pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Readings: Psalm 126 and Isaiah 61: 1-4 and 8-11

Key verses: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. (Psalm 126:5) and “The Spirit of the Lord is on me… to preach… bind up… release… proclaim…” (Isaiah 61:1)

In our Advent study this week we are looking at humility – at having the mind of Christ spoken of in Philippians 2.  One of the men in our Tuesday morning study said humility is thinking less of yourself so that you could think more of others.  Humility is an active practice.  These profound thoughts fit well with the humble servant hood that Jesus modeled and calls us to follow.  Our world is certainly in need of more humble servants.

Both the bigger world out there and many people’s lives are filled with hardship and suffering and trials.  There is plenty of oppression and abuse of power, lots of violence and other senseless actions, many struggling with addictions and unhealthy relationships, and a host of other issues.  Individuals we know face some of these issues as do whole groups in our communities.  There are lots of people in lots of places who would love to live into this verse: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

As humble servants of Jesus Christ, we are called to help those in need to do just that.  It is what Jesus did and what He calls us to do.  For all who follow Jesus, we live into the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”  When we read on, we find the “why” – to preach the good news to the poor, to heal the broken, to bring freedom to the captives, to release prisoners from all that binds them, and to proclaim God’s blessings on all.  These are big words and big ideas.  But guess what?  We serve a big God.  We serve a God who wants to work in and through us – just like He did with Jesus – to see all these things to come to be.

Sometimes we don’t see God big enough.  Sometimes we fail to dream and other times we fail to trust.  Sometimes we doubt.  Into all of this God speaks through the apostle Paul: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  May we serve a big God, trusting that all things are possible when we call on the One who can do all things.  Amen and amen.

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Victory

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-17

Verse 16: Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.

Tonight is a “scary” night.  People of all ages dress up in fun costumes and go out to collect candy.  The reality is that the “trick” has largely left the “trick or treat” aspect of the night and it is largely about dressing up (which is fun) and collecting candy (which is yummy).  For the vast majority who will be going door to door, trunk to trunk, or table to table, Halloween is just a fun night.

Although the “darkness” of Halloween is largely gone, the world we live in still has plenty of darkness.  The world brings each person their share of hurt and pain in life.  It is part of the otherwise beautiful and loving world.  As Christians we can better face the forces of evil and the times of pain and suffering because we know the end of the story.  Today, in Revelation 7, we get a peak into the end of the story.  We see praise and worship around the throne.  We see those that have gone through the great tribulation – they have been redeemed and their robes are white as snow.  They join the elders and the angels in worshipping God and the Lamb.  It is a wonderful and beautiful image of the end of life as we know it here on earth.

Through the victory of Jesus Christ we know that “never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst”.  It will be a time of light and love as we dwell with God and the Lamb.  All will be amazing as we join the heavenly choir singing our praises to the Lord our God.  The Lamb will lead us by springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear.  This is the vision, the hope, the promise that we hold onto as we dwell in this time and place.  Thanks be to God for the victory won by Jesus Christ!


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Worthy Conduct

Reading: Philippians 1: 27-30

Verse 27: Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

In today’s passage, Paul encourages the church in Philippi to talk the talk and to walk the walk that Paul himself has talked and walked.  This is, of course, to follow Jesus – the original model.  Paul’s opening line today is both challenging and inspiring: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.  What a charge Paul gives to the Philippians and to all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

Over the next few verses, Paul unpacks what it looks like to live this life worthy of Christ.  The first step is to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man”.  Paul wants them to be unified under Christ and to hold fast to Jesus’ teaching and example.  He knows they are stronger together than as individuals so Paul encourages unity.  Next Paul tells them not to be frightened by those who oppose them.  In this world trouble will come.  In fact, Paul is writing them from prison.  He is under arrest for spreading the gospel.  Just as Paul’s trusts in and rests in God, he is encouraging the Philippians to do the same.

Lastly Paul says that it has been “granted” to them not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer for the gospel.  He says they do so “on behalf of Christ”.  Any and all suffering done on behalf of Jesus is a glorious witness to their faith in Christ.  It reflects the promise that He and we will overcome the world.  Just as Jesus willingly suffered on the cross for us, Paul gladly suffers for the sake of the gospel.  He encourages the Philippians and us to do the same.

These few verses pack a lot.  They are a great reminder of what worthy conduct looks like as we respond to our call to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To summarize: stand firm, do not fear, be a suffering servant.  All were modeled by Jesus.  May we go and do likewise.


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Overflow

Reading: Philippians 1: 21-26

Verses 21 and 23: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain… I am torn between the two!

Paul writes today from a Roman prison cell.  Death looms in the air.  The executioners could come at any moment.  Yet even in this place Paul is full of hope.  He has come to a place in his life where his faith is absolutely secure.  He is assured that if this day were his last that he would depart and be with Jesus – “which is far better”.  This is what Paul means when he says, “to die is gain”.

But Paul also feels this pull to living.  He feels a pull to live so that he can continue in his ministry.  He knows that if he “stays in the body” that he will continue to have fruitful labor.  His work will continue to be about bringing people to Christ and about helping people to grow in their faith.  This is what he means by “to live is Christ”.  He also acknowledges another “better” – it is better for the church in Philippi if he continues to live so that he can continue on with them on their faith journey.

Although Paul is “torn between the two”, there are some lessons in his circumstance and attitude for us.  First, his focus is on others.  It would be far better to be with Jesus in heaven.  Many people today feel this way.  But like Paul they know God has more in store for them.  Paul loves Jesus and the church more than himself so he joyfully remains.  Second, he finds joy in the suffering.  Paul is living into the idea of being worthy to suffer for Christ.  He has stood firm in the faith and gladly faces the consequences for doing so.  And lastly, Paul is reflecting Christ.  His desire and will to serve others regardless of the cost to self models Christ’s example to others.  Just as Paul has chosen to closely follow Christ, his example here beckons us to do the same.  In all we do and say each day, may we strive to allow our “joy in Jesus Christ” to overflow into the lives of all we meet.  May it be so.


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I Will Be with You

Reading: Exodus 3: 7-15

Verse 12: And God said, “I will be with you”.

Moses has been selected to go to God’s people to lead them to freedom.  God has heard their cry and has seen their suffering at the hands of their slave drivers.  The God of justice will use Moses to guide the people to a “land flowing with milk and honey”.  The plan all sounds great – except to Moses, who asks God,”Who am I…?”

In each of our communities there is certainly suffering.  It may be caused by difficult financial situations or by things such as drugs or alcohol addiction.  It might be caused by mental illness or by the past experiences caused by generational abuse of one type or another.  It might be caused by prejudices and bigotry that keep a segment of the community on the outside looking in.  There are people suffering due to events of nature and others suffer because of the actions and poor choices of individuals.  There is no shortage of things that cause suffering.  To some of us, God calls.

Just as Moses was called and sent by God, over the centuries God has called both prophets and ordinary people to speak words of hope and love and healing and, at time, hard words of truth.  God has seen and will continue to see the suffering in our world and He has and will continue to send those who will lead the people away from sin or out of the oppression and suffering that they are enduring.  Often the person has looked at the task ahead and questioned God and uttered some form of Moses’ “Who, me?”

Yet God reassures the doubtful and fearful Moses; Moses will not go alone.  When we sense a call from God to lead someone to freedom or to offer relief from suffering, we do not go alone either.  Just as God went with Moses, God will go with us as well.  This is a promise we too can trust and lean into as we respond to the call that God has placed upon our hearts.  Like Moses, may we find reassurance in these words: “And God said, ‘I will be with you'”.


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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.