pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Walking with God

Reading: Mark 10: 23-27

Verse 24: “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God”.

Today we continue in the aftermath of the young man walking away sad. Remember, a part of him ran to Jesus to find out how he could inherit eternal life. Probably as he can still be seen walking away, Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven”. We can be rich in many things and in many ways. For example, an abundance of pride can be a great barrier to the kingdom. Looked at another way, in America we are all rich when compared to most people around the world. In this instance Jesus is talking about material wealth. This is a topic that Jesus teaches on frequently. Wealth or possessions often are people’s idols, over and above their faith in God. Money or wealth isn’t our only idols. To this point, Jesus perhaps turns the situation more general, saying, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God”. It is indeed hard. The road is narrow and the choices are challenging; there is a cost to discipleship.

Our pursuit of God is unlike our pursuit of money or status or popularity or anything else. With all the idols that we can pursue, the pursuit is intermittent. For example, we can work really hard for a time for that title that brings the recognition that we desire. Once we attain that, it only requires periodic maintenance. But in our relationship with God, our pursuit of God must be 24-7. We cannot take take away from being in a relationship with God to live as a person of the world for a time. God must be our sole focus, our sole purpose in life. The well-known ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD) question must be our filter for all decisions, situations, and experiences.

To pursue God 24-7 is difficult. The disciples were literslky with Jesus all the time yet knew struggle. They ask Jesus, “Who then can be saved”? It is a legitimate question. On our own we cannot be saved. Salvation is not about what we do. It is all about what Jesus had already done. Just as on our own we cannot be saved, on our own we cannot pursue God 24-7. There is hope though. Jesus speaks our hope today: “All things are possible with God”. With God we can do all things. If we are in a personal relationship with God, we can walk with God 24-7 because God is pursuing us too. God’s voice whispers out when we need a reminder, His Spirit prompts us when we need a nudge or a redirect. Walking with God all things are indeed possible. May we each walk with God today and every day.

Lord, I love you and want to walk with you always. In those moments when I am weak, I know you will be strong. Thank you Lord! Amen.

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Strong in the Lord

Reading: Ephesians 6: 10-20

Verse 12: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood… but against the powers of this dark world”.

In our passage, Paul is clearly stating that we are in a battle. As Christians, we must be aware of this. We do have hope and we can stand against the enemy because we do not fight alone. We begin the battle with verse ten: “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power”. God is on our side. Next, Paul encourages us to “put on the full armor of God”. Paul is using militaristic terms to reinforce the fact that we are in a battle for our souls.

Verse twelve indentifies the enemy. Paul writes, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood… but against the powers of this dark world”. We do not fight for our souls against earthly enemies but against Satan and his spiritual forces. Satan’s ways are clever and his attacks come from many angles, so the full armor protects us so that we can “stand our ground” and so that we can “stand firm”. Standing our ground and standing firm entails holding onto our beliefs and faith in God – standing solidly on our firm foundation.

The armor Paul lists is both offensive and defensive. He calls for us to use truth and righteousness and faith and salvation and the Spirit and the gospel to defend ourselves and to remind us of the power we do have when we are strong in the Lord. He encourages us to be offensive at times, taking the gospel to others and to use the Word of God as a sword, defeating the enemy’s attacks just as Jesus did when tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

Paul closes with perhaps our greatest weapon: prayer. He reminds us to connect to God “on all occasions” and by using “all kinds of prayers”. When we are connected to God, Satan flees. When we are connected to God then we are strong in the Lord. May we be strong today, praying always to stand against the powers of evil, rejoicing in our strong defender and our eternal hope, Jesus Christ.


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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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Heart for God

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse Seven: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

Today’s passage is a good reminder of how different we are from God. When hiring for a new opening, we consider different things than God does, depending on the position. If we are looking for a new nuclear engineer there are certain educational qualifications needed. If we are looking for a new starting point guard, there are certain physical attributes we may look for. If we are hiring a new youth director, there are specific tangibles we would have on that list. For each job, there are specific and unique criteria that must be met.

