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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One Step at a Time

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 4-14

Verse 9: “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”.

The dry bones in the valley represent Israel and the current condition of their collective faith. As the prophet sent to Israel during part of their exile, Ezekiel would have been well aware of the peoples’ sins and their current reality. This part that connected to their past probably saddened him greatly. The dry bones scattered across the valley floor are a stark and vivid reminder of their disobedient past. I can look back at seasons in my faith journey and can see how God would portray those times as a valley of dry bones. Most of us probably could. For others, maybe it feels like they are in the valley right now.

God says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”. God does not plan to leave the Israelites in this valley forever. God has a better future planned for his people. God has chosen Ezekiel to bring this word to his people. Knowing that God will bring new life to the nation of Israel would give Ezekiel and those who heard his prophetic message some hope. Knowing the end of the current story brings one hope in the valley, but it can be hard to wait and to walk faithfully towards the future that God has planned. It is hard because we want the better future NOW. The added challenge for the exiles is that their faith is dry. How does one walk faithfully with dry or no faith?

The answer is not complex: one step at a time. Ezekiel knew this was a vision, but he still obediently played his part. In one way this is a practice run. In reality he will seek to breath spiritual life into the people living in exile. Today, when one is in the valley or when one is living exiled from God, the steps are still the same: trust in God’s love, act on what God is leading you to, and rely on God’s power and strength for the journey. Each day may we see as God sees, stepping forward in faith.

Prayer: Loving God, when the future seems uncertain, give me the faith to take that first step. Through the power of the Holy Spirit guides me in obedience. Step by step may I follow. Amen.


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First and Always

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 3: “Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test'”?

Moses is leading the people on a journey to the Promised Land. It will be a forty years journey. When I think of the length of the journey, it reminds me of the long drives to Montana. Sometimes before we even left South Dakota, the “Are we there yet?” refrains would begin. When that happened I knew it was going to feel like a long trip. Even though it was only an eleven hour drive, I think it felt a little bit like Moses was feeling in our passage today.

The Israelites have recently been rescued from slavery in Egypt. In this process, God brought plague upon plague, finally breaking Pharaoh’s spirit with the death of the firstborn. The Israelites were passed over by the angel of death. This miracle became an event they celebrate every year, to this day. The hand of God continued to be upon Moses as he parted the sea and saved the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptian army. God has just provided manna, quail, and water to all the people. As they set out once again the people find themselves at a place with no water. Instead of turning to God in prayer, thanking him for the many saving acts that they have just experienced and seeking one more, they choose to grumble at and quarrel with Moses. In response Moses asks, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test“? I imagine God was thinking the same thing, don’t you?

At times I’m sure I’ve made God think that. I know God loves and cares for me, provides for and protects me, leads me and guides me. Even so, trust in God is not always my default response when a need arises or when I find myself in a time of trial. Seeking God is usually my first response, but not always. And it should be always. Maybe you are like me and know your need to turn to God first and always. As we remember how dearly loved we are by God may we make intentional efforts this week to rely first on God in all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, I know no one loves me like you do. No one has good plans for me like you do. May the Spirit remind me of these things over and over as I seek to follow Jesus more closely. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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A Model to Follow

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 3: 6-9

Verse 9: “We did this in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow”.

As the church in Thessalonica begins to develop, there are some growing pains. It is to be expected with most new organizations. Paul and others have come and taught the good news of Jesus Christ. They have taught new believers what it looks like to live out the gospel in a community of faith. Paul and the others could not stay there forever, so now the church continues along on their own. As it does so, new churches need occasional reminders and sometimes they need the ones who planted it to come back for a refresher course.

Most of the content of Paul’s letters falls into two categories. He often writes to continue teaching both churches and individuals about how to live out the faith. These instructions can be applied to most churches and to the lives of most believers. Paul also writes to bring correction or to address as issue. These passages tend to be more direct and address a certain church, believer, or group of believers. Yet, at times, even these can be applied to churches and people. Our struggles are often the same. We find both of these categories in 2nd Thessalonians.

In the section we read today, Paul is addressing two groups that are having a negative impact on the church. There are some who are idle – they are not willing to work. They are simply relying on the generosity of others to get by. Paul reminds them that this was not the example that they set. Paul and friends “worked day and night” so that they could contribute rather than be a burden. Churches today have idle folks. Some are those that come around only when they need something. Others are those who are present but never give. They do not serve in the church and they do not give financially. They come and take and go back home.

