pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love, Hope

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-16

Verse 14: “The Lord himself will give you a sign”.

The northern kingdom of Israel has fallen to the Assyrians. The tide is rising against Judah. King Ahaz is trying to do all he can to survive the coming assault. He is doing all HE can. So God speaks to him through the prophet Isaiah, encouraging him to ask for a sign. A sign might guide him, it might give him some direction. Ahaz refuses to put the Lord to the test. He knows that he has been relying on himself; he has not been fully faithful to God and is therefore hesitant to go to God now.

Instead of receiving harsh words or punishment for his lack of faith and trust, Ahaz hears some words of hope. Isaiah tells him, “The Lord himself will give you a sign”. Even though you will not ask – yes, a little more disobedience – God will still speak. Overall the message is not good. Assyria is coming like a razor to cut them down. Briars and thorns will replace the vines, the farmlands will not produce crops. But there, in the midst of all this, we find hope. Ahaz and Judah find hope. The sign is a “virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”. Why would God offer such a promise, such a hope to a king and kingdom about to be destroyed?

I believe hope and love go hand in hand. Although the nation of Judah awaits punishment, God still loves them. Even though he must punish, God loves his children without limit. The people of Judah and the people of Israel already living in defeat will hear these words and will be reminded of God’s love for them. This will bring them hope.

Many hundreds of years later these words would be read through the Christian lens. Christians connect these words to Jesus, he who took on flesh to be Immanuel – God with us. Like these words to Ahaz and Judah, Jesus brought hope, love, and new promises. Christ offers restoration and healing to a broken and hurting world. As we await the birth and long for his return, we have hope. In love we pray, come, Lord Jesus, come.

Prayer: Father of love, thank you for the greatest gift ever – Jesus Christ. In him we find you. In you we find love, hope, peace, joy, salvation, and so much more. You are an awesome God! May all the praise and glory and honor be yours, both now and forevermore. 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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Holy Spirit Presence

Reading: Acts 19: 1-7

Verses Five and Six: “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus… and the Holy Spirit came on them”.

Upon arriving in Corinth, Paul meets some disciples who have received John’s baptism.  If we remember back into the Gospels, this was a baptism of repentance and preparation for the Messiah.  If we turn to Matthew or Mark or John, we see a different baptism – Jesus’ baptism.  As Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes upon Him.  This is the baptism that Paul now offers these disciples.  It is the baptism in Jesus’ name.  “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus… and the Holy Spirit came on them”.  As the Holy Spirit comes upon them, they begin to speak in tongues and to prophesy.  These disciples have been changed as the Holy Spirit has now moved in and now dwells within each of them.

For the baptized who claim Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their lives, we have the same experience.  The Holy Spirit comes and takes up residence in us.  The Holy Spirit does not just visit now and then but is a permanent resident in our heart.  If we are open to the Holy Spirit and are willing to be obedient to the Spirit’s guidance, correction, reminders, … then the Holy Spirit will permeate every aspect of our lives.  This is a gradual process of giving more and more control to the Holy Spirit.  As we do this, self loses more and more control.  It can be a long battle.

When we are honest and delve down into ourselves, we can identify little things that we still hold onto or struggle with for most of our faith journey.  Sometimes we hold onto our “secret sins” for a while.  Other times we have a ‘thorn’ much like Paul had.  It was or is a constant reminder of our need for God.  Our inability to rid ourselves of that thorn or to surrender that sin keeps us humble, recognizing our absolute need for God.

Today, as we read about a baptism, may we each recall our own baptisms into the family of God.  That occasion opened us up to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Once we accepted Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit moved in and continues to live within us.  The power of the Holy Spirit helps us to pursue God’s will and to accomplish His work in our lives and in our world.  Thanks be to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit!  May we ever dwell in the presence!


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In Weakness and in Strength

We all like to accentuate our ‘strengths’ to a degree.  What we and others view as strengths can be physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual.  Everyone has been blessed by God in many ways.  Each of the strengths we have been blessed with are gifts we have been given for building up the kingdom of God.  Many of these gifts are also used in endeavors such as work, athletics, school, and relationships.

We also all have weaknesses.  Most of the time we prefer to keep these hidden away.  We prefer to keep these tucked into a dark corner.  But when we do this, we are limiting the power of Christ in our lives.  Even though we try to keep them hidden away, they are still there.  Even though we pretend they do not exist, our weaknesses still rise up from time to time.  In turning them over to Christ and calling on His power to come along side us in our battles, we can experience His strength in our lives.

One of the best ways to build your strengths and to work on your weaknesses is to be in a small group.  For example, my brothers in Christ have come to know my strengths over time.  They encourage me to use these strengths in helping others grow in their faith.  But they also have come to know the weaknesses in my life.  My brothers in Christ hold me accountable.  They check in with me to see how I am doing in relying on Christ for my strength in these battles.  These men of God pray for me in my struggles.  To them, I offer the same things in return.

God made us just as we are – the good and bad alike.  Like with Paul, these ‘thorns’ we all have keep us humble.  They keep us within the knowledge that we really need God to make it through life.  God desires to use both our strengths and weaknesses to build His kingdom here on earth.  May we all learn to offer both up to God for His glory.

Scripture reference: 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10