In our passage today, Samuel goes into the interview process to find a new king with certain thoughts in mind. His ideal king would be tall and strong, great in battle, brave and courageous. He would have good leadership skills. As the oldest son, Eliab, passes before him, Samuel thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord”. Not this big, strong man. One by one they pass by and God rejects all seven. Very soon into the process, Samuel gets this reminder from God: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. God is saying we must look deeper than the surface. It is the condition of the heart that matters foremost to God.

When we are hiring for our companies (or for our churches), we do try and look beyond the degrees or the work experience of the individual. We also want to know about their work ethic, if they are honest and reliable, and so on. We too dig a little deeper when something important is on the line. After all, we do not want to hire just any engineer or any point guard or any youth director – we want to hire the best one we can.

When hiring for the next king, God began His search deep within the candidates – looking first at the condition of their heart. That was the top of the list. It is usually a bit farther down our hiring lists. But this makes me wonder – if God were hiring a new leader today and He looked at the condition of my heart, would I be hired or would I be passed by? Am I a follower of Jesus whose whole heart is God’s alone? This is what God really desires of us – a heart that belongs to God. May our walk today be faithful to God, loving God with all that we are. May it be so day by day. Amen.


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Life of Praise

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse One: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; before the ‘gods’ I will praise your name”.

Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise. Praising God is an important part of our faith life. It keeps our relationship in perspective and it also reminds us of our need to rely on God. The psalmist begins by saying we praise with all of our heart. Less than all in is simply not authentic worship of God.

I love the use of the words “gods” in parentheses. It is saying in a fun way that God must be first. Yes, our reality is that at times we can place other gods before the one true God. The world has a long list of things that really matter and we all chase after them at times. Said another way, David is saying that he will praise God right in the face of all of these other idols. David recognizes that God’s name is to be exalted far above any other name.

It gets personal in verse three. David writes, “When I called, you answered me”. Yes, this God whose name is exalted above all other names is personally committed to David and to each of us. We do not worship and enter into a personal relationship with a distant or arrogant God. We do so with a God who walks personally with each of us. For David, this makes him bold and stout-hearted.

God offers us this same personal, intimate, loving relationship so that we too can live a life of praise that glorifies and exalts God in all we do. May it be so today.


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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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Strong Faith

Reading: Exodus 1: 15-22

Verses 20 and 21: God was kind to the midwives… He gave them families of their own.

Shiphrah and Puah we’re very brave women.  They feared God more than they feared Pharaoh and they did what was right according to God instead of bowing to the king’s orders.  Pharaoh’s cruel and ruthless treatment of the Israelites had not curbed their growth, so Pharaoh goes one step further.

Pharaoh calls in Shiphrah and Puah and orders these two midwives to kill all make babies during birth.  These two women are told to murder the babies of their own people.  They have the power to carry out this cruel and hateful order.  Refusal to follow the order will probably not end well for these two midwives.  Pharaoh had demonstrated his evil and dark side in the harsh treatment of the Israelites and with this new order.  Fear and paranoia are clearly guiding his thought process.  It took quite a strong faith in God to choose to not follow Pharaoh’s newest order.

These two brave women are summoned once again when Pharaoh discovers that they are not killing the Israelite make babies during childbirth.  He asks them, “Why have you done this”?  They offer up a lie and Pharaoh buys it.  God protects them.  Because of their faithfulness, “God was kind to the midwives… He gave them families of their own”.  Shiphrah and Puah are looked on with favor because they chose God over the powers of this world.  In this high-stakes decision, they trusted in God and stayed strong in their faith.

Shiphrah and Puah are two of many women of strong faith in the Bible.  Ruth and Naomi, Rahab, Esther, Deborah, and the women who followed Jesus all the way to the foot of the cross are a few more examples of women of strong faith.  All of these women resisted fear and possible physical loss as they chose God’s ways rather than the ways of the world whatever the cost.  They are shining role models of strong faith who bear witness to God’s love and power.  May we follow their example, choosing what is righteous and godly above all else.  And may we have the courage and strong faith they demonstrated, not counting the cost but giving all we can for our God and King.