pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In All Things

Reading: Philippians 4: 4-7

Verse 7: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ”.

Paul writes these encouraging words to the Philippians from prison. Even though he is in chains, his outlook and attitude are the same as always. Paul lives into the words he writes; he prays that the people of Philippi do too. The living Word of God encourages us to do so as well.

Paul begins our passage today with “Rejoice!” twice. In all cases, good or bad, Paul encourages us to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the One who is ever present in our lives. Because we rejoice, we are not always anxious or worried. This leads to the gentleness that Paul implores us to exhibit. Be at peace. “In everything”, by prayer, present our requests to God. If something is on your heart, bring it to God in prayer.

Bringing all to God in prayer accomplishes at least four things. First, it helps us recognize that we are dependent upon God for much in this life. We can do very little on our own. Second, it deepens our relationship with God. By being honest and intimate with God, we are building that connection. Third, it helps us live in a place of humility. The first two things fight against the arrogance that seems to be so natural. And, lastly, it brings us peace as we turn the cares and worries of life over to God.

In verse 7 Paul writes, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ”. Yes, the peace that settles over us is of God and, therefore, it does transcend our human understanding. It is a peace that stills the anxiety. It is a peace that brings the gentle demeanor. It is from this place of peace that God guards our hearts and minds. God guards us against the lies and slings of Satan and the world. We rest in our place in God’s kingdom, knowing that in Jesus Christ we are blessed with the salvation of our souls. It is a very good place to be.

In all things, may we trust in the Lord, finding peace for our lives and hope for our souls. Amen.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, may I always turn all things over – the joys and rejoicing as well as the trials and sufferings. In all things, you are my God, my hope and peace. Amen.

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Love Overflow

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 12: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”.

As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica in our passage today, he is writing to the community of faith. Throughout the Bible, God is about community. In the beginning, God lived in community with Adam and Eve. As the Bible progresses, God’s love story reveals that community is the way we are to live out our faith. Much of our faith continues to be practiced in community. Our sacraments focus on being a part of the community of faith.

Our culture today has a mix of community and individualism. Most of the things we do are done in community – family, school, sports, work. But within these is a sense or valuing of individual success or achievement. We hear things like, “they wouldn’t be the company they are without…” or “they would not be the greatest team ever without…”. In our culture we raise individual success over the group’s or team’s success.

In a way the same can be said of people in the Bible. For example, we could say that without Moses the Israelites would either still be wandering around the desert or they would have returned to Egypt. In the Bible, no individual is more important than Jesus Christ. No one was a better example of obedience to God. No one loved God and neighbor like Jesus did. Yet these individuals were different than the individuals that rise to the pinnacle of their fields today. Moses and other important Biblical leaders, and especially Jesus, were not about self and individual glory. They were about living in relationship with God and with their communities. They were not just leaders, they were humble servant leaders.

Above all, Jesus’ life revolved around love. It is the focus of our key verse today: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”. During the season of Advent, may we spend time each day in the Word and will the Lord our God, growing in love. And may that love overflow to each other and to the stranger that we meet as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, may love be evident in our community of faith – in the ways we worship you and in the ways we love each other. May that love flow out into our homes, into our neighborhoods, into our schools and work places, so that all will know the love of Christ this Advent season. Amen.


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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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God My Savior

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-7

Verse 5: “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long”.

Today’s Psalm reminds us that we live in relationship with God. For our part, we trust God, we place our hope in God, we seek God’s love and forgiveness. For God’s part, God protects us, God teaches us, God guides us, God forgives us, and God loves us. One quickly notices that God does more than we do!

How we live in relationship with God reflects this as well. The psalmist writes “I lift my soul” and “in you I trust” and “show me” – indicating a reliance on or need for God. There is also a call for protection from enemies.

In verses 4 and 5 we find the heart of the relationship. These verses express our deep need for God’s instruction. They begin by asking God to show us how to love like God, to treat others as God does, to do as God does. They seek to know God’s paths – the roads to those in need, to those who are lonely, to those who are hurting or broken. Verse 5 sums it up well, asking God to “guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long”. All day long.

The psalmist recognizes God as his Savior. This becomes the focus of verses 6 and 7. The psalmist calls upon God to remember God’s “great love and mercy”. It is with and because of these that the psalmist asks God to “remember not” the sins and rebellious ways that he has practiced. These are also our cries to God. In our struggles with sin, we too beg God to “remember not”. This section closes by asking God to remember us in love, drawn from God’s goodness. This too is a good request for us to make: think of us in love today, O God, poured out from your goodness. Remember not our sins but love us in your great mercy. Thank you God.

Prayer: Lord, I join the psalmist today, asking you to lead and guide me, to show me your ways. May all I do and say honor you and bring you glory. And when I stumble, when I fail, please pour out your mercy and grace and love upon me. Thank you God my Savior. Amen.


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Covenant Promise

Reading: 2nd Samuel 23: 1-5

Verse 5: “Has He not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part”?

