pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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As One Approved

Reading: 2nd Timothy 2: 8-15

Verse 13: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are in tune with the Holy Spirit. The still small voice and the gentle nudge are ever at work is us to draw us closer to Jesus and to lead us to share his love with a world in need. The Holy Spirit is like a skill or a muscle – the more we use it, the better developed in becomes. The reverse is also true. If we ignore or reject the Holy Spirit over and over the voice dims and grows harder and harder to hear.

Paul was one to hear the voice loud and clear. The letter to Timothy that we read today comes from prison. Hence his reference “God’s word is not chained”. Paul has been arrested many times, has been beaten often, and has even been stoned and shipwrecked. Yet his focus has always remained on his calling to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Nothing has deterred him. In verse ten we read “I endure everything for the sake of the elect”. It is all for those who “may obtain salvation that is in Jesus Christ”.

If you are reading this, you are seeking to grow closer to Christ. It is very likely that today we will all have opportunity to share Jesus’ love with another. In some cases it will be easy because it is a natural extension of who we are. It may be showing empathy to a friend or loved one. It may be offering words of encouragement or support to a co-worker. In situations like these, we hear the Holy Spirit very well. But we may also find ourselves in a situation that is hard. Maybe our opportunity involves someone that is very different than us or is someone we dislike. Maybe the opportunity means risking something or stepping into a difficult situation.
Some of the time we feel like what is being asked is too much and we fail to follow the lead and guide of the Spirit. Here we recall verse thirteen: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”. God does not ever give up on us. The Holy Spirit continues to be at work. As we strive to grow closer and closer to Jesus Christ, our ability and likelihood to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit grows with us. We too, like Paul and Timothy, are called to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved”. May it be so.

Prayer: Leading God, I fail less than I used to, but I still fail to always be your love in the world. Forgive my failures. Thank you for your unending love. May it ever work within me to make me more and more like your son. Amen.


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Resource Usage

Reading: Luke 16: 1-8

Verse 8: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”.

The dishonest manager is about to find himself unemployed. He surely knows why his boss is firing him. Instead of taking some time for introspection, he turns to more dishonesty as he adjusts the debts owed his boss. He takes from another to insure a better future for himself. In a turn that always surprises me, we read “the master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”. Instead of sulking or walking away mad, the manager does what he can to make the best of his situation. The master credits him as being shrewd.

When we read this story, it rubs most of us the wrong way. It goes against our sense of right and wrong. There is dishonest gain and it is commended. But we cannot get stuck here, in our indignation. If we do, we miss Jesus’ point. He too acknowledges that “the people of this world are far more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light”. Those who live in the world use the world and its ways to their advantage. As a man of the world, the master commended his ex-manager for playing the game so well.

Jesus is not encouraging us to be dishonest but to use the resources that we have been given shrewdly. We all have gifts and resources at our disposal. Maybe you have been blessed financially. Use that resource to do some of God’s work in the world. Maybe you have been blessed with mechanical ability. Use that resource to teach another a skill or use it to help out someone in need. We have all been given resources. We need to use the things of the world as we follow Jesus and as we seek to help others know him. We are to use the things of this world that we have been given wisely – to grow in the grace and love of God and to help others do so as well. Whatever resources God has blessed you with, engage the world as you use the resources well.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all that I have and am are yours. All of my gifts and talents, all of my possessions, all of my relationships are gifts from you. Show me how to use each of them well, building my faith and advancing your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Through God’s Mercy

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 1-2

Verse 1: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”.

The call of every church and of every Christian is to be in mission. The main mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are called to bring all people to Christ and to walk together as we each deepen our relationship with Jesus. For most people, the call is answered one person at a time through a one-on-one relationship that is formed and cultivated and is given time and attention. These relationships may come through a specific ministry – a feeding program or a diaper ministry – or they can come simply by crossing paths with another and engaging in life together. This second mode is how Jesus most often operated.