Paul also addresses those who “do not live according to the teaching” that was given. Being idle would be one example. Similarly, in churches today, there are people who fall into this category. They come on Sunday morning or Saturday night and worship and bow their heads and listen to the message. Then they go out the door and live a worldly life. Their faith has little or no impact on the other 167 hours of their week.

To all of these Paul says, “We did this in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow”. We, like the church in Thessalonica and like the believers that made up that church, are all works in progress. At times we must pause and consider our progress and seek out areas where we are falling short. Is Paul speaking to you today? Could you offer more to your church? Could your walk of faith be more consistent or be closer to the example set by Jesus Christ?

Prayer: Lord God, as I consider these questions, I know I am far from the example set by Paul and especially far from the example set by Jesus. Draw me deeper into you and your love today. May this love be reflected out in all of my life. May it be so, O God. Amen.


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Right with God

Reading: Psalm 26

Verse 2: “Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind”.

Psalm 26 is a cry of the innocent, of the unjustly treated. David is crying out to God, seeking for God to be on his side, for God to ‘vindicate’ him.

At some point in our life we have all been where David is. We have all been falsely accused. We have all been treated poorly and unfairly. We have all felt the frustration of being stuck in these situations, feeling as if there were no end in sight.

David’s case begins with an invitation to God to “test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind”. David knows that he is not at fault and he wants God to know for sure as well. David goes on to list the ways in which he has avoided the evil men – those who perhaps would do what he has been accused of or slandered about. David also professes his faith in God. It is a faith that leads David to proclaim God’s praise and to express his love for God. We too may think along these lines. We do so when we wonder how bad things could happen to good people. We question, how could this happen to your faithful servant? How can this happen to someone who so loves God?

The Psalm closes with a plea for God to redeem him and to be merciful to him. At times we are here too – we can do no more and we rely on God to take it from there. We please with God to take up our case because we have hit the bottom. As he closes, David again reiterates his way innocence. He is standing on level ground – all is good within him. He is right with God. From this place of the heart, he will praise the Lord. We too can be in this place. We too can make our heart totally right with God. With a clean and right heart may we praise the Lord with our life today.

O Lord, hem me in with your love and mercy, that I may walk a blameless life. When I falter, may your grace and compassion draw me back in quickly. With a clean and right heart may I bring glory and honor to you this day. Amen.


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Oh Those Thorns!

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Verse Nine: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”.

Paul opens chapter twelve with the revelation of heaven that he experienced. To keep him from being too conceited, he was “given a thorn in my flesh”. ‘Thorn’ implies that it was painful and hard to endure. The ‘thorn’ tormented Paul. And just like we would and do do in a heartbeat, Paul “pleaded with the Lord to take it away”. We do not like to endure pain or suffering or hardship. Neither did Paul.

God’s response is wonderful. In response to Paul’s pleading, God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. It is in moments of pain that we must turn to God to carry us through. It is in moments of weakness that we must rely on God for strength. It is in moments of heartache that we most need God’s grace and love. It has often been said that the view from the mountaintop is wonderful but we grow most in the valleys. Paul’s vision was his mountaintop and the thorn was his valley.

At times in our lives we will certainly suffer trials and hardships. I believe these occur two basic ways. One way, I believe the most common, is simply because life is naturally hard at times. We live in a world where people are imperfect, where disease and illness are part of the cycle of life, and where our free will does not always lead to good decisions. I also believe that we encounter a ‘thorn’ like Paul did at times. Sometimes the thorn comes to remind us that we have strayed from God. It is a poke back towards a right relationship with God. Sometimes the thorn is what it was for Paul – to remind us of our limited ability to control anything and of our absolute need for God. To me, this is Romans 8:28 lived out: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”.

Thorns in life are hard. God’s words illicited this response from Paul: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. May we also trust in, turn to, and rely on God at all times. It is there that Christ’s power shines in and from us. May we acknowledge our own weaknesses and, in doing so, may we reveal how strong we are in Christ. Amen.


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Cleanse Us, O God

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-9

Verse Two: “Wash away all my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin”.

