pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Complete Relationship

Reading: Romans 8: 12-25

Verse 17: We are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.

Paul began life as Saul.  His faith was rooted in being one of the “chosen people” and there was a certain exclusiveness to this.  As he studied and came to know more he became a Pharisee.  He became part of a very exclusive group within an exclusive faith.  His view of faith was based on lineage and a long list of rules to keep to maintain good standing with God.  But then Saul met Jesus.

Jesus got ahold of him and, as Paul, he came to understand God and our relationship with God from a whole new perspective.  Instead of the God of the Old Testament, Paul came to know and preach the God embodied in Jesus.  He came to see Jesus as the fuller revelation of God’s presence and being.  Just as the Old Testament continued to develop the relationship between God and His people, so too does the New Testament – through the love and witness of Christ and then through the continued development of the church.

Paul came to understand that all people are God’s people.  He saw a universal love instead of a limited or select love.  Paul also came to understand that grace and love were universal and free to all.  To access this love and grace, to become part of this family of God, all one had to do was accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It was Paul’s route and he lived to help all he met to make the same decision.  He came to live out the indwelling Holy Spirit that led and guided him as he shared the good news of Jesus with all he met.

Paul also grew to understand that it was a complete relationship.  It was an all-in, all day, for better or worse type of a relationship.  In verse 17 Paul writes, “We are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory”.  Yes, once we join the family we are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ – heirs to salvation and eternity in a glorious heaven.  But Paul was writing to the church in Rome.  They were facing suffering and Paul wanted to encourage them in and through this as well.  The early followers of Jesus, especially the disciples and apostles, rejoiced when they suffered for Christ.  They felt like Jesus in His suffering.  They also knew that suffering would lead to a time in glory.  Like the groanings of birth, Paul knew that the trials and suffering would lead to new life.  It is a good reminder to us as well.  Like Paul, may we be encouraged and remain in God’s love, openly accepting the free gift of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and new life.  For this great love we join the saints in saying, thanks be to God!


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Hope and Compassion

Reading: Genesis 24: 58-67

Verse 67: So she became his wife and he loved her and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Abraham’s act of fatherly love culminates in a successful wedding.  He has managed to do what all good parents try to do – bring joy to their children in times of sadness.  Isaac is in mourning over the loss of his mother Sarah.  Their relationship was especially close and her passing has created a large void in his life.  Abraham was simply trying to remove this pain from Isaac’s life.

When we find ourselves in a time of suffering and sadness, we too want to be surrounded by those we love.  We find comfort and compassion and, through our loved ones, our sorrows are alleviated.  We seek out those who will love on us and turn our thoughts to brighter and happier things.  This is the role Abraham plays for Isaac.  The last line in today’s passage reads, “So she became his wife and he loved her and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death”.

As Rebekah responds to the call to go, her family sends her with a blessing.  These words – “may you increase to thousands and thousands” – remind us of God’s covenant with Abraham to have descendants as numerous as the sands on the seashore.  It is just one more showing of God’s hand orchestrating and blessing this whole situation.  It is evidence of God’s love for and concern for His people and their future.

God has the same love and concern for you and I and for our future.  Just as God compassionately cares for Abraham and Isaac and Rebekah, so too does He care for us.  All we need to do is enter into a relationship with God to know His love and care and compassion.  All we need to do to experience a future of promise is to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  God’s love and compassion work to draw us in.  They call out to us.  May we, like Rebekah, step into God’s love and live into the hope and promise that God offers to all who call on His name.


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Trust and Sing

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse One: How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?

Our Psalm of complaint opens with quite the line: “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever”?  It is a place we all have been at times in our lives.  In our minds we know that God is always present and that His love never fails, but in our hesrts sometimes we feel like God is absent.  We can relate, in our own monents of trial and/or suffering, to the psalmist’s feeling that God is hiding.  Of course, this is all our own creation.  The Psalm refers to wrestling in our thoughts and this is usually when we think God has been absent – when we were too busy to stop and go to God because we had to solve or fix the ‘problem’.  We are sometimes slow to “let go and let God”.