Even though all are called, many question or are hesitant. Some feel like their past disqualifies them. Our past is often one of our best resources. Those struggles that we have overcome offer hope and possibilities to the one still in the struggle. Our story is what makes our faith and our relationship with Jesus real to another. Others think that they do not know enough or that they lack the skills or talents to accomplish something for God. God places skills or gifts or talents in all of us. They do not need to be perfected or polished. God just needs us to be willing to step out in faith and to trust in God to do the rest. If we seek it, the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us in all things.

The author of our text today is just one of many, many imperfect and flawed people that God used to build the kingdom and the church. One does not have to turn too many pages in the Bible to find the next one in a long line of ordinary, regular folks who did extraordinary and wonderful things for God. Paul began life as Saul. He hated the church and did everything he could to stomp it out. Talk about an unlikely candidate to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world! In a display of mercy and love, Christ called him Paul and set him loose on the world. Who Saul was became forgotten as the new creation Paul began to serve the Lord in faith.

This unlikely servant writes, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”. God chose him. God set his ministry in motion. Therefore, Paul does not lose heart. God chose you and me too. Therefore, may we each step up and out today in ministry to the world, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the Lord goes with us, guarding our heart. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, prepare my heart and mind to be in ministry today. May the Spirit lead and guide me in all I do and say and think, ever seeking to build your kingdom here. Amen.


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In the Lord Almighty

Reading: 1 Samuel 17: 19-23 & 32-49

Verse 47: “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s”.

In some ways, today’s scenario is a bit comical. For days now this scene has unfolded: get up, cook some breakfast, get dressed for battle, form up in battle lines, shout challenges and curses at your enemy, hear Goliath’s challenge, stand there all day. At the end of the day they return to camp and get up to do it all over again. Each day a giant comes forth and requests a one-on-one battle to end this silly “charade” – I mean “war”. Goliath himself is comically large – over nine feet tall, intimidating, powerful. Goliath’s bravado causes the Israelites and their king, Saul, to become silent. None of them can even imagine going out to face the giant. Day after day this scenario plays out.

Goliath is representative of some if the people we meet. In their own minds they are larger than life. They see themselves as vastly superior in their chosen field. They look down with disdain on all other human beings who are clearly less. They rely on their own strength or abilities or intelligence or expertise. They fully trust in themselves alone.

In our silly story, David is the clueless outsider. He happily wanders into camp and hears something different in Goliath’s challenge. David hears Goliath challenging God. In David’s mind, it would not matter if Goliath was nine feet tall or ninety feet tall. For David, you don’t mess with God. David trusts not in himself or in the five smooth stones in his pouch. He remembers how God saved him from the lion and the bear – two that should have devoured this little shepherd boy. Just as with them David comes against Goliath in the name of the Lord. Demonstrating his faith in God alone, David says, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s”. Nine foot tall giant? Just watch what God can do!

This too should be our battle cry. The world will and does bring many giants and obstacles into our lives. On our own, they can seem insurmountable. To each we face, may we too say to them, “I come against you in the name of the Almighty Lord”. May we fully trust in our God who can do all things. Then our giants will fall facedown on the ground too. May it be so. Amen.


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A Simple Thanks

Reading: 2nd Kings 2: 8-12

Verse Eleven: “As they were walking along and talking together…”

In one devotional I read today, it referred to the term “outlier”. Immediately my mind went back to many years teaching 7th grade math. We identified outliers when we were studying mean, median, and mode. An outlier in math is a piece of data that stands out from the other data. Outliers can really impact the mean, or the average. In its original content in the book my devotional referenced, an outlier was a regular person who practiced a skill or talent or job thousands and thousands of times. The result was extraordinary skill or proficiency at their chosen pursuit.

Using both of these understandings of outlier, the term pertains much to our faith. In today’s passage, Elijah is an outlier. He was a prophet who stood far outside the norm. At times, he was practically the last one standing for God. He spoke the truth no matter the risk, always being obedient to God. Accordingly, Elijah is widely accepted as the greatest Old Testament prophet. In our passage, Elisha shows the dogged persistence required to become an outlier. He has personally witnessed Elijah’s absolute faith in God and his total trust to go where God sent and to say what God said to say. It is something he wants for himself, so he follows closely as Elijah’s end draws near. Elisha’s persistence pays off as he sees Elijah taken, thus receiving the reward: a double portion of his spirit.