Sin is all that we do or say or think that separates us from God. Despite our best efforts to follow Jesus and to bring honor and glory to God in all aspects of our lives, at times we fail. We were, in fact, created by God as imperfect creatures to live in a broken and sinful world. Being perfect or being without sin is not possible on our own. We were created this way so that we would come to rely on God.

King David learned the hard way about the sin in his life. While David is known as a man who was after God’s own heart, he, like us, was prone to sin. David even acknowledges, “surely I was sinful at birth”. David also recognizes another key element about sin: we sin against God. Yes, our sin can affect others, but our sin is really between us and God. Even though David dealt with sin in his life, he always sought God’s mercy and forgiveness as he repented of his sin.

Sometimes the sin in our lives is quite obvious and we quickly turn to God to restore our relationship. But sometimes we hold onto our sin, pretending that God cannot really see into that corner of our heart. At other times we are weak and our sin’s pull is stronger than we are at that moment. There are other sins that we always seem to battle. For me these are the sins of self, pride, ego, and gluttony. At times my faith does help me to live victoriously, but these sins are ever at the door of my heart.

In David’s words in Psalm 51 we find some great prayers to lift to God and some great reminders if who God is. We are reminded of God’s mercy and unfailing love. We are reminded of God’s desire to teach us truth. In those moments when we stumble, may we remember David’s plea: “Wash away all my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin”. In those moments, may we claim this prayer as our own. God desires to make us “whiter than snow”. We simply must humble ourselves and come before God with a contrite heart. May we search deeply within and confess our sins today, opening the way for God to heal our heart. May it be so today.


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By His Strength Alone

At times we all have experienced God’s strength and presence.  Sometimes this occurs in a powerful worship or prayer experience.  Sometimes this occurs in the midst of an extraordinary event like a child’s birth or in the profound moments of a tragedy.  So we all know what it feels like to experience God’s strength and presence.

Yet so often in life and particularly in the day to day of life, we try to live by our own strength.  Society reinforces this by lifting up the self-made person and exulting those who can find success on their own.  Society devalues those who cannot.

The Advent readings for this week draw us back to the ideas that we do not live only for ourselves and that we cannot make it by our own strength alone.  As we live on th edge of God’ holy promises we realize that we are saved by His strength alone.  Just as when Mary trusted and fully relied on God, we too can feel our fears and anxieties melt away.  We too can come to realize that His favor rests upon us as well.  We can call upon His strength and presence in the day to day and experience it each moment.  Through this we are empowered, strengthened, and encouraged to do His will each day in our world.

Scripture reference: Romans 16: 25-27


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Trust in God

As life became very difficult in Egypt, the Israelites could have chosen to rebel and fight.  They were numerous and probably coud have rebelled.  But instead they chose to turn to God and to trust Him.  Once they fully relied on God in their situation, amazing things happened.

In our lives, difficult people and situations will come.  Often our first instinct is to fight or to react.  In almost all cases this is not our best option.  Our best option is the same as the Israelites’ best option – God. To take a step back from the situation or person, to spend time in prayer, to turn it over to God – these are our best options.  As we faithfully trust God, we too will see some amazing things happen.

I see some parallels between Israel’s plight in Egypt and the persecution faced today by Christians around the world.  When I think of our brothers and sisters in Christ that face torture, death, and chaos on an almost daily basis, I am both very grateful for our freedoms here and also moved to prayer on their behalf.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to suffer for my faith in such a way.  May we hold our fellow Christians in prayer each day, that they may continue to be strong in the faith and to trust fully in the Lord.

Scripture reference: Exodus 14: 19-31


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Hello… remember me?

God is a mighty God who watches over us and cares for us.  He is a powerful, benevolent, and passionate God.  In Psalm 68 we read of God bringing rains of abundance upon His people.  We are blessed today too.

But how often we forget to praise His name for all He is and does for us.  Sometimes we may even start to think that success is because of our efforts and our own hard work.  Possessions start to fill our lives instead of God.

And then reality hits.  Life becomes hard.  A sudden illness, a conflict at work or at home, something to bring us back to the realization that we are not really the one in control.  We come to realize that only God is in control.  It is then that we turn back and say, “Hello God… remember me?”

All we have and all that we are comes from God.  Nothing is outside of God.  May we all learn to thank God each day so that we live always in His holy presence.  May we live this way so that He doesn’t have to say so often, “Hello child… remember me?”