The psalmist pleads with God to “look on me and answer” as he seeks some resolution or end to his struggles.  It is a point we eventually get to as well.  We finally hit bottom or get to the point of not knowing what else to do and we then turn to God.  We admit that our “enemy” has overcome us and we cry out for God to help us.  At times, this can look like a ‘we is me’ pity party.  Sometimes though, we do try and seek God right away, but it feels as if God is distant.  Mother Teresa called the season in her life when she felt far from God even though she was seeking God the “dark night” of her soul.  It is a very hard place to be, but sometimes we find ourselves here too.

In the end, in the last two verses, the psalmist returns to the faith that has sustained him before.  He recalls trusting in God’s unfailing love and his heart rejoices at the thought of salvation.  Instead of complaint, the psalmist sings to the Lord – “for He has been good to me”.  These too are choices we can make.  May we ever trust in God’s unfailing love and sing our praises to God each dsy, ever remaining close to our God and King.


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Hope

Reading: Roman 5: 1-5

Verse Five: God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Chapter Five opens with Paul’s declaration that we can claim peace with God through Jesus Christ because we are made right through our faith.  It is a bold statement but one we live into every day as Christians.  Our faith in Jesus Christ brings us into God’s grace, the unmerited gift of forgiveness that washes away our sins so that we can stand before God holy and pure.  It is an amazing love that makes us righteous day after day after day, sin after sin after sin.  It is a love without limit.  It is indeed the hope of the glory of God which leads Paul to rejoice.  May we rejoice as well!

In verse three Paul shifts directions but not end results.  Not only do we enjoy a peace with God that leads us to rejoice, but Paul also encourages us to rejoice in our sufferings as well.  Being made right through God’s grace allows us to have hope in our future.  For Paul, he saw this same hope as the end result of our suffering.  For Paul, suffering was a necessary part of our Christian journey.  As Saul the Pharisee he certainly had inflicted much suffering on Christians and as Paul the Apostle he definitely endured his share of suffering and persecution.

For Paul, he rejoiced in the sufferings because he knew it would lead to a deepening of his faith.  Paul had learned that in suffering righteously one learns perseverance.  When we lean into God and endure with the power and hope that Jesus Christ offers, then through the power of the Holy Spirit we can persevere.  As we trust in God and live within His presence, that develops our Christian character.  Our hope in God’s glory grows as we experience the power and strength of God carrying us through our trials.  We begin to see these earthly troubles as bumps along the way to experiencing God’s eternal glory.  This in turns leads to an ever growing hope.  It is a hope that is everlasting.  It is the hope that will not disappoint or fade.  It is the hope that thieves cannot steal and moths cannot destroy.  It is the hope we come to know beyond the shadow of a doubt because we come to fully know that “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

As Christians we face each new day with God’s love deep in our hearts.  May we walk in faith and hope this day and every day, trusting in the God who loves us beyond all measure.


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Suffering

Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

Verse Nine: Resist him [Satan], standing firm in the faith.

Suffering is the overarching theme in today’s passage.  Peter opens by reminding us that we may suffer for our faith.  He says, “do not be surprised” and encourages us to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ”.  To really suffer for our faith is foreign to us, isn’t it?  To rejoice because we are suffering for our faith seems even more foreign!  Yet over the course of our faith journey, most of us can look back and see times when holding fast to our faith led to some decisions and choices that had a ‘cost’ and came with some suffering.  Maybe it was a relationship that you had to let go or a work decision that kept your integrity but cost a promotion or a windfall in your bank account.  This is the type of suffering that most Christians we know suffer.  But the reality is that there is much pain and suffering just beyond the doors of our beautiful churches and just down the street from our nice neighborhoods.

Every community, big or small, has its share of suffering.  When Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us, He knew we would.  We find suffering clustered here and there.  In my town it is called “housing” and in all communities there is a similar neighborhood.  The housing conditions are poor, people go without heat and/or electricity for stretches, and food is sometimes scarce.  In larger communities there are also homeless shelters, safe houses, and halfway houses.  In big communities there are the “projects” and in some huge cities whole communities are built out of cardboard and scrap metal and there is no running water or electricity.  Go to this place in your community and you will see that there is pain and suffering, there is hurt, and there is a loss of hope.