It is interesting to me that Elijah is taken not in some suspenseful moment but simply as they are “walking along and talking together…”. Elijah had just nonchalantly yet miraculously parted the Jordan so they could cross, allowing them to continue to simply walk and talk. These ideas remind me of our faith journey. We too walk and talk through life alongside God. Much of the time life is routine or normal. Yet by walking close and talking consistently, we grow deep in our relationship with God. And we do have moments, times God parts the waters, allowing us to safely pass through. Some of the time we do not even know God has intervened. Other times, it is right there for us to see. At times God gives us these moments that awe and uplift us. These too build our relationship.

As I ponder my daily walk with God, blessed here and there with those “God moments”, I am humbled and awed. I simply say: thank you God!


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Called

Reading: 1 Timothy 1: 12-14

Paul reminds us today that God can use anybody to help build the kingdom.  Paul acknowledges that his past included blasphemy, persecution, and violence – all against the newly founded church that followed Jesus.  He was very zealous in his work against this new church.  Yet God, in a show of great mercy, claimed Paul for service in the kingdom.  In a flash all the zeal against Christ became zeal for Christ.

When we look at Paul’s past, we can see how God was at work preparing Paul for the role we know him in as one of the great missionaries and teachers if the early church.  Early on Saul, as the old Paul was known, was a star pupil.  He was very intelligence and quickly learned the Hebrew Bible inside and out.  He quickly rose through the religious ranks and became a very well respected Pharisee.  It was all of this past knowledge and practices that allowed Paul to so skillfully build His case for Christ and to defend it against attacks from non-believers and the Jewish authorities as well.

Each of enters into God’s service in a similar way.  We too all come with our past sins and mistakes.  But we also come with we have done and experienced and learned in life.  The gifts and talents that God has blessed each of us with are a part of who we are as well.  Just like Paul, when we are called or led into service in some particular way, we are ready.  We are just who God has prepared us to be and needs us to be for that role.

Like so many before us, often we too ask, “Me?” as our initial response to God’s call.  We are usually skilled at saying “Well…”, “But…”, “When…”, and “No” also.  But God does not call us unless we have been equipped for the task at hand.  We may not know this or feel this way, but God knows better.  May we each obediently respond to God’s call in our lives so that we may say as Paul said, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to service”.


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Lead and Leading

Parents often try to nudge or encourage their children to try or do something they think their child will enjoy or benefit from.  Sometimes a parent sees something in their child and tries to develop that skill or gift.  And a lot of the time the child responds with some resistance!  This is the case in today’s passage.  Mary nudges Jesus to exercise the gifts He has.  He responds with basically “not now”.  Maybe those things she treasured in her heart and perhaps a thing or two she has observed since then are promoting her to ask Jesus to perform a miracle and to begin His public ministry.

Sometimes in our lives we too are encouraged, invited, nudged… by others.  Maybe it is our parents.  Maybe it is our spouse or a coworker or a friend.  People often see gifts or talents we have that sometimes we do not.  At times we too can do the same for others in our lives.  It is a wonderful thing to see and affirm the God-given gifts we see in each other.

Often the nudge or encouragement comes from the Holy Spirit.  We see or find ourselves in a situation and we can almost physically feel the guidance to do or say something.  In other instances we can hear the voice whispering to us.  It may be in the moment or it may be later as we reflection our day or as we spend time in prayer.  These “too late” or after the fact prompts prime us for action the next time out.  It is still God at work in us.

God always continues to be active and involved in our lives and in the world.  He encourages all followers to use the gifts and talents He gave us through the nudges, prompts, … of the Holy Spirit and those around us.  We too at times invite, nudge, … others.  In all cases, may we be willing servants of His kingdom, whether leading or being lead, all for the glory of God.

Scripture reference: John 2: 1-5