesar and little figurines with self and possessions and titles and hundreds of other things.

As an apostle, Paul’s “job” was to “call people from among all Gentiles to the obedience that comes through faith”. His job was to connect people to Jesus. Unlike Caesar, who only had earthly human power, and unlike the inanimate idols, who had absolutely no power, Jesus Christ had unlimited power and had life everlasting to offer. One can actually enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and can experience the indwelling of his presence, leading and guiding ones life. It is through this relationship and the claiming of God’s promises fulfilled in Christ that one finds the grace and peace that Paul is extending to the Roman congregation.

Just as it was then, so it is with us. In the world and its things, there is no grace or peace. It is only in and through Jesus Christ that we find lasting grace and true peace. In the darkness of the world, there is much need for grace and peace. This Advent season may we be people who also seek to share Jesus Christ with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord of all, I cannot imagine how deep a hole I would be in without your grace. I cannot fathom how I would get through those days without your peace. You are the greatest gift and the surest love. Lead and guide me to share you with others today. Amen.


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He Provides

Reading: Psalm 127

Verse 2: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for while they sleep He provides for those He loves”.

We can build our own lives. We can labor to build our city or our business or our personal wealth or possessions. But unless God is involved, all is done in vain. If not us, we certainly know folks who rise early and work late, trying to get ahead. They toil for many different reasons and for many different things. But all is in vain unless God is with them.

The passage today is not saying that laboring or working is in vain. It can be in vain, but scripture is pretty clear on the subject – if able, we are to work. Our labor can be in vain for at least two reasons. First, if our work is given to bring us recognition or if it is done to amass wealth or possessions, then it is vanity. In this case, we want the light to shine on us. The second reason that our labor is in vain when we work without God is that none of our earthly stuff will leave this earth. If our life here is simply about amassing stuff, the our stuff becomes our idols.

When we labor with God – following His plans and His ways for our life – then it is not in vain. When our focus is on shining the light on God, then there is no human vanity. When we labor with God, then the rewards or stuff is not found here on earth. Tje treasure we store up is treasure in heaven. Life is good when lived with God. Our passage says, “for while they sleep He provides for those He loves”. God loves and cares for and provides for those that walk with God, those who love God. For the love and care in the here and now and fir the eternal life one day, we rejoice and shout out, thanks be to God!

Lord, keep me humble and focused on you. Keep me in tune with working with you rather than trying to make my own way and my own decisions. Thank you. Amen.


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Serving God, Serving Others

Reading: Mark 9: 33-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”.

The disciples are arguing about something we can argue about from time to time. As kids, we all argued with our siblings about who was our parents’ favorite. As we got a little older, we discussed who was the teacher’s or coach’s favorite. As we entered into adulthood, the discussion took place most often in our heads. Whenever we did voice our opinion concerning someone being the favorite, it was usually a manner of complaint or gossip.

Unfortunately, most people want to be #1. Some express this by being large and in charge. Some simply want to be the one others look to. Deep down, we all want to be important, to matter. Society teaches us that worth is in our possessions, our titles, our status. This equates out to being the greatest. Faith runs counter to these values and ideas. Knowing what the disciples were arguing about, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”. If you want to be the greatest in God’s kingdom, be the last to consider yourself, be the first to offer yourself in humble service to one and all. How counter-cultural this is. What a radical way to consider greatness.

To drive His point home, Jesus has a child stand among them. In His day, children were at the bottom of the social and familial ladder. Jesus tells His disciples that when we welcome one of these – the least – we welcome Jesus and we welcome God into our lives. When we feed the hungry, visit the sick and the lonely, clothe the naked… then we are serving our needs last, we are being the servant of all. In the process, we often see the face of God in those we meet.

Lord God, this day may I seek to be last instead of first. May I be a giver and not a taker. May I be a person of humble faith, not a person of aloof religion. In all I do and say, maybe serve you as I serve others. May it be so each day. Amen.


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Rejoice in Blessings

Reading: Psalm 4

Verse Seven: “You have filled my heart with greater joy then when their grain and new wine abounds”.

Funny thing, but you can always find someone who has more or better or newer. If you just drove off the lot with the bright new shiny car of your dreams, someone somewhere is seconds later driving off another lot with the same car plus one more upgrade. Inevitably you will see them later in the day. You are delighted in your new salary until you pass the water cooler and hear someone else telling of their better raise. You are proud of your team’s victory until you hear of a team with a more impressive title. That trophy loses some of its shine. Such is the way of the world. When we chase after things that do not last or that rust and decay, then we will ever be seeking the latest and greatest next thing. In our passage, this is they with “grain and new wine” abounding. All is good until they see someone with more grain or newer wine.

Even as a follower of Jesus, at times we can fall into the longing for more or better trap. Even David writes to God, “How long will you turn my glory into shame”? He also notes that many are asking, “Who can show us any good”? At times we can feel sorry for ourselves or our lot in life. At times we can long for other things. We can even be critical of others and what they have as a way of alleviating our feelings of being less.

Into all if this David offers some wonderful words of hope and faith. He knows as we know: “The Lord will hear when I call”. God hears our prayers. He goes on to encourage us to “trust in the Lord”. For those who question or doubt, he offers a request to God: “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord”. Turn to God, put our hope in God alone. In doing so it is a turning away from the things of the world.

One last word that David offers is a wonderful practice for us today. In verse seven he acknowledges, “you have filled my heart with greater joy”. It is an acknowledgement of God’s blessings in his life. It is an awesome way to begin each day. Writing down and giving thanks for yesterday’s blessings is a great way to help us be joyfully content in this world and to remind ourselves of God’s great love for us. It is a practice I encourage you to do daily. In this time and place, may we recognize and rejoice in the many blessings that God gives us each and every day. Then we too will “lie down and sleep in peace”.