In this remembering of David’s last words, the writer of 2nd Samuel begins by recalling who David was in God’s eyes: exalted by God and anointed by God. David had a special relationship with God. He was not without faults or seasons of sin in his life, but overall David was “a man after God’s own heart”. We, like David, are not perfect. Yet when our time comes, do we not wish to be known as a man or woman who loved all our lives as one “after God’s own heart”?

God was an integral part of David’s life. The importance of his relationship is evident at many points in David’s life. For example, in slaying Goliath, David fully trusted in God in spite if the apparent odds stacked against him. But I do believe that the greatest example comes in the aftermath of the Bathsheba incident. The depth of emotion David feels and expresses when he realizes what he has done reveals how much he truly loved God.

David has learned the value of being a king that follows God’s ways. He has learned the value of ruling with righteousness. He clings to the covenant promise, hoping his sons… will do the same. As David nears his end, he rhetorically asks, “Is my house not right with God”? It is more of a sure confession than a question. David is confident in his relationship with God. He goes on to ask, “Has He not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part”? Again, this is more of a statement than a question. Yes, the Lord his God has made the covenant and He will uphold it. David’s life is secure.

Fast forward to our lives. We too live under the covenant. God has promised to be our God, to love us as His children. David’s heir, Jesus Christ, also established a covenant with us, His brothers and sisters. Through His blood the covenant of grace releases us from the power of sin and death. When we confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior, our future is arranged and secured. Through our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, this covenant assures us of eternal life. We too live under a covenant promise. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for the faithful witness of David. But even more so, thank you for the promise of life with you, both now and forevermore. Amen.


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Your Love

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verses 30 and 31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… soul… mind… and strength… Love your neighbor as yourself”.

If I had to choose one word to describe God and Jesus, it would be love. Love defines so many of their thoughts, words, and actions. It is no surprise that Jesus identifies loving God and loving each other as the most important commands in the Bible. Love is why Jesus died for us. Love is how others will know we are His disciples. Faith, hope, and love abide – but the greatest of these is love.

Jesus loved God with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. This love is reflected in many ways. Jesus loved God’s Word. The Bible reveals who and what God is and to spend time getting to know God is a way to love God more. Jesus knew the scriptures. Jesus was obedient to God. In always following God’s will, Jesus demonstrated love through obedience. He aligned Himself with God, being God’s extension of love here on earth. Jesus modeled God’s love in the ways that He loved those that He encountered. Jesus revealed God’s love for humanity in the interactions and relationships that He lived out while here on earth.

Our love for God should reveal itself in the same ways that it did in Jesus’ life. We should spend time daily in the Word, getting to know God better so that we can love God more fully. Our obedience to God’s will and way should show our complete love for God. And, like Jesus, the love of God should flow out of our hearts and into the lives of all we meet. The love we have for God should go out to all of God’s children. No matter who our neighbor is at any particular moment, in them we should see a fellow child of God and we should love them as God loves us and as God loves them.

Like God and Jesus, may all know us as love. May our words, actions, and thoughts reveal the love of God in us to a world that needs to know that love.

Heavenly Father, in you is love. May I dwell and rest in you today. May your love in me become more and more complete. May it be so. Amen.


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This Cycle

Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-14

Verse 14: “The blood of Christ… cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God”.

The writer of Hebrews references “the blood of goats and calves” that were used to be made right again with God. The Israelites had the same understanding of sin that we do as Christians – sin is wrong, it leads to death, it must be atoned for. To restore our relationship with God we must confess our sins and repent of that behavior or attitude. The offering of a sacrifice would represent a “cost” for the sin. Who or what “pays” the cost is where our understanding splits from the Jewish understanding of atonement.

In our modern culture we continue to do the same thing as we seek to deal with our sins and the guilt that comes along with them. If I say or do something to hurt my wife, for example, I might bring her flowers or chocolate. If I say or do something to injure a relationship at work, I would feel like I should do something to make up for my “sin”. We still feel a need to atone for our sins.

Jesus was the atonement for the sins of the world. It is through His own blood that He attained “eternal redemption”. It is through the same blood that Jesus can “cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death”. Instead of being stuck and dead in our sin, His blood washes it away. Instead of remaining separated from God because of our sin, Jesus removed our sin and the guilt and shame, allowing us to re-enter our relationship with God “so that we may serve the living God”. Through our earthly redemption we can again live out our faith daily, loving God and loving others.

Praise be to God – our redemption is not just earthly. Just as Jesus entered heaven, His eternal redemption, we too may one day join Jesus in eternity. Our earthly journey draws us ever closer to the image in which we are created – God’s image. As we mature in the faith, we become more and more like our Creator. Through the continuing cycle of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption we are being sanctified. We are being made more and more like Christ. As this cycle continues, it works in us to grow our love of God and neighbor. Thanks be to God.

Holy One, thank you for being the atonement for all of my sins. Thank you for being my way, my truth, and my life. Amen.