Our call as Christians is clear: go.  Go!  Go and do what you can when you can.  Alone you and I cannot end the suffering…  But we can alleviate some and lessen some.  We can bring food and clothing and whatever else material is needed.  We can bring food and sometimes clean water.  We can fix a leaky roof, a broken window, or a creaky set of steps.  We can sit and hear someone’s story and offer some words of hope.  We can also work to address some of the root causes and systematic forces that cause the pain and suffering.  This can be through education, through voicing opposition to the systems that work against those in poverty, and through fighting things like prejudice and stereotyping and judging.  This day and every day may we “Resist him [Satan], standing firm in the faith”.  Evil comes in many forms.  Today may we resist all forms if evil and suffering as we seek to bring the hope and love of Christ to a world in need.


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Christ as Lord

Reading: 1 Peter 3: 13-17

Verse 15a: In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.

In our passage today, Peter addresses suffering for our faith.  In the context of when Peter wrote these words, suffering was a real and very present obstacle.  In the time right after Jesus’ death, there was much skepticism and a lot of persecution against those who professed Jesus as Lord.  It was a hard, difficult time to be a Christian.  Many people suffered a lot for their faith.  Some were even martyred.  In spite of this, Peter still takes on the reality and offers a reminder of the hope and promise believers have in Jesus.

Peter begins by asking “Who would harm you for doing good”?  We tend to think the answer is ‘no one’ but this is not always the case.  At times people may question a Christian’s motivation or may react negatively to attempts to help.  Peter reminds us to count it as a blessing if we suffer for Christ.  To him, this showed a willingness to follow Christ when there was a cost.  It shows a high level of commitment.

Peter encourages us to not fear what the world fears – rejection, abuse, threats, being ostracized – but “in our hearts set apart Christ as Lord”.  To endure suffering does bring us closer to Christ as we are, in our sufferings, being ‘like Him’.  To keep or set apart Christ as Lord brings us strength and peace in the midst of it all.  Living with Jesus as Lord keeps us focused on the eternal and not on the things of this world.  Through this we have hope.  Peter knows this hope firsthand.

Peter also knows that others will notice our peace and hope in the midst of trials and sufferings.  And they will be curious.  Therefore Peter advises us to be prepared to explain our hope and peace to others when they ask.  Perhaps knowing that being in a time of trial and suffering can be hard on us, Peter also reminds us to respond with gentleness and respect.  Love all.  Always present His love first.

“Then they will know we are Christians by our love…” speaks of these concepts.  And not only will they know, they too will come to desire the peace, hope, and strength that Jesus alone offers.  Love first.  Love all.


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Ask

Reading: John 14: 1-14

Verse One: Do not let your heart’s be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.

Faith is a journey.  At times we feel our faith is strong and is mature.  We feel like we are well-connected to Jesus.  Our daily walk includes time in the Word and time in prayer.  Part of our week always includes worship and maybe even a small group time.  We clearly see how Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life”.  We have a quiet assurance that Jesus is leading our lives and we hold onto His promise of “a room prepared for us”.

And then we don’t.  Something happens.  Someone says or does something.  Satan exposes a crack and suddenly there is a chasm between us and our faith, between us and Jesus.  Satan uses lies, doubts, fears, anxiety, and much more to make us question our faith and to question Jesus.  Our mind becomes filled with questions like “Why?” and “How?”.  Soon that faith and assurance seems like a distant memory.  It can happen so fast.  We’ve all been there.

Passages like today’s speak into moments like these.  When we still our hearts and minds and really read Jesus’ words, our feet return to the path of our faith journey.  We hear Jesus’ voice saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me”.  Jesus has us.  He is there for us in the midst of our trial or suffering and He will be there again and again and again.  In His voice, we hear again that the room is prepared for us.  No one can cancel our reservation.

In the passage we also see that we are not alone in our meandering and lack of understanding.  Even the disciples don’t always remain steadfast and they don’t always get it.  Thomas and Philip voice the questions we have at times.  They ask Jesus to show them the way and to show them the Father.  Jesus is patient and loving in doing so.  We too seek Jesus’ guidance and direction often to know the way to go or to discern even the next step.  At other times we seek to encounter Jesus, to feel His power in our lives.  All of these things are things Jesus wants to do.  It is His promise: “I will do whatever you ask in my name”.  What do you need Jesus